Dan Carpenter watches as his plasma cutter finishes off one of his designs. In the background, to his left, is the computer where he controls the end product with the click of a mouse. Photo by Jason Selby
On the west side of Corydon, Dan Carpenter stands at his welding table applying the finishes touches to a metal sign. Behind him sits a CNC plasma cutter that glows orange sparks once he is satisfied with a design, after he clicks on his computer’s mouse.
It is a balance. Carpenter is well versed at being of two minds. He balances farm work with entrepreneurship. At his shop in town, it is a juggle between, and a combination of, artwork and mechanical expertise.
His work varies from coat hangers to fire pits, from business signs to cemetery archways and the metal sponsors’ billboard below Seymour Community School District’s new football scoreboard, ordered two weeks before dedication. One of Carpenter’s projects is a metal archway 28 feet wide that will stand 15 feet above one of the entrances at the new George Saling Field. Vehicles will pass through to the renovated facilities this fall.
“I made [Carpenter] build some brackets for monitors in my tractor,” fellow farmer/entrepreneur R.J. Olmstead of North East Auto & Cycle says, “and I watched him for five minutes, on the [PlasmaCam DesignEdge] program, keep
changing the lines until that curve would be exactly what it should be. He wants to make sure everything is perfect.”
“This is always a work in progress,” Carpenter says. “[Cut it Out Metal Designs] has taken off. I don’t feel like I’m making it yet, but I can see that it can.”
Carpenter began his business, Cut it Out Metal Designs, at home around 10 years ago. A little over two years ago, he moved into his current location on the west edge of Corydon at the Evitt Pipe & Welding building. The two businesses interact with each other.
He uses a CNC plasma cutter to fashion his work. Last November, Carpenter and Paul Evitt bought a press break. This allows him not only more capability bending metal, but also more creativity in his designs. He is in the process of finetuning a design for park benches that could be transported more easily by
making them into two pieces rather than one.
“That’s been a longer, more drawnout process.”
Carpenter once hauled grain and seed with his brother, Doug, before selling his semi-truck last October—it helped to motivate him to put his heart into his business. This is the first spring in 18 years he has not hauled seed. He liked driving, feeling like he was his own boss, but profitability had dropped.
“The dynamics of farming has changed in general. Every farmer has their own truck, now, to go direct to market. For it to work, I would have to be gone more, and I want to be home for my family.
“My son, Luke, was born in 2003. No one has a handle on what kids are all about until you have them. We were trucking then. And I thought, if I start this, and the business takes off and I have a sideline [occupation], I could stay right here close to home and have time with them.
“I want to get it to the point where farming is my sideline. I don’t know that I’d want to give up the farming. I’m not a big farmer by any means, and we all know that that is very volatile.”
Carpenter farms 240 acres south of Corydon. His brother farms a little less than 300 acres. They work together.
“We don’t have cattle anymore. Growing up, we finished 100 sows, we had 150 beef cows, and we always had at least 150 chickens. Then we farmed 400 acres, but most of what we farmed went back into the livestock. But now, it’s all row crop and cash crop hay.
“PSF, they had 50,000 big, round bales—you flood the market with that, even if it’s not real good hay, even if people have to buy twice as much when it’s that cheap—they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do, but that’s hurting the market.”
Carpenter’s side business was not planned, but it was a welcome discovery.
“I just got to looking at plasma cutters in general for repair work on farm equipment, and when I was researching that, I saw these tables,” Carpenter says. “And I said, you know, that’s right up my alley, because I have an engineering degree. I like the design, engineering and creativity of it, working with angles and that kind of stuff.
“I’ve always liked to draw. I’ve never necessarily seen myself as an artist. It seemed liked a really good fit to incorporate some art with the engineering and mechanical aspects.”
He graduated from Iowa State University in 1993 with a bachelors of science degree in agriculture and biosystems engineering. He is a 1988 graduate of Wayne Community High School. Carpenter came home every summer and spring break to farm.
For a while after college, he worked as a feed salesman, but he still does not see himself as a salesperson.
“The thing I liked about that job was going out and meeting people. [But] I don’t want to tell people just what they want to hear.”
Carpenter cannot compete with some large manufacturers that hammer out 100 pieces from a template.
“I like every sign being individual, but that’s hard making a lot of money doing that. You spend a lot of time drawing each individual one.
“They’re buying truckloads of steel and doing the exact same thing over and over again. I can’t compete with that. Some of that stuff you can buy at the store cheaper than I can buy the material to do it, without any of my time or effort in it. That’s something that we cater to here, that people can’t get somewhere else.”
His angle is the uniqueness of each design. He struggles with this, though. Often, a customer will see something Carpenter has cut for someone else, and they want that, as well.
“Problem is, you’ve got a lot of dollars worth of materials there, and a lot of time worth of design and welding and bending. That’s something I wrestle with. Profitability, being able to make things affordable to other people, but to still make money on it. I’d like to make it big enough and profitable enough, but I also want to keep it personal.
“That’s where I think the park bench thing would be a good marriage. It’s kind of a manufacturing thing, but everything’s different—you’re putting a different name on every bench and personalizing to make it special and different.”
In the past 10 years, he estimates that he has designed and cut around 1,000 pieces. Every year at the Wayne County Fair, he cuts plaques for contest winners. He has also done work for Decatur and Appanoose County fairs.
Carpenter lives in Millerton with wife Ashley. They just celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary. They have a son Luke, 12, and a daughter Claire, 9. Dan is the son of the late Jimmy Carpenter, and Betty Carpenter of Corydon.
For more information on Cut it Out Designs, call 641-897-3489 or 641-344-3596, or visit their Facebook page.