Sean Murray: wooden mugs and a leap of faith

D-4-T-CP-Sean-Murray-CBy Phyl Newbeck

A week before Christmas, 2013, Sean Murray of Hinesburg took a leap of faith. Despite being the primary family breadwinner, he quit his construction job to start… well, he wasn’t quite sure what he was going to start. Murray had some woodworking tools in his shop and decided it was time to use them. With a background in carpentry, as well as work as a potter in his native Ireland, wood turning seemed like a good way to start.

“I enjoyed high end carpentry and the work I was doing wasn’t high end so I decided to take some money out of my retirement fund and invest in myself,” Murray recalls. “My wife was not happy with me.” Years ago, Murray had seen a kit for making wooden mugs and he decided to give that a try. He went to wood turners’ meetings but eventually opted to do the mugs his own way. When the first few turned out well, he decided to stick with the product which he describes as both lightweight and durable.

Murray sells most of his mugs off the website Etsy, where he has made individual sales and established contacts with companies who request multiple mugs with their logo which he applies with a laser engraver. A big local customer is the Alchemist for whom he has designed mugs with hops engraved all around the sides. Murray shows his work at a variety of local (and not-so-local) establishments including the Good Times Café. At this juncture he only sells cedar mugs but he’s hoping to branch out into butternut, hickory, birch and possibly hemlock. For every mug he sells, he donates money to the non-profit Plant It 2020 which plants a tree in the United States. On big orders, customers get to choose which state but on his own, Murray generally opts for either Vermont or Oregon which is where he gets his Western red cedar.

Murray also makes bowls but so far he’s just given them away as gifts. The length of time it takes him to make them renders them less likely to be profitable. He’s got the process for creating mugs down pat and believes he could train others to help which would give him time for more creative projects. Ideally, Murray would like to make keepsakes from old, beloved, downed trees. He has done that with bowls and would like to expand the sideline to mugs, engraving the information about the downed tree on the base as a way to remember an old leafy friend.

When Murray moved to Hinesburg 12 years ago he wasn’t sure he’d stay. “I didn’t think I’d want to be out in the country,” he admits. That feeling didn’t last. “I wouldn’t move now,” he says. A self-described perfectionist, Murray has been less than satisfied with the liners and lids for his mugs but working with a contractor, he believes he has finally found a company that will custom make them to his specifications. Perhaps then he can take some time to fill a mug and toast his accomplishments.