Just off Milwaukee Street on the near east side, space rented in the rear of the venerable McCormick Lumber yards is being put to good use. Along with Madison Art Hub, a new gallery and artist studio space, is Baraboo Woodworks, a forward-looking, environmentally aware home to sustainably harvested local trees.
Owner Fred Clark -- who also happens to represent Baraboo's Assembly District 81 in the Legislature -- has a crew of five who are working to bring trees harvested from forests owned by private landowners to the new site on North Bryan Street to be kiln-dried, planed and edged.
Clark, who has also operated Clark Forestry in Baraboo for the last 15 years, says he was always "fooling around" with trees at a young age. He started his career as an arborist; he's also worked as a forest ecologist.
Traditional lumber companies, Clark explains, want big trees and straight logs to maximize the final amount of board. Baraboo Woodworks can work with smaller and irregular logs "that have the most character," Clark notes. Big knot holes that are anathema to traditional lumber production are valued by artisan furniture makers and other craftspeople, for example. So Clark sees Baraboo Woodworks as offering "more options for woods that would otherwise be chipped or burned."
He shows off a hackberry with a "big, gnarly crotch" that they milled: "The defect makes for dramatic pieces," he says.
Among the logs and boards that Clark currently has in-house, there's a very large gingko ("you rarely see them that big") that he would like to live-saw or flitch-saw -- that is, leaving the bark edges on the board for character. There's a box elder, seldom selected for lumber because it doesn't stand up to heavy use but is "good for the right uses, like a decorative shelf, with an interesting color," Clark says.
There are also boards from the seldom-seen burr oak, a tree that's common to this area but that tends to grow short and with many limbs, making it undesirable for commercial use. However, the burr oak has a remarkably beautiful grain. "The queen of the prairie," Clark remarks. "We have a wealth of hardwoods here, and we want to promote that and make them available."
Baraboo Woodworks has a sawmill, a lumber dry-kiln and a production wood shop; it will soon be producing flooring from its wood as well. On hand is what Clark calls "a farmers' market of wood." In addition to trees already mentioned, there's black cherry, honey locust, white pine, sugar maple, ash, black walnut, catalpa, white oak, shagbark hickory and more. Homeowners can arrange to have yard trees that blow down or need to be removed cut into lumber.
Baraboo Woodworks is also working with the city of Madison to turn the ash trees that the city is removing due to the emerald ash borer into lumber. "They're not long logs, but they make four-foot boards," says Clark, "perfect for flooring." Otherwise the company works mostly with landowners doing best forest practices -- those committed to forest management who are in it for the long term. Clark doesn't use any trees from "liquidation harvesting."
This is wood that customers can feel good about, that in most cases came from no further than Sauk County, and maybe even from trees that used to stand in their own yards.
Customers are welcome at the shop/showroom 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays or weekdays by appointment.
84 N. Bryan St., Madison, 608-663-1010