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The Rustic Touch; local woodlands provide raw materials for his craft

Not everybody sees the potential for furniture on a walk in the woods, but it's different for Brad Hanson.

His excursion into the forest is a mission to gather raw materials for a sideline business that satisfies his creative urges.

Hanson, 30, an environmental landscaper by trade and a furniture builder by artistic necessity, operates Rustic Wood Designs out of his town of St. Joseph residence where he creates tables, chairs, loveseats and more out of locally harvested woods.

"I learned it from my uncle and my father," said the Green Lake native during a conversation in his home last week. "They learned how to make the furniture from an article in Mother Earth News about 30 years ago."

Hanson said his uncle, Kenny Workowski, continued with furniture making and now has a business located south of La Crosse. About five years ago, Hanson got seriously involved in the craft.

Hanson's town of St. Joseph abode is literally filled with his own creations including the first piece he ever made, a round willow table with a glass top.

"The first piece was a personal project designed by my uncle and mentor," Hanson said. "I was so happy with the finished product that I quickly became infected with the desire to continue working in willow furniture."

"Each tree and each branch has a different shape and a different message. Each piece sort of tells you what to do," he explained. "In a way a chair helps to build itself.

"Willow is a very flexible and forgiving material that can easily be formed into many curving and flowing designs. Now when I walk through the woods, I pay attention to the wood."

The pieces can serve as outdoor patio furniture. A urethane finish is applied and Hanson recommends that the owner add a coat every two to three years. Ultraviolet rays are harder than water on the furniture, he said.

"It was called gypsy art because in the beginning gypsies would travel up and down the river gathering willow and making things to sell in the next town," Hanson said. "It doesn't take power tools to make the pieces, and willow grows everywhere."

Indeed, some of his furniture is made from sandbar willow he collected near La Crosse. "You harvest it when it's dormant," he said.

His business brochure says he uses willow, dogwoods, birch, poplar and hickory to make furniture and is "willing to try other media" and build to the customer's desires. "I'm working with wild grapevines to make an ostrich for a lady," he said.

The sideline gives Hanson something to do in the winter since the landscaping trade builds up on the warmer months and drops off when the snow flies.

He admits that so far his furniture business hasn't been "hugely successful" but he's made a lot of his friends happy with his homemade gifts at Christmas.

Hanson graduated from Green Lake High School in 1995. He then traveled across Wisconsin and halfway into Minnesota to earn an environmental landscaping degree from Minnesota State University at Mankato.

He moved to River Falls in 2001 and set up shop in his St. Joseph home in 2005. He currently works for Outdoor Concepts in Hudson.

For more information about Rustic Wood Designs, call (507) 351-2509.