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Artisan gives old pines new life

Brian Vredenburg applies a light colored chinking to a log cabin he's refurbishing. He's been in the wood business for seven years. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Landon Kohlrusch applies a coat of stain to a custom-made window casing. Refurbishing this log cabin took four workers a month to complete. It was painstakingly slow work, a process Brian Vredenburg loves. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

Brian Vredenburg is like a collector of rare masterpieces who scours art galleries in search of hidden treasure in a dusty basement.

Vredenburg's gallery is a forest, where he searches for just the right Norway pine.

He's persnickety that way. The owner of Beaver Built Woodworking is an old soul in a young man's body.

From the day he hand-peeled his first log he knew his destiny.

He was a teenager at the time. Seven years later, Beaver Built refurbishes log homes, builds custom wooden staircases, mantels, furniture and railings.

It's labor-intensive, precise work that takes a skilled craftsman. Vredenburg is passionate about what he does.

He's currently finishing the restoration of a neglected log home, with help from brother Jacob and friends Landon Kohlrusch and Zack Holmen.

The four have painstakingly replaced logs, filled cracks, hand-cut new window casings and then put a fresh layer of latex-based chinking in between the logs.

The transformation is nothing short of stunning.

Vredenburg favors using a lighter color chinking to show off the dark logs. When he refurbished Bullwinkle's in Nevis, he used white chink.

At night, the restaurant looks like a wooden showpiece.

"There's an art to laying that chinking in there," Vredenburg admits as he slides a calk gun down the wooden home he's refinishing.

The chinking will dry on the top when exposed to the elements but stay moist inside, preserving the logs and expanding and contracting with the seasons.

The log home was infested with bats because the chinking had worn thin, cracked and allowed Mother Nature's pests free admission.

"These logs were raw for many years," Vredenburg said of the job he started three weeks ago. "There was nothin' on them."

The men apply coats of a dark stain and Vredenburg fills in between the logs with a light tan chink.

"There's a lot of upkeep on these," he said of log homes. He estimates the last work on the home he's refurbishing was in the 1970s.

Neighbors of the homeowner recall a few years ago when they were removing a tree to build a house down the lakeshore.

Vredenburg salvaged the log and re-purposed it into a mantel for another cabin. Besides being beautiful, the mantel is sentimental because the owners know where the wood came from.

Vredenburg got his professional start in shop class in Nevis. One year he built a log bed. The next year, his senior year, he fashioned a matching dresser.

He spent five years working on wood projects at his grandmother's farmstead until he was able to branch out, no pun intended, on his own.

"I have a haymow full of wood there," he grins about what he left behind at gramma's.

He mainly harvests dormant wood in the winter while it's still green and the sap isn't running anymore. He has permits to take pines from state and county forestland, so he cherry picks the forests, paying by the tree. He chain saws and drags the trees in a flatbed out of the forest.

His shop near Boulder Lake is chock full of woods for railings and stairways, all evenly cut with knots removed via hand sanders.

Logs in various stages of drying are in neat piles. In some cases, Beaver Built will strip bark with pressure washers, leaving a slick sheen on the logs.

But a hand stripper is usually the tool of choice.

He runs everything through a kiln dryer in Osage.

Thirty-foot pines generally have no tapers, so are good for handrails and mantels, he said. He said he's harvested 200 at a time if he finds a good patch.

Interesting branches also come into his sights. One his uncle brought over will be an indoor cat-climbing fixture. He sees potential in every piece of wood.

Vredenburg and workers are starting on another project, a 24-by-34 wooden playground. It will have a two-story house on it, circular slide and other amenities for kids. He has 10 days to complete it before a large family gathering.

"I keep about two months ahead" with work lined up, he said. "I don't like to keep people waiting, so I can kind of pick and choose."

The artsy railings and spokes are his mainstay, he said. It's something he can work on inside all winter long.

In between jobs he finds time to work on his own place. He lives in a small apartment above a garage. The house will come later, he said. He'd like to purchase more acreage first.

To contact him, go to his website at www.beaverbuiltwoodworking. com.

His phone number is 763-516-1249.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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