Sam Steiger holds up an elephant that was cut out of a porcelain tile Friday using an abrasive water jet at Design Cut Technologies. - Jamie Lusch

Business hopes to be a cut above

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it? (Sam Steiger speaking) I operate a water jet job shop, mixing an abrasive with water that acts as the cutting agent. It can be described as a high-speed erosion process. I cut tile, glass, metals, wood, plastic and just about anything. I started doing this after I got laid off from Master Brand Cabinets. Most people I work for are manufacturers.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? We moved here from Chico, Calif., about 10 years ago.

What inspired you to go into this line of work? I had worked with water jets for Certain-Teed. They don't use abrasives in their process, but I saw what it was capable of and that's how I got interested in it. I went down to Romeo Engineering in Fort Worth, Texas, and saw what they could do with abrasive water jets, cutting steel and ceramics. I knew there were a lot of applications for it.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? I bought a piece of used equipment and went on the word of another person that I couldn't go wrong. It had been used more than I was led to believe and it took some hard work to get it back in good running condition. I didn't borrow money to start the business and wasn't sure I could afford to buy the equipment, short of buying something used. I would have at least looked at newer equipment before I spent the money.

What's the toughest business decision you've made? To put down money on equipment and commit family resources to it until the business became profitable. We have done this all from savings, so there is no debt associated with my business. I'm not sorry I did that, but it was a hard decision to make.

Who are your competitors? When I started I hadn't found anyone advertising as a water jet cutting shop. After that I found another shop in Central Point — Water Jet Solutions. It was a sudden surprise to find there was someone else in town. The truth is there are enough applications for water jet cutting that I don't feel threatened by having another shop in town.

What are your goals? My first goal is always to get enough clientele to keep the machine running. Since my customers are other businesses, I try to provide them good prices. If it got to the point where I needed additional help, I would add people. I never set out to start a business, I just wanted to do something. I've had good advice from people and took a class for people starting a new business.

What training or education did you need? I have a bachelor's degree in industrial technology from Chico State; that's where I learned computer-assisted design. I took a training class at Ward Jet in Tallmadge, Ohio. They're both equipment manufacturers as well as trainers. I learned everything from calculating abrasive use to how to do maintenance on the intensifier — the hydraulic unit that creates high-pressure water flow. The pumps can put out 60,000 pounds per square inch. My pump is a 60-horsepower pump, capable of one gallon a minute. The flow is low volume, but it produces high pressure.

There are eight kinds of abrasives, but for the most part you don't switch around. I learned the water side of it at Certain-Teed.Everything I do is computer controlled.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Be real careful. If we hadn't had some resources, I wouldn't be in business today. I've gone through slow times. Even with the great potential, it's not easy to start a business. Be frugal, but also be sure you've got a market for what you're doing.

To suggest an idea for this column, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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