The refined rustic - A 20-year history

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The refined rustic
A 20-year history
Self-taught
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WOOD MERCHANT

Owners: Richard and Sue Braun
Location: Lampe, Mo.
Product: Specializes in creating custom furnishings, accessories and architectural accents using various materials, including native timber, freshwater driftwood, salvaged wood, logs, burls, metals and glass.

Braun says of the day he met Morris, "It was a good break." But, as in most success stories, Braun's includes some bad breaks and a lot of hard work. The roots of his journey into professional woodworking were planted during a vacation to the Ozarks at a time when he was simply searching for something new to do.

"I was a mailman up in Wisconsin," Braun says. "I enjoyed the job and I liked working outside, but the winters were long."

While vacationing with a buddy in southwestern Missouri, he fell in love with the rural setting. The wooded hills (1,500-2,500 ft. elevation), deep hollows and clear waterways appealed to his love of the outdoors. More importantly, so did the promise of winters more temperate than those back in Wisconsin. The two friends visited Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, then a privately owned 10,000-acre log cabin resort in the wilderness just north of the Arkansas state line.

"We thought, 'This is neat,'" Braun recalls. "Log cabins and a trout stream." A month later, the two moved to the area. Braun found work at the nature park.

"I was sort of the resident hillbilly farmer," he says. "I raised horses, mules and goats. I was also in charge of maintenance and construction."

A payoff in wood
Five years later, the resort filed for bankruptcy. It was a bad situation that Braun resourcefully made the best of. It would also be the start of his woodworking career.

"They owed me two months' back wages and didn't have the money to pay me," Braun says. "They said you can wait for bankruptcy court. I said, 'How about we settle up in timber?'" The resort agreed. Braun hired a man with a Wood-Mizer portable band mill to slab the logs and a crew to help load them.

"My initial plan was to sell the logs to wood buyers," he says. It seemed a convenient way to turn a profit. But the chips did not fall as Braun anticipated. Ready for market, he and his crew loaded the timber onto a truck and drove some 60 miles to Springfield, Mo.

"We put the first load of logs on a three-quarter-ton truck and I drove it," Braun recalls. "On the way up we were so overloaded we blew out two rear tires." Replacing the blown tires, Braun continued on his maiden voyage as a wood merchant.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of walnut logs on the truck," Braun says. He figured the load would easily let him recoup his lost wages, with money to spare for the cost of blown tires, gasoline and paying his crew.

But when he reached the lumberyard, the buyer began scrutinizing the load of timber with a critical eye. He found something wrong with just about every piece.

"He kept pointing out flaws," Braun recalls. "This one has this little knot here, and this one has this crack there. He knocked it down so that we had $60 worth of wood in the back of that truck," Braun says. "We could have sold the load for firewood and made more money. At that point I said I am not selling logs anymore. I thought, somebody is making money using these logs."