for old logs
Braun creates furniture from old growth timber rescued from the
Braun, right, and his son Shawn load a 300-pound slab of sycamore
cut from a log rescued from the Branson Landing development.
The woodworker from Lampe makes tables, lamps and other home furnishings
from old growth lumber reclaimed from construction sites.
The two men are quite
a sight for travelers pausing at the intersection of highways 13 and
86 near the southern edge of Table Rock Lake. With their bright orange
jumpsuits, hardhats and face shields, they look like something out
of a sci-fi movie. It’s their work that gets the
most notice, though.
The two wield an
enormous chainsaw with a 6-foot cutting bar as they slice slab after
slab from a massive log. With each pass they stop to examine the grain
and condition of the wood before sliding the 300-pound planks onto
Rick Braun and his
son, Shawn, craft tables, countertops, fireplace mantles and other
home furnishings from century-old timbers gathered from construction
sites. The log they slice on this day was cleared to make way for a
new shopping and entertainment center in Branson’s historic downtown.
Nearly two years of time and effort lie ahead but this lumber will
eventually become a treasured centerpiece in a home or business.
specialize in salvaged old-growth timbers,” Rick says, explaining
that few loggers are interested in old trees that often have cracks, twists
and hollow spots in them. “We try to give these big old trees
another life by creating furnishings from them.”
|Rick polishes a completed coffee table in his workshop near Lampe.
The piece, with a walnut top and legs made from cedar roots, sells
for about $650.
In recent months
Rick has made headlines by utilizing lumber from Branson’s
Liberty Tree, a once-stately burr oak that stood in a downtown city park.
The 200-year-old tree, which received congressional recognition
for its longevity at the time of America’s bicentennial,
was a beloved landmark until age and lightning strikes brought
its survival into question.
delivered the tree its fatal blow, Rick came forward to purchase it — just
as he had done with many other logs removed during construction of
the Branson Landing project. Today, six large tables Rick built from
the tree welcome patrons at the Hilton Hotel’s
Liberty Tavern restaurant near the development’s central square.
lot of people loved that tree,” Rick says. “Being able
to give it a second life is good feeling for me and it is for a lot
Long before the Liberty
Tree came down, Rick had a reputation for crafting artistic furniture
and home accents from salvaged timber. Combining driftwood, tree roots
and slabs of oak, walnut or sycamore, his unique furnishings are collaborative
efforts between nature’s hand and the artist’s interpretative
|Driftwood, roots, limbs
and “coins” cut from logs make
up Rick’s inventory of materials. The artist mixes and matches
these elements in often surprising ways.
“I try to keep
as natural of form as possible because I think Mother Nature’s
creations are much better than man-made features,” Rick
have to be able to see that diamond that’s buried in the
If old scraps of
driftwood and limbs are gems, then Rick’s shop is a veritable
diamond mine. The facility, located in a former lumberyard
near Lampe, is stacked high with slabs of lumber and twisted roots
gathered from streams and lakesides.
The driftwood and
other found pieces could become legs on a coffee table or the body
of a lamp. Limbs are used as headboards or bed frames. A giant root
wad, with embedded gravel still in place, becomes a stunning display
when I see a unique piece, I don’t
always know where it’s
going to go. I just think I’ll build it, somebody
will see it and they’re
going to know where it’s going to go,” Rick
television table in Rick Braun’s showroom is typical of
furniture the southwest Missouri craftsman makes from salvaged
old growth timber.
The White River Valley
Electric Cooperative member’s
products are prominently displayed in some of Branson’s
toniest locations, most notably Bass Pro Shops’ Big
Cedar Lodge and the Keeter Center at the College of the
Ozarks. Rick’s work is also favored by upscale
homeowners in and around Branson, where his furniture
graces many a lake home and resort retreat.
a Kansas City-area resident with a vacation home on
Table Rock Lake, owns a number of Rick’s creations and
has even commissioned tables built with lumber once
owned by his father.
“We were involved
from the beginning to the end,” says Jones. “We
helped select the wood from his kiln and watched
the process over the weeks that it took to get it done. I personally
found it very interesting.”
Like other customers,
Jones says he was won over by the uniqueness of Rick’s
|Rick examines a plank
cut from Branson’s Liberty Tree. The
wood will eventually become a table top.
“When you get
a piece from him, it’s one of a kind,” Jones
says. “That appealed to me, and then just
the fact that it is natural looking, as opposed
to coming out of a factory.”
While not inexpensive,
Rick’s furniture is not much higher than
quality items found in better furniture stores. Smaller pieces like a
coffee table or entryway stand might cost anywhere from a few hundred
dollars to a couple of thousand, depending on the uniqueness and complexity
of the materials. Large dining and conference tables often bring $4,000
The unique furniture
business began 20 years ago when Rick found himself without a job.
Originally from Wisconsin, Rick left a career as a postal carrier in
1980 and moved to then-still-sleepy Branson in search of a secluded
life in the woods.
Rick bought land
adjacent to the original Dogwood Canyon resort and took a job at the
property. The enterprise failed and the owners declared bankruptcy.
Rick took standing timber as settlement for unpaid back wages and started
a new business, The Wood Merchant, with hopes of making his living
When his first load
of logs brought just $60 at the sawmill, Rick realized he needed to
revise his business plan. While vacationing in Colorado, Rick visited
the National Wildlife Museum and was inspired by rustic furniture offered
for sale there. “The
prices really opened my eyes to the potential,” Rick
of furniture Rick makes, this dining room table retains the shape
Mother Nature created.
With the inspiration
from books and guidance from a few artist friends, Rick began making
his own furniture from natural materials. Within
a year he was asked to produce pieces for Silver
Dollar City’s fall carving festival. His big
break came through a chance encounter
with Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops. Morris admired Rick’s
furniture and sent the architect for Big Cedar Lodge to place an order.
built 10 dining room tables for the lodge. It was the first of many orders
and just the boost he needed to get his business
off the ground.
“That got us
on the map and showed people what we could do,” Rick
says, explaining that brass business
cards attached to each piece directed lodge guests to his shop. “They
had the kind of clientele that didn’t balk
at a $650 coffee table. That was
the upscale clients that I needed to make it.”
Two decades later,
Rick is a juried member of the Missouri Artisans Association
and recognized as one of Branson’s premier craftsmen. This
reputation preceded him when in 2004 he determined to rescue the
timber from Branson’s
|Shawn and Rick examine
a slap from the Liberty Tree for cracks and other imperfections.
Often these surface deformities will be filled stones or acorns
and sealed with clear resin.
“There was a front page article in the
Springfield News Leader that showed these huge sycamore trees, all
being pushed over. They had a big hole dug and a blower blowing air into this
deal to burn this stuff up faster,” Rick
recalls. “I told my wife
that morning, I’m going to
buy some trees today.”
initially purchased just 20 of
the biggest logs, but the thought
of that burn pile was too much to
bear. He returned to the site and
bought all the remaining trees. It
took seven tractor-trailer loads
to deliver the timber to his shop.
Later when the city fathers finally
decided the Liberty Tree could not
be saved, Rick was there to claim
it as well.
wonderful that Rick had the vision to salvage the wood and make something
out of it that will last,” says Phyllis VanderNaald,
secretary/treasurer of the Downtown Branson Main Street Association. “In
the form of furniture, they may last even longer than the trees did.”
two years since purchasing the Branson Landing trees have
been busy for Rick and his son.
Public interest in his efforts
is so great that Stihl chainsaws
agreed to sponsor The Wood Merchant
and supplied the tools and safety
equipment he uses to process the
logs. Rick scrambled to finish
tables in time for the Landing’s opening and more furniture is still
being made from the Liberty Tree.
|Rick and Shawn saw a log outside the Wood Merchant's shop near
Along with attracting
additional business, Rick’s work with the Landing
logs has raised local awareness
about historic timber. That’s a trend he’s
trying to further by contacting
cemeteries, historic battlefields and other places where grand old trees
stand. His aim, he says, is not to cut the trees but to get the opportunity
to use the lumber should they ever come down.
“At some point
those trees get old and they die, or you have these ice storms and
they come down. Those trees have a lot of history and meaning to a
lot of people,” Rick says.
“I feel that an attempt needs
to be made to get these trees and do something so that it doesn’t
just get cut up and put in a burn pile somewhere.”
For more information, call Rick Braun at (417) 779-5324.