Over the past year, the market for wooden DIY projects has exploded. The work the forestry industry does provides the wood, so we set out to see some of the best DIY projects around. We started with our own employees, holding the first-ever Rayonier DIY Contest. Today, we feature Florida-based Revenue Specialist Laura Peacock and her rustic wooden cooler.
The story behind the design of Laura Peacock’s rustic DIY wooden cooler pays homage to the man who taught her not only about woodworking, but also about what it means to make the most of what you have and to be a blessing to others.
Like father like daughter, in more ways than one!
Laura learned the basics of woodworking from her father while growing up in small town Florida. His woodworking skills were born of necessity and honed for pleasure as a young man. He was a Vietnam veteran who did most of his woodworking outdoors or in his shop, which is what drew her to the craft. “My brother and I gravitated towards whatever Dad was doing because it was outside and we were outside most of the time. So we were naturally drawn to it.”
“My dad was one of nine kids, so they didn’t pay people to do things they could do themselves. My dad picked up woodworking to help out around the house. He wasn’t great at it for a long time, but he crafted his skills and eventually got good at doing a lot of different things.”
“We mostly learned from watching him. Our family was really close and we did everything together. We wanted to work together, whether it was canning season, building a deck, adding a room, or building a birdhouse. Except there was a line drawn between my mom and dad, dad didn’t cross to mom’s quilting and she didn’t cross to his woodworking territory!”
Ironically, Laura’s father worked for Rayonier in the Fernandina paper mill (Rayonier owned the mill until 2014, when Rayonier Advanced Materials spun off into its own company). “It’s funny to think that my Dad retired from Rayonier, now I work for Rayonier and we both share that love of woodworking.” Like father, like daughter, in more ways than one.
Though Laura’s father passed away from lung cancer about 7 years ago, her family still continues their traditions of helping one another and others. Whether it’s helping each other with woodworking projects, volunteering at church, or helping a disabled neighbor mow his ditch, Laura’s father instilled a strong sense of generosity, dependability and community in his children.
The story behind the cooler: inspired by pallets, made from fencing panels
Laura’s cooler, a finalist in the Rayonier employee DIY Contest, was inspired by her friends in Nashville. They asked her to help them build one out of pallets.
“I saw the picture and was like, heck yes!”
But Laura had other plans in terms of design and execution.
“My Dad was actually doing pallet crafts long before it was a thing. When I got married, he built me what seems like an 800 pound china cabinet out of pallet boards. So, I knew what a chore they can be to take apart.”
Keen on avoiding the chore of pallet dismantling during her next visit to Tennessee, and eager to surprise her friends with a premade gift, Laura figured out another way to build the cooler.
“I really like taking a design and figuring out how to put my own spin on it. I had just repaired my privacy fence and I had fence panels. So I said, forget about pallets, I’ll just use these. It worked out perfectly!”
For the cooler itself, Laura bought a basic red chest cooler and built a rolling rustic cabinet around it. She removed the top from the cooler and built a wooden lid to fit. Then she added a spout on the side for drainage using basic plumbing hardware (a pipe and a spigot).
“So, I had the whole thing made, but led them on to believe we’d go find some pallets and build it. They were so surprised! I’m like that. If you give me an idea I’m probably going to try it out.”
In addition to its good looks, the cooler is also super functional, as it can be rolled around to different parts of the yard, to block parties, etc. She even included a small chalkboard sign on the cooler that can be customized for special occasions.
“I’ve built about 5 of them now and have yet to finish my own! But that always seems to happen because I love giving my stuff away.”
Woodworking as a hobby and a side hustle
Laura not only builds and designs beautiful coolers and furniture, she’s also created a side-job making door hangers out of plywood (pictured below).
“So woodworking has also become a great way to make some extra money, but I mostly just enjoy doing it. Especially these days when people are starting to appreciate handmade items more. That’s another thing, I feel like my Dad and I started doing these things (like working with pallets, making custom door hangers, etc.) before they became trends.”
Thanks to the skills she learned from her father, Laura was also able to do most of the renovation work on what she lovingly refers to as her “new-old-home,” including installing crown molding and replacing sheetrock. A big sell-point of the home was the 3-car garage, which meant she now has more than enough room for a woodshop and storage.
As a hobby, Laura derives great pleasure from transforming raw materials into the finished product. But ironically, she does not consider herself a “creative person.”
“I never felt like I was a really creative person. But I don’t have to be creative, I just have to be a copycat! I have the tools and I have an ability to take something that’s not and turn it into something that is, and it makes me feel good.
“The ties to my family history, and just seeing people’s faces when they unwrap a camper door hanger to hang on their camper door…I just love to make other people happy.”
Bridging the gender gap in woodworking: advice for women who like power tools
For whatever reason, woodworking has been a predominantly male pastime. Yet women are perfectly capable of mastering the art and skill. Here’s Laura’s take on the gender gap and how women can get past it and join the party:
“I’m in my mid-40s, and for people like me and older, there’s a line that’s been drawn about what men do and what women do. As women in general, and it’s easier for us to limit ourselves based on those old stereotypes. But know that it’s okay to break the mold a little bit. Because the thing is, if you want to learn something these days you can learn how to do it. There are thousands of resources out of there.”
“As my mom would always say when I’d ask her if I could do this or that, ‘Why not?!’ Give it a shot. The worst that can happen is you’re out a bit of money for materials.”
“I used to teach, and I’d tell my students that if they could read they can do anything. You don’t even have to be able to read these days. Just ask Alexa, Siri, or tell your TV remote what you want to see. Knowledge is power, learn all you can and become all you can. There are no limits!”
You can read more of our DIY stories featuring talented woodworkers here.