|The refined rustic|
|A 20-year history|
He and Shawn (who has worked with his dad since he was a kid) have developed their own technique for slabbing some of the monster old-growth logs they bring to the shop.
"We use a two-man chainsaw to slab it," Braun says. "Regular sawmills don't go wide enough. After the slabs dry, they are too wide to go through a planer, so then we set up a jig and run a router over the tops and re-level them after they have warped, or twisted or moved in whatever way they are going to move. After that we air-dry them, then kiln-dry them.
"There are a lot of rustic furniture builders. We have what I call a refined rustic. It's not real rough. It's finished out and not slapped together. We build for people who are looking for quality pieces."
Wood Merchant's custom work for individual clients comes from homeowners living in $500,000 to $1 million-plus residences. Coffee tables are popular items, and cost around $4,000 to build, but the shop custom-creates pieces in a range that varies from around $200 to $8,000. Braun most enjoys working with individuals looking for that one-of-a-kind piece.
"Our corporate work is our bread-and-butter and we are thankful for it," he says, "but it's a lot of fun working with private individuals and creating something they envision for their homes." Part of Braun's process is photographing the start, middle and finish of a piece and giving the photos to the client.
"You go to their home and wind up becoming friends," he says. "They invite you over; they take pictures and introduce you to their friends and relatives."
Along with Shawn, Rick's business partner and general manager is his wife, Susan. Through trial and error, Braun has learned that he and Shawn best work without bringing in additional workers. "I used to hire a crew during peak times," Braun says, "but then had to lay them off when things slowed down. I hated doing that. Our clients that know us don't mind waiting two or three months for a one-of-a kind piece."
He and Shawn spend part of fall attending trade shows, where they pick up orders for custom work. Part of each winter is used to collect and sort their log inventory.
"This winter we had about 200 logs that we needed to move," he says. Then there is always the anticipation of finding and saving that next 200-old-tree from the burn pile, getting it back to his shop, then discovering what unusual 'character trait' nature has designed in the grain.
"It's always an exciting treasure hunt," Braun says.