Woodworker goes from sales to cedar
Longtime islander Jeff Bush of Clinton Avenue recently became the sole proprietor of Cedar Works, a company that specializes in designing, restoring and installing fences, arbors, pergolas and outdoor showers. In all his work, Bush employs cedar wood, a lumber that doesn’t require chemical treatment because it’s naturally resistant to rot. That makes it environmentally friendly, Bush says, and the cedar structures are not only appealing, but help increase property values.
Bush grew up in Jamestown and attended the local schools, mowing lawns and doing other landscaping odd jobs for pocket money. He attended Rhode Island College and earned a degree in business management. Following graduation, Bush began a career in pharmaceutical sales, while continuing landscape design on the side.
“I always kept certain clients over the years who kept calling me back,” he said. “Here I am, 41 years old, and I still get calls from people.”
Bush became interested in fences about 10 years ago, and he started building them locally during the summers. As he got more and more involved, Bush had to turn down work because he didn’t have the time.
Late last year he decided it was time for a change.
Right before Christmas, Bush sat down with his wife, Michelle. He said he wanted to change professions. “I decided this is what I want to do on a full-time basis,” Bush said. He formed the company on New Year’s Day, and hopes to get started once the snow breaks.
Bush does a lot of the manufacturing himself. His suppliers drop off white and red cedar at locations he has set up in the area. He works with homeowners on drawings, and calls on a network of professionals to help create computeraided designs when necessary. Permits are not required for fences in Jamestown, and the maximum fence height is 6 feet. Boundaries with the town and neighbors, however, can become a problem.
“What you have to pay attention to is your setbacks off the road,” he said.
An agreed upon boundary with neighbors is an important prerequisite to fence building, Bush says. Even though reaching an agreement can delay a project, it’s worth pursuing so the homeowner doesn’t learn in the future that the fence is not on his property after all. Bush makes use of site surveys for the process if they are available.
“I stress to the homeowner that it’s imperative that we get this right the first time,” Bush said. “Otherwise we have added cost to remove it.”
There are usually reports at a city or town hall that will show a survey with property lines. Those lines don’t often change, Bush says, although they are sometimes challenged. Even though no permit is required, there is the possibility of some paperwork because of neighborly disputes.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s as easy as knocking on the neighbor’s door and working things out. “It’s not always needed,” he said, “but it’s good if all parties agree.”
Other structures, like pergolas, require more interaction with the town. Bush said he would first meet with the homeowner to determine the basic design concepts. Before getting into detailed planning, Bush will ask town officials about the requirements. He then sits down with the homeowner to make sure the whole process is understood.
The type of fence post used, as well as the height, determines how the fence will be anchored into the ground. A metal post, for example, is placed in concrete. A cedar or pressure-treated post is usually set in processed gravel fill so the lip between the dirt and cedar doesn’t fill with water. A post for a typical 6-foot-high fence is placed at a depth of 36 to 42 inches.
The rules of fence building, however, are open for interpretation. There are some instances where Bush will use concrete with a wooden post.
“That just depends on whether it’s an extremely mucky or sandy soil, or if I can’t get deep enough because of a boulder, or if I’m going to hang a gate on it. There are a lot of times when concrete is used, but concrete is not the first thing we look at in a lot of situations.”
One of the biggest challenges for a fence builder, according to Bush, is what he calls the “iceberg effect.” It occurs when a small rock sticking out of the ground turns out to be a large buried boulder. The discovery can have an effect on the both the design and layout. Fortunately for Bush, the problem isn’t as pronounced in Jamestown as areas to the south where there is more natural granite.
Bush likes his designs and features to be coastal in nature. That’s why his business plan covers Rhode Island’s coastline between Westerly and Little Compton, as well as Block Island.
Right now Cedar Works is a oneman operation, but Bush hopes to add summer help, typically high- school students looking for spending cash. He would eventually like to have full-time crews.
Bush is marketing Cedar Works in the contemporary fashion, with a Facebook page and a website (CedarWorksRI.com). More traditionally, Bush is using a “friendsand family” mailing to introduce his new business.
Bush is proud to carry on a family tradition in Jamestown. His parents own a business in town.
“One of my goals was to have a unique business that would offer something to the community here in Jamestown, and then spread out to Newport County and southern Rhode Island.”
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