Making brass beautiful: downtown shop offers unique service
Not only is Ron Slovak in the business of refurbishing brass or copper items, he also custom makes such things as brass beds and quilt racks.
His business, All-Ways Brass & More on Main Street in Mount Pleasant, has been a place that churches and private individuals have counted on for special creations.
Recently Slovak was involved in a project for St. Emma's Catholic Church and Retreat Center in Greensburg, custom making 12 wall sconces and 44-inch tall floor candlesticks, a processional cross carried by priests and a holder for a 36-inch holy water bowl, which was hand blown by Youghiogheny Glass in Connellsville.
"The project took about six to eight weeks to finish," said Slovak, who said in order to make his creations, he orders brass by the case in all different shapes and sizes, including round tubes, u-channels or square pieces.
And how are these brass items made• Slovak gave a very simple answer for what would seem to be a difficult process. "We just machine the rough pieces and braze them together."
The pieces made for St. Emma's incorporate stained glass to match the windows in the church.
Slovak, who started out 20 years ago on his own, is mostly self taught in the business.
'I worked with another guy for about a year before that and then we parted ways," he said. "I was in Youngwood for 10 years, Greensburg (Willows Crossing) for five years and here five years."
Slovak admitted he struggled for the first six years in the business until Patrick Skero, his number one helper, came along.
Skero has been with Slovak for 14 years now and he and Tony Cramer are the only two who Slovak employs.
"We work eight hours a day," said Slovak. "It's a full-time job."
According to Slovak, his business was built by word of mouth.
"Out front is a gift store, but there are about 62 million gift stores in the Greater Pittsburgh area," he said. "You have to have something different in your store."
He said when he goes to sales and finds something that's in fairly good shape, but not necessarily nice to look at, he'll bring it back and refurbish it.
"It's a unique piece then," said Slovak.
Ruth Snyder of Bullskin is one of Slovak's frequent customers.
"We live near Mount Pleasant and we noticed the store a few years ago," said Snyder. "We like brass things and we were attracted to some items in the window."
According to Snyder, Slovak had pieces in the window that were new and had come straight from manufacturers. Next to those pieces, he had the same piece he had taken apart and buffed and polished and then added a protective finish.
"The difference was remarkable," she said. "We've gotten old copper trays refinished and sugar and creamer sets that were badly oxidized silver. He took that finish off and brought it to the base metal."
Now when Snyder goes looking for flea market finds she doesn't look for the finish.
"I look at the shape and if it's pleasing to the eye because I know that I can take it to Ron (Slovak) and he will give it a beautiful finish," said Snyder
Snyder and her husband found an old copper still at an antique shop and Slovak refurbished it.
"It was in pretty sad shape but there was no metal missing and it wasn't rusted through so we bought it and took it to Ron," she said. "It looks great now."
The Snyders have also utilized the talents of Slovak to get a brass bed they wanted.
"My husband remembered a brass bed that his grandparents had and he always wanted one," said Snyder.
They looked for the same style of bed over the years and could not find one.
"We went to Ron and explained what we wanted it to look like and he put it together for us," said Snyder. "My husband was extremely happy with it."
Slovak said after being in business for 20 years, his favorite part is when he refurbishes something that was in bad shape and he is able to make it beautiful again.
"The real reward is when someone looks at that piece and says, 'Wow - that looks great,'" said Slovak.