Warrensburg business crafts high-quality board games
Sawdust and low-pitched hums from the machinery begin to fill the air of Nathan Epp’s 1,200-square-foot wood shop. He’s busy cutting boards, sanding pieces of wood and engraving personalized messages. He’s building board games meant to withstand the test of time and be passed down through generations.
Nathan and his wife, Cynthia, are the owners of Three Trees Workshop in Warrensburg. For nearly a decade, they’ve sold high-end, handmade board games made in the shop outside their home. They focus on local wood, intricate craftsmanship and a personalized touch for the thousands of games and pieces they sell every year.
Woodworking was passed down to Nathan from his father and grandfathers. “They each kind of taught me some woodworking skills as a hobby,” he says. “Just making furniture or various things.”
The couple met in 2006 in Uganda while in the Peace Corps. They came back to the U.S., got married and decided they wanted to return to East Africa before starting a family. Nathan had a background in engineering and was part of a sanitation project during their stint in Mombasa, Kenya. Cynthia worked in education and community development.
When returning home from Kenya, they didn’t want to be in a big city but wanted to be close to family in Kansas and Missouri, so they chose Warrensburg. The couple wanted to use Nathan’s skills as woodworker and engineer to start a business and settled on board games.
“We wanted to create something that would bring people together and give them something to connect around,” says Cynthia. “A way for families and friends to be together in a safe, fun place and really interact in a creative and connected way.”
They came up with the name Three Trees to incorporate their growing family and natural wood products they were creating. The Epps started by making the high-quality board games they played as kids. At first, this included cribbage, Chinese checkers, chess boards and pieces the then family of three would sell at the Warrensburg Farmers Market.
Three Trees moved on from the farmers market and now sells their products primarily online. However, they haven’t lost the personal touch of those face-to-face sales. “We try to make it as personal of an experience as possible,” Nathan says. “We send personal notes to people asking them what the board is for and what kind of personalized messages they want engraved.”
Today, Nathan and Cynthia offer boards and pieces for Pegs and Jokers, Wahoo, cribbage, Chinese checkers, chess, marble solitaire and mancala. A majority of their wood is sourced from a nearby sawmill. Nathan prefers to use walnut, hard maple, cherry and some white oak.
Nathan says that they work in batches meaning most boards — specifically chess — take a few weeks to complete. When a set of chess boards has been cut and glued and needs time to dry, he and his team might move on to a batch of Chinese checkers boards.
“It’s a lot of back and forth,” Nathan says. “A lot of little things like picking out the right pieces of wood that will make the best looking final product. There’s a lot of sanding and finishing and hands-on labor making sure the details are just right.”
Nathan programs his CNC machine to punch holes in the boards and engrave logos and personalized messages. “The wood is a natural material and there’s a lot of variation,” he says. “We always have to be reading the type of wood and making adjustments for each particular piece.”
Customers appreciate the workmanship that goes into each game. In 2022, Three Trees used 4,000 feet of lumber on their games, which included 420 chess boards. Three Trees game sets start at $105 for a four-person Pegs and Jokers game and up to more than $400 for a tournament-size chess board with a geometric design carved around the border. It’s a family affair too: Nathan’s mother makes all the protective chess board covers Three Trees sells.
In a nod to their Peace Corps roots, a portion of each sale is donated to plant trees in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The craftsmanship that goes into each game is what sets them apart,” Cynthia says. “It’s not a mass-produced, flimsy game. Our games are made by real people’s hands in our shop in Warrensburg, Missouri. And the ability to engrave a personalized message into each game sets us apart.”
Cynthia knows that personalization and attention to detail on every board is what draws customers to Three Trees. “A lot of time people are marking occasions with us,” she says. “We do a lot of wedding gifts and a lot of anniversary gifts. Not only is it something that can be passed down to future generations, it’s a gift that signifies that, ‘We’re going to have this forever. We’re going to share this forever.’ ”
For more information on Three Trees Workshop, visit www.threetreesworkshop.com or call 660-864-4238.
This is one of the nearly 500 Missouri companies that are part of the Buy Missouri initiative overseen by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe. To find Missouri-made products or to enroll your business in the program visit www.BuyMissouri.net.