When I can’t get out there and explore the wilderness, I like to bring the wilderness to me. One of my part-time gigs is I have a business called Montana Natural Products. While I primarily collect and sell driftwood to taxidermists and pet stores, I have recently been turning some of the pieces of wood into fun products. While I have many ideas for other items, my specialty is quickly becoming juniper wood lamps.
In southern Montana and northern Wyoming are the Big Horn Mountains and the Pryor Mountains. These mountains are riddled with juniper trees. A member of the cedar family, these trees are amazing. They grow in some of the harshest environments. With little water falling throughout the year, and some bitterly cold winters that bring high winds, these trees are tough. They find the smallest little nooks and cracks in which they can set their roots and grow in some gnarled and twisted formations. Generally the trees live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before succumbing to the elements (usually fire or erosion cause their demise). The tree stays where it is drying out often for decades after it dies. Since the wood is hard and naturally insect repellant, these trees do not rot.
Eventually after the tree dies, the wind and weather will erode away the soil around the roots. The trees are then swept through the canyons in small flash floods. They are dumped into creeks and rivers and end up piled on the banks of nearby lakes. It is here where I swoop in and pick through the debris finding the perfect pieces of wood.
Collecting the wood takes a trained eye and a bit of coordination. Running around on the rocky shores all day long collecting pieces that will look good crafted into lamps and other furniture, all while finding pieces that I would be able to sell to taxidermists can be exhausting. But regardless of how much physical exertion, I would rather do that every day than go into the office.
Once I have a load of wood, I store most of it at some friends’ house just outside of town. They have a few acres of land and graciously allow me to keep my equipment and materials there. But I don’t leave it all out there. I gather together a few of the pieces and bring them back to my house. I have most of my workshop set up in the garage, but I still have a long ways to go on it. It is functional, and I can spend hours in there shaping, crafting, and building my lamps.
These lamps, while fairly simple, take a lot of work. I first have to find the perfect piece of wood that will look amazing once it is finished. I cut it to the right shape, and drill the hole for the electrical wire to go through. I then start sanding. I sand the wood for several hours removing all the sun bleach patina. For the nooks and crannies that I can’t get with sandpaper I have to use a sand blaster. A Dremel tool helps me to round off some of the corners and sharper pieces that just need ground away and removed. Unfortunately, I learned this order of operations the hard way. The first lamp that I tried to build I spent hours sanding it to perfect before I drilled the hole for the wire. While I figured I would break out the side of the wood a couple of times, I ended up breaking out the side about 8 times. The piece isn’t ruined, but I made a lot more work for myself.
After the wood is sanded, shaped, and formed to exactly the right shape, I get it all cleaned up. Using water based polyurethane varnish, I put on three coats to make sure that the wood retains its beautiful golden and red luster and is fairly resistant to scratches and dents. After the finish has dried I thread the wire up through the lamp and attach the metal components on to the top. Start to finish I generally put in at least 10 hours of work (not including the time it takes to collect the wood) into each lamp.
If you like what you see, and are interested in purchasing a lamp, head on over to my website www.mtnaturalproducts.com to see if there are any new pieces that are available. Alternatively, you can visit my Etsy store, although I would prefer orders through my site as to avoid the fees charged by Etsy.