News & Media – Lansing State Journal, Business Monthly – Metal Transformed into Functional Art

February 2008

By Jack Schaberg, Photo by Terri Shaver

feb_2008_lans_bus_mo_metal_transformedThe word “steel” typically conjures up images of hulking bridges, skyscrapers, and a certain superhero from a distant planet made of said material. But for a local metal working professional, steel is the ally of choice for creating a wide variety of structures and sculptures.

Bach Ornamental and Structural Steel

“Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination…”

Thus begins the song that leads us into chocolate room of Will Wonka’s factory. Stepping inside the shop of Bach Steel in Holt gives you a similar feeling. Although there’s nothing to eat, you might lose a finger if you touch anything. You get the sense that this is indeed a place where magical things happen courtesy of the gifted hands of Nels Raynor.

As he told it, “My dad was a ceramics professor at Michigan State. I used to go with him every weekend. I threw pots but I like to hang out in the sculpture lab. I was about 12 years old when I decided I wanted to play with metal. and I’ve never done anything else.” He began working with iron at 19, held several jobs at several companies, and started Bach Steel in 1997. Although “pretty much self-taught,” he does have an associates’ degree from Lansing Community College, and worked at Jericho Steel in Mason.

His company does both ornamental and structural steel work, which makes it unique for the area. He said it’s been in the last year that people have really started paying attention to his work, and he attributes that to one job; “The Greater Lansing Association of Realtors” new headquarters. How did it come about? “They had a rail designed to go in there, and I didn’t like it; so I went to the lady and said, “Look. I won’t charge any more, but it’s a high traffic area, where there’ll be a lot of architects and designers coming in. Would you be interested in my doing an ornamental rail for you?” And she said. “Sure,” And that’s how it started.”

Raynor has sold work in Wyoming, Idaho and Texas, but the vast majority stays in Michigan, and most of that in mid Michigan, including a fancy cable rail system for the new Christmas building downtown, and several exclusive homes in the area. Bach Steel also recently completed the biggest steel truss bridge that’s ever been refabricated, located part way between Lansing and Grand Rapids. Raynor does all the ornamental work himself, and currently has three men who work for him; but he’s flexed up to six, depending on the work load. Of the ornamental work, he said “Really, it’s a hard thing to do. I do it more out of love of what I do than the money. I can’t pay my bills by the love it it, but if you were to do it just because you wanted to make money at it, you’d have to be a whiz at it.” He also said that although people “fall in love” with high-end ornamental work, “If people see something that’s close for a lot less money, they’ll go for it.”

Asked what type of people make good metal workers, Raynor said, “I’d just as soon have someone come in with very little experience and be able to teach them how to do it, then to have someone come in here with all this knowledge of what they think they’re supposed to be able to do. It’s very hard to break those old habits.”

He summed up by saying. “We’ve got a great reputation for the quality of the work that we do and that’s the number one [thing] I won’t sacrifice. And I don’t care if I have to lose money on the job. [I’ll ask myself] would I put that in my house? If not, Ill tear it apart. I’m pretty picky.”