Terry Wood: The creation of a custom furniture maker
Terry Wood is a self-taught furniture maker who specializes in custom-made wood pieces. Based in Greybull, Wyoming, he said his love is in taking a gnarly, one-of-a-kind piece of wood and transforming it into a showcase, also one-of-a-kind piece of furniture that will be enjoyed by its owner for life.
“I grew up on a farm in Iowa, and always had a little desire to be working with wood. My uncle was a good finish carpenter and I wanted to work for him, but being a farmer I never got the chance. I eventually left the farm and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. After discharge in 1970, I decided to take advantage of the GI Bill and pursued a career in Forest and Range Management at Colorado State University. That is probably when I got some real enthusiasm for doing wood working,” explained Terry of his earlier years, adding that while in school he helped various friends with remodeling work to supplement his veteran’s benefits for college expenses.
In 1973, Terry married Denise Kelly, and went to work for the Big Horn National Forest on the Big Horn Interregional Fire Crew. Various rangers figured out Terry could drive a nail, and when not fighting fire kept him busy remodeling various buildings and campgrounds, and building miles of buck/pole and rail fences. He said he enjoyed the experience and felt making sawdust and woodchips was a great improvement over cleaning outhouses or painting. As time passed he slowly accumulated wood working tools, and began making simple furnishing for his own home.
“My wife passed away in 1996, and at that time I had been with the Forest Service for 27 years. I had three kids – Jason and Erik virtually grown, and Sarah age 11. My job at the time required a lot of traveling, and I didn’t think I wanted to do that with her still so young. I took an opportunity to leave the Forest Service and planned to supplement my retirement income by working at something in the Greybull area, hopefully doing some kind of woodworking on a more serious scale,” explained Terry.
His first step was building his own house. He approached local contractor Jerry Ewen and explained that he would like to hire him, but also work for him on the project to learn the professional aspects of building a home.
“We were able to work something out, and after building my house I worked for him for about three years. I learned a lot of things from Jerry and his nephew Todd Zeller, who is also a prominent building contractor in the Big Horn Basin today,” noted Terry.
From there he approached Kustom King Cabinets about learning the skills required to make quality cabinetry.
“At the time, Kustom King was owned by Vern Henderson, and operated in conjunction with his two brothers, Ross and Roger. The cabinet shop had a great reputation of doing real quality cabinet work, so I approached Vern for a job. I explained I had some carpentry and basic furniture making skills, but wanted to learn more, and that they were a very well respected place. I worked for Vern four to six years, sometimes full time and sometimes part time, and learned so much about matching and joining wood, finishing techniques and the use of a variety of woodworking tools,” noted Terry.
In 2001 Terry married his wife Cindy, and also had different people approaching him about making pieces. He was using what tools he had to make as many pieces as his spare time allowed, until Cindy made a suggestion.
“She told me that if I really wanted to do this, why didn’t I go buy the tools and do it? I thought about that. Then I went to Casper and bought the wood working tools I knew I needed after working at Kustom King, and from there it has just grown and grown,” said Terry.
Today, Terry stays busy making custom pieces for individuals, and to display and sell at various stores in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin, relying on word of mouth to advertise his trade.
“I get a lot of people who want me to make regular, contemporary pieces of furniture, which I can do. But, I much prefer to build unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that are well designed and take a piece of wood that is maybe old and gnarly and doesn’t appear to have much good in it and turn it into something really nice,” explained Terry, adding he uses a mix of walnut and Rocky Mountain Juniper, or cedar, for his furniture.
He also noted that one of the early learning curves he had to overcome with his preferred medium of juniper for legs, handles and access pieces was figuring out how to take different, crooked pieces of wood and join them to get the perfect fit.
“I finally figured out a jig for table legs that will hold the material so I can cut the top and bottom and have them be the same plane. That took quite a while to learn, but I have it down pretty good now,” commented Terry with a chuckle.
In addition to finding and cutting the right piece of wood for a project, Terry also enjoys incorporating other natural finds, such as antlers or even old fenceposts, into something new, and said that is one way a customer can add something off their operation into their home if they want to.
“It’s pretty neat to have the opportunity to add a piece of an old ranch into a new piece of furniture for that ranching family,” he added.
Working with customers to design and execute the perfect piece is another aspect of the job Terry enjoys. Another favorite component is the ability to use his skills to give back to his community.
“I have helped some local charities earn money, and I’m proud of that. We have the Hands Across the Saddle annual fundraiser that gives money to people in the Bighorn Basin that have medical or financial problems – something like a fire. I’ve helped them the last three years, and they’ve earned about $7,000 off my pieces.
“Cindy also works at the Bighorn County Library in Basin, and they have a fundraiser for their endowment that is a three-to-one match from the state. The library raffled a sofa table for that and it brought $1,900 at auction, and $5,700 after the match. Those contributions are very rewarding for me. I don’t make anything, but it’s a different kind of return when you can help other causes,” said Terry.
Of all the pieces he’s designed and made over the years, Terry’s favorites are those made for his children, including a walnut hutch made for his daughter Sarah on her wedding day, and an oak hutch for is stepson, Michael Rufsvold, following his wedding.
“The other thing I really love is when people know and appreciate how much time and work went into a piece. That’s very rewarding, and worth making a little less over selling it to someone who just had money but no care or appreciation for what they bought,” commented Terry.
Going forward Terry plans to continue doing what he loves, from scouting for new material, to designing and building a piece from that material, to selling or donating it to worthy causes that will enjoy and use it for years to come.
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HURON, S.D. – Each summer South Dakota Farmers Union (SDFU) seeks out exceptional individuals to aid the organization in its summer youth education efforts.