One of the values that motivates an Amish community is maintaining their simple lifestyle and passing their traditions and skills down to their children, so that they may eventually build a life with their families.
Reverent and respectful of nature, the Amish consider working with natural resources to be an extension of their ties to the Creator. Working with the natural resource of wood fits in well with this lifestyle.
The wood industry has always employed persons in the Amish community. In the past the majority of these persons were loggers or sawmill operators. To enhance their business many of these sawmills began making pallets for the manufacturing industry as an end use for their wood. Pallet repair shops also popped up. Some of the more conservative Amish groups, build pallets by hand nailing rather than automated nailers.
Other businesses popped up to dry the lumber being cut at the mills. These were typically outside the Amish community because of the need for utilities to control the drying process for the lumber. Lumber used in the manufacture of furniture in most cases needs to be kiln dried to insure the moisture content is at the right level.
Many Amish men have been cabinet makers for generations. Several small cabinet shops dotted the area, making custom kitchens for homes being built in the area. These craftsmen have often made furniture for their own homes, homes of other family members and particularly for their children when they got married as a wedding gift. As early tourists to the area ventured out they found these shops and asked the owners to make their cabinets. There are local cabinet makers who have been shipping kitchens as far away as Cleveland and other parts of OH.
Other persons supplied the handmade caskets for the plain community. It is common for a community to have a few persons who make caskets, often keeping several on hand rather than building them on demand.
Amish men have also found employment in their communities making wheels, surrey poles and the completed buggies. There are shops in the area that employ several men just making buggy wheels which are shipped to many other Amish communities across the country.
Most of the furniture shops started small, making items by hand with limited power tools. Some shops still function this way but they are unable to manufacture furniture fast enough to meet the demand. It also becomes a matter of economics similar to home building. There have long been Amish carpenter builders who built the entire home from the ground up. They could do about 4-6 homes in a year. Now they have moved to contracting with other Amish, Mennonite and English subcontractors to help build the homes enabling them to build more homes in a year.
Some enterprising Amish men began to manufacture furniture on a larger scale, employing their family members and others from their community. As the industry developed component manufacturers popped up. Someone planes the rough cut dried lumber to finished, smooth dimensions. Another cuts the pieces for a particular manufacturer they work with. Another shop may just manufacture chair seats or the turned spindles. The final assembler may put everything together from several component shops. Some of the shops finish their own furniture. Others again utilize another Amish business somewhere to just do the finishing.
The work ethic and the quality ethic create the foundation that the furniture industry is built on. One of the local shops has a sign hanging in the owner's office. It reads: "Quality-countless, unseen details are often the only difference between mediocre and magnificent." The Amish will receive a compliment for their work but their desire to do it well isn't driven by the outside comments. It comes from within rooted in a sense that it is important to do their best. The whole idea of hand crafted furniture differs from robotic manufactured furniture in that there is a person looking at the fit of the pieces and saying "I don't like the way that fits."