Tom Clar of TC Iron Metal Fabrication took his side business and turned it into an Exeter mainstay
By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
EXETER – Creativity takes all forms, but few times can someone make their mark in metal. Tom Clar, of TC Iron Metal Fabrication has turned what was once his side hustle in San Diego into a red hot business venture right outside his home in Exeter.
Clar does not have a long-standing Exeter family name everyone knows, instead he just came into town and made a name for himself. Now four years later he is fielding more calls than he can handle to fill fabricated part orders and custom-built signs and designs.
In the past he has created rustic plant holders and emblems, that have actually strengthened over time with oxidization because of the type of metal he used. He has welded and installed metal fabricated to look like bamboo, and has even gone so far as to create steer horns to mount on the hood of hotrods.
It is not as if Clar is not competing with Internet buys, he is. Where he is winning is clearly in quality.
“You can probably buy this stuff online. But if you bring it to me, I’m going to build it stronger, thicker and better than anyone else,” Clar said.
Clar’s creativity does not come from just one specific place. Whether he is sitting down trying to figure out a complex design or passively driving around town, he is always looking for inspiration.
“Every day, you just see things and take a picture,” Clar says.
There was one time he remembers driving in Tulare and seeing a gate that rotated on a center poll open and shut, instead of a traditional hinge. Clar says he was struck by how creative it was and how he realized it was something he had never thought of before.
“I was like ‘wow, I got to do that’,” Clar said.
Lending a hand in his creativity are the friends and family who realize how his mind works.
“Everyone knows how I am so I’m always getting these pictures from people who are like, ‘Saw this and thought you might like it’,” Clar added.
Metal has now become such a significant part of Clar’s life, it is hard to imagine this was not his first career choice. The New York native did not start working with his hands until his time as a professional snowboarder was over and he headed to San Diego full time. With some extra money to burn Clar tried his hand at carpentry.
After a brief woodworking experience, Clar started working with metal at a shop called C.Q. Welding. “My boss at the time just said this was my calling. I was good at it and I should keep doing it,” Clar said.
He added working with metal is a material unlike any other because of how mailable it is. “I like that you can do a lot with steel that you can’t with wood. You can bend it, twist it, cut it and weld it back together. You know with wood you cut it and you’re done,” Clar said.
Currently the shop he has now is his creative outlet. Clar says 80 percent of the work he gets doesn’t have a drawing or instructions. And while that might drive some firms to point companies elsewhere, Clar thrives in not knowing what he’s going to do until he sits down and works it out.
“Every day is different… I love coming up with things when people come to me and say they want something but they don’t know how it’s going to work. And that’s when I try and figure it out. I love the challenge,” Clar said.
The biggest leap in his time in San Diego was when he was offered a supervising position with West Tech Metal Fabrication. And that was where he stayed for seven years. Then he decided to relocate closer to his wife’s home.
Clar and his wife Elaine had consistently made trips from their home in San Diego to Exeter once a month. He says if you do it right the drive is only four and a half hours. But it was not the travel that made them decide to move, it was the home prices. The Clar family had a pretty nice set up. Tom was working a job worth staying for and making a decent wage while Elaine had just finished her doctorate in psychology and poised to find a job. However, half a million dollar homes on the bad side of town gave them the push they needed.
“San Diego was beautiful but it was too expensive. You’re working there to just live, not to have a family,” Clar said.
It did not take him long to establish himself in town. He turned down a job with Hellwig Products to strike out on his own. What surprised him most when he first started was how helpful the Exeter community was.
Without an advertising budget Clar put his leather on the pavement and started knocking on doors looking for work. Before long he was making significant headway with Waterman Industries designing parts and equipment. But his biggest break came when he joined the Kiwanis Club of Exeter.
“Kiwanis helped me out the most. I got a lot of work from them because they just spread my name around,” Clar said.
Part of the Exeter spirit is just simply doing work around town and finding ways to give back to the community. In no short order Clar managed to provide for the town in ways nobody else could. In recent years, he has donated his labor to two shade projects at Schroth Park and the Exeter City Park. He also added the fencing around the toddler area installed earlier this year at City Park.
At Kiwanis’ Spirit of the Holidays event he fabricated a custom fire pit to be auctioned off. And when Mustard Seed Acres opened their gates on Filbert just north of downtown Exeter, Clar donated his labor there too, making a unique sign that just fits the personality of the in-town farm owners.
Now that his name is synonymous with metal work, he is ready to double the size of his operation to four employees and two trucks, and taking custom orders all the while.