Ten Minutes With: A Metalworker
Cliff Startup shares how to succeed in this competitive field…and still have a smile
Photo by Sally Semonite Green
Cliff Startup calls himself a “metalworker,” but he is really a creative artist, at heart. Residing in Pound Ridge for 20 years or so, he is sought after for his expertise in metalworking. His talents include crafting unique structures and designs, not only of iron and steel, but also with almost any other metal you can think of. If you can envision it, Startup can likely produce it, although he may change the design a little to really make it work.
When did you start learning the business?
Around 1973. I quit the University of Maryland after about a year and a half; academia, to me, was just unreal. I had worked on cars as a kid, so I just started doing that for money. Over time, I found my way to beginning my childhood dream of welding stuff. I started working for this guy who gave me a truck and a torch and sent me on jobs I couldn’t really do, and I just had to learn. It was a little nerve-wracking, but he was a cool guy who had a lot of confidence in me.
What is your typical workday like?
Pretty much scrambling. In order to make it in this business, you have to be competitive, and you need to be on the cutting edge. And to cut you need to be sharp. I always try to take the tough jobs that others may not want to do or take on. I find I like it being busy; I don’t know what the hell else I’d do if I weren’t.
Who are your clients, and how do they find you?
Everything is from word of mouth. It’s important to win over the customer by doing a good job, the best you can. Most of my clients are 50-50 between architects and designers. They come to me with the design, but it can’t always be built as they see. That’s where I may tweak something when necessary.
What have been some of your favorite jobs so far?
Well, we did the New Rochelle High School spire; that was pretty cool. We also did a helical stairway, actually a few, but there’s also a number of cool stuff on my website, startupsteel.com.
Have you taken any breaks from metal working since you started?
I did leave to join a monastery for a while, around 1975. I was in it for a few years. It’s hell, but it was a good thing. I learned that 90 percent of your life you live unaware, you do things automatically, so you have to train good habits. If you don’t have the habit of awareness, that’s just the worst.
In addition to speaking three languages, practicing martial arts, and spending some time in a monastery, any other interesting things about you?
Well, there’s nothing really that interesting about me. The only thing that occurs to me is this thing I saw where somebody asked these foreign people what their art was. They responded, “We don’t have art. We just do everything the best we can.”
It seems to me you are not only a great metal worker, but at heart, a teacher.
Jack, all life seeks to improve. Something inside you drives you to do, and if that isn’t there, well, you’re in trouble. At this point, it’s just nice to watch people come here and grow. It’s not always so much about making money. I run this place kinda like a school. People have to keep evolving.