In a booth surrounded by shiny metal license plate covers, signs, wall hangings, and more during Armed Forces Day weekend, Special K Fabrication owner and Hawthorne native Mike Kunzi and his wife Dawn are visiting with old friends, meeting new people, and sharing their love of custom design and metal fabrication work.
Mike and his late brother Jim got into making custom metal signs when Jim- who loved mechanics and cars- wanted to start a business like this and enlisted the help of Mike who knew more about computers and design work.
“I was in the Navy for 20 years doing electronics and knew how to connect a computer and use a CNC cutting system for printing out designs on sheet metal,” Mike says.
Although Jim died three years ago of cancer, Mike and his sister-in-law Danell are keeping the business going.
“She does a lot of the detailing and painting,” he adds.
After Mike left the Navy, he drove a commercial truck for 15 years before starting Special K Fabrication with Jim. Mike felt that making custom signs was more crafty and less strenuous than other jobs or hobbies and that it was something he could do at his own pace while dealing with a heart condition.
“Some people retire and settle down and do woodworking in their shop; we do that, just with metal,” he says.
Since the brothers started Special K Fabrication, Mike has been attending events such as Armed Forces Day and has one coming up in Fallon to promote its custom design metal work. Mike says that the thing he likes most about being involved with the business is meeting people and taking on custom projects. Since starting the business, Mike has more than 4,000 designs on file and hasn’t erased anything.
“That way, when I need a deer, I can remember when I did one and go back, find it, and work off that file,” Mike says.
His most interesting project was a ranch sign for a family in Wellington, Nevada.
“It was three feet tall, eight feet wide and hung from telephone poles over their metal gate with their cattle brand on it,” Mike explains. “They wanted it to look as old as possible, so I found a nontoxic spray that sets in an hour to make it look rusted.
“I’ve done house numbers, hummingbirds, butterflies, elk, deer, mountains, trees. Many times, people don’t exactly know what they want so I’ll sit down and design it on a computer. And then we can go back and forth to get it to what they are looking for,” he adds.
Mike reiterates that he enjoys dealing with people and making them something that they want and can’t find at Walmart or any other brick-and-mortar store. And while custom work is his specialty, Special K Fabrication does make generic items to sell at special events.
“I try to make something new for every show, things that will sell well. During Armed Forces Day, I’ll make a lot of patriotic things, ones with American flags and emblems,” Mike says.
He explains that he likes to have fun and meet people and believes that AFD is like a county fair with family and class reunions. Graduating from Mineral County High School in Class of ’74, Mike ran into a lot of people he hadn’t seen in years.
For the 2022 Armed Forces Day event, he made two items that sold right away- a sasquatch holding an American flag and a design of a horse head with three horses in the center running across the base of a mountain range. He painted them all black to look like silhouettes but then he says the person who bought the sasquatch took his sign over to the airbrush booth and had them spray paint it in red, white, and blue colors which he thought was pretty creative.
Happy as can be doing what he’s good at as well as keeping his brother’s legacy alive, Mike says that his goal with Special K Fabrication is to keep plugging away and enjoy it as long as they all want to.
“We don’t rely on the income, and it keeps us busy,” Mike adds. “[Hawthorne] is laid back, relaxing, quiet. If I hear a dog barking, it’s probably mine in the backyard. I lived in San Diego for 20 years (while serving in the Navy) and couldn’t wait to get out of there; it was too fast paced for me,” he says, moving back in 1997.
And he believes that Jim would be thrilled that the business is still alive and well.
“Jim was having a ball doing it; he did as much as he possibly could up until when he passed. He was dead set that this business was catered to the military. He served in the Army and liked American flags, military, and Nevada stuff. He was also a diehard Raiders fan,” Mike chuckles.
For more information about Special K Fabrication, visit https://www. facebook.com/SpecialKFabrication.