Paul Barnes turns his hobby into a mini-business

Published 11:03 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

An old radio sitting on a shelf plays music in the background as Paul Barnes leans over his freshly painted clock. 

Sawdust litters the floors and wood waiting to be used in future crafts leans against the walls. Barnes built his workshop himself. Set off from the carport, the loft above serves as an attic, but below is his sanctuary.

Saws stand ready on one table; paint and half finished clocks line another. Today his focus is taking a wooden cutout of a deer and turning it into a clock.

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The timing mechanism is added to the back and the minute and hour hands are added to the front. Next will come the 12 gold numbers.

Barnes has been building the clocks for a little over year and has the deer and duck version down to a science. His next project is getting the colors just right on the largemouth bass version.

“I love working with a band saw,” Barnes said. “It is intricate enough cuts on there to challenge myself. I’ve made several clocks, but I’ve only kept a few. You can make a mistake. Especially on those deer horns. You make one slip up and it cuts the deer horn off. If the circle is not perfect, I don’t do it. I’ve never been an artist, but I remember as a kid I loved to do paint by the numbers, and it is almost a paint by the numbers if you trace it out.”

The clocks are a new project for Barnes, but for the last three years he has spent a considerable amount of time building, tweaking and selling his tin lined coolers. He first started making the coolers 10 years ago, but kicked it into gear in 2015 when he realized that he could turn his hobby into a mini business.

“I saw the first one ever in Kroger about 10 years ago,” Barnes said of his coolers. “It was a really neat looking cypress that was grey and it was small. It was just a little cooler and it didn’t cost but $100. I wasn’t retired at the time. I said I just can’t sit still and I love to woodwork. I love to make homemade stuff for Christmas presents so I made several.”

The coolers are 36 inches tall and can hold either two or four 24 packs depending on their size. The coolers are insulated with two layers of ¾ inch foam board and combined with the wooded exterior, the ice “stays about two days. It is kind of a weekend cooler,” Barnes said.

He originally made them out of pine, but over the years has switched to using cypress and Cedar.

“It is a high-grade cypress that takes the weather real well and I make them out of cedar,” Barnes said. “I used to make them out of pine, and there is nothing wrong with making them out of pine, except pine will warp out in the weather. cypress doesn’t warp and it holds the weather. If you keep it out on your patio or in your carport, it is fine. It weathers real good with any environment.”

Over the years, he has added wheels to make them more maneuverable, added a shelf, and designed a drainage system that allows water to be drained through a hose attached to the bottom.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the tin lining that gives them their distinctive look.

“They’ve got galvanized tin, or roofing metal, inside to make them look nostalgic like the old Coca-Cola coolers that you used to go down to the store and buy your 10 cent Coca-Colas out of,” Barnes said. “I wanted them to be nostalgic and be something that will last a long time.”

The coolers take about three days to make and he said he has sold about 75 of them over the past three years. When he first started selling them, he went all over the state to fairs and things really took off at the Neshoba County Fair where he sold 10. By the end of the year he had sold 55, and quickly realized that he needed to slow down because his hobby was becoming more of a job.

“It was a hobby, that is what it is, so that first year when I started making so many I said I don’t want this to be a job,” Barnes said. “I just want this to be a hobby so I backed off on the number of shows I did, but I still love doing it.”

Barnes added the clocks and other crafts to his selection last year after realizing he was actually losing money at the shows because the coolers he would sell were in the form of orders. He started with holiday crafts and then started building the clocks, which his brother had previously made.

“During the holidays, I made holiday crafts out of wood, some nativity scenes, little mantle decorations and these reversible scarecrow/snowmen. They sold good,” Barnes said. “I sold all my clocks during the Christmas season. I had about five. That is what I am going to start doing this spring in the shows that don’t have the fall or Christmas themes to them and see how the people respond.”

His brother made the deer and duck clocks and now Barnes is working to add a fish and an eagle to take to the shows with him.

Whether it is a cooler, a clock, or one of his holiday pieces, Barnes said he just enjoys woodworking. He will spend hours out in the shop working on projects and if he hasn’t been seen in a while, his wife Sandra will poke her head in and check on him.

“Spending the time out in the workshop, I love the smell of wood,” Barnes said. “When I get in there with the cedar the shop smells like cedar, it is just really good. You have to concentrate and it is relaxing. Unless I have a time schedule, I just take my time and I love to woodwork.”