Heavy Metal // Soldering on at Monkey Wrench Fabrications

By Lizbeth Jones

Tucked away down Westerly Lane in the center of Bainbridge Island you’ll find Monkey Wrench Fabrications, a two-story workshop where sparks fly year round—albeit “off the grid,” as the shop is completely powered by solar and wind. A visit through the heavy wooden sliding doors of the barnlike shop reveals a brightly lit, clean space that houses everything metal—from retrofitted classic motorcycles, custom railings, cabinetry and countertops to smaller pieces of wall sculpture, chandeliers and garden ornaments.

Monkey Wrench Fabrications is a three-man co-op formed by Jeremy Loerch and his partners Rob Hendrickson and Dave Sutton. Loerch started his metalworking career in a busy shop in Seattle. There was always a steady flow of work and income, but the trade-off was long hours spent away from his wife, Kira Faulkner, and their young children.

Although he certainly doesn’t look the part, Loerch has also worked as a preschool teacher and knows how short the time frame is for quickly growing children who, unlike metal figures, do not remain in their original cast.

Their move to Bainbridge Island in 2008 was inspired by the couple’s desire to raise their family in a country setting and to spend more time with them while doing what they love. This dream was realized over time as orders came in from those lucky enough to have found Monkey Wrench, which is one of the few custom metalwork studios in the Kitsap area. Due to the various skill sets of the co-op’s partners, there’s almost nothing the shop can’t do.

For example, Loerch can design and fashion the framework for a patio or a countertop, which is then filled with dyed or stained concrete poured by Hendrickson, who also incorporates tile, stamped imprints or colorful unique stones to create one-of-a-kind but nearly indestructible surfaces and backdrops.

Custom iron and concrete is fairly common in warmer climates where wood structures or trim are vulnerable to blistering rays. Although extreme heat isn’t generally a factor in our part of the world, these materials can also be a superior choice for resisting mildew and rot without continual maintenance. The lower cost of the base materials, below that of popular granite, soapstone or cedar, also opens up more possibilities for budget-conscious customers who still want something unique and customizable. “Our best work is one-off pieces that have a life of their own,” Loerch said.

Patios and countertops are just one segment of the business. The overlap of their various projects also creates sustainability for the coop, providing stability in a topsy-turvy economy. If a dip in the market for business or home improvement slows the rate of orders for ironwork, the demand for the restoration of classic cars and motorcycles over new purchases may create an upswing for partner Dave Sutton.

Known as the “engine whisperer,” Sutton’s workspace harkens back to a time before computer diagnostics and ready-made parts. Loerch said of Sutton’s instincts, “If it uses fuel, he can [determine what it needs just by] putting his hands on it.” The shop often takes on vintage motors that require parts that are no longer available.

A favorite restoration piece is a 1948 British Ariel motorcycle that came to the shop without a manual. By laying out the pieces on the floor, Loerch and his partners discovered what was broken or missing and made the parts themselves. This was possible due to Loerch’s knowledge of the theory of metals, coupled with his skills with his favorite tool: an antique power hammer from 1913. Loerch can fabricate sheet metal into solid pieces such as a copper-plated gasoline tank or an unusually curved fender for a funky van.

Whether the project involves an antique engine or a lampstand with delicately scrolled leaves, the guys at Monkey Wrench Fabrications welcome complex challenges.

“When we do a piece that’s specialized or has meaning for the individual,” Loerch said, “that’s what makes it fun.”

Examples of Monkey Wrench Fabrications can be seen at Bainbridge Island Boxing Club, Soup’r Burger, and the entrance gate to the Island School. bainbridgeisland.com/mw

Heavy Metal // Soldering on at Monkey Wrench Fabrications Heavy Metal // Soldering on at Monkey Wrench Fabrications