Dan and Alex Cordell: Owners of Solid Manufacturing
“I grew up in a woodshop,” Dan Cordell shouts above the sound of a lathe spinning a length of white ash. A shaft of sunlight is made three-dimensional by the dust in the air and chips fly as he deftly transforms the wood into a baseball bat using only hand tools. “My Dad taught me everything I know.”
Cordell and his wife, Alex, are the co-founders, and sole employees, of Solid Manufacturing, a company that makes and sells wood furniture, leather goods and a variety of household items you never thought you’d need until you see them. Everything, from the wooden pour-over coffee stand, to the leather key fob, to the baseball bat, is made by Dan and Alex in a small workshop near a railroad yard in Minneapolis using domestic hardwoods and American made leathers.
Alex studied furniture design at Minneapolis College of Art and Design; while Dan focuses on the woodworking, she does much of the product development as well as the finishing work—sanding and hand-oiling—while managing the administrative end of the business. Watching them work together, it becomes clear that they complement each other well and play to their strengths.
The Solid Manufacturing duo started making things in Dan’s father’s woodshop just south of the city, selling their wares at pop-up events around town and through an online Web store. “We couldn’t do what we do anywhere else but Minneapolis,” Alex says while she rubs a block of wood with linseed oil. “It’s a city driven by people and community and when we launched, we were immediately embraced and it gave us the motivation and inspiration for us to keep going.”
Solid Manufacturing is one of the latest in a long legacy of Minnesota companies that make things of quality using traditional materials and techniques, a legacy that includes the Red Wing Shoe Company. This is not something lost on Alex and Dan Cordell, who were wearing Red Wing Heritage boots when we stopped by for a visit—Alex in a pair of 9111 round-toe boots and Dan in a pair of Iron Rangers. “At the end of the day, my boots are always full of wood chips,” he laughs.
So what makes Minnesota such a breeding ground for the so-called “maker” culture, where DIY becomes a society of inventors, designers and tinkerers? Is it the long winters that inspire creativity? Or perhaps the frontier history of self-sufficiency that has been passed down to its residents. For Dan Cordell, it came from spending time in his father’s woodshop and a desire to make leather bracelets for Christmas gifts. He bought some scraps of leather and thread and taught himself. “I grew up in a place where you make things, or you try,” he says.
Solid Manufacturing Co. has an eclectic portfolio of products tied together with a common thread of honest Minnesota handcraft. But if Alex and Dan have a signature product, it is a three-legged stool made from black walnut, oiled to a rich brown, with legs painted in a number of bright colors. Its simplicity and stripped down purity of purpose are its appeal, not unlike a classic baseball bat, or a pair of Red Wing Heritage boots. In a word—solid.