Minnesota couple makes table tops with wood from old barns
ATWATER,Minn. – At first glance, the rural Atwater home of Jared and Amanda Groebner looks like a typical Minnesota farm with a well-kept classic barn and workshop.
But instead of producing grain and livestock, the Groebners make hand-crafted, rustic and refined wooden table tops with a smooth-as-silk finish that are shipped to high-end restaurants, small cafes, metro bars, popular coffee shops and unique entertainment venues in all 50 states and several countries.
Every week the Groebners’ one-of-a-kind family-owned business, TimeWorn Wood, ships 100 finished wood table tops to commercial customers.
From a woodworker’s point of view, that’s the equivalent of 600- to 800-square-feet of finished wood – every week.
Whether it’s Disney World, Marriott hotels, Starbucks, museums, the new Falcons football stadium or a prop shop in Los Angeles that stages settings for TV shows, people are gathering around, eating meals and drinking beverages on tables made in rural Atwater at TimeWorn Wood.
Located on the farm where Amanda grew up, the Groebners and their five full-time employees use reclaimed timber, primarily from Wisconsin where old barns still exist, to make many of the tables.
With deep natural wood grains punctuated with nail holes – and sometimes bullet holes – the history of reclaimed barn wood has “color and character you don’t see anywhere,” said Amanda.
The Groebner’s love of wood started before they were married when they teamed up to use reclaimed barn wood to build homes.
One of their most celebrated projects is a spacious barn-like cabin they designed and built for a family on Lake Superior that’s made from reclaimed barn wood. The “Lake Superior Barn,” which has been featured in travel magazines, is now available as a rental vacation home.
When the economy tanked in 2008 and the Groebners still had stacks of wood and a lot of knowledge about wood, they found a niché in the market by making restaurant tables and their business has grown every year.
The Groebners said they use high-quality wood and take time to apply careful techniques to create table tops that are not only well-built but beautiful.
Their table tops, which are favorites of architects, are typically used in restaurants that also focus on quality – not fast – food.
“It’s not about the bottom line, it’s about the quality of the product,” Jared said of the shared connection TimeWorn Wood has with its customers.
Jared used his experience as a builder and craftsman to fine-tune the process of cutting the 2x4s and 2x6s pieces of lumber into 1⅞-inch quarter sawn staves, gluing them together and planing and sanding them to the fine point where the wood is smooth yet the character is retained.
New generations of special machines, like a straight line rip saw, have helped make the process more efficient, Jared said.
Five coats of a water-based protective finish is sprayed on the wood to create a long-lasting, food-safe table top with the burnished finish that showcases the wood grain.
Some customers want the unique look that old wood carries with it, but because tables made from reclaimed wood are more expensive, they also use a wide variety of new wood too for custom-made tables for their commercial clients.
To create a rustic look out of new lumber, Jared said TimeWorn uses a variety of tools and methods perfected by “trial and error” to distress wood to give it an old look.
While distressed wood has an authentic old-wood look, he said it’s hard to duplicate the true character and charm of reclaimed wood.
Amanda handles the sales and marketing and coordinates everything from sending samples from the stock of 42 different wood and style options, to ordering supplies and scheduling shipping dates of finished table tops.
The Groebners said they have worked hard to maintain a reputation for consistently making high-quality products and that reputation has helped fuel their business growth.
They typically take and make orders for one restaurant every other day.
Although they field at least one phone call a day from individual homeowners who want to order a table from TimeWorn, the Groebners said it’s not financially feasible to make one custom-made table at a time compared to making numerous custom-made tables for one client.
However, the Groebners said they’d like to find a local retail partner to sell an occasional finished table as well as kiln-dried and sanded barn lumber for people to make their own tables.
The Groebners give away several tables every year and over the holidays donated a handcrafted table to a Minneapolis family that is experiencing challenging times.
Having a table is “such a simple thing” unless your family doesn’t have a place to share a meal, Amanda said.
Giving the table away was “life changing” for the Minneapolis family who now has a gathering place in their home.
“It feels good,” said Jared.