Local woodworkers Max Stanley and Chris Hinkley, of Latitude Woodwares, in their Auke Bay shop on Thursday. The craftsmen, known for wood topographical maps of Southeast, launched a crowdsourcing campaign this week in an attempt to expand their business to national markets. The pair have developed what they call “skyline hangs” — magnetic knife hangers shaped into cityscapes — they hope will sell big in major metropolitan areas. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Local woodworkers Max Stanley and Chris Hinkley, of Latitude Woodwares, in their Auke Bay shop on Thursday. The craftsmen, known for wood topographical maps of Southeast, launched a crowdsourcing campaign this week in an attempt to expand their business to national markets. The pair have developed what they call “skyline hangs” — magnetic knife hangers shaped into cityscapes — they hope will sell big in major metropolitan areas. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A new way to hang your keys: Juneau woodworkers laser-cut new business

Local woodworkers Max Stanley and Chris Hinkley aren’t your typical hobbyists.

For the past three years, the pair of engineers by training have perfected a technique to make true-to-life topographical maps out of wood. They’d take commissions from local outdoorsmen, fishermen and kayakers to render their favorite wild places in 2-inch relief under the banner of Chilkat Fabrication.

Hinkley and Stanley have had so much fun in the workshop mastering their maps they’ve decided to develop a new product, one they hope will bring them to national market and keep them in the workshop full time. The pair launched a crowdsourcing campaign this week to ramp up production of their new “skyline hangs” — flat magnetic knife and tool holders shaped into major metropolitan skylines they’re marketing under a new venture called Latitude Woodwares.

The skyline hangs comes in a choice of 14 different cities, all cut in certified sustainable, domestic cherry wood.

“It’s a functional piece that means something to the person who uses it,” Stanley said. “It looks good on the wall and the idea is to expand out market a bit.

“There’s only so much business for our maps in Juneau, and the skyline hangs have a wider geographical appeal,” Hinkley added.

The crowdsourcing campaign went live at kickstarter.com on Wednesday. So far, it has 49 backers helping the company to nearly $5,000 of their $12,000 goal. The campaign has 28 days left to go.

In addition to the 14 cityscapes, the skyline hangs will come in six Alaska-based shapes. Stanley and Hinkley have developed rockfish, salmon and whale versions as well as a fishing boat, the Mendenhall Glacier and a Juneau shape, with the city laser engraved below a cutout of Mount Juneau and Roberts and the Douglas bridge. They also sell cutouts of Denali, Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount Rainier in Washington.

Those contributing to the Kickstarter receive different products based on the amount of money they contribute, with $59 getting backers a skyline hang. The only catch: They’ll have to wait until Latitude Woodwares gets off the ground.

Hinkley and Stanley said that’s the beauty of a Kickstarter — they can go directly to customers who know they’re going to have to wait a few months for their product. That gives the pair time to get their manufacturing to scale.

But it’s not just the seed money that attracted them to the platform, it’s an easy way to demonstrate demand, which will help when seeking other forms of investment.

“It’s brilliant because you have to figure out a functional prototype and manufacturing but you don’t have to invest in that manufacturing until people have bought your product,” Hinkley said. “… It just kind of takes the risk of investing in a business out: You could drop huge amounts of money into your manufacturing and then have nobody buy your product.”

The switch from topographical maps, which Hinkley and Stanley still produce, to knife holders was a product of necessity. Hinkley and Stanley knew there is only so much of a market for their niche, “Alaska-centric” maps. The mapmaking garnered Chilkat Fabrication word-of-mouth acclaim from customers, but little work outside of Juneau.

If they were going to stay in the workshop, they had to diversify. The maps started out as a labor-intensive passion project the pair started just to “see if they could do it.” They hope the skyline hangs will be their excuse to keep tinkering.

“Everybody really likes the maps, but they all want custom areas,” Hinkley added. “For people to pay the amount for the maps that they cost, they really have to have a connection to the place. … Sometimes we’d send 30 emails back and forth trying to get things right. When you do the math, you’d find you only made 50 cents per hour.”

It wasn’t the most efficient process. The craftsmen have to retool their computer-numerically-controlled (CNC) router for every new area they want to map.

It’s also finicky.

“With the maps, a huge part of the process was that you have to get the wood perfectly flat. … Most woodworkers work with a margin of say, an eighth of an inch, and that’s good. If we’re off by a millimeter, it can screw up the whole thing,” Hinkley said.

If their measurements were off, the router would cut right through to the water, turning lowlands into what Hinkley called a “postapocalyptic” map where everything appeared as if it was underwater.

If necessity is the mother of all invention, boredom may be its father. Both Chilkat Fabrication and Latitude Woodwares were the product of a 2012 low snow season, which kept Stanley, Hinkley and project founder Nathan Ord from enjoying their primary winter hobby, hitting the slopes.

“We started off just with a project, wanting to build this machine because there was no snow, a really dreary, nasty winter,” Hinkley said. “People thought the maps were really cool, and we thought, ‘Hey, maybe some people would want to buy these things.’”

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or at kevingullufsen@juneauempire.com

Max Stanley, of Latitude Woodwares, shows off a home-made Computer Numeric Contro machine at their Auke Bay shop on Thursday. The machine can use both a router and laser to engrave wood panels. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Max Stanley, of Latitude Woodwares, shows off a home-made Computer Numeric Contro machine at their Auke Bay shop on Thursday. The machine can use both a router and laser to engrave wood panels. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A closeup view of one of the wood topographical maps maded by local woodworkers Max Stanley and Chris Hinkley, of Latitude Woodwares, in their Auke Bay shop on Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A closeup view of one of the wood topographical maps maded by local woodworkers Max Stanley and Chris Hinkley, of Latitude Woodwares, in their Auke Bay shop on Thursday. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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