25 YEARS IN, KIESELBACH WOODWORKS CONTINUES A CENTURIES-OLD TRADITION OF FINE WOODWORKING CRAFTSMANSHIP.
In 2017, when a vandal broke several glass panels in three doors at ‘Iolani Palace (the former seat of monarchy of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i), some more than 130 years old, there was only one local company that took the job to fix the damage.
“When they made windows a century ago, there wasn’t the replication technology that exists now, so every pane of glass has a different thickness. To fix these doors, you couldn’t just program a computer to do it because you’d have to build a different design program for each individual window. This is where our hand craftsmanship comes in,” says Nicholas Haigler, business development manager for Kieselbach Woodworks.
For over 25 years, this local company has been handling some of Hawai‘i’s most unique woodworking jobs—from corporate clients to private homes to, well, the only royal palace in the United States. To tackle the restoration at ‘Iolani Palace, the team at Kieselbach Woodworks replicated each window and individually fitted them into custom-built doors. Today, many of the palace’s original doors and windows are kept in storage for preservation. In their stead are the handcrafted pieces created by Kieselbach Woodworks, which include the windows in the historic coronation bandstand on the lawn.
Twenty-six years ago, this is not the type of project that Wayne Kieselbach imagined he’d be working in Hawai‘i. The Pittsburgh native originally relocated to the Islands to help manage Meadow Gold dairy. He rented a studio in Kahala and one day, built a gate for the property’s front fence in lieu of that month’s rent. A neighbor asked the apartment owner who built the gate and inquired if Kieselbach might be available to build him a gate too. Five gates for five neighbors later, Kieselbach realized he might be able to turn his woodworking hobby into a profession. He began renting a workspace in the Honolulu Furniture Company’s co-op woodshop in Kaka‘ako and eventually graduated up to his own workshop a few blocks away. Two decades later, Kieselbach is still here, working with a five-man crew building gates, doors, railings, windows, staircases and everything wood-related imaginable.
“I jokingly say that we’re the Rolls- Royce of doors,” Haigler says. “Everything is handcrafted. As much as technology has advanced, we still employ tenon joinery, which was used before the Roman days. We have a very niche market because if you’re building a $6 million dollar home, a $400 door from Home Depot may not be what you want as the first impression to your home.”
Kieselbach Woodworks is the company to call for your one-of-a-kind home needs. Like a four-foot-wide, 10-foot-tall carved front door made of teak, which the company just produced for a home- owner near Kahala. Many of their clients are celebrities or business executives. Oftentimes, their contracts to work on a project come with a nondisclosure agreement. “We don’t always get to advertise some projects but our clients will invariably end up throwing a dinner party or housewarming event and the neighbors will ask them who built their doors. Next thing you know, we get a phone call on Monday,” says Haigler. The team just finished working on a house off Diamond Head that required 192 doors and windows. Another client spends one million dollars renovating a different room in their Portlock home each year; Kieselbach Woodworks has been working with them for the past 12 years.
But for every project tucked away in a mansion, there’s another one out in the community. You’ve probably encountered Kieselbach Woodworks’ handiwork somewhere in Hawai‘i without realizing it. Ever notice the beautiful doors at SoHa Living at Kahala Mall, the teak planters at Nobu in Ward Village, or the carved wooden menus at Highway Inn in Kaka‘ako? Or visited at the Four Seasons Hualalai on Hawai‘i Island or Hotel Wailea on Maui? If you’ve ever enjoyed a beer at the wooden bar at Murphy’s Bar & Grill (or J.J. Dolan’s or Ferguson’s or Bethel Union) in Chinatown on a Saturday night or woken up Sunday morning and walked through the heavy doors at the Cathedral of St. Andrew (or St. Peter’s Episcopal Church or Sacred Hearts) for church service, then you’ve crossed paths with fixtures carved by Kieselbach Woodworks. The company is currently renovating a series of pillars and doors for the Shangri La Museum. “They’re the ones outside that are getting a beating from the ocean and sea air,” Haigler says. “It began as a consulting job. The museum was curious about what species of wood this was, and what steps might be needed to reproduce this.”
Haigler says that current popular species of wood include white oak and teak—except Myanmar has significantly limited the logging of teak in recent years to control the loss of forest. Instead, Haigler often prefers accoya, a sustain- able New Zealand pine which is pressure cooked to render the wood indigestible to pests and is guaranteed for 50 years above ground and 25 years near fresh- water. “We’re near saltwater which is a different dynamic, but this material is solid. We’ve used it on restaurant doors in Kailua and the business might be gone before the doors go bad.”
Interested in working with Kieselbach for a future renovation? Haigler recom- mends (in addition to working through a licensed contractor or architect first) having some idea of your needs as well as your surroundings. “Will the wood be taking a lot of weather, like sun and rain? Are you located right on the ocean, like homes in Portlock, which constantly have salt from the ocean bombarding their doors?” Haigler asks. “We’re approach- ing this as woodworkers but also from the perspective. What’s the best way to approach any project, and what would we want to see in our own homes?”