National Hardwood Magazine


January 2013 Feature Story


Glacial Wood Products, located in Brooten, Minn., procures about 170,000 board feet of Cherry, Hard Maple and 20 other species for use in their products annually. Their main plant, MaxBat Inc., purchases an additional 80,000 board feet of Ash, Hard Maple and Birch to produce baseball bats.
From Harry Potter To Major League Baseball, Glacial Has It Covered

By Bridget McCrea

Brooten, Minn.–At any given moment, hundreds of children around the world brandish wooden wands made to look like the ones held by their favorite Harry Potter movie characters. Casting pretend spells that transform their friends into frogs and fairies, these young fans don’t realize that the roots of the magical wands clenched in their fists can be traced back to companies like Glacial Wood Products, Inc., located here.

“We started producing the wands when the product marketer called us and asked if we’d be able to help the firm manufacture these movie-related items,” recalled Dick Johnson, company president. “Since then we’ve literally made tens of thousands of different varieties of Harry Potter wands.”

The business proposition posed a few challenges for Glacial Wood Products, Inc., which specializes in custom turning and lathe work like furniture parts, cabinet parts, and store fixtures. The company had to adapt its processes to accommodate the needs of the new customer while also meeting its required price points. “We turn everything, but the wands are a special case because they are so small and intricate,” Johnson explained. “We have to handle and finish them differently than any other products, most of which don’t require finishes.”

Dick Johnson founded Glacial Wood Products in 1991 and helped turn it into a company that specializes in custom turning and lathe work like furniture parts, cabinet parts and store fixtures, as well as magical wands for mythical characters in box office smash movies, like Harry Potter.
Glacial Wood Products has been flexing to meet its customers’ needs since Johnson started the firm in 1991. Working from a 20,000-square-foot location the firm has a total of 17 employees, eight of whom are located 1/2-mile from the main plant at MaxBat, Inc. The latter manufactures wooden baseball bats that are used by major league players across North America.

To make its products, Glacial Wood Products procures about 170,000 board feet of 4/4”-10/4” Cherry, Hard Maple, and roughly 21 other species of domestic wood every year. MaxBat purchases about 80,000 board feet of Ash, Hard Maple, and Birch annually to produce its bats. “We prefer Northern Appalachian Hardwoods,” said Johnson. “Cherry always comes from Pennsylvania and our Maple is from New York and Canada.”

Rounding out the organization’s leadership team are Ben Dahl, vice president and sales and marketing manager for Glacial Wood Products; Jim Anderson, vice president and sales and marketing manager for MaxBat, and Paul Johnson (Dick’s son), vice president and plant manager for MaxBat. Prior to starting the company in 1991, Johnson served as general manager for various other firms in the Hardwood industry. A farmer by trade, Johnson’s ‘semi-retirement’ plan included the purchase of a lathe that he and his son utilized to make wooden plates that crafters used for painting.

“We started making a lot of those wooden plates and shipping them all over the country,” said Johnson. “When that industry shrank a bit we started looking for other needs to fill. That’s basically how we got to where we are today.”

An early decision that the company founder made that has paid off well for the company was to invest in CNC operating turning equipment that allows the firm to handle fast setups with no tooling changes.
MaxBat took shape in 2005, a few years after a large bat maker needed help fulfilling its own orders. “We reached an agreement with one of those bat customers to assume their product name and transfer ownership to our organization,” said Johnson. Following that transaction, MaxBat became a major player in the bat manufacturing industry and today competes at the Louisville Slugger level.

To meet the demands of its multifaceted customer base, Glacial Wood Products invests in new equipment and tools that help it work smarter, better, and faster. One early decision that Johnson said has paid off well was the investment in CNC operating turning equipment that allows the firm to handle fast setups with no tooling changes. “We can quickly accommodate changing markets without much additional money or time investment,” said Johnson. “Avoiding expensive tooling changeovers has allowed us to adapt quickly and grow to where we are today.”

Even the most versatile equipment hasn’t immunized Glacial Wood Products from the negative effects of the persistent economic downturn. “It has really impacted the construction industry and our core business,” said Johnson. “With home construction down and fewer kitchen cabinets being made, our business has really felt the impact.”

To replace that loss of sales, the company added routing, shaping, and alternative wood products to its offerings. Johnson and his team also promote the firm’s long-standing reputation for quality, service, and delivery – three things that customers place a premium on in today’s challenging business environment. “There’s always somebody out there who is offering a cheaper price,” said Johnson, “but we really pride ourselves in being able to meet lead times – which have been reduced to nothing – while always keeping quality and performance at the forefront.”

Handcrafted turned products are made in the 20,000-square-foot location where Glacial Wood Products is situated. The company employs 17 people, eight of whom are at the main plant where MaxBat Inc. is housed.
A member of the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, Wood Component Manufacturers Association, Wood Products Manufacturers Association, and the Northwestern Lumber Association, Glacial Wood Products plans to continue leveraging its in-house capabilities and expertise to solve problems for a wide range of customers. “We can build everything from cabinets to back scratchers to high-end croquet sets,” said Johnson. “Being able to fulfill pretty much any customer request – and working with each of them from the early stages to the delivery of the final product – has served us well.”

To contact this company, call 800-804-6885.

To adjust to the ongoing recession, Glacial Wood Products added routing, shaping and alternative wood products to its offerings.


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