|The refined rustic|
|A 20-year history|
Gathering know-how from books and his woodworking friends, Braun began building and selling some traditional-style furniture. During a trip to Colorado, he visited the National Carvers Museum and National Wildlife Museum and saw uses for driftwood, burl and rustic furniture. He came back with a vision of a more upscale, custom version of the rustic furniture he had seen. Through a trial-and-error process, he began to master his craft.
In Missouri, Braun realized he had access to an endless supply of old-growth salvage wood.
"Just about all the wood we use is salvage wood, ready for the burn pile," he says. He collects every species he can. When he started out, a friend told Braun he would need a large variety of inventory to meet customer demand. "I took that to heart," he says. "I didn't want to be known for only doing one type of work, just oak, or something like that. I started collecting everything I could find â€” walnut, cherry, sycamore, butternut, oak. If it was a local wood, I collected it. If my neighbor's tree was about to come down, I was there asking for it.
"It took me a year to learn about drying wood to be able to make a quality product. You figure, well, it can burn, it must be dry." At the Wood Merchant, Braun air-dries his slabbed old-growth timber for a year, then kiln dries it, rotating it out until he gets the desired 6- to 8-percent moisture content.
He is constantly acquiring old-growth timber, searching out new subdivisions or clearances by power companies for right-of-ways and negotiating for the timber. Most of it he gets without cost, but sometimes there is negotiation over legal considerations â€”safety, ownership and insurance issues.
Hauling them home
Transporting the monster logs to his shop has become part of Braun's normal operational process. A recent 200-year-old tree that will become a fireplace mantel for a 10,000-sq.-ft. home was found on a farm. The old tree was about to be taken down and discarded.
"Most of the trees we acquire are big â€” four or five feet or more in diameter; stuff that nobody wants to work with," he says. "It is not prime timber a lumber company wants. [The logs] have cracks, knots and all kinds of flaws. Wire and all sorts or things can be embedded, making it hard to work with." Braun has found bullets and fencing inside trees. That can be hard on tools, particularly chainsaws used to slab the timber.
Braun calls those flaws character. "That's what our clients enjoy seeing in the products we make," he says.
He spends time walking around the timber, studying it from different angles, imagining and planning how he can work around the wood's natural growth. He enjoys walking through the woods and sitting by a fallen tree, or old-growth log. "I can see the beauty inside it. I often wonder about the history, the things that tree has seen. Who might have stood under it, even sat on one of its branches, the history that went on around it."