By KEN BECK/ For The Cannon Courier
Justin Brady loves putting his hand to aging timber and turning it into a solid piece of beautiful furniture that will endure for ages.
The only problem for the talented young craftsman, who sells his furniture on Saturday mornings in a new shop beside the Readyville Mill, is he adores the beauty of wood so much that he hates to mar its natural loveliness.
“I like to keep wood just as it is. I’ve got a huge walnut board sitting in my shop just too beautiful to cut,” confesses Brady, 23, who was born in Shelbyville and grew up in Bell Buckle, Tenn., where he graduated from Webb School in 2007.
Most weekdays he can be found working in the former Nature Zone Potpourri Shop, a big metal warehouse that he has converted into his Walnut Wood Works shop in Bell Buckle. Here he transforms hunks of raw wood into various one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. They range from coffee tables, sofa tables and dining tables to wine racks, carts and small products like cutting boards and iPad speakers (acoustic amplifiers).
“Primarily I work with walnut. I like it best and consider it the most beautiful wood. The grain in it is just incredible. There are so many different patterns in the grain that are nice to work with,” said the graduate of the University of South Carolina, who holds degrees in chemistry and biology.
“I also work with cherry, oak, rainbow poplar and hackberry. It really comes down to what I can get. I cut my own wood. I have a band saw so I get wood from my farm or friends’ farms.
“I put ads in the paper to get trees that have fallen in yards. I just scrounge it from wherever I can. I only use deadfall lumber. I don’t like to use live trees. They’re beautiful the way they are,” said Brady, who estimates 95 percent of his wood comes out of Bedford County.
The craftsman, who opened his shop in June, is a licensed pilot and loves old trucks and motorcycles. These days he drives a Jeep as well as 1975 Honda CB400F, which is currently in a state of disrepair.
His natural instinct to work in wood was passed along by his father, Tomm Brady, who pretty much single-handedly restored the Readyville Mill and turned it into a Saturday morning pancake eatery and tourist spot on the Cannon and Rutherford county line.
“My dad is really handy. I’ve always been making projects of one or another with my dad, and I always enjoyed working with my hands,” said Brady, who taught organic chemistry for a year at the University of South Carolina.
“I thought about medical school and decided to go a different route,” he says. “So I came back to Bell Buckle to start doing this. My dad had traded an 1947 International tractor for some woodworking equipment from a cabinet shop going out of business.
“On my Christmas breaks, I would come home and started playing with it. We started building some furniture, and everybody who saw it was blown away with it. I decided to come back here and have since been working 14 hours a day.”
As for the process, Brady says once he gets the wood to his shop, he cuts it into slabs and then allows it to dry from three months to three years in a warehouse.
His next step is simply to lay the wood on the floor and study it.
For example, he says, “This piece of spalted hackberry has a beautiful curve. You just see what you want to do with it, maybe make a coffee table. Once I know what I want to do with it, from there it’s just the building process.
“I do a lot of looking and a lot of time is spent sanding, making it perfect. I don’t want anything coming out of my shop that isn’t right.”
With his business in the early stages, most of his customers come by word of mouth. He plans hit craft shows in the spring and hopes to get some of his furniture into galleries in Asheville, N.C.
While he continues to put his hand to wood, Brady realizes he seems to be going against the grain compared to his peers.
“Everyone I went to school with doesn’t understand how to do things with their hands anymore. They just call somebody to fix it. I love what I’m doing: just working with my hands.”