Some look at old wine barrels and simply see planters. Benton City woodworker Shawn Harmon sees plethora possibilities in the wine-stained slabs, including fire pits, coolers, tables and chairs, dog beds, smokers and benches.
“If I can think of something I usually find a way to make it work,” he said.
For years Harmon worked in construction as an insulator, traveling all over the country — going wherever there were jobs.
He started woodworking as a hobby 10 years ago and has built all the wooden furniture in his home using conventional dimensional lumber.
“It’s fun,” he said.
When Harmon began experimenting with wine barrels, his woodworking designs took on a truly creative quality.
“When you’re working with curved pieces of wood you have to think outside the box. Fortunately, that’s something I can do,” he said.
Harmon founded The Rustic Barrel two and a half years ago, building furniture, wine racks and more. That’s when woodworking became Harmon’s fulltime occupation.
“I began The Rustic Barrel on a wing and a prayer — lots of prayers. God must have liked the idea,” he said.
Since then, The Rustic Barrel has supported Harmon and his 2½-year-old son, Caleb.
Running his own business, selling his wine barrel furniture at shows, rodeos, online and by word-of-mouth allows Harmon to spend more time with his son. Harmon’s family lends a hand with Caleb, too.
“Sometimes I have to call my mom and ask, ‘Hey, can I have my son back?,” he joked.
Harmon chose to work with wine barrels to appeal to an industry, he said, is on the cusp of a boom in the Benton City/Red Mountain area.
“I want to be a part of that boom, because it’ll make me money and will help my community grow,” he said.
To help his business grow, Harmon visited the wineries and made friends with the owners and tasting room employees.
“Kestrel, Goose Ridge and Bookwalter have been especially helpful, sending me business and calling when they have barrels that have outlived their usefulness for aging wine,” he said.
The barrels range in size from 60-gallons to 120-gallons in size and cost Harmon between $50 and $70 apiece. He also gets large wooden electrical wires spools from the PUDs.
“They make great tables and I hate to see good wood go to waste in a landfill,” he said.
The Rustic Barrel is nearly a one-man operation. Harmon only has a couple of high school youths who help out in the shop.
Harmon is the designer.
“I don’t work from drawings, I pull what I need out of my head. Ideas sometimes smite me in the middle of the night or people will make requests, send me photos. I love to do custom pieces,” he said. “Sometimes I see pieces of wood on the floor and they speak to me and tell me what they want to be.”
After building and shaping each piece, Harmon and his helpers stain the wood and coat it with a spar urethane, the same finish used wooden boats.
With a little care, each of Harmon’s creations can be used indoors or out and should be sturdy enough to last a lifetime. Cost for the smaller pieces, like wine racks, begin at $50 with the larger ones running into the $2,000 range or more.
He also rents his hand-crafted fire pits, tables and chairs out for weddings, anniversary parties, retirement celebrations and other events.
“It’s a good marketing tool. I often send up selling a good part of what I rent out,” Harmon said.
Harmon also offers a delivery service. His route commonly takes him down into Central Oregon, up I-90 clear to the Canadian border and back to Benton City.
“I make that trip every eight weeks or so. Local deliveries, if the piece they want is in stock, can usually be done in a few days,” he said.
When he’s not at a show, Harmon opens his showroom at 704 Ninth St., Benton City, from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. He’ll also open the doors by appointment.
For more information, call 509-303-0882, find The Rustic Barrel on Facebook or go to the website at therusticbarrel.com.
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