Story by Kris Bordessa
Photo by Megan Spelman
Dave Anderson’s unruly mop of graying hair belies the fact that he’s been touting hairbrushes for twenty-five years. He and his wife, Sarah, started out selling their handcrafted hairbrushes from the back of their pickup truck, and early morning surf sessions at Waipi‘o valley frequently turned into sales sessions. Today brushes from their Hamakua Hairbrush Company have made their way around the world to places like Europe, Japan and New Zealand.
Originally from Connecticut, Dave started his woodworking career as a boat builder on the West Coast; he’s worked on yachts and fishing boats, built houses and furniture. The switch to small projects came when his children were young—they allowed Dave to pursue his passion for woodcraft while working his day job as a stay-at-home dad. Then, brainstorming with a friend over a bottle of wine one night, Dave hit on an idea so simple it was easy to miss: Most people use hairbrushes. “I had a ponytail back then and used Sarah’s brush all the time,” Dave says. “We were all a bunch of hippies.”
The koa for Dave’s brushes is sustainably harvested from the forest above his woodshop in Honoka‘a on the Big Island’s Hamakua coast. Working with a local woodcutter who reveres the prized native wood, Dave uses pieces that would otherwise be wasted. He hesitates to call it “scrap”— it’s high-quality koa—but “the crotches and curves of the tree are unusable for projects like furniture or ‘ukuleles,” Dave says. “But that’s where you’ll find some of the prettiest grain.” He points out the rich, curly grain visible in each of his four hairbrush models: the large oval Lehua, the rectangular Ilima, the small oval Nanea and the Maile, a men’s hairbrush without a handle.
Dave often works with his son Winter, sanding and finishing the hairbrush bases by hand. The bristles can be removed and replaced so that these heirloom pieces — each costing less than $50— can last for generations. “At the end of the day, I’ve created a piece of work that’s going to be of lasting value to someone,” Dave says, grinning. “I would do this even if I wasn’t getting paid for it.”