This sustainable woodworker in Fort Wayne is turning felled trees into furniture for Electric Works

In the process of redeveloping Fort Wayne's historic Electric Works campus, some of its mature walnut, honey locust, and mulberry trees needed to be felled. Rather than discarding the trees, the project's developers hired a local craftsman to make custom tables from them, utilizing sustainable practices.

Nicholas Cramer owns Big Tooth Co., housed in a newly renovated workshop in the heart of The 46805 neighborhood. He makes quality, heirloom furniture by hand, using traditional and modern techniques, and for every table he creates, he plants a new tree to honor the material and give life back to the earth. As another step toward sustainability, Cramer collects his wood shavings and sawdust for use as a carbon source in Dirt Wain’s compost heaps. 
Input Fort Wayne sat down with Cramer to learn more about how he left the corporate world to pursue his craft and to get details on the one-of-a-kind furniture he's making for Electric Works.

Nicholas Cramer owns Big Tooth Co.

IFW: How long have you lived in Fort Wayne?

NC: I was born and raised in Fort Wayne. I left in 2010 for university and work opportunities. Then I came back in 2018 to raise a family.

IFW: What was it about Fort Wayne that made you want to raise your family here?

NC: Mostly help, honestly! Small kids and two self-employed parents can be a lot to juggle, so we decided to move back to be closer to family. It takes a village, but with Fort Wayne experiencing so much growth and opportunity recently, it only made the move that much easier.  

Nicholas Cramer, Owner of Big Tooth Co., is making furniture, like conference tables, for the future Electric Works campus, using felled trees from the construction site.

There never used to be much to do here except graduate high school, hit bars, shop, or attend minor league sporting events. I don't think it was just my teenage naivety that made it seem like the restaurant scene, performing arts, and downtown culture of Fort Wayne was not where it could have been through the 2000s. 

Fort Wayne, as a city, along with the people here now, really seems like they are giving it their all, and we love that. It's easy to just move to the hottest, cool and hip city, but it's more difficult and meaningful to give all that you’ve got to the here and now.

Cramer collects his wood shavings and sawdust for use as a carbon source in Dirt Wain’s compost heaps. 

IFW: When did your love affair with woodworking begin?

NC: It might sound silly, but I would say my love affair with woodworking actually began, not with wood, but with plastic legos, in early childhood. I could never get enough of working with and building with my hands. I was typically good at those sorts of activities, too. I was the kid who would disassemble the family lawnmower and reassemble it in the garage and dumpster dive at construction sites, so I could drag away wood scraps for a tree fort in the woods.  

However, I never realized that my hands-on creative pursuits were an essential part of who I was until I started working a corporate desk job in 2013. No joke. I remember on Day One during the office tour, seeing the sea of cubicles and thinking, “Yep, this is not going to work.” I even developed a bit of jealousy toward peers who seemed to thrive.  

Having always been enrolled in a wood or metal shop class or a ceramics course (often both) through high school and university, it was just a consistent creative outlet that I was unaware existed until it disappeared in adult life. (The availability of those classes for students is invaluable, might I add.) 

Big Tooth Co. is housed in a newly renovated workshop in the heart of The 46805 neighborhood.

At first, I thought it would be music that would fill my void, so I saved a good chunk of money to quit my first corporate job in 2015 and pursued life as a musician in Indianapolis. During that brief one-and-a-half-year stint playing and writing music, I randomly got into watching woodworking videos online as a rest and relaxation activity.  

Serendipitously, at that same time, a neighbor across the street from where I lived cut down a dying ash tree. As the tree crew was loading up the wood chunks into a dump trailer, I thought, “Sheesh, that seems like such a waste to throw away. I am broke as hell and need to make some money…. I bet I could make something out of this wood and sell it.” 

For every table he makes, Cramer plants a new tree to honor the material and give life back to the earth.

So I asked them if I could take some pieces. After dragging away six or seven large cuts of the tree, I bought a beat-up chainsaw for $60 on Craigslist and cut the wood into small slabs of lumber. With it being so dang easy to learn and teach yourself anything these days, I went crazy soaking up as much information and technique as I could. I purchased a few tools and started to sell my modest little builds online and made more money woodworking than I ever did gigging. Ha! 

It really doesn’t take a fully outfitted woodshop to make some cool stuff. Writing music slowly took the back burner as my obsession with woodworking and building things grew. Plain and simple, I was way better at building than I was at writing songs and poetry, too.  

Long story short, woodworking was a big happy accident for me. I wonder how many other people might have a love affair with something, like woodworking or ceramics or sewing or violin, but they just don't know it yet. It is incredible that we each have the ability to create useful and beautiful things from seemingly useless materials. I think with all of the attention-grabbing screens of our time, we should try to pursue some sort of hands-on activity more often. It can be grounding and help us remember that there is a highly complex and interactive world right in front of us that we could never recreate on a screen.

Nicholas Cramer, Owner of Big Tooth Co., is making furniture, like conference tables, for the future Electric Works campus, using felled trees from the construction site.

IFW: Out of the four trees you’ll be working on for the Electric Works project, is there one that you’re most excited about? 

NC: Definitely. I would have to say the two black walnut trees since they will be used to make the large conference tables that reside in “The Forum” of Electric Works, which is the large lobby, or communal entry area, for the Carr Workplaces coworking building of the project. These two large tables should showcase some marble and copper inlays in the top, and I think that will look absolutely stellar with the black walnut.

An example of Big Tooth Co.'s work is the bar at Arbor inside The Bradley hotel.

IFW: What types of furniture will you be making? How many pieces?

NC: There will be six large conference tables and coworking tables total. Half of these will possess some very cool inlaid marble and copper. There will also be a large industrial reception/concierge desk with some ebonized wood tops, shou-sugi-ban casework, built-in lighting, and blackened steel and copper details in an upper-tier to top it all off. There might even be a second reception desk with more copper detailing and a set of contemporary blackened steel shelving units in another area of the coworking spaces.

An example of Big Tooth Co.'s work on a quartersawn white oak table.

IFW: Will you be making any non-furniture pieces?

NC: Yes! We should be restoring and repurposing nearly 100 of the original hot water radiators used to heat the buildings. Some will be sealed as-is, rust and all, for some handrail and barrier features in “The Forum.” Others will be painted and implemented as decorative architectural elements throughout the coworking spaces. Although corporate work is not for me, I am undoubtedly a bit jealous of the people who will get to work on the campus every day. It is going to look so good, and we all have CannonDesign to thank for their expertise in design.

An example of Big Tooth Co.'s work on a roundover box joint and waterfall woodgrain piece.

IFW: As a part of your sustainability practices, your website says you plant a tree with every table you build. How many trees have you planted since starting your business in 2015?

NC: I've actually planted hundreds. I regularly donate to the Arbor Day Foundation ($1 creates one tree), and I often start and then plant my own saplings from nuts and seeds gathered from Fort Wayne city parks and street trees. I'm always trying to talk my mom into letting me plant another tree in her backyard, or offering my saplings to people I know. Planting a tree is pretty cool because chances are the tree will outlive the person who planted it.

Big Tooth Co. has planted hundreds of trees since it was founded in 2015.

Learn more

BigTooth Co. is located at 1314 E State St. For more information, visit their website, Instagram, or Facebook.