Meet the man behind custom metal signs that are more like pieces of art.
Saying metal has introduced Winston Wilson to another world might sound strange, but it’s as accurate as the cuts his JD Squared CNC Plasma Table makes in sheets of steel. In a sense, the 33-year-old Birmingham native was already familiar with metal, simply from working with manufacturers in vehicle processing. He knows his way around automobiles … and anything else with an engine, really. But to make items people want to hang on the walls of their homes—and to have the ability to personalize these items with names, with designs, with colors—is what keeps him returning to the large shop on his property in Chelsea, even after long workdays at his regular job.
“It was a hobby, but I kept having people ask me to make them stuff,” Winston says. “I started calling myself ‘Iron City Metal,’ and incorporated about a year ago.”
He credits his dad with instilling in him curiosity and a desire to learn how to build things. As an adult, he helped his mom at her garden and home décor business, at which she sold wrought iron planters imported from Mexico. About three years ago, he started thinking about the items he could make if he had the necessary equipment. So, he purchased his first machine for metal cutting and shared it with his mom.
“From that, it has snowballed into a lot of other equipment,” Winston says. Eventually, he bought another machine so he could fit in more projects. Word of his metal creations traveled fast. With more equipment at his disposal and a rising number of customer requests, he’d officially started a small business.
Working with metal introduced Winston to working with wood, something he used to think was “boring.” Now, he mixes the two in many of his pieces. He bought a sawmill last year, along with a band saw, a planer and new welding machines. He says much of the wood he uses is “urban timber salvage,” or trees that were destined for a landfill before he got them. “There’s some beautiful stuff that comes out of that,” he adds. “When wood meets metal, I just think it’s a cool combination.”
The sawmill sits next to a kiln Winston built near his shop. Set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit with two dehumidifiers, the kiln’s purpose is to remove bugs and moisture from the wood before he uses it for projects.
The majority of what he does for Iron City Metal is “artsy stuff” like wall hangers, door hangers and business signs. He made a piece for the city of Chelsea to commemorate the old Weldon store that was dismantled earlier this year. “I design most of my stuff, but I also buy commercial licenses for stuff when people request it,” he says. “I do a lot of custom things.”
All of Winston’s requests come through word of mouth and his Iron City Metal Instagram page. “I’m selective because of my full-time job, but I do enjoy seeing my stuff out there,” he says. “I have as much business as I want keeping it word of mouth and references from my customers.”
Between filling customers’ requests, he makes pieces for his family. Last month, he completed a set of garage doors opening from the living room to the patio. He uses mostly mild steel for projects, but occasionally turns to aluminum and stainless steel. Requests that require him to be more creative than usual with designs keep him on his toes. “Anytime I get someone new who wants to think outside the box, I get excited and a little nervous conveying what they have in their head onto steel,” he says. “All of this is a fun, yet frustrating, process. It’s been a learning curve.”
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