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Occupation: Tough one. Maker of things and small business owner. I also sweep the floors.
Location: San Clemente to Joshua Tree, Ca. Pops is out in J.T. where this whole thing started, a few years ago I had to set up shop closer to home.
Hobbies: Kung Fu, Tai Chi, reading, but I mostly make things
Favorite Music Band: Tool, Sigur Ros.
Favorite Type of Cuisine: Italian, probably by default because my lovely wife is Italian so I'm spoilt for choice with all the good stuff from her and the mother-in-law.
This conversation is between Anthony Lawson (AL), Founder of J. L. Lawson & Co. and Phil (PY), staff writer for Urban EDC Supply.
PY: Hello and welcome, Anthony! We have been following your work with great interest since your Kickstarter days, so it's great to finally have you with us. So, to start off, can you share with us the origin story of J. L. Lawson & Co.?
AL: Thanks, Phil! The feeling is mutual. My origin story is a long one, however, it can all be traced back to my father who has been a machinist since he was a teenager.
It all started when I turned 35, and my dad gave me a stainless steel ring for my birthday which I wore it daily. A few years later, in June of 2011, I asked him if he could make some stainless steel rings that I could potentially sell online. And from there, we experimented, expanded, and learnt along the way.PY:
That’s cool, to think that it started with the ring which was a personal gift. What came next after the rings?AL:
Next was the machined bottle opener because everyone could use one, right? Around that time I watched the movie Cool Hand Luke for the first time. I loved the fact that Paul Newman had a bottle opener hanging around his neck for a chunk of the movie, and I had recently seen these really amazing hand forged bottle openers somewhere. I did a search for machined bottle openers and couldn’t find anything close.
Machining didn’t lend itself to something like a bottle opener because it’s such an expensive process. So I approached my dad about it, and although he was skeptical that people would buy it, he made some anyway and the response was overwhelming. PY:
And that eventually led to the spinning tops?
AL: Yes, in October of 2012, I asked him if he could make some solid brass spinning tops. He had made some aluminum tops for my niece as Christmas gifts the previous two years and I just loved them. I didn’t think to add them to the product line before because they didn’t fit in with my “men’s accessories” theme, but I thought they would make a cool holiday item.
My dad made a few brass beauties for me and I loaded them to the site and sent out a newsletter. They sold within minutes. By far the most popular thing I’d ever put on the site. It was quite the revelation.
The great thing about the spinning top is it requires one machine, the lathe, and thought maybe this was something I could learn, and so my new education began.
It’s amazing how one thing just led to another. So when was it that you decided to plunge into the business full-time? Was it a tough decision to make?AL:
January of 2013 was a turning point. My only problem was that I still had a day job and I lived two hours away from my dad. I wasn’t sure that I could sell enough to quit my day job, but the good thing was I only had to go into the office three days a week.
Eventually, my boss wanted me there five days a week instead of three, which meant the jig was up. I would have to shut down J. L. Lawson & Co. or quit my job.
Quitting was a huge gamble because I was making a steady salary and wasn’t sure I’d ever been a good enough machinist to rely on that for income, but obviously, I took the gamble and chose to quit.
During that time, my soon-to-be-wife was nothing but supportive. I have to take a moment to acknowledge that without her encouragement, this never would have happened, and I would have shut down the brand and been miserable in my job. She believed in what I could do when I truly didn’t, and I had faith in what she was telling me to do so I just dove in.
That is truly admirable, to just bite down and dive in. Hats off to you, Anthony! Can you also share with us your creative process? What inspires you and how do you come up with a new design?AL:
Over the years I've discovered that creativity isn't something you can force. More specifically, there are things that I DON"T do when trying to be creative. Mainly, I don't force anything. If I'm not feeling creative, I work on production work or something that requires less brain power. I make sure that I'm rested before I try and come up with anything creative and I try to distract my mind a bit. i.e. the two-hour drive out to my dad's is one of my most creative times because I can put my mind on autopilot.
Ironically, this can also happen when I'm doing production on a piece. The repetitive motion of doing the same part over and over again clears my mind. I keep a notepad on my bench and will stop mid-part to jot ideas down. Once the idea is jotted down, I can go through it later to spark something new. I also pull inspiration from books, movies or any kind of art really.
New spinning top designs generally just come while I'm turning them. I just cut here and cut there until I have something I like. That's the advantage of manual machining, just pop a tool in and start turning.
There are certain parameters that I keep consistent so the top will be balanced but there also has to be an aesthetic balance. This is also difficult to explain without visuals of what I mean.
When it comes to the Worry Coins, I just love coming up with new material combinations that work together. I like to keep the design consistent and let the material speak for itself. PY:
Speaking of the Worry Coins, we just got them in and they are gorgeous! Can you tell us more about them?AL:
Thanks, Phil! Admittedly, the Worry Coin is not my concept. I saw a maker post some on Instagram but can't remember who. My first thought was that I didn't get it and had no interest. I loved the aesthetic but couldn't see the point. I loved the machined "coin" idea so started making the spinning coins to make something that was functional.
After a year or two, I started to see the appeal of just the simple coin. The look and feel was almost reason enough but really, I just wanted an excuse to combine different materials to see how perfect I could get them.
The Grande series came about simply because I wanted to see more surface area of the wood. When you cut a small diameter out of a larger piece, you miss some of the beauty. I'd love to go even bigger but that would probably be pushing the concept a little too far.PY:
It’s been a long journey since you first started, do you think anything has changed in your process?
Over the years, as my machining ability has grown, my designs have shifted. I'd see my dad come up with these brilliant bottle opener designs and be blown away by his design skills but it more had to do with his knowledge of machining. Not knocking his design skills, of course, but he can look at a tool and visual what it could do but it was a different language to me. I've been learning that language for almost 7 years with him now so designs come easier. You have to know your tools before the work can really get anywhere.
Truer words have never been said. And to end things off, can you share your personal everyday carry with us? AL:
With pleasure. My carry is pretty simple compared to most of my customers. Keys with a top-secret prototype I've been carrying for months, Knife (Benchmade), Blistex, Decision Maker coin, toothpick holder (I'm addicted to flavored tea tree oil toothpicks).
Simple is best, as long as it gets the job done! With that, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with us.AL:
You’re welcome! Thank you for featuring me. Cheers everyone!
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