By Lee Noles
WAXHAW – Bryan Wilson’s summer job as a teenager wasn’t what most people did in their youth. There were no days relaxing by the pool as a lifeguard, mowing yards or working at the local diner flipping burgers.
Wilson spent his summer days tagging along with his uncle in Colorado, fixing up historical buildings which dated back to the 1800s. At any time, Wilson was learning about restoring custom furniture, making a window mantle or replacing copper paneling in homes that once belonged to the pioneers.
The lessons his uncle taught him nearly 20 years ago are still being used too create woodworking pieces he sells throughout Union County and the surrounding area.
“It was awesome. He was sort of like Mr. Miyagi,” Wilson said, comparing his uncle, Mark Thorburn, to the wise, martial arts teacher from the “Karate Kid” movies. “He didn’t tell you what the whole project would be. It was just doing a little bit of this. Then doing a little bit of that. It was cool seeing the process and how it all fit together to make the finished product.”
The lessons came in handy for Wilson as soon as he left for college in Denver. After graduation, he began working in respiratory therapy at the local university. He eventually bought a house – a fixer-upper Wilson described as good bones but needing work on the inside. He replaced light fixtures, remodeled the bathroom and added a deck – all the while thinking about his uncle.
“I always imagined he was there with me,” Wilson said of Thorburn, who still lives in Colorado. “He was teaching me what to do, which was almost to a fault because he always wanted everything to be just right in its measurement and detail. And I am the same way.”
Wilson continued using the teachings when he moved to Charlotte six years ago to work as an air medical transport. He bought another fixer-upper in the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. This time, he focused on the backyard by adding a treehouse, flower beds and an elevated walkway.
But it was when he moved to Union County in May 2017 that he really started thinking seriously about woodworking as a business. His wife, Kedly, had a list of things for him to do around their new home. His friends got wind of his woodworking skills and asked him to create furniture, cabinets and dog bowl stands for their household.
“It got the creative juices flowing,” Wilson said.
He started posting photos of his work on Facebook and Instagram. People started to ask about his customized furniture. One lady asked for a bulky, oversize bed frame that was built in a farmhouse style. She liked it so much, she wanted a dresser and two night stands done the same way. Another person wanted a modern asymmetrical desk that didn’t have a leg on one corner. Wilson had never done something that detailed before. Did it stop him from trying?
“It took a couple of days of me drawing up designs for it and then I figured it out,” Wilson said. “I realized there wasn’t a lot of pieces involved but the angles had to be precise for it to work.”
Wilson sees his work not as blocks of wood bolted or pieced together, but more as an art form. He sometimes can take a couple of weeks to make several larger pieces, such as the farmhouse furniture he created. He doesn’t like to use screws or glue because by his own admission, it takes away from the wood’s natural appearance. The wood is also never bought from a large corporation. Wilson gets it from a lumber mill in Pineville, which uses fallen trees as its source.
“I see myself as an artist, not so much as a maker,” Wilson said. “The art is the symmetrical lines, the edges and shape of the wood. The natural beauty of the wood is the art. And the fact it is made by hand and not machine makes it art.”
Wilson’s does his woodworking in a shop set 200 feet into the woods behind his house in a rural part of the county that is 15 minutes from any town or city. The distance is just perfect for Wilson.
“Charlotte just got too busy for us,” Wilson said.
The business has gone so well Wilson added another 200 square feet to his work area. He now has room for an assembly table, dust-collecting system and another band saw in the L-shape workshop. The extra space has Wilson thinking about the future.
“I am fortunate to do something I really enjoy,” Wilson said. “It’s like maybe this can be a full-time job.”
When there is a snag in his woodworking, maybe a piece isn’t fitting together correctly or a measurement not where it should be, Wilson knows exactly who to call for guidance.
“I talk to him every once in a while,” Wilson said of Thorburn. “He gives me advice on things that I may need help with.”
Want to learn more?
If interested in purchasing Wilson’s work you can go to 47K Marketplace in Monroe or go to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call 1-303-875-5002.