It was just after the holidays three years ago when Lilly Allison’s Christmas wish came true.
“I had grown up in a garage,” the 26-year-old Lester resident said, “around cars, fixing things, building things. This was another tool for the garage.”
But it wasn’t just any tool. It was a CNC Plasma Table, the kind of tool a craftsman with a degree in finance and a knack for computers would like, the kind of tool perfect for a young woman who prefers a garage to an office.
“I always wanted to own my own business,” Allison said, “and when we started looking at that table, I fell in love with it.”
Now, people are falling in love with the things Allison makes with that table — signs, monograms, furniture, fire pits, ATV grills, and home decor.
Like Allison, her business, Rusted Roots, calls Raleigh County home.
“My business is based here in West Virginia, just like me,” she said.
Even while living and working in North Carolina, Allison traveled back to Lester on weekends to do her metalwork. Now, she’s making the shift to full-time metalwork, with a little help from her family roots.
“My parents created their own pit crew,” Allison said, laughing. “Each one of us has our different aspect of it.”
Allison’s finance degree from Marshall University suits her for the business aspect. She and her sisters – Kassidi, ReAnna, and McKaylee – enjoy putting their heads together on design ideas. And big brothers Matt and Jimmy help on the installations, hanging signs like the ones Allison recently made for a pottery business in Princeton and a laboratory in Charleston. That is, when their full-time jobs and school allow for the extra time.
“Growing up, my dad and brothers were always into cars and trucks, so, of course, I was, too,” she said. “We always liked looking at new tools for the garage, welders and things, and then, one day, we just decided, ‘Hey, let’s do this. I can do this! This is what I want to do.’ ”
She admits buying the plasma table was a big decision.
“We put a lot of time, thought, and prayers into having the table,” she said. “The other tools I use, like the tubing bender, we had gathered over time anyway, but the table was the biggest investment.”
And it’s been worth it.
“Everyone says if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day, and that sounds really awesome, but it’s not always ideal,” said Allison, who recently left her full-time accounting job to take on her metalwork business full time. “This is what I love to do.”
When she was a student at Greater Beckley Christian School, Allison (then known as Lilly Richardson) never pictured herself loading angle iron and rolls of steel from Steel Con in Beckley into her truck and taking them back to her garage to turn them into works of art. She did, however, know she wanted to build and repair things.
“But I never thought back then that I’d be able to make a living doing it,” she said. “Now I see that I can, and for me, this is it. I’m going to do it.”
The last three years have been proof that it can work.
“It being a side business for so long, I didn’t get a lot of time to post and advertise,” she said, “but it just kept coming through word of mouth and Facebook. I started with wedding gifts, monogrammed metal signs, and the next thing I knew I was making wood beam lighting, cutting out brackets. One thing led to another, and it just got bigger.”
Her favorite jobs are the custom ones.
“You take an idea from somebody, work on that, put it into the computer, and let the computer talk to the machine,” she said. “But you have to tell that torch how fast to make that curve. … You tell the machine what to do. Thankfully, it’s a very good listener. …
“It’s precision, consistency, and it’s remarkable,” she added. “It basically cuts designs in the metal and allows you to create and build things.”
For instance, a few months ago, Allison designed and crafted a set of custom bar stools for a Beckley couple who love the Mountain State so much they wanted to have its shape as a part of their home decor.
Another client had something in mind for a side-by-side ATV, a blue mermaid grill. Allison accepted the challenge.
“We do take the home decor side, but we also make roll cages for side-by-sides, things like that,” she said.
“You can put names in things, add little details,” she said. “ … I do a lot of the design, and I’m picky on how I want it to work. The machine and I have to talk the same language to work out what we want the end product to look like.”
By “we,” Allison means the customer. But customers don’t always know exactly what they want. She can help.
For instance, recent clients had two very different ideas about how they wanted their fire pit to look. The mom loved the beach and wanted a beach-themed design. The dad raced motocross. Allison came up with a compromise that suited the whole family – a flamingo on a dirt bike.
“It was one of my more difficult designs,” she said, “but it was a little bit of everything they wanted, and that was special for them.”
Even business signs are special at Rusted Roots.
“I like doing those, too,” she said, “helping to promote someone else. And I like the wood furniture, taking the wood and the metal, doing the metal to customize to exactly what they’re looking for — especially the bigger stuff — because I love to add something to someone else’s home.”
She likes to add to their farms, too. Those big metal signs that welcome all who visit really hit close to home.
“My grandparents have a big farm,” Allison said, talking about the joy of watching her grandparents’ 16 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren enjoy the old homeplace. “That place is special to me, so farm signs are special to me because they don’t just mean something to one person, but to a whole family.”
That’s one reason she wants to make sure her signs will last. That’s where her powder-coating comes in.
“That part works like a paint gun,” she explained. “It uses electronic waves. I hook a ground to it, set it up on a platform, paint with powder, bake it in the oven at 400 to 425 for 10 to 15 minutes. It gives it a hard shell, so you can’t scratch it. It’s durable.”
And if you think that sounds like baking, you should know that’s as close as Allison likes to get to a kitchen.
“I guess it is like baking, only I can do this kind of baking,” she joked. “I’ve never been one for the kitchen. I just like outside better. … I’ve been blessed with a family that doesn’t tell me to go get in the kitchen.”
But that doesn’t mean everyone thinks she ought to be outside or in the garage. Allison has a few words for those who have made such opinions known.
“I don’t pay much attention to it, because this is what I love to do,” she said. “There have been people who make comments about me being a girl, thinking that I can’t do this because I’m a girl, but I just say, ‘Watch me. You watch me.’ ”
And to anyone else considering following their dreams, she offers the following advice.
“Do it,” she said. “Do it even if you can just take one step at a time. One little step at a time, and you’re constantly moving toward it.”
Of course, having faith also helps. For that, Allison thanks her mother, a middle school science teacher.
“My mom, she’s always been very strong in her faith, and you have to have it,” Allison said. “You can’t do it without God. … I’m glad I kept going, because sometimes I wasn’t really sure where I was going, and I couldn’t imagine trying to figure it out on my own.”
For more information, find Rusted Roots on Facebook.
“People should just shoot me a message. Give me an idea. Tell me what you’re thinking, and I’ll come up with a quote and a proof. You can take a look and see if you love it.”