Mike Mulligan and Tony Taylor are in the memory making business. Technically, they are exceptionally talented craftsmen capable of harnessing metal, fire, tools of any kind and even lasers to finish a project. But when it comes down to it, they preserve elements of the past or create new moments, the type that last, the type that can be recalled with exact details of place and time and clarity. Take for instance a recent cookie project. A cookie is a section of a tree cut in such a way to show the full diameter of the wood, leaving a slice shaped in an imperfect circle with the appeal of its name. When an old family farm was sold, the remaining “farm kids” were spread across the country. On the property, a large tree familiar to all who had spent time on the farm, had to be cut down. Mike and Tony, founders of CoPilot Designs, were hired to preserve a piece of the farm for all of the kids to revel in forever. Technically, they were hired to turn cookie sections of that tree into individual coffee tables for each member of the farm as a way for each of them to have a physical remembrance of times gone past. “You want to try and keep the roots alive,” Mulligan says. “A lot of the projects we complete have a lot of sentimentality to them.”
Earlier this year, Mulligan and Taylor officially made the move to plant their own roots in the world of makers. After years spent honing their skills behind the band saw, MIG welder and design table, the pair officially launched their CoPilot Design brand at The Art of Giving auction event. Now, their facility is full with orders, the ideas are flowing and the possibilities for products seem endless.
Makers Get Made Mike got serious about woodworking and machining roughly seven years ago. Growing up on a farm north of Grand Forks, working with his hands was always a natural fit. At the time he really started enjoying making, he was working with Charlie Anderson, a noted machinist and woodworker from Hillsboro, North Dakota. Mulligan has been selling a few pieces here and there for the past five years. During that time, he also worked on the side at Sky’s restaurant, where Taylor also worked.
From Minneapolis, Taylor picked up his skills and love for making from his family. “My mom and my aunt started and ran their own handyman business for years,” Taylor says. “The things I know is from them.” Taylor calls it a blessing, to learn from his mom and gain an understanding on how things work. Through Jessie Thorson, a successful painter from the region, he built name recognition for his picture frame ability. “At first I made a few frames,” he says. “Then it was more. Now I don’t know how many hundreds I have made for random artists.”
With his farm shop set-up like a maker’s dream space, Mulligan has always been a valuable resource to others like Taylor. Their first official project together was a large epoxy table with sentimental items placed inside the top of the table. “We didn’t make any money on that project,” Mulligan says, “but it was so worth it.” They learned then how to combine their skill sets and how much they enjoyed collaboration. Soon after their first table top project together, the pair committed to CoPilot as a real entity. The result of that commitment has allowed each to unleash new ideas, new skills and to showcase what 100 percent authentic furniture, woodworking, metalworking or anything you can get your hands on looks like. When they make tables, they make every piece of the table—from top to legs, regardless of the material. When they make furniture with doors, they make the hinges. When they don’t have the right tool for the job, or in some cases a part that goes to a tool, they make those as well.
Old Tool Love “I love collecting old tools,” Mulligan says. “They are built incredibly well and made so much better.” Many of the tools in the CoPilot shop are from the 1950s or older. Mulligan is always looking for the next industrial auction to attend. Over the years, he’s picked up a lot of equipment from places like Marvin Windows, PS Doors and even a cabinet manufacturing facility. “Generally, there isn’t a lot of people at the auctions,” he says. “And if we need parts, they are easy to order or make at our shop.” Don’t be fooled by Mulligan’s obsession with old tools. He isn’t opposed to the latest and greatest. Earlier this year, CoPilot invested in a new CNC machine that uses computer software, automated arms and blades with the help of a laser to cut out shapes and designs based on a computer drawing. They call it the magic unicorn and it makes sense. Above the main cutting apparatus is an image of a unicorn. Watching videos of the machine in action is certainly magical. One minute a large sheet of wood is only that. Five minutes later the pieces to an intricate chair are cut from the sheet and ready for assembly. Mulligan and Taylor have even worked with others and shared designs to help with face mask adapters in response to the coronavirus.
Beauty Of The Name It’s easy for Mulligan and Taylor to explain the origin of their making venture’s name. “It is fun and enjoyable to work with people,” Taylor says. “That is the reason for our name. We work with so many people. We are creative with so many people.”
Much of the work the pair completes is based on custom orders. The magical unicorn will help with creating pieces that are sellable online, however. The team has
even started working with Daydream Creations, of Grand Forks, on new projects. Mulligan shares his shop with several others. He finds inspiration watching others, and whether he admits it or not, has become a pseudo-teacher and leader to other makers of the region. It is easy to see why. Mulligan—and Taylor—are the type of people that enjoy the process of their work as much as the outcome. Their bliss comes from the sound of a chisel removing a tiny section of live edge slab bark for a new table or the zip of sparks cascading to the floor during one of their welded pieces. They want to talk about the work and the tools and the possibilities, instead of the cost of a piece or how long it will take. They want to know what you want from their work, how they can work with you on the design. They care about what makes a piece memorable and to see their shop is to know they have every capability to make something (or make the thing needed to make the thing). Their business is making, and with you and I, it can all be memorable. Work with them on the design or concept, they have all the tools needed for the rest. G
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From Issue 2, 2020
PHOTOS BY: Manstrom Photography