Jeff Vasey, Versatile Wood Products Jack-of-All Trades

Jeff Vasey of Versatile Wood Products
Jeff Vasey of Versatile Wood Products. Behind him sits a 100-year-old “mortiser machine.”

As a train filled with lumber roars by, Versatile Wood Product’s mill foreman, Jeff Vasey, takes a break from his normal duties to share his story with me. Jeff is the longest-working employee for Versatile and started with the sister company, Arciform, in 2001. Beginning as a field carpenter, he worked with a small team of four carpenters who built the original Arciform building in North Portland off Skidmore Street and Interstate Avenue. The business owned by Richard and Anne DeWolf’s quickly outgrew that location.

Train tracks off North Randolph street, Portland, OR.
Train tracks off North Randolph street, Portland, OR. Photo by Christopher Dibble

“Arciform outgrew the original shop right away,” says Vasey. “So they bought a second building in the industrial area off North Randolph Street.”

The Arciform shop space was originally only ¼ of the size it is today, and much of it was rented to other tenants. “AWOL Dance Studio would have aerial dancers hanging from the ceilings in one part of the warehouse,” remembers Vasey.

Arciform Acquires Versatile Wood Products

Then, in 2011, the merge happened. Arciform acquired the 30-year-old custom wood manufacturing company, Versatile Sash and Door (now Versatile Wood Products). The aerial dancers no longer dangled from the ceiling and Vasey played a major role in the expansion of the workshop.

Jeff’s devotion to Arciform and Versatile and his pride in his work becomes clear to me as he talks about developing the space.

“As a field carpenter, you’re sort of a jack-of-all-trades. This came in handy for me as an employee of Arciform and Versatile. I helped wire the new building’s shop-space and created a piping/dust-collection system. In addition I remodeled, built and moved equipment as our space and services expanded,” says Jeff.

Jeff explains the many types of wood Versatile carries. Versatile holds over 40 different species of wood and grades.

Jeff Vasey’s Story

“I’ve always had a mechanical-type of brain,” Jeff reflects. He remembers participating in the soapbox derby when he was 9 and 10 years old, where he won the awards for best constructed as well as best designed car.

Raised in Fargo, North Dakota, Jeff Vasey moved to Portland in 1985. I learn that Jeff is not only a carpenter, an engineer and a mechanic, but he’s also an artist.

Art brought Vasey to his wife, Vicky DeKrey, as well as to Oregon. Vasey and DeKrey met at North Dakota State University, where they both majored in art. At first living with a cousin in Washington, DC, they finally followed their favorite professor, Jerry Vanderline, who was originally from Portland, Oregon. As a result, when Vanderline moved back to Portland, he invited them for a visit.

“We toured over 11,000 miles of land on the way. Oregon was by far the most beautiful of all the places I’d been.”

It’s a familiar story to me. My own parents grew up in the flat lands of Oklahoma. When they took a road trip to the Northwest they were completely wonder-struck by the tall trees and lush greenness of it all. Perhaps it is a place that attracts artists.

However, once in Oregon, Jeff Vasey painted less and less. He got into photography, created electronic music, hiked and backpacked. He also started fixing a friend’s home in exchange for living there. After a while he learned of Arciform from a friend who worked there.

Jeff’s Work Today

As we walk through the shop, Jeff explains to me what different tools do.

“This one is probably the oldest machine in the shop. It must be over a hundred years old and is built like a battleship.” Jeff says. “It drills this groove into the window frame so you can fit these two joints together.”

He holds up two sash frame corners and slides them smoothly into place. It’s called a mortise and tenon joint.

Jeff is no longer a field carpenter because he has grown into the shop manager at Versatile. When I ask Jeff what his favorite thing about his job is, he says it’s the variety of projects they work on. He likes the details of some of the historical-style carpentry work. He fondly reflects on his days as a field carpenter.

“I miss getting to see the end result of my work as much as I did when I was working in the field. I loved getting to work directly with Anne and Richard on projects, because having the designer or architect so accessible while working on a project is a treat. It’s a collaborative process here.”

One of Vasey’s favorite woods is this quarter-sawn white oak. He holds it to the light for us to see it shimmer.

I learn that Jeff Vasey is known as the resident wood expert at Versatile. Asking him what his favorite type of wood is, he shakes his head and says, “No, I couldn’t choose just one.”

by Snow Blackwood, Creative Director of SnowBDesigns
Photos by Christopher Dibble Photography

 

Curtis Nagel, Versatile’s New Drafter

Curtis Nagel

After his enlistment in the Navy Curtis Nagel returned to Texas to complete an Associate Degree in Architectural Technology. To begin his professional journey as a drafter. Curtis’ most recent accomplishment was obtaining his Master’s Degree in Technology Management with an emphasis in safety (occupational and industrial hygiene). During each of these degrees, Curtis worked full time as a drafter and buyer for an electronics manufacturing business.  The business developed devices for the disabled community that had limited to no mobility.

You’ve been brought on as one of Versatile’s Drafters. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

Curtis Nagel: My main areas of responsibility will deal with documenting site specific conditions and applying my knowledge of architectural building systems to assist in drafting technical shop drawings for manufacturing. I will be collaborating with the sales, estimating, manufacturing, and other design teams to ensure my work will be easily understood and of high value.

You have a background in personnel management, avionics maintenance, architectural and mechanical drafting/design, and component procurement. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

Curtis Nagel: The most similar aspect that I can compare is collaboration. Knowledge is not static and must be continuously updated to assist in getting all hands on the same page. With multiple divisions collaborating projects together, we all can gain by learning the experience and knowledge from our peers and clients, working towards an end goal. The most different aspect that differs from my previous employment is with the large amount of individuals involved with each project. When I designed electronic case enclosures, there were only a handful of individuals involved from start to finish during project conception all the way to manufacturing, including principals.

What inspires you about custom manufacture?

Curtis Nagel: I consider custom manufacturing to be hand crafted and of quality work that cannot be obtained at a big box home improvement store. There are many times we “update” our homes with what is readily available but not always of the most suitable choice when seeking quality and period correct components for the project at hand. No matter what restaurant, store, landmark, building, or house that I am visiting, I am constantly looking at the design and building techniques used. I find more enjoyment out of those who take the time to understand the building components and manufacture them to suit the building properly and with quality.

Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?

Curtis Nagel: I was in charge of developing an adaptive switch that would allow users with cerebral palsy to access switch-based communication devices. While there are many types of adaptive switches in the niche market that we served, none were of higher quality. I was able to dissect and study each of the main competitor switches to see what made their switches “special” in their brand. Overall, I found nothing that really set them apart and I focused on designing a switch that was quieter when actuated, was much more durable for the CP user who was rougher on equipment, and that used custom manufacturing techniques that did not require redundant and costly fasteners. I was able to incorporate die-cut sound dampening foam pads that reduced noise when actuated as well as when the switch recoiled.

Designing the switch using a specific blend of plastics that allowed higher impact. And since this switch was only 2.5 inches in diameter with incorporated wiring and mechanics, the use of excess fasteners was reduced by understanding the effects of bonding plastic parts together with certain solvents. The precision design work of multiple components this small was a challenge to make sure they mate properly and did not hinder functionality because that would mean our disabled users would not be able to use their communication devices.

What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?” 
  1. One of my bucket list items would be to travel to the Pyramids of Giza. I have always enjoyed learning about the architecture of the ancient Egyptians.
  2. During my first year of architecture school I wrote a paper on the architecture in Greece. I would love to go see the Acropolis in person.
  3. A few years ago I used to run competitively and never made it to the marathon level. I would love to leap over that distance hurdle.

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

Nicole Carruth, Versatile’s New Sales Assistant:

Nicole Carruth

Meet Nicole Carruth, one of Versatile’s new Sales Assistants. She has a degree in Interior Design from Portland Community College and previously studied art. Professionally, she has a background in retail and the service industry.

You’ve been brought on as one of Versatile’s first-ever Sales Assistants. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

Nicole Carruth: As a Sales Assistant, my basic responsibility will be to format sales quotes and estimates; I am also here to support the Sales Team whenever other needs come up. I’m excited to grow in this position and I look forward to discovering what defines the role of Sales Assistant in the future.

You have a background in interior design and showroom sales. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

Nicole Carruth: The aspects that are most similar to my previous work are things like writing specifications and researching materials. The thing that is most different is that I’m working in a sales department that isn’t storefront retail, which is refreshing.

What inspires you about custom manufacture?

Nicole Carruth: Custom manufacture is unique and somewhat of an art form in modern society; and I have the privilege of contributing to that.

Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?

Nicole Carruth: Most of the projects I’ve worked on have their own set of challenges. I can’t single one out, but I know that I’ve learned a great deal from all of them, and that’s the most important thing to me.

What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?” 

Nicole Carruth: I don’t know about three, but I definitely want to visit Spain someday.

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

 

Rex Vaccaro, Versatile’s Custom Design Manager

Rex Vaccaro

Rex grew up in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania. He also lived in Phoenix, AZ and in Seattle, WA before deciding to make Portland home. He has an AAS in Architectural Design & Drafting plus 10 years’ experience working closely with architects, designers, engineers, and builders. He also has 14 years working with both European style cabinetry and traditional face frame cabinetry. Rex loves bicycling, hiking, gardening and remodeling his 1927 English cottage.

You’ve been brought on as Versatile’s first-ever Custom Design Manager. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

Rex: I’ll be working closely with our sales and production teams. Determining best design-build requirements for all of our products including doors, cabinets, sash, windows, furniture and store fronts etc. Creating processes and drafting standards for clear precise shop drawings to ensure the best product possible on a timely basis. I’ll also be hiring a couple more drafters in the very near future to meet our ever increasing growth demands!

You have a background in Architectural drafting and cabinetry design. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

Rex: It really ties both of my prior lives together. Plus the satisfaction that comes with being part of the superior well-crafted products that we are known for. With an added opportunity to put together a creative team that can adapt to the demands of our fast paced growth.

What inspires you about custom manufacture?

Rex: I love that every project is unique!

Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable? 

Rex: It’s difficult to choose! I guess it would be either the Block House Cafe casework and furniture in Dayton, OR, or the Witherspoon Building store-fronts downtown. Both of these projects were beautifully designed and had unique sets of sight specific challenges to overcome. The Block House Cafe project included a 10 foot tall back bar made of Eastern Black Walnut. With the added challenge of concealing all the seismic bracing requirements. The counter and table tops were all made of reclaimed fir from the original floor joists!

What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?” 

Rex: Travel, travel, travel!  I want to see everything but I want my next stops to be either the Acropolis, the Pyramids, a cruise through the Panama or the Mediterranean…or to just see the northern lights! I also have a pact with my partner to bike the coast from BC to Mexico!

About Versatile Wood Products | Contact Us

Erica Witbeck, First Operations Manager

Erica WitbeckWe couldn’t be more excited to announce that Erica Witbeck has agreed to join the Versatile Team as its first Operations Manager. Her job will be to improve the efficiency of our entire production process to meet client goals and deadlines. To keep Versatile running smoothly. Here’s a quick interview with Erica to give you an idea of who she is and what she will bring to the organization.

  1. Erica, you’ve been brought on as Versatile’s first-ever Operations Manager. Tell us about what your areas of responsibility will be.

Erica Witbeck:

My objective is to be the organizing force for the company. I want to be sure that everyone on our talented team gets to focus on doing what they do best. We have reached a tipping point in scale where processes need to be implemented to make sure it is possible to keep everyone operating smoothly and confidently in their respective areas. We need to be able to create reasonable expectations that we can feel secure about honoring. We need to do it in a way that enhances rather than inhibits information transfer.

Identifying what sticking points there may be, and developing process-based solutions that address the concerns of a growing custom shop, are my biggest goals. This will involve developing and implementing a computer-based sales order/work order system, production planning metrics, and improving internal product flow issues.

 

  1. You have a background in local custom manufactured tile. What aspects of Versatile’s work and process are most similar to your previous work? What’s the most different?

Erica Witbeck:

The thinking and working process of makers and designers are definite common threads. There are challenges that are unique to custom manufacture, especially as it scales up to a larger production model. Learning how to control the process while never limiting the customer’s ability to have a shop create something 100% custom is a theme that has carried across my career.

The materials themselves are quite different in their behavior and manufacture. But the common threads of shop design and having the appropriate tools and safety measures are the same. The production model I came from was on a larger scale and ran dozens of projects concurrently through production. This shop has fewer projects at any given time, and they generally are made from start to finish in each phase of production before the next order is produced.

 

  1. What inspires you about custom manufacture?

Erica Witbeck:

There is a great deal of deserved pride taken from creating a thing of beauty from the ground up. I love fine materials and skilled hands and creative minds. Bringing these aspects in to harmony to make someone’s dream into a tangible reality—well, that’s just thrilling!

  1. Describe one of your favorite past projects. What were the challenges? What were some of the features that made it memorable?

Erica Witbeck:

In my past life, there were SO many custom jobs and projects, they kind of blend together now. Looking back, my favorite projects were always “match this damaged old antique item that we love”. With reproductions, the challenges were not only matching the quality of the original design, but getting glaze chemistry to cooperate and make something convincingly old-looking. It was like archaeology and sculpting and chemistry lab all at once! Getting all of our experts talking and working and testing together made for some really satisfying work. Figuring out how to communicate the process (and its realities and limitations), sample it out in a convincing way, and get those experiments scaled up to an actual finished product was always very rewarding. I instantly saw much of the same intrigue at VWP, and knew I would fall in love. And I did.

 

  1. What are the top 3 things on your “bucket list?”

Erica Witbeck:

  • Gracious! Such a tricky question. I’d say if I were fortunate enough to construct my life in a way to make three wishes come true, they would be:
  • Get my mom to the Czech Republic so she can see where her family came from, and share that experience with her.

  • Dine at French Laundry, just so I’ll know.

  • Write the Great American Novel. It’s all in my head, I swear!