Niles man spends retirement hand-crafting knives, woodwork

Published 12:30 pm Friday, March 1, 2019

Descending the stairs to the study in the lower level of artisan Terry Truesdell’s Niles home, visitors are charmed by warm wood-planked walls, an oversized dog named Dood and Truesdell, typically sitting in a cozy arm chair finishing off the last bit of his drink.

It’s the type of room that one might imagine a woodworker like Truesdell to have in his home, and this particular room is his own labor of love, as is the whole house.

Books and photographs line the sturdy walls and a desk sits patiently waiting for the next big idea or design to begin to take shape on its surface.

The now-retired artist has crafted a life for he and his family, through his many business ventures and hobbies alongside his wife, and partner, Judy.

Truesdell cannot remember a time he was not working with his hands – making something from sheets of plywood or blocks of wood. He fondly recalls the trinkets and toys he made with his first jigsaw – a gift he received when he was 5 or 6 years old.

His grandfather and great-grandfather were woodworkers themselves, his father a restorer of antique furniture. Today, Truesdell finds himself making the most of his retirement making one-of-a-kind knives, walking sticks and wooden spoons and paddles to sell through his business, the Seasoned Artisan.

Prior to retirement, Truesdell designed bookshelves and bookstore interiors. He and his wife owned and operated a 24,000-square–foot manufacturing facility in Niles where they built shelving and retail displays for magazines, books and music products for stores like Meijer, Walmart and Kroger.

Now, most days Truesdell can be found in his 240-square-foot workshop, just steps away from his home, near the banks of the St. Joseph River.

With everything within an arm’s reach, Truesdell finds solace among the walls of his tiny workshop.

“I am a lot more efficient and organized here in 240 square feet,” he said, reaching out with both hands stretching to almost reach the length of the room.

Another benefit of the small space is not having to take too many steps to get from one area of the shop to another, which is good for his retired lifestyle.

Though his passion for woodworking is not far from the forefront of his creative mind, Truesdell enjoys making knives, and has really fallen into a comfortable rhythm producing them.

“Since they are each handmade I don’t really want to get into a production situation,” he said.

One late November day, Truesdell had just finished one of the largest orders he has ever accepted – for a man from Indiana who wanted three sets of steak knives for his children for a Christmas present. He can make a knife – start to finish – in about six hours, so the 18 knives kept him a bit busier than he usually prefers.

Each Seasoned Artisan creation is stamped with the TRUESDELL name with his great-grandfather’s tool stamp. This Truesdell family prized possession has been leaving its mark on original creations since the late 1800s.

While all of the knives Truesdell creates are available for purchase, there is one other way to score a Seasoned Artisan original.

“We haven’t purchased a wedding gift in about 35 years,” Truesdell said. “Our signature gift is a set of knives.”

Among the lucky couples to receive a set of knives made by Truesdell was his good friend, the late Roger Ebert, when he married his wife Chaz, in 1992.

Truesdell and Ebert became good friends after meeting in New Buffalo – where Ebert spent summers and the Truesdells had a business they ran for a few years in the early 1980s, called Dockside Workshop.

Pointing to a sign with the same name hangs proudly in Truesdell’s small shop behind his home today, and there’s another story to go with that – explaining how he procured the beautiful stained glass sign for some work he had done for another artisan in New Buffalo.

Truesdell’s 70-plus years of life have been full of successful manufacturing businesses, artistic endeavors and family businesses — all right here in Michiana.

He has a story to go with every one of the milestones of his life, a storied life as much a treasure as one of his unique creations.

An avid reader and fisherman, when Truesdell is not working in his shop, he travels to one of a few favorite getaway destinations, with a book, a fishing pole and his trusty dog, Dood.


Photography by Emily Sobecki