Inside Wyrmwood Gaming’s Narcissistic Funhouse

“Can’t I just say what happened?” A tall man in a flat cap asks, looking around the sparse meeting room. “Isn’t truth an absolute defense?” This is Doug Costello, the CEO of Wyrmwood Gaming. “It is,” says head of HR Bas Antoine, “if you have the whole story.” The two go back and forth, brainstorming a response, Costello repeatedly looking into a camera as he dramatically recounts allegations of sexual assault. “The person who was allegedly raped never worked at the company,” he says, eyebrows raised. “I don’t know her name.”

The scene is from a fourteen-minute video titled “Wyrmwood Responds to SA Allegations,” a record of a group of men discussing what to do about recently-surfaced allegations of sexual assault at their company. Throughout the video, Costello makes statements like: “You have to get police involved.” He mentions alcohol as a factor in the allegation. In part of the video, Wyrmwood’s lawyer, Frank E. Biedak, gives the go ahead to share the video on their YouTube channel, alongside a written statement.

Wyrmwood Gaming is an unusually transparent company; while its core business is making luxury wood products for tabletop gamers, including dice trays, deck boxes and gaming tables, its executives seem equally concerned with the production of Wyrm Lyfe, a YouTube-based reality show focused on their daily activities at the company, filmed with handheld cameras and uploaded two to three times a week.

The program has over 100,000 subscribers, and fans usually reply to new videos with praise or earnest questions. But the sexual assault discussion was not Wyrmwood’s usual content. Comments on YouTube, Reddit, and Twitter decried the video as a “tone-deaf” and “harmful” way to handle serious allegations. Several corporate partners, including Dispel Dice and the mental health organization Take This, announced they would end their relationships with Wyrmwood. The company took the video down from YouTube in less than two days.

In a statement addressing the allegations, Wyrmwood said: “We take any allegation of inappropriate conduct, including, but not limited to, sexual assault, sexual misconduct and safety issues, very seriously. We consider the safety and well-being of our employees a top priority. To that end, we’ve made very significant investments in HR and Safety and will continue to do so.”

But after io9 reviewed a saved copy of the video and began to investigate, it became clear this incident is emblematic of a company that appears to prioritize the image and ego of its executives over the people who work for it. Over the course of this investigation io9 spoke to nearly fifty sources, including current and former employees, who shared stories that included allegations of rampant misogyny, bullying, dangerous working conditions, and sexual harassment and assault.

Doug Costello declined to respond to these allegations via phone or email; he invited io9 to visit one of the company’s shops, but we were unable due to time constraints. io9 offered to interview any representative of the company as an alternative; Costello declined to pass the offer along. The only current executive of Wyrmwood Gaming who spoke to io9 on the record for this article was Bas Antoine, head of HR.

While Wyrmwood Gaming wants to convince audiences that it’s just a cool bunch of goofballs doing their best, there’s rot at the company extending deep into the heartwood of its structure. At its center: co-owner/co-founder and CEO Doug Costello.

What is Wyrmwood Gaming?

Wyrmwood Gaming is a Taunton, Massachusetts-based wood shop and manufacturing company that produces luxury gaming furniture and accessories. Established in 2012 by brothers Doug and Ian Costello, the business was based out of a hobby woodshop in their parents’ barn, and sold its wares at local gaming stores. Within months, the pair teamed up with local gamers and woodworkers Eric Dupuis and Ed Maranville.

In October 2013, Wyrmwood launched its first Kickstarter, to fund the construction of handcrafted wooden dice vaults. The campaign completed after 27 days, having raised $84,460 from 1,423 backers. (To date, Wyrmwood has successfully completed 24 Kickstarter campaigns; its latest, concluded on March 17, raised $1,923,029, with more than 5,000 backers making $299 deposits for tables that could cost anywhere from $1,700 to upwards of $10,000, depending on wood and configuration.)

Soon after, Wyrmwood expanded to a mid-size shop, then to the current location in Taunton, and most recently by purchasing Keystone Furniture in Pennsylvania to act as a finish shop.

During every growth spurt, Wyrmwood experienced growing pains. John Savage, a woodworker who was at the company for three years starting in 2015, recalls that increasing production to fulfill Kickstarter orders showed a “lack of planning… [management] told us we would be able to make a product in a certain way and then when we tried to bring it to scale, we would find major flaws in the production.”

“Doug is the type of person that throws stuff at the wall, says co-founder Eric Dupuis. “He fundamentally doesn’t believe in competency.” In an episode of Wyrm Lyfe, after Costello boasts that his skillset is in entrepreneurship, not “managing a large company with proper financials,” Wyrmwood social media manager turned reality show producer Bobby Downey chimes in, saying “and we’ve been faking it pretty good.” Nobody contradicts him.

In 2020, Wyrmwood’s Modular Game Table crowdfunding campaign became one of the most successful fundraisers Kickstarter ever hosted, bringing in nearly 9 million dollars and hugely increasing demand on the shop. During this period of rapid development, and while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the company jumped from 50 people to nearly 120, and expanded into a second shop location in Pennsylvania.

It was during this transition that Wyrmwood brought in Mike Saltzman, who began to take over a lot of the executive day-to-day operations of the job. Saltzman declined to speak about the problems at the company due to contractual restrictions, but said in a written statement to io9 that he left shortly after joining the company, following an argument “that highlighted significant professional differences, primarily between Doug [Costello] and myself.”

Despite the high-pressure environment, many of the employees of Wyrmwood–the people making the dice trays and towers and vaults and tables–said they loved their jobs. “I wanted to be an owner at one point,” said Savage, speaking about how much he enjoyed the work. “I still have friends there.”

That attitude can be traced, in part, to how Wyrmwood hired a bunch of nerdy gamers to make beautiful, nerdy gaming products. It’s also a result of Wyrmwood recruiting from within the extended circle of friends and family that already worked at the company, creating an intimate and tight-knit workplace.

But employees say that today, that sense of camaraderie has gone missing. “Working there is like being in a cult,” one former employee said, describing how they felt about their former colleagues. “Pretty much [everyone who works at Wyrmwood] are great people,” stated another former employee previously in middle management, “But let me just be blunt about it. I like everyone at the company except for Doug Costello.”

Bad behavior at the highest levels

The first outside indication that something was wrong inside Wyrmwood came in 2020, when Doug Costello publicly resigned as CEO after a conflict over COVID safety measures. The incident blew over fast, and Costello returned to the position in 2021.

More troubles became public in early 2023, when accusations of sexual assault at the company began to surface on Twitter. These accusations went viral in gaming communities, as Wyrmwood Gaming is a recognizable name and they had just begun their 23rd Kickstarter. A few days later, former employee Andrew Oberbeck said on Twitter he was the whistleblower, and he had been fired by Doug directly. Then Wyrmwood Gaming released their video about the situation.

But this incident is not the only allegation of misconduct made against Wyrmwood employees. io9 spoke to multiple people who allege they have been assaulted or harassed by former and current employees at Wyrmwood Gaming: One of these sources retracted their statement out of fear of retaliation, but two others attest that head of media Bobby Downey had sexually harassed them while they were either employees of Wyrmwood or involved in a business partnership the company. Downey did not respond to io9’s request for comment.

One alleged victim, a former employee in Wyrmwood’s woodworking department who asked not to be named, recalled an incident that occurred in 2019 after she’d been casually flirting with Downey, but then decided to break it off: He was her indirect boss, and a part-owner of the company, so she didn’t feel comfortable pursuing a relationship with him, she said. After a few days of giving Downey a cold shoulder, he insisted they meet up. When they were alone, according to the source, Downey unzipped his pants and exposed himself. He took his penis out and asked if she was “going to leave him with blue balls.” When the woman refused, he asked if he could take care of it himself. The woman, not knowing what to do, said yes. He masturbated in front of her, dropped a used tissue, and left.

Selina Heinen, a brand representative who worked with one of Wyrmwood’s business partners, described “barrages of flirty text messages” from Downey, who eventually told them, “I think we should have sex.” Heinen says they told Downey no, and that they didn’t want to date within the industry for fear of being judged unfairly by colleagues, but Downey promised that having sex with him wouldn’t impact Heinen’s reputation. Heinen refused again, but felt pressured to keep a cordial relationship with Downey because of their professional connections.

Accounts of Downey’s alleged bad behavior were repeated by dozens of sources. “Bobby Downey is the worst person who could be representing our company,” said a current employee who requested anonymity. According to another source who has attended conventions with Downey, he frequently gets blackout drunk at industry events: “I have never felt comfortable around Downey,” they said. And another former employee stated that they have seen Downey use cocaine, and solicited women for sexual favors at company-sponsored meetups. Another former employee recalled having to “tear him off a woman” that Downey had cornered at a party.

The feeling that Wyrmwood is not a welcoming workplace for women extends beyond accusations of outright sexual harassment. Bas Antoine, Wyrmwood’s head of HR, said that the company employs an “above average” number of women and nonbinary people. Antoine said Wyrmwood employs 23% more women than industry standard. But you wouldn’t know it from watching Wyrm Lyfe, where they tend to appear in occasional cameos. Wyrm Lyfe was under Bobby Downey’s direct supervision for years, and widely considered “his vanity project,” according to former and current employees. (Antoine said that Downey has shifted away from the project.)

“The [lack of women] had been brought to [Downey’s] attention multiple times,” said Ted Bumpus, a former employee at Wyrmwood. According to sources, Downey’s excuses for not including more women include statements like “women aren’t as funny as men,” and “the women at Wyrmwood are too awkward and aggressive to be on camera.”

“He doesn’t treat women like people if they aren’t attractive to him,” said one former employee. Another employee, a non-binary woodworker named Jamezie, who asked that their last name be withheld from this article, recalled being cut out from videos, and having their words repeated again, to camera, by chief operations officer Ian Costello.

Sources say women at Wyrmwood are rarely promoted, and many have been passed over for promotions in favor of men they helped train. “Women have the least vertical movement in the company,” said a current employee. “I saw multiple women fail to move up despite being the best craftspeople,” stated one former employee. Antoine says this only happened once that he knows of since his tenure began in mid-2021, and cited performance issues as a cause for the disparity.

But Costello’s views on gender roles and family life might be another reason women aren’t getting promoted. According to Ted Bumpus, Costello has described himself as a “natalist” —a term referring to an ideology that says the point of human existence is reproduction, and in recent years, a movement that promotes the idea of improving the world through spreading superior genetic material. What’s more, Bumpus says, Costello allows these beliefs to influence management decisions.

“He once gave a young man who stated his desire to have a family a massive raise in order to support that,” Bumpus said. “He ended up making more money than his manager at the time. It caused a huge ruckus.”

Another former employee attests that Costello has said that “women should aspire to having children,” and implied that if you don’t have children, you’re a bad person.

John Savage recalls a time when he wanted to become the company’s convention manager, and approached Costello regarding the vacancy. “He basically said… that because I had a wife and children, he couldn’t in good conscience consider me for that position because of the amount of travel that it would require.” Costello himself has five children.

Dupuis recalls an incident with Costello in 2017 that caused him to step away from Wyrmwood. “We were at a convention and we had a female employee–who is comfortable having her story shared–and we were not being let in early. The employee voiced her frustrations to the security guard and Doug grabbed her by the arm like she was a child and yelled at her.” The incident disturbed Dupuis enough to convince him to remove himself from a company he had built up for nearly five years.

He said it was inevitable. “You get to a point where somebody disgusts you as a person. And there is no way you can really have a relationship with them.” Dupuis left Wyrmwood in 2019 and sold his shares.

Former Wyrmwood woodworker Alley Livingston recalled the day before she quit her job at the company. In late 2022, the same week that an employee nearly burned their finger off on an allegedly defective machine, Wyrm Lyfe posted a video where Costello states “safety slows you down,” and disparages OSHA. Livingston quoted the video in the company Discord–their typical mode of communication. The next day, Costello brought Livingston and her direct manager into a small office.

In the office were a group of employees, including John “Johnny” Paquette (Livingston’s direct manager, a cousin of the Costellos, and a partial owner), Ian Costello, another manager, an HR representative, and Doug Costello. “Doug stood maybe four feet in front of me and yelled at me,” Livingston recalled. “He said that if he wanted to have his self-esteem hit he’d go read comments in Wyrm Lyfe.” All Livingston had done was repeat, verbatim, what Costello had said in the publicly-available video; for that infraction, she was brought into his office and screamed at for ten to twenty minutes, according to multiple sources who overheard the incident.

Livingston said that she did not respond to the yelling, which seemed to encourage Costello to continue berating her. “No one stood up for me. Nobody helped me. Nobody intervened. I sort of shut down… because what else are you going to do?”

When Livingston eventually apologized—just to get out of the office, she says Costello suddenly stopped. “He’s like, ‘okay, I’m good. Are you good?’ And we shook hands. As if nothing had happened.” Livingston quit the next day. The HR representative who was nearby quit shortly after. One former employee said the representative was “frustrated by the insurmountable HR problems” that Costello presented.

Wyrmwood’s board of directors is currently made up of the three majority owners; brothers Doug and Ian Costello, and Ed Maranville. Women who might be promoted have no female allies among the upper management and executive team, and the sources claim that the top-down misogyny has made it impossible for middle managers and craftspeople to combat sexism, even when they attempt to elevate or promote women. Currently, only four women out of a company of 170 are in management positions. There is one woman on the executive team, but she shares the title “co-manager of conventions” with a man.

“If you’re a woman at Wyrmwood, you know your place in the company,” said Mary Antanavica, a former woodworker who left after she felt her reported harassment claims weren’t taken seriously. “And it’s not on top, or even in the middle.”

Disrespect for craftspeople

Despite the significant revenue driven by Wyrmwood’s record-setting Kickstarter campaigns, employees say the company didn’t share the wealth with most workers.

According to documentation reviewed by io9 describing the company’s policies for raises, before 2020 Wyrmwood operated on a tier-based system where employees could review how much everyone at the company made, and see a clear path for how to move up in the company. This changed in 2020, when tiers were eliminated, and employees were evaluated and given raises on an individual basis.

While the workers on the shop floor were barely making a dollar or two more an hour over minimum wage ($15/hour in Massachusetts), most of the exec staff and managers had been making $45-70,000, and eight executives, including the founders and Bobby Downey, were making $100,000.

Antoine states that currently, Wyrmwoods craftspeople make around $20 an hour, which amounts to roughly $42,000 annually. In contrast, the average salary of a union journeyman carpenter in Massachusetts is $66,000.

Raises, when they do occur, are typically implemented months after the company tells their staff to expect them. In 2022, the company laid off 23 people just before Christmas, some sources suspected, to avoid paying holiday PTO. Antoine said that these layoffs were “unfortunate” and that the timing was “super shitty.”

Promotions are also hard to get, according to multiple sources, unless you’re one of Costello’s “favorites.”

“[Costello] tried to bring me into the inner circle in the beginning. So I got things that a lot of other people at the company didn’t,” Bumpus said. “He rewarded me financially very quickly and helped move me up.”

Accusations of nepotism are widespread, and have even been addressed publicly on an episode of Wyrm Lyfe, where the media team’s various connections were laid out. Antoine told io9 that the media team and company at large is less nepotistic now, but admitted that within a month of arriving at Wyrmwood in 2021 he was promoted to head of HR, despite having no specific qualifications. He says this is due to his “work ethic.”

Antoine joined Wyrmwood after what one source described as a “quarter life crisis” while working on Wall Street during the pandemic. Antoine stated that he worked on the shop floor for less than a month in 2021 before getting quickly promoted to the executive team. His titles currently are; Head of HR, Chief of Business and Sales Officer, and VP of furniture, which includes overseeing the luxury game table production. He has no previous woodworking or HR experience, although he stated that he works with consultants in order to help establish systems for employee management at the company.

“Safety slows you down”

In summer of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wyrmwood began requiring employees return to its Massachusetts factory. Once on site, workers began to notice what they viewed as potentially dangerous lapses in workplace safety regarding COVID precautions and fire prevention. Soon after, a group of workers went to Costello directly and asked about improving standards. Costello said that he wanted them to deliver a formalized document with their requested changes, but added that they better “make it good” or they would be the first fired if anything went wrong.

When workers were ready to present their proposal, 18 people signed out of the approximately 50 people working at the plant. According to sources, an estimated 15-20 additional people wanted to sign, but feared retaliation from management. One source said that they wanted to sign and voiced their support to the organizers but “didn’t want to end up homeless.”

When presented with the proposal ahead of the agreed-upon meeting time and deadline (during which Costello was scheduled to meet with a small group of worker representatives), Costello changed the terms; there would be an announcement, not a meeting.

This announcement was filmed and published via Wyrm Lyfe, in a video titled ‘Wyrmwood Goes Corporate.’ In this heavily-edited 17-minute clip, Costello bemoans the workers’ demands for “safety” and “HR,” saying that such things are “corporate” and will “take away from fun.” He’s unmasked in the middle of the pandemic, yelling at a bunch of masked workers who have asked for safer working conditions, with his usual gang of executives, including Ian Costello and Bobby Downey standing behind him. He ends by stepping down as CEO. Two workshop employees resigned later that week in protest. Doug Costello returned to the CEO position less than a year later.

The published video only shows Costello speaking, but io9 received a recording of the announcement that had not been edited. The full announcement took 30 minutes, and workers were talking back and pushing against Costello’s tirade the entire time. One worker stops him, saying that “we wanted a simple meeting and you’ve turned it into a circus. Now you have the shitshow you want.” Another says, “nobody asked for your soapboxing.” Towards the end of the recording, Downey says “we’ve got some editing to do.” An employee can be overheard saying “I bet you do.”

There were other employee concerns over COVID safety. Costello and Jason MacDonald–the current lead designer and CEO during Costello’s step back from the position–often traveled interstate between Wyrmwood shops and did not undergo government-recommended quarantine. Mask policy also varied depending on the executive team’s “personal feelings” about the state of the pandemic, according to multiple sources.

Costello claims he is very concerned about safety, and has said so multiple times on Wyrm Lyfe, but often in the same breath that he begins to disparage the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as overbearing. He describes OSHA regulations as “removing agency and adulthood” from employees.

“OSHA has come through the shop multiple times,” said Livingston. “I was contacted by OSHA after I reported an incident, and they told me that Wyrmwood had been reported so many times that they were going to try to fine them on as many things as they could.”

Wyrmwood has multiple OSHA violations on file. They have received five serious safety infractions since 2020, including violations for noise safety and improper operation of a forklift. The company currently owes or has paid nearly $30,000 in fines. Wyrmwood states that it is currently in compliance with OSHA standards, and they work with OSHA consultants to establish safety regulations at the shop.

“The company is determined to do things in a way that maximizes speed,” continued Livingston, “and they do so in a way that violates safety standards.” Multiple sources stated that Wyrmwood does not fix problems unless it stands to cost them something if they don’t fix it.

“I have seen more and more injuries as [Costello] pushes the workers to work faster,” said one current employee. Workplace injuries described to io9 include easily-avoidable mistakes caused by a lack of safety equipment or training. Sources report that nobody is adequately trained on the equipment; employees are hired with little to no woodworking experience and trained to be “just adequate enough.”

One of the shop’s worst injuries happened in 2022, when an employee was working during a suspected power disruption that caused a machine to malfunction and clamp down on the employee’s hand. Because the machine did not have an emergency stop, the employee’s hand remained clamped between the machine and the wood they were working with for five to seven seconds, nearly burning their finger off. That employee was rushed to the hospital and had to undergo multiple surgeries.

Later in the day, multiple sources say, management attempted to gloss over this event in a floor meeting, and attempted to blame the employee for the injury, despite the fact that this machine had been known to have this issue. “I’ve seen this brand go off for no reason,” said one former employee. “I’ve seen one of the managers run over when this machine was malfunctioning and have to unplug the entire machine in order to stop the pneumatic arms with the brands from going up and down.”

The injured employee was supposed to return to Wyrmwood for “light work,” but before they could return to work, they were laid off. This employee is now planning to file a workplace injury suit.

Another former employee, Matt King, also says he ran into problems due to health issues: A cancer survivor with a chronic illness, King worked in customer service, and alleges that he was denied some accommodations that would allow him to work effectively, including a fifteen-minute buffer for his phone line to allow flexible start time. King eventually resigned during a meeting with management because of the perceived lack of support.

“Equality,” King said, “is not equity. My experience at Wyrmwood showed me that I might not ever be able to pursue an equitable career in my life.”

Other safety issues include environmental hazards. Masking is not always enforced in areas with high dust and chemical content. The spray room was directly next to the communal lunch table, and had one industrial fan helping circulate the fumes, but that fan was blocked by a sheet of plastic.

In a dusty, wood-filled factory, fire extinguishers were often missing, out of date, or uncharged. This can even be seen in a Wyrm Lyfe video, when a safety inspector informs Costello of an out-of-charge extinguisher. Costello seems shocked that you would need to keep these up to date, and laughs when he tests them and nothing happens. This video is from two years ago, but multiple sources reported that fire safety is still not taken seriously. For years, the de facto response when the fire alarm went off was to see if “any of the managers” were leaving the area.

Sources also say that drug use at Wyrmwood has been a problem, and that employees would smoke marijuana on breaks, and on company property. While marijuana use isn’t illegal in Massachusetts, smoking and then operating heavy machinery is an obviously unsafe practice. Several employees described incidents where Costello would catch people smoking, and send them home for the day, but stated that “there were no real consequences for smoking weed at work.” Antoine states that this is no longer the case at the company.

What is Wyrm Lyfe?

Wyrm Lyfe, the company’s YouTube series, debuted in September of 2018 as a behind-the-scenes look at the workshop, company culture, and “occasional drama.” Over the past four years the production has turned into a deliberately constructed, dramatic reality show about the staff of Wyrmwood Gaming.

“When Wyrm Lyfe first came out I thought it was a little funny,” said Savage. “But it’s not really us. It’s supposed to be the shop, and it became this reality show about a bunch of eccentrics who work in the gaming industry but don’t game.” Multiple sources described Wyrm Lyfe as a vanity project for Costello and Downey.

In a screenshot from a Wyrm Lyfe video, Bobby Downey (L) and Doug Costello read comments on a Wyrm Lyfe video.

In a screenshot from a Wyrm Lyfe video, Bobby Downey (L) and Doug Costello read comments on a Wyrm Lyfe video.
Screenshot: Wyrmwood

“Wyrmwood is an entertainment company that occasionally does manufacturing,” said a former employee. “It’s a narcissistic endeavor headed by a raging narcissist who desperately wants to be famous.”

The result is less an image of a goofy company riding the waves of success and more of an inside look at a business that, according to a former employee, “fails hard and fast, doesn’t know what it’s doing most of the time, and refuses to hire anyone with actual experience running a business of their size.”

Wyrmwood’s media team is held to an entirely different standard than the rest of the staff, according to employee sources. They are allowed to be late, they get paid more money, and they are kept separate from the craftspeople; because they act as the de-facto “sales team,” upper management considers the media team the “money makers” of Wyrmwood, which means that they get far more leeway than the people who actually build the product.

The devaluation of craftspeople in favor of the media team has bred resentment at the company–“everyone hates the media department,” said a former employee–and has instilled a sense of arrogance in the media team.

Meanwhile, internal communication is so bad at Wyrmwood that the shop employees find out news about Wyrmwood from watching Wyrm Lyfe, according to multiple sources. “It happened all the time,” said Savage.

Topics that were not communicated directly to the staff include new products that they would be making, when raises would occur, staff changes and position shifts, new equipment, layoff announcements, business statuses, and upcoming promotions and Kickstarter campaigns.

“Wyrm Lyfe is highly edited propaganda,” said one former employee. And it has worked. Over 100K people subscribe to the Wyrm Lyfe channel to tune into the Dougie Costello show three times a week. The problem is that Wyrm Lyfe, like all propaganda, deliberately crafted and edited to show only what they want you to see. “Wyrm Lyfe is a threat,” one former employee said. “They use it to convince people to work here, and they hold their platform over their competition like a gun.”

Ultimately, the gravest issue with Wyrm Lyfe may be that it casts a bright spotlight on Bobby Downey and Doug Costello, to the point that their jobs and business is directly related to how people perceive them on YouTube.

The absolute focus that Downey has on being famous is apparent in his presence on Wyrm Lyfe, in marketing and merch images, and his attendance at conventions. “He used to be a nice guy,” said one former employee, “but being in front of the camera so much changed him.” When anyone ties who they are to what they do so closely, they must be held accountable for their personal behavior. And Downey’s personal behavior is reprehensible.

Wyrmwood has poisoned their own waters

There are many fans of Wyrmwood Gaming who will defend Doug Costello, Bobby Downey, and their management of Wyrmwood. Bumpus recalls the love he got from fans, saying that they fall in love with the company… “but it’s all in love with the image the company wants you to see. They don’t see how we’re being exploited and how we’re working our asses off. How we’re being told that this company is a family and you need to support your family. But Wyrmwood is not going to take care of you.”

Paul Downs, the owner of a Pennsylvania cabinetmaking company and former writer of “You’re The Boss,” a New York Times small business advice column, was at one time working on a book about Wyrmwood; He declined to comment on Costello’s behavior, but defended the right of the small business owner to run his company any way that he saw fit.

And while that’s true—Costello can run Wyrmwood any way he likes, even if that includes playing down safety concerns and disrespecting women—many past and present employees say that doesn’t make it right.

It’s not right, they say, that Costello has lied to his employees, promising them raises when none were forthcoming; it’s not right, they say, that he favors male employees over his female ones; it’s not right, they say, that his shop has injured craftspeople; it’s not right, they say, that he has decided to fire employees instead of treating them fairly; it’s not right, they say, that he has used Wyrm Lyfe to build a cult of personality.

At every level, according to employees, Wyrmwood has failed to scale to the demands of its customers and in a way that adequately supports their employees. One current employee emphasized to io9 that while they love their coworkers and they love what they make, management makes the shop a hostile workplace. “I just want a good place to work,” they said. “But Doug makes that impossible.”

The Wyrmwood customers who know all this and decide to purchase anyway are not rebels; they are simply rewarding bad behavior. This machine grinds up hardworking, blue-collar workers and spits them out, bloody and traumatized.

“Everyone who’s ever worked at Wyrmwood, they will tell you they loved their coworkers, and we built this camaraderie together, in spite of Doug Costello,” said Ted Bumpus. “So often our coworkers were our best friends and family. And the management takes advantage of that.”

Correction 3/28/23 10:50 pm ET: Earlier versions of this article misspelled the surnames of Wyrmwood employee and partial owner John “Johnny” Paquette, and former employee Andrew Oberbeck.

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