Demolition usually brings to mind machinery and crushing. But for a Casper company that collects old barn wood, it’s a job with a hammer and a crowbar while they peel boards by hand, one at a time.
Two brothers-in-law, Adam Jackson and Kyle Petrie, started Barnwood Bros to sell old wood they gather from fallen and dilapidated barns around Wyoming. Customers buy the lumber for projects ranging from home improvement to art. The brothers and their crew install wall paneling, build furniture and create indoor and outdoor décor or anything else that can be made of wood.
The wood has been weathered by Wyoming’s seasons for decades, and some is more than a century old.
“And it basically has not been in use for so long,” Petrie said, “we’re giving it new life.”
Before they started the business, Jackson drove to Denver for barn wood to build an accent wall for his house. He saw an opportunity to fill a demand for the material in Wyoming, which happens to be full of barn wood, he said. Now they spend their days removing barns and turning the wood into lumber and customized creations.
“Many people want things built out of it,” Jackson said, “and so if they can look to us for that too, it just becomes what we call a full-service barn wood dealer.”
Jackson met with Petrie last spring about the idea for Barnwood Bros. Within hours, they formed a plan and started gathering wood the next day west of Casper. It hasn’t stopped since, they said.
As word spread about the new company, many property owners have called about aging barns they want removed or already have slated for demolition. The business owners have found others listed online or even spotted them while driving along dirt roads.
They gather as much information as they can about where the wood came from and its age to pass along to the future owners.
“We like to carry on as much of that Wyoming history as possible,” Petrie said.
Barnwood Bros opened doors in August off Yellowstone Highway in central Casper. Last month, the owners moved their woodworking shop from a cramped storage space there into a large warehouse a few blocks away. They remodeled the original location, which remains as a showroom. Employees now work at both locations. The business in November was a winner of the Casper Start-Up Challenge, taking home a second place and the audience choice award, Petrie said.
Both business partners come from backgrounds in construction and carpentry, and Jackson for six years has owned Wyoming Blinds & Shutters. Accent walls, mantles and other customized decor from the business can be seen around town, including big projects at the Wyoming Rescue Mission, Kitchen Connections and a new west Casper Taco Johns.
In Barnwood Bros’ own showroom, visitors can see samples of wood available in large stock in the wood shop, gain inspiration for projects and buy items including tables, bars, chandeliers and art created by the owners and employees. A consignment wall there features pieces for sale from other artists and woodworkers.
“A lot of what we’re doing is equal parts rugged barn tear down,” Petrie said. “And on the other end of things, we’re on the design side.”
Trends in recent years have grown toward repurposing materials. Many prefer handmade tables of barn wood, for example, over mass produced furnishings, and shops like theirs ship barn wood around the world, Jackson said.
“The fact that this old wood is more desirable as a furniture piece or on a wall is pretty intriguing,” Jackson said. “That’s what it does, it provides the character.”
History and character
The Barnwood Bros have hauled wood from towns including Manville, Lusk, Glenrock and even in Casper. The first barn they removed stood with its roof caving in near Gillette.
Lumber from the project for sale in the warehouse includes intact 1908 barn doors, which sport original hardware. Running along the front are rusted bands the builder made from metal coffee, oil and paint cans to bolster the wood. Petrie pointed out rusty nail holes and places where water ran through the cracks in one of the barn’s striking boards.
“It’s all just character that you can’t recreate,” he said.
Both owners grew up intrigued by old barns along Wyoming’s highways and dirt roads. Taking down the structures gives a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship, as they pull apart logs that were cut by hand and sometimes connected by square nails made by blacksmiths at the turn of the century, Petrie said.
“You almost get to know who built it by taking it down,” Petrie said.
As they clear out the inside of barns, they often find “rusted treasure.” They create new items from the old pulleys, tools and other relics, Petrie said. Once, they worked around a horse who payed them a visit at one barn.
“The critters are part of the game,” Petrie said. “Sometimes it’s horses, sometimes it’s raccoons.”
No project is the same as another. But one thing they can count on is nails by the tens of thousands—often 100 in just one board — which they pull out by hand, one by one. The process can take weeks as they place a plate next to each nail to remove it without splintering or denting the wood.
“There’s no shortcuts in it with the barn wood, and it’s what creates the rustic Wyoming product,” Petrie said. “Most of these, when you pull them out, it shows the rust and the wear, from where the water or the weather hit the nail heads and that’s where a lot of the character comes from. So it’s worth every nail pulling.”
The owners name batches of lumber to keep track of their stocks and the history. The first from Gillette is Genesis, and they dubbed a stack of Douglas fir with faded red paint Robert Red Fir.
The wood varies by barn and even from one side the building to another, Jackson said. The southwest side usually is the most worn from taking the brunt of winds. They trim boards to dimensional lumber, but they don’t stain it. They work to preserve as much as possible the unique textures and colors the elements created, Petrie said. Sometimes painted wood absorbs the color like a dye; other times the paint cracks along the surface. Wood left along Wyoming’s landscapes often turns a silver hue, Petrie said.
“Wyoming barn wood is about as good as it gets,” he said. “Dry and weathered.”