Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Featured Exhibitor: Handcrafted by Onkkafirte




Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Dan Onkka, and I would describe myself as retired, except I’m working at making spin-n-serves 60 hours a week, so perhaps I should google “retirement” and see what I’ve missed!

My first career was as a retail and hospital pharmacist, then I moved into IT and spent 30+ years managing patient data at Fairview Hospital. I also spent 17 years as a leader in the Boy Scouts, and developed and taught my own course at the U of M for 10 years.

My business name is Onkkafirte. In 2016 my wife and I traveled to northern Finland and spent several days with a relative, visiting graves and seeing where my family came from. We found a homestead on “ONKKATIE” (tie means street in Finnish). Turns out this was the homestead where the Onkka surname was first used. Attached to a tree near the homestead was a wooden board, into which was carved “ONKKAFIRTE” – which I was told means “founded by Onkka”.


How did you get started in your business?
I have worked in wood for decades, and have built all our furniture, and that of our two sons. I sparted making lazy susans, first for personal use, then for family members. As retirement neared, I realized I could try my luck at making them as “art that works”. ? Working with wood gave me the tactile feedback I need to satisfy my creative side. Teaching mainframe computers to sing Mozart is fine – but you can’t touch it when you’re done!


What has been your favorite moment since creating your business?
This may sound strange, but at a Christmas fair I had a group of a dozen or more people watching me demonstrate how my product can be flipped, expanded, or even used as a side table. At the end of my spiel I went “off script” and shared with them that the money wasn’t important to me. That in fact I should thank them, because by taking home something I had made, and using it as part of their family meal each evening, they were paying me the most wonderful complement possible. I got a round of applause! 


What motivates you to create?
I seem to have this need to build, to create. Working in veneer gives me a large enough palette, and lazy susans give me a vehicle.


Have you always been passionate about art and design?
I still struggle with the idea that I’m an “artist”. But passionate about design? Yup!


Will you be featuring any special holiday items?
I have several designs I only make as Christmas approaches. One features a poinsettia, another holly leaves. I used to make a Christmas tree design – but it just takes too long!


How do you usually prepare for the holiday season?
Fall 2021 was just crazy – my sales were much higher than I had anticipated. So I’ve been working like mad all year to have enough inventory for Christmas 2022!


What is the latest thing you have been working on?
I make sets of table legs (which are also reversible). As the cost of materials have increased, I’ve had to reinvent how I make them – and now I can make them using any veneer my customers want. Just think – table legs that match the spin-n-serve it supports!


What is your favorite item that you sell?
The table legs. Because it shows the customer has truly understood that my product is capable of. Not just something for the dining room table, but something that can be used every day in multiple ways.



Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Some veneer (especially birds eye maple) will curl while applying glue. Sometime that means the end result is a surface with bubbles. Bad news! Cure is to have a spray bottle of water so I can lightly spritz the BACK side of the veneer to balance out the stress.


What are some tips or suggestions you would like to offer to fellow makers?
Grab yourself by the ear and drag yourself out of your comfort zone. If you don’t put yourself out there, people can’t say yes!


What do your customers love most about your product(s)?
I think it’s the flexibility combined with usefulness. A spin-n-serve actually performs a function. That it does so while having one side with bright and vibrant colors, and the other with a neutral platform provide a nice mix of fashion (décor?) and function.


What do you love most about craft show vending?
Keeps me busy, gives me a purpose, get me out of the house, keeps me out of my wife’s hair. And it generates enough revenue to cover my costs. And I get to meet lots of people who tell me my stuff is beautiful!





Handcrafted by Onkkafirte


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