|Nation, family excel in marine woodwork|
|Wednesday, November 17, 2010|
By KEN BECK, Special to The Wilson Post
VINE — Woodworker Tommy Nation hated the feeling in the pit of his stomach as he saw most of his co-workers pick up not a Christmas bonus check but their lay-off slip. It was three days before Christmas 1990, and he was just about the last man standing.
Not only did he grieve for his cohorts at the Mt. Juliet company that built swim platforms for competitive ski boats, but he realized his number could be up soon, too.
A hard worker and a quick thinker, within a couple of months Nation took matters into his own skillful hands and began a family business out of his carport in the Vine Community near the Rutherford County line. Today, Teak World Enterprises makes more swim platforms than any company in the United States.
"Everybody who works here is either my son, my brother or my nephew," Nation said about the business, born March 12, 1991, which also builds teak parts for boat companies and boat owners across the country.
"We love working with teak wood in general," he said. "It’s different than any other wood. It works different. Teak has a natural oil in it so it doesn’t rot. It doesn’t expand or contract.
"Most teak comes from Southeast Asia. Ours comes from Myanmar (formerly Burma). Teak is almost rock proof. That’s the reason it’s in boats and used in the marine industry. It will almost last forever."
Nation, 49, moved to Lebanon from Sparta in 1972 when he was 11. He has put his hand to woodworking since he was a teenager and has done all types of construction work from pouring concrete to roofing and building houses.
"We are a wholesale manufacturer of marine products," he said. "We can build a part for any boat, but we don’t just build it and set it in a corner until somebody wants it. We custom make it. We make almost anything on the boat: hatch doors, cockpit tables, hand-rails."
As for their specialty, a swim platform sits flush with the water at the stern of a ski boat where it proves to be a very convenient, if not essential, accessory. It allows skiers and swimmers easy access to slip directly into the water without climbing over the side of the boat or jumping into the water. It also provides skiers a surface to put on their safety jackets and skis.
Even though they had a steady customer in MasterCraft, the early months of operation were make-do at best.
"With our first shipment and load of lumber, we went to Lowe’s and bought enough material to close in our 13-by-20 carport," Nation recalled. "Our tools were tools from when I framed houses. We fastened our skill saw upside down in a sheet of plywood. That was our table saw. We had one belt sander and no band saw. Week by week we grew."
These days, besides himself and his wife, Robin, the other woodworkers include brothers Tony and Glenn, sons Thomas and Justin and his nephew, Dusty Reynolds.
After MasterCraft, they soon picked up another competition ski boat company, Malibu. Both are companies which manufacture boats that sell from $60,000 to $100,000.
"The people that keep us going are MasterCraft, Malibu, Skier’s Choice, Tige and Sea-Ray," Nation said. "We produced more of these swimming platforms than any other company in the United States for the past 19 years. That’s because we had the best boat companies in the United States."
Teak World ships their handiwork to countries around the world from Australia to Germany and has sold diving platforms in every state that’s got water for ski boats.
From the time the teak comes in on an 18-wheeler from South Carolina, it goes through seven steps that include being cut, marked, band sawed, shaped, drill pressed, assembled and, finally, receiving a hand-rubbed oil finish before the swim platform is complete.
With the American economy in the doldrums, Nation has had to shift gears in the past year.
"Teak was 98 percent of our work. Our teak sales are down 70 percent. Nobody’s buying boats," he said seriously.
That means Teak World is building cabinets and going into the reclaimed wood market.
"We’re just discovering how popular reclaimed wood is becoming. We’d like to get in on it. We’re building a kitchen table for a customer, and the wood came from a 135-year-old warehouse in Columbia, Tenn. The wood is gouged and has wormholes, but that is what he wants," said Nation, who rolls with the flow.
For relaxation, Nation competes on a Lebanon bowling team, and he and Robin raise vegetables in a 6,000-square-foot garden every summer.
"I just love woodwork. I’d rather do some kind of custom woodwork. If I weren’t making teak parts for boats, I’d still like to be doing something in wood, be it cabinets or tables," said Nation, the man behind all the hard-working hands of Teak World.