It’s about time we found a fun and functional solution for all of us chronic key-forgetters. Ben and Christen Aroh, the makers of our new Wooden States of America and USA Magnetic Key Holders, met in college and have become partners – both in their marriage and in their business. Together they’ve created these homey works of art that help us hold onto our keys. Ben does the woodworking, and Christen helps to keep the business side running smoothly while also working as an elementary school music teacher.
We know you appreciate the inspiring, motivating stories behind our products just as much as we do, so settle in and read our interview with Ben about how he and Christen have made magnetic, key-saving magic in their Louisville, Kentucky woodshop.
Tell us about your background. Did you always know you wanted to be an artist/maker?
My dad is a very skilled carpenter, so naturally I spent a lot of my childhood in our woodshop watching and learning from him. I absolutely loved “tinkering around” — building treehouses, wooden swords, go-carts and other things that elementary-aged boys think are cool. Our neighborhood was home to ten boys (all around the same age), so we were constantly trying to find creative ways to keep ourselves entertained. Back then, I always wanted to grow up and become a custom home builder. So, in a sense, I always planned on working with my hands, building things.
What was the most exciting thing about becoming a professional artist/maker?
This may not be a good thing, but I like being in control of my day. Every morning, I wake up early, make coffee for my wife and I and then start working. If I don’t get anything done, then the company won’t make money that day. But what’s exciting is the freedom and control I have over my life. This can be stressful at times, but it’s always exciting.
I hear the inspiration for your Magnetic Wooden States came from a problem you were dealing with every day. What was it, and how did your creation help solve it?
Yes, this is true! In college, I lived with three other guys in this neat, old Victorian house. I somehow kept getting locked out of the house while my other roommates were gone. Every time this happened, I would crawl through the damp, dirty cellar to break into our house. This was not fun, so one weekend I went home to create the “solution.” Instead of leaving my key on a table somewhere in the house, I would hang them on a “piece of magnetic wood.” In my mind, this would be a funny solution to the problem, and one that I may actually use. I created the first Wooden State (in the shape of Kentucky) and it snowballed into a business from there.
How exactly are the states made? Fill us in on your process, from start to finish.
The states start as panels of glued-up cherry boards. I then cut out 12 states from each panel on my CNC router. The states are sanded by hand, stained and sprayed with a durable finish. Last step is to glue in the four magnets, box ‘em up & ship ‘em out! I’m moving into a bigger shop right after Christmas, the next step is to automate a few more steps in the production process because we’re having difficulty keeping up with orders.
Was running a business something you were always interested in? How is it working with your wife, Christen, as a business partner?
Yes, I have always loved business/entrepreneurship! In elementary school, I would collect golf balls from a nearby golf course pond, set up a “golf balls for sale” stand and then sell them back to the golfers. This sounds funny, but I would make good money doing it (at least enough money to buy a new bike or Nerf gun on occasion). I learned from a young age that working for myself had lots of perks – so I have always made that a priority in life.
Christen is the best partner I could ask for. She works full time as an elementary music teacher — but she still finds time to help out with the business. I value her opinion very highly and would not be nearly as successful without her. My dad is another figure who is very instrumental in this business. I can always count on him when I need a helping hand (which is quite often).
Is there a trinket, talisman, or other inspirational object you keep near as you work? If so, what is it and what does it mean to you?
Not a trinket, but I love to work with my headphones and a good audiobook. I typically listen to a book or two a week. I’ve been on a huge fantasy kick lately. I’ve listened to all the Game of Thrones books, Lord of the Rings and five Brandon Sanderson books (all in the past few months). But I supplement these with a few non-fiction books on occasion. I just listened to Hillbilly Elegy this week — incredible book.
Do you have a quote or mantra keeps you motivated?
Hmm, not that comes to mind, however I am motivated by the people around me. They are a solid support structure and great influence on my life/business. Growing a business can be tough, so I’m very thankful for everyone who is involved in some way.