Aaron Weidner was walking along a riverbank in 2014 looking for driftwood and discarded objects, thinking of jobs he could do that wouldn’t require him to work in an office.
Weidner, a writer/brand manager, had spent most of his career in the digital world, but he preferred building things with his hands. The self-taught craftsman’s Prairie Village home was full of his inventive creations.
He went home that night and redesigned his one-car garage as a woodworking shop and lumberyard with the hope of slowly launching a side business. Two weeks later, he was laid off of his job.
“I took it as a sign,” he recalls. “I smiled all the way home. It was the best day of my life.”
His hobby became a rebirth.
“As far as personal fulfillment goes, you should have twins and lose your job,” Weidner says.
The life change had him joining his wife, Bev, a food and lifestyle blogger at Bev Cooks, at home with their 3-year-old son and daughter. The couple split the day between parental duties and working on their own projects.
Weidner intended to create found-object pieces but became an accidental woodworker.
“It turns out everyone throws away a lot of wood,” he says.
Ninety-nine percent of his materials are reclaimed — found in dumpsters or along the roads and riverbanks, or bought at thrift stores and estate sales.
With full creative freedom and “temporal flexibility,” Weidner tests his own designs to see what hits. He posts pieces on Etsy under the name Flotsamist. The name stands for a person who loves discarded things or things taken for granted.
“I’m trying to figure out what I like making rather than forcing an existing model,” he says.
He’s simultaneously trying to improve his skill set.
“With each piece, I’m trying to learn new joinery,” he says.
Weidner concentrates mostly on small projects, from birdhouses to bookcases. His sweet spot is end tables because customers want something unique and like his nonconforming ideas.
“Most of my stuff has a level of beauty and functionality, but it also has a kind of wink to it,” he says. “There is temptation for me to be a good, traditional woodworker, but instead I focus on designs you can’t find anywhere else.”
Ideas for what an object will become are sometimes instantaneous and other times elusive. He might stare at a set of bannister rails for months before he discovers its new purpose. One of his best aha-moments was realizing that an angled cut on a wood stump was not a hindrance but a cool levitating effect when he added skateboard trucks to the base.
Weidner has made about 100 sales, plus a recent commission to design and build out TallulahBelle’s, a retail shop in Overland Park, and Nuance, a marketing and media agency in the West Bottoms. “They both told me what they needed and let me go,” Weidner adds.
David Thornhill, owner of Nuance, worked with Weidner, the writer, before the advent of Flotsamist.
“It exciting to watch his first love slowly becoming his career,” Thornhill says. “He still supplements his income with writing, but he glows when he talks about his wood design.”
In addition to online sales, he features work locally at retailers like Golden & Pine.
An accounting friend noted Weidner’s good business model: “So you get it for free and sell it for money?”
Financial gain is necessary for living, but not at the expense of lifestyle. Weidner says his days are “more tortoise, less hare,” and his walks along the riverbanks beat sitting in an office.
“I’d take the pay cut all over again for the time I’ve been given back,” he says. “I’m just waiting for someone to figure out how much fun I’m having and say that it’s not allowed.”