Allison Evarts asked for a sander for her birthday nearly 10 years ago and her surprise career began.

Shortly after she received the power tool, Evarts, 50, began Allee Cat Designs, her furniture refurbishing company.

Originally from Massachusetts, Evarts graduated from Manhattan High School in 1986 while her father was stationed at Fort Riley. She left and joined the Air Force, where she worked in intelligence. She said she joined because she wanted to travel and because of her father.

“Because my dad was in it, it was just a normal way of life,” she said.

Along the way, she met her now-husband, Kyle, who was also in the Air Force, when they were stationed in Kenya. The couple married four months after meeting.

“I had a feeling, and he had the same feeling,” she said.

Later, the couple moved to Enterprise, Alabama, where he was stationed. He was deployed, and Evarts said she needed something new in her life.

“It was not a really good time for me, and our marriage was struggling a bit,” she said. “I needed an outlet that would just be for me. I asked for a sander for my birthday, and took the old dresser we had in our guest room. I thought if I messed it up, it wouldn’t really matter. I wasn’t happy, but once I started working with furniture, behind the mask, I was smiling.”

At first, she started with projects just for herself. Then, she said, her friends started noticing what she was doing and asked her to do a few pieces.

“One of my friends said, ‘You should be getting paid for this,’” Evarts said.

She began making pieces professionally at Rockstar and Rogers five years ago, when she would fix up and repaint the “worst pieces” of furniture the shop had. Then, she began her custom refinishing business.

Evarts said the work fluctuates. At some points, there’s a nearly two-month waitlist for one of her commissioned pieces. Other times are slower, and she can spend more time working on pieces that she said help fulfill her creative side more. She sells those pieces at Eclectic Charm.

Her signature look, she said, would be the top of the piece stained and the body painted.

“There are ‘wood purists’ out there who say you shouldn’t do something like paint wood, but it’s my No. 1 request,” she said.

Her husband said he’s so impressed by her creative side.

“I’m so amazed by what she can do,” Kyle said. “I can’t even draw a stick figure, but she can make all these wonderful pieces.”

He said they also had a talk about what she can sell. “She was making these pieces, and we had to sit down and say, ‘Wait, is this something we can use? Would this look better in our house?’” he said.

She did the cabinets, television stand, some of the chairs and more in their current house.

In her downtime, Evarts likes to play World of Warcraft, an online fantasy role-playing game. She said she likes playing online games and reading. Evarts said she normally gets through two books a week.

Evarts and her husband also ride motorcycles. “We’re adrenaline junkies,” she said.

She also spends time with her adult sons, Jonah and Josh, who both live in town, as well as her dogs, Toby and Tank. Tank is Evarts’ “shop dog,” who hangs out in the garage with her while she works on her pieces, unless she’s doing something dangerous.

The family chose to come back to Manhattan about eight years ago. Even though neither of them are originally from Kansas, when it came time to choose between Manhattan and El, Paso, Texas, it was an easy pick.

“We’ve moved a lot and the people here are generally friendly,” she said. “It’s the best place I ever lived. A lot of times, when he was deployed, I felt like I was on my own raising two kids. Here, I got so much help from the neighbors, and it’s never felt like I was on my own.”

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