One generation plants the trees, another watches them grow and another harvests them for profit.
Dan Worsham, co-owner of Specialty Hardwood Supply in Moscow, is of the first group. The retired roofing contractor went into business with his brother Carl about five years ago harvesting hardwoods from lots in the Midwest.
Worsham grew up in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where he worked on his family’s wood lots and earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. His quest for a master’s degree brought Worsham to the University of Idaho, but he dropped out and entered the workforce to support his wife and two daughters.
Retirement sounded to Worsham like an opportunity to keep providing for posterity.
“We always say we’re making money for our grandkids,” Worsham said. “When you work on growing trees and stuff like that it’s not something you plan on harvesting yourself … you plan for the next generation.”
Walnut, maple, cherry and oak trees grow in centuries-old, dilapidated forests and Worsham said they are beyond ripe for the picking. Thin forests and high winds leave the trees vulnerable, and Worsham said they would naturally fall down, become diseased and recycle themselves.
“We’re harvesting mature stuff that’s been there for a couple hundred years,” Worsham said. “It’s beyond the optimum age.”
But age means little to Worsham. In fact, the bulk of his clients are senior citizens. He said the average SHS customer is 50 to 65 years old, retired and into woodworking or custom furniture building. Worsham aims to serve musicians, carpenters and artists interested in specialty wood on a small scale.
“We’re doing the things you can’t do on a large scale,” Worsham said. “We provide featured, figured, rare woods in smaller amounts and generate more income.”
Worsham’s son-in-law, Ryan Gunderson, mans the Moscow warehouse while Worsham oversees lots for several months each spring. Gunderson, who works full time at Carpet Mill, said customers are his main source of lumber information.
“A lot of them know exactly what they want,” Gunderson said. “I don’t have a lot of experience with woodworking, but I learn a lot from customers. They’re very knowledgeable and willing to share.”
The close quarters of the store feature antique tools, stacks of aromatic lumber on the floor and walls, and photos of finished projects from customers. Gunderson counted 11 species of wood in various lengths, thicknesses and striations. The dynamics of a crowded shop and chatty customers get Gunderson excited about the work at hand.
“When you’ve got five, six customers in here and they start talking to each other — I like that,” Gunderson said.
Tales of the small-scale supplier’s personal connection with clients and products have gotten out, and Gunderson said the shop is growing in popularity.
“There’s a lot of people getting into woodworking right now,” Gunderson said. “It’s amazing — blows me away actually … people are so passionate about it.”
More than a thousand miles away from where Worsham’s trees grow, Washington State University employee Deven See purchases wide cherry planks for custom closet doors. Amateur sculptors, professional furniture builders and UI students frequent the inconspicuous warehouse on A Street.
Debra Saul, a junior in UI’s interior design program, followed classmate Amanda Davich to Specialty Hardwood Supply to purchase building materials for a furniture design class. Saul said students build custom, full-size chairs for a competition held each spring. Her Elizabethan bench will be constructed from hard maple, and Davich will make a black walnut rocker.
Worsham’s legacy of planting and pruning is just beginning, but it’s got to start somewhere so why not a seed. Patience is in his blood, and he’ll cultivate it in future generations, too. “People thought my grandma was crazy — she was out there planting trees when she was 80,” Worsham said. “Somebody’s got to plant ‘em.”