Photos and profile by Caryn B. Davis

Orchard-Wands-Caryn-B-Davis-detailJanet and Ed Bareiss have a thriving business making magic wands. In a short four years since starting their company, Orchard Works in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, they have sold more than 7,000 and are one of the top wand makers worldwide.

It all began when their daughter, Hilary was approaching her ninth birthday. She wanted a Harry Potter themed party with magic wands that her guests could paint and decorate. The Bareiss family had just returned from a trip to Universal Studios where they saw plastic wands selling in the gift store for $30-$40 apiece. Rather than spend what could prove to an exorbitant amount for synthetic wands for ten or more party goers, Ed instead decided to craft them from wood.

“I went to the hardware store and bought some dowels. I made a few basic shapes and the kids loved them. The parents flipped out about them. ‘You’ve got to sell these,’ they said. I thought they were crazy. Nobody is going to buy magic wands. There is no market for it. But it turns out there is,” says Ed.

To test the viability of the market, they put a few wands on eBay; and much to their surprise, they sold immediately.

Ed learned the art of woodworking from his father who had a shop in the basement. He started making toys and complicated puzzles, among other things, when he was just about Hilary’s age. A workbench crafted by his father now sits in his own basement where he constructs the wands with help from his son, Liam, while Janet and Hilary do all the sanding and painting.

“I make them, and Janet makes them amazing and beautiful,” says Ed of his wife’s finish work.

“But Ed can look at a shape and see what it can become,” adds Janet.

The wands can take anywhere from five minutes to a few hours to complete depending on how simple or ornate the design is and the level of complexity. (Some have tops that screw off, for example, so the owner can place something secret inside). They can range in price from $5.00 for unpainted, up to $500.

“One of the things we never use is a lathe. Most people who make magic wands spin the wood and then cut it. We never do that. We grind and shape by hand. The wand itself is in our hand every step of the way,” Ed says.

At first they only made 12-inch wands using wood from the hardware store. But as more requests came in, along with a demand for custom wands, they expanded the length and diameter, the features, and types of wood they offered from domestic, like Maple, Willow, Cedar, Spruce, Chestnut, Hickory, and Oak; to the more exotic, such as Purple Heart, Ebony, Rosewood, Snake Wood, Larch, Rowan Hawthorn, Zebrawood, Marblewood and Lignum Vitae.

“We have over 90 kinds of legally harvested wood from all over the world that we import, and we keep in stock. But we will go to the ends of the earth to get anybody any kind of wood they ask us for,” says Ed.

And that is precisely the quality of customer service Orchard Works prides themselves on providing, in addition to manufacturing a superior handmade product. Both Ed and Janet are respectively mechanical and chemical engineers by trade. But while Ed still works at Pratt & Whitney, Janet has quite her “day” job to oversee this aspect of their business.

“I have the patience to listen to the customers and ask them questions, and the time and desire to make them exactly what they want, whether it be the right colors or a an intricate design like a skull or dragon scales or a mythical figure,” says Janet. “We also have some Wiccan people who want wands. They often have very specific requests, but we are happy to accommodate them. They may want an exact length and diameter or need it to be engraved with particular words. One person asked us to make it on a certain day during a full moon.”

Magic wands, staffs, and sceptres have been used in occult, religious, mystical, politic, and governmental ceremonies since the Stone Age where cave paintings depicting people holding sticks have been discovered. During Egyptian times magic wands were buried with their Pharaohs so they could ward off evil and remain empowered in the afterlife. In classical Greco-Roman mythology the wand was known as a caduceus and was carried by Hermes and Mercury. It came to be a  symbol of commerce and negotiation. Kings and priests used the sceptre to illustrate their supremacy, although with the onset of Christianity, the cross replaced the eagle as part of the design. Witches and warlocks used it to cast spells, while Native Americans and Shamans performed healing rituals with it.

In Western literature the wand was used by the enchantress Circe in Homer’s The Odyssey to turn Odysseus’s men into beasts, while in other stories such as C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it transformed people into stone. In J.K. Rowling’s immensely popular book, Harry Potter, each character has their own individual wand to  channel their magical powers.

“What does the wand do? It focuses the energy. It takes whatever energy is within you and gives it a focal point to direct it. People really believe in magic, and they like magical things,” says Ed.

Orchard Works gets a lot of orders from obsessed Harry Potter fans needing a wand to accompany a costume, or from people who were into Harry Potter as kids who are now getting married and want to give out wands as a wedding favor. But they also get wholesale orders from movie studios like Disney’s art department and Netflix, who plans on featuring their wands in an upcoming new series. Orders also come in for corporate parties and professional functions, as well as summer camps and schools requesting unfinished wands that can be painted and decorated as a craft item. People heavily involved in Renaissance Fairs, Harry Potter festivals, or LARPING (Live Action Role Playing) events are ongoing customers.

Recently, the World of WarCraft, an online game played all over the globe, purchased wands for their “magic team,” those behind the scene “magicians” who maintain the servers and ensure every time a new update for the game is rolled out, that it goes off without a hitch.

“The head of the computer team ordered a custom run of wands and wand stands personally engraved with their logo for all his team members. And some were for a podcast they wanted to have as a give away,” Ed says.

Although most children enjoy playing with wands, Orchard Works’ wands which can be found on Amazon, Etsy, and through their website, are purchased mostly by adults because the price is not cheap.

“They are not in stores, so kids don’t see them and ask for them. It’s grownups buying them either for themselves or for their kids. Moms seem to like the naturalness of it; it’s a toy in which kids have to use their imagination,” Janet says.

Although Orchard Works can produce wands in all shapes and sizes, the magic part is up to the bearer.

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