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S.J. Morse specializes in unique custom paneling

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Photo courtesy of S.J. Morse Photo courtesy of S.J. Morse
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By MARLA PISCIOTTA
For The State Journal

CAPON BRIDGE — For three decades Steve Morse, owner of S.J. Morse Company, has been smitten with all things woodworking.

He formed his company in 1983, moved to West Virginia in 1987 and it has been growing ever since.

Last year his biggest job, which Morse called "epic" in size, was to make 70,000 square feet of panels for the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Morse said the music center building is amazing. It covers four city blocks.

"When we got the job, we knew we had to buy the CNC machine," he explained simply.

CNC stands for computer numeric control.

The $150,000 machine allows the company to create complex parts and also performs complex machine tasks the company would not ordinarily take on.

 "We did a lot of interior corridors, the inside of several ballrooms and entrances into 36 meeting rooms," Morse said.

The company currently is working on a project for the University of Virginia Children's Hospital.

"We're doing very intricate curvilinear paneling for the hospital," Morse said.

For Virginia Tech's new engineering building, Morse said, those are beyond the ordinary as well.

"We are manufacturing some very intricate wavy strips, which are all integrated into the panel," he said.

 Much of the architectural millwork comes to S.J. Morse from companies in northern Virginia and the Baltimore-based, large-sized woodworking companies.

Morse, 68, started out as a custom woodworker when he got out of college.

"I did hand-made furniture and fell in love with machinery," Morse said.

He said pretty soon he was smitten with the trade and formed his business.

The company now has grown to include 19 employees, five of whom work in the office. In 2007-2008 an additional expansion of 5,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space was added to the now 15,000-square-foot S.J. Morse Company facility.

Morse said companies like his are rare, and his is small compared to others of its kind.

"There is a company in Pennsylvania, one in Indiana and one each in New York and Minnesota," he said. "They are pretty spread out. We're about the closest to the Washington, D.C. - Baltimore, Md., Market."

Morse said some of the companies produce runs of more stock panel and regular plywood.

"There are over 100 species of veneer that come from all over the world — Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and Europe," he said. "Everything imaginable.

"What happens is the veneer vendors go to the architects to find out what kind of projects they are working on. Everyone from the architect to the general contractor of a job is brought in for a project."

Morse said sometimes it takes two years to develop a project before panels are made.

"Trees are pretty big and pretty special," Morse said. "We buy already sliced and stacked pieces from either the distributor or sometimes from the slicing operation itself."

The entire inventory at the company is logged, photographed and put into a database.

"We also do a lot of fabrication beyond just making the plywood. We have a large sanding machine that prepares the panel for finishing," Morse said.

S.J. Morse Company received the SHARP certificate, a highly sought after safety program award from OSHA to prove the company is operating in a safe environment.

"It's taken us about 18 months to get the paperwork, inspections and training in line," Morse said. "We try to be a safe operation. It's one thing to feel safe and another to prove it."

The award was presented to Morse the second week in November.