Turning Trees Into Art

George Cudworth
Owner, Hawaiian Woodworks Inc.

Please tell us about your business.

Hawaiian Woodworks started as high-end cabinet work 16 years ago on Kauai for residential and commercial spaces. Along with that eventually came custom furniture work as well as eclectic items from jewelry boxes to repairing an antique Mercedes convertible top. I had lots of contractors and homeowners asking me to do custom doors and windows, and now that we’ve been in our new facility in Lihue for about two-and-a-half years, it’s large enough where we have the room to do that as well. All of our work is high-end. We also sell lumber and plywood to the public, and we’re willing to help anyone who walks in the door.

How did you get started in this business?

Woodworking has been in my family for many generations. My dad was a carpenter and had the basic tools around the house. There was never any problem with me using them to make things as a little kid, so I started creating things as young as about 11 years old. I made my first piece of furniture when I was 12 or 13 for my brother – I made him a nightstand. One of my grandfather’s friends owned a cabinet shop, and he introduced me to him. I was 17 at the time and ended up with a job. I wasn’t old enough to use any machinery, but I swept the floors, washed cars and chauffeured the owner around. Every single door that could possibly be opened for me after that was opened.

Why did you start your business on Kauai?

It was in the 1990s when the economy tanked. I wanted to go somewhere else and I thought of places where I could use my talents. My brother Mike already lived on Kauai and was in the tile business. He suggested that I move to the island as well. I worked for other people for awhile until I branched out on my own.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your business?

Being able to be an artist on my bench or anywhere in my shop creating. I absolutely love doing what I do.

What kind of wood do you use, and what do people generally prefer?

We do use a lot of local woods, but we also bring in trees from other parts of the world. People tend to prefer monkey pod, which is local. They also like African mahogany, afromosia and teak.

What’s the most enjoyable product to create?

Everything. It doesn’t really matter what it is, I just love being artistic.

What’s your most popular product?

Something special. It could be kitchen cabinets or it might be a kitchen island or dining table – they become pieces of art.

What sets your business apart from others?

My quality of work is as good as it can get. That’s what I strive for in everything I do.

How does the process work as far as ordering something from you?

Clients can come to me and request a specific look for a dining room table and even bring me a picture of what they want. Or someone can come to me and say they want a dining room table without a clue as to how it will look, its dimensions or the type of wood. This requires me to visit their house, see what they like and what they’ve bought to get a feel for their taste. I can absorb that and create something that will go with them. I’ve never created something for somebody that they didn’t like.

What is your favorite wood to work with?

Afromosia. I love the smell, and it’s one of only two woods that I can think of that have a chocolate-brown color – the other is teak. It machines and glues very well. Fortunately, there also are still large, old growth trees, and the grain in the wood sometimes gets a very unique characteristic where it looks like a braid that I’ve never seen in another wood.

3651-F Lala Rd., No. 1 Lihue, HI 96766 632-0694 hawaiianwoodworkinc.com