By SCOTT BAUGHMAN
When Keith Wood started making plant hangers for a local arts and crafts show a little over seven years ago, he didn’t plan on having it turn into storefront on Memorial Highway – but like the trees he uses for raw materials the business has taken on a life of its own.
Wood Works is located at 2400 Memorial Highway with an appropriately designed wooden sign that sometimes flaps in the breeze. Inside the shop there’s no case or shelving to display wares. It looks more like you’ve accidentally stepped into someone’s living room with couches, chairs and a television humming while surrounded by exquisite, hand-crafted wooden tables, bowls and – of course – plant hangers.
“I don’t like glass cases so when you come to the gallery it is like you’re in a home,” Wood said. “And they get an idea of what it might be like in a home setting.”
Wood was no stranger to the materials when he started making his plant hangers years ago.
“I was in the lumber industry as a hardwood lumber inspector for 38 years,” he said. “I worked for Parton Lumber and was there for seven years and their production was outpacing my body. When I turned 55 I told them I couldn’t do it anymore. Now it is constant custom work – like, a lot. I do all this stuff at the gallery and then we have about 10 other artists here that turn bowls and do pottery and things like that.”
This is the fourth year for the company at the shop, but Wood has been making hand-crafted furniture for seven years.
“My tools got bigger, my shed got bigger and all my customers end up being repeat customers,” he said. “I’ve got some customers that only work with me.”
The wood grain tables and live slab furniture are an outgrowth of the plant hangers. The unique shapes of his curved wooden hangers were what caught most customer’s eyes. But getting the wood to turn like that takes a specialized process. And it doesn’t work every time.
“The plant hangers I do I run them through my planer,” Wood explained. “Many of those will break when I run them through the 200-degree steamer. But I’ve gotten good at spotting which pieces of the wood will break when you steam it and try to bend it to make these curves. Walnut seems to be the hardest wood to twist.”
Most of the techniques for what Wood does – from tables and chairs to wall hangings to bookshelves – involved him learning on the job.
“I’m self-taught but there aren’t as many people doing handiwork like this,” Wood said.
“When I started, I had one 16×16 shed. Then the next year I added another of those sheds and then the third year I added another of those sheds. I’ve run out of room in my yard. I started with a 13 inched and weighed about 50 pounds. Now I have a 20ninch one at 900 pounds. I’ve added a whole lot of tools.”
But the business certainly isn’t about the ever-popular instant gratification. Wood cautions that any of his work is going to be beautiful, but it will take time.
“It is all quality but if you’re in a hurry I hate it for you,” he said. “I won’t rush and put out things that aren’t meeting my standards. I have sold furniture to customers from California, Maine, Florida and even some in Hawaii and Alaska. And they all walked through the front door here. I don’t sell in any other gallery or online. I can’t keep up with the demand and otherwise I don’t want to deal with paying that commission.”
For Wood, it’s about more than just selling his furniture.
“The plant hangers are $90 and Sconces $65. Table and chairs range from $1,200 – $1,500. But I’ve sold one for $6,000,” he said. “Its not cheap but mine are conversation pieces and most end up heirlooms. This is artwork and not just home decor. This is possible thanks to my wife Amy Wood and Peggy Keyes who owns this building. Amy believed in me to make a living doing this when even I was very skeptical. I’ve worked for myself before, but it takes a lot of work to quit a job and say I’m going to do this art for a living.”
And the benefits for him go beyond the money.
“Woodworking is like therapy to me. I just get in the zone,” Wood said. “I don’t use plans or kits, I go with my gut every time. I just have an idea and I go for it. Now, plan A doesn’t always work out, so I scrap it and start over. The gratification comes when I see the customer’s face as they can’t believe how unique it is or how beautiful it is when I’m finished.”