Opstad starts garden stake business

Makenzie Graham, Staff Writer

Separating

After rolling out a slab of clay, letting it dry out slightly, and imprinting the letters on the front, Opstad slices apart the individual stakes.

Shaping

Following this, Opstad uses his custom stencils to trace and cut the shape of the stake out of the rectangular slab. 

Branding

The stakes are then flipped and the Blakes Stakes logo is stamped into the back. In the case of KDD's order, their brand was stamped on the back as well.

Back in 2019, seeking a cute, handmade Mother’s Day gift, Blake Opstad (10) decided to sculpt a labeled garden stake out of clay. Imprinted with the word “mint,” it was placed in their backyard garden along with one marked “basil.” It soon caught the attention of a neighbor, leading her to place a custom order. She proudly displayed it as well, leading more people to inquire about stake availability. 

“Then [the business] just gradually grew and became inspirational stakes,” Opstad said. “There’s a love, a pride, all that, and now it’s grown a lot.” 

Despite being initially focused on the art aspect, he said he also enjoys the business itself and learning how to be what he termed “a mini salesman.” Though he doesn’t plan on continuing this endeavor forever, in the future he may enlist help from his friends due to the large number of orders flooding in. 

One stand-out order, placed by KDD Philanthropy, included over four hundred stakes. They were intended for customers of the organization, so Opstad partnered with him. This entailed him 3D printing a customized stamp in order to imprint KDD’s logo on the back of each stake.

The stamping is a crucial part of the process, and one of many steps. To prep the clay, he rolls a large slab and leaves it out to dry for a day. This removal of moisture helps the clay firm up to the right texture for imprinting the letters and forming the shape. From there, he lets it dry for another day before cutting the individual stakes. The finishing touches include trimming the edges and stamping the branding on the back.

After being left out to dry completely, the stakes are fired in the kiln to 2118°, which is considered “cone 5” for ceramics. The high temperature allows the finished product to be more durable and withstand the elements outside. 

Glazing is the next step, which can entail a variety of colors and designs. From there the stakes are fired a final time before being shipped.

From start to finish a batch of stakes takes around a week. With the help of his dad, art teacher Keith Opstad, Blake comes into school for a couple days each month to work. Since everything is produced in large batches, they work for a couple hours each of these days either after school or on weekends. However, a lot of this is still done from his house.

“I usually have to glaze at home because you have to wait for it to dry,” Opstad said. 

Multiple layers are applied to ensure the most pigmented and consistent colors. 

The shades and patterns can be customized, as well as the size of the stake and the message itself. The sizes include small (8.75 inches), medium (10.25 inches), large (11.75 inches) and horizontal (11.75 by 7 inches), priced $6, $8, $10, and $20 respectively. 

Default stakes are categorized by message, including vegetables, herbs, and “inspirational.” Overall, there are 176 different expressions to choose from.

All of this information and more is listed on the website, blakesstakes.com. Featured on this website is an interactive map with points indicating where each stake has ended up, with some even supplying pictures. Blake’s goal is to have customers in all 50 states, and even some outside of the country. 

Despite their initial intentions that the business be only temporary, the company keeps hitting profit milestones, even as Blake continues to make stakes. 

“Overall, we’ve sold more than 1000 stakes, but since we’ve experimented with some and some broke, I want to say we’ve made 1,500 at least,” Blake said. 

Helping him through this entire process has been his dad. 

“Because of him, I’ve grown up all around art and I’ve always loved drawing and painting,” Blake said, adding that they both find it enjoyable and soothing.

Enamored with art since he was making finger paintings in kindergarten, Opstad always knew he wanted to pursue art as a career. As of now he plans to be an animator, which is what inspired him to sign up for a ceramics class at Westview last year. 

“I thought it would be good for stop motion, because of the form and overall shape of characters,” Opstad said. “Later in life, my mind can just go wild, and I need something to do with it.” 

The father-son duo continue to bond over this activity, just like they did with the creation of their first two stakes in 2019. At the time, they would have never imagined that they would one day make over $10,00 in revenue, yet the business continues to grow. 

Glazing and staining

After the stakes are fired, Opstad stains them in order to add color. As pictured, it is done with both a sponge and paintbrush. 

Finishing touches

The coloring settles in to the indented areas, and is sponged off of the rest in order to make the logos stand out. 

Final product

The stakes are fired once more after glazing, and making them ready to be planted.