Lake Norman & Mooresville

Woodworker turns hobby into a business

When you've retired from a career that encompassed four years as a Navy cook, a stint as parts manager for a Ford Dealership and building new homes as well as renovating older ones, what do you do for an encore?

If you're Todd Uebele, you turn your woodworking hobby into a business, making toys for young children and distinctive crosses for homes and churches.

The road leading to that career-in-retirement is an interesting one.

Uebele, 68, a native of Brooklyn, quit high school halfway through his senior year to join the Navy Reserve.

"I hated school and I wanted to experience life on a submarine. It took me two years in the Reserves and a lot of training, but I was assigned to serve on the USS Nautilus, the country's first nuclear sub," said Uebele.

"The Nautilus was called 'the hotel' because it traveled the world showing off American technology. My job was in the commissary - I was the hotel cook. It was a great job," he said, "and I still like to cook, but my wife is the cook of the family now."

After his four-year Navy stint, Uebele went to work as a compositor and pressman in Bayshore, Long Island. By this time he had married his wife, Fran, and the first of their four children was born. When the newspaper folded, he went to work as a parts manager, first at a truck supply firm and then at a Ford dealership.

Hiring a contractor to build the family a new home, he soon found himself helping the contractor so much that he decided to become a homebuilder.

"It was a step of faith," said Uebele. "I'd had no experience whatsoever with home construction, but I'm very persistent when it comes to forging ahead in a new direction."

After building 17 houses in nine years, the housing market slowed and Uebele shifted to home renovations. Shortly thereafter, a visit to friends in Charlotte in 1994 persuaded Todd and Fran to move to North Carolina.

While building their home in Mint Hill, he decided to add a woodworking shop in the back.

After a few years, it was time to move and build once again, this time to Iron Station, southwest of Lake Norman in Lincoln County. The Mint Hill home was sold to his son.

Speaking of the new home, he says, "The two main components were her kitchen and my workshop."

Clearing the land for the Iron Station home resulted in a number of downed trees, which Uebele decided to keep for future woodworking projects. Then fate stepped in.

"We didn't have money to buy Christmas presents - I had retired in 2004 - so I decided to make the gifts myself. I made crosses and toys and Santas and snowmen, all out of wood from the trees I had cut down. I had cedar, pine, maple and black walnut.

"I was giving everything I made away, but I realized I could sell my creations, so I started Tru Woodworking (using his initials: Todd R. Uebele). I was selling my work at local craft shows when somebody requested a mahogany cross, and that opened a Pandora's box for me, so I began making and selling unique crosses.

"Then, when a friend showed me a wooden dog she had bought at auction at East Lincoln Christian Ministry, I took it apart and made a pattern to create my own version. That has proved to be very popular, and I make lots of dogs now. I still sell my work at craft shows, as well as at Red Rooster and Lake Norman Hardware and Home."

Uebele and his wife now have seven grandchildren, and he has made a "tot" chair for each one. Ever on the lookout for new ideas, he has built a cedar changing table for the newest grandson, but since it can be used as a dessert wagon as well, he calls it a "baby changer/dessert wagon."

"Last year I made cutting boards for the family, so I suppose I'll be adding them to my line as well. There seems to be a trend here. My family needs me to make something for them and that leads to yet another idea. I've been retired for several years, but I'm busier now than when I had a real job."

In addition to selling his work, Uebele donates much of what he creates to various charitable organizations and churches.

"I don't make much money with my woodworking projects, but I have fun. I get a real sense of accomplishment, and I'm making memories.

"I consider my woodworking a kind of ministry," said Uebele. "My talents are a gift from God, and I enjoy sharing my gift with others."