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  • Last modified 242 days ago (April 12, 2018)

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Custom metalwork is trademark of store

Staff writer

Visitors to Prairie Oaks Designs on Florence’s Main Street are greeted by country western music wafting through the air.

Inside, they find a variety of custom-made metal cutouts, word signs, and wall hangings dispersed among jewelry displays, pillows, clothing, and candles.

Troy and Sarah Dawson of rural Cedar Point moved the four-year-old business to Florence in November.

Each piece is unique because it is designed by Sara. Sharp edges and the back are smoothed with a belt sander, and the front is sanded by hand.

The result is a smooth-edged, elegant piece of art. The metal is raw and will become rustic in time. If a customer requests it, a piece is sent to a company that powder coats it to keep it from rusting.

Some of the cutouts stand alone, some are put in wood frames made by Troy, and some are mounted on wood blocks.

Troy is a farmer. With two daughters growing up, Sara Dawson said she was looking for something she could do for herself to bring in extra income.

With encouragement from Troy, she purchased a plasma water table and taught herself how to use the software that came with it to create original designs.

“Whatever she wanted to do was fine with me,” Troy said.

The business has grown steadily. The original plasma machine could handle a 4x4-foot piece of sheet metal. Sara now uses a table that can handle a 5x10-foot sheet. She uses 11- or 16-gauge plated steel for her pieces.

Designs are sent to the machine digitally and automatically cut by a plasma torch. The sheet of metal lies on a grate, and water in a basin under the grate absorbs fumes and smoke produced by the process.

The couple plan to move their production equipment from Cedar Point to Florence in a few months. Customers will be able to view the plasma machine in operation.

Sara’s products are in eight stores throughout Kansas. Some are shipped all over the country. Sometimes they are delivered.

“I just received a message from someone in Maryland who follows me and plans to visit the store this summer,” Sara said.

She often designs products as wedding presents or as table décor. Her nativity sets are especially popular, she said.

Customers come from as far away as Oklahoma, Kansas City, and Salina.

“Having the bakery close by is helpful,” Sara said. “People can make it a day trip. They can come here to shop and go to the bakery to eat lunch.”

She said she couldn’t operate the business without her husband’s help. The couple’s daughters, now 17 and 15, are starting to help in the store. Several others are employed part-time.

Sara acknowledged that her business requires long hours and sometimes is stressful and gives her sore fingers, but she enjoys making unique pieces and getting feedback from customers.

“I love when I get messages back from people about how much they like the pieces,” she said. “Some pieces are becoming heirlooms.”

Last modified April 12, 2018

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