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Vietnam veteran supports local military

Mike Caldwell opens his wood shop to JBLM soldiers

Vietnam veteran Mike Caldwell sands Western red cedar at his workshop in Port Angeles. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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During the summer months, you can find Mike Caldwell at the Port Angeles Farmers Market, where he sells his handcrafted Western red cedar patio furniture. He always has a kind word for those serving in the military and often hands out cedar boxes to thank them for their service.

One of those boxes led to a call from a lieutenant from the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, who wanted to bring some engineering soldiers out to Mike's Cedar Works.

"They came and spent a day with me learning woodworking," said Caldwell, who served his time in the Army with the 1-5 Mechanized Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, and was deployed to Vietnam from 1967-1968. "I got a kick out of the interaction between the officer and his soldiers."

After retiring 10 years ago, Caldwell began to hone his skills as a woodworker.

"I am completely self-taught.  As I got better at it, I started selling pieces and was able to buy better tools," he said.

Over the years, he has refined his work and now just makes patio furniture.

Caldwell only works with Western red cedar, which is known for its weather resistance and insect deterrence. It is extremely durable with a vivid grain pattern that makes for a natural beauty. His wood comes from Richard Loomis, who mills trees from his property in Forks. Loomis is also a retiree and mills as a hobby and to make a little extra income.

"The wood I use is from the tree to me," Caldwell said. " (Loomis) mills it thicker for me, and I select each piece."

Most wood furniture is made from half-inch boards, but Caldwell uses three-quarter-inch boards.

"It makes the furniture stronger," he said.

Once home with the lumber, he hand planes each piece in the workshop next to his home and then begins the process of creating furniture.  Caldwell has his own take on the classic Adirondack chair. It has a more curved back and wider armrests to increase comfort.

"I have three requirements for my furniture," he said. "It has to look good, feel good and be good."

His philosophy is evident in his work, and he goes the extra mile by including things you won't see on most store-bought furniture.  For instance, he blends putty with sawdust to make a mixture that hides the screws and makes a smooth surface.  He also uses his own blend Chevron shingle oil and Minwax Natural to rub in to the wood.

"I take the time to make it right," he said.

During the winter months, Caldwell spends time in his shop building up his inventory for the coming season.  He can also tailor his pieces to fit anyone.  

"I have made chairs for little people and those weighing almost three hundred pounds," he said.

People often comment on how low his prices are.  

"I sell mostly to local people, and around here, we can't afford Seattle or California prices," he added.

Mike's Cedar Works, by appointment, 1225 W. Leo Lane, Port Angeles, 360.452.7360,

Port Angeles Farmers Market, open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 133 E. Front St., Port Angeles, 360.460.0361,

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