EMBARRASS – Don Taylor grew up spending time on his neighbor’s farm in Menahga, where he helped with the dairy cows, went on the milk route and did other various chores. He took something …
EMBARRASS – Don Taylor grew up spending time on his neighbor’s farm in Menahga, where he helped with the dairy cows, went on the milk route and did other various chores. He took something away from those formative years that has stayed with him as he nears the end of his seventh decade. He developed a respect and admiration for old barns, and the wood they are made of.
“I’ve always liked the look, the feel, even the smell of barn wood,” Taylor said earlier this month in his workshop at his home east of Embarrass.
And in Taylor’s hands, old barn wood becomes decorative craft pieces and functional furniture, a hobby he enjoys when he is not tending to his full-time remodeling and custom cabinetry business.
His love of repurposing barn wood will be on full display this weekend at the Ely Blueberry/Art Festival in Whiteside Park. The festival runs Friday through Sunday and features hundreds of arts and crafts for sale.
“We are always looking for old barns. It takes a great effort to tear an old barn down in a way that preserves the wood,” he said. “We literally take a barn apart piece by piece.”
One of the first barns he recycled, located south of Chisago, had an original section built in 1874.
“There were lots of dove-tailed sections of full logs, and we even found many sections of rough-sawn white oak. It was a real gold mine to have one of our first barns to be made of so many types of wood,” he said.
Taylor crafts different styles and lengths of log benches, key holders with tin Harley-Davidson signs, lanterns (electrified), and shelves with coat rack pegs. He also makes a variety of wine racks, some with deer antlers, others with old recycled square barn nails to hold the wine glasses.
“We also make old windows, some four-pane, others six-pane in size, and frame those with barn wood,” he said. “Those will be new this year.”
The will be Taylor’s fourth Blueberry/Art Festival displaying his unique craft work. He also makes it back to Ely for the Harvest Moon Festival in September. Other than a couple of shows in the Chisago area, Taylor shows his craft exclusively in Ely.
“I am busy all year with my remodeling and cabinet business, and getting to a bunch of shows every year is just not in the cards,” he said.
He related a recent job he did for a couple who live on Birch Lake near Babbitt.
“They saw what I do, and she wanted a bathroom made to look old-fashioned with barn wood. We found an old claw-foot tub. The vanity is made completely out of barn wood. The window is framed in old wood. We even put in a roller-mounted barn door,” he said. “It turned out beautiful.”
Working with reclaimed barn wood has many challenges.
“Always check for nails,” he warned. “I use a hand-held metal detector so I don’t ruin all my saw blades.”
Taylor rarely stains his wood.
“Varnishing will bring out the natural colors,” he said. “It gets dark because of its age. It has its own natural beauty. Weathering and thickness will play into what pieces of wood I use for a particular project, such as framing. It is hard to get the consistent look. Barn wood can sometimes be very fragile to work with.”
People will come up to him at his booth and say they could smell the barn wood before they saw it.
“The old timers know that smell of aged barn wood,” he said.
Taylor and his wife moved to the Embarrass area about seven years ago.
“My good friend Scott Edgett (North American Bear Center director and dog sledder) found us the perfect place to buy up here, and we weren’t really looking to relocate,” he said. “To be clear, we had to kick out our youngest son (he joined the National Guard) and then we moved up here when we were free of all our kids.” The couple has seven boys and two girls, and so far, eight grandchildren.
“We just love it up here,” he said.
Another son, Tim, also loves the North Country and is setting up his own cabinet shop in Tower.
Don displays some of his work that will be available at the Blueberry/Art Festival.
A bin of old square nails.