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Nate Warren operates Woodchuck Furniture Restoration in Fargo, N.D. Dave Olson/Forum News Service

Wood grains in his veins

FARGO, N.D. - Nate Warren has been running The Woodchuck Furniture Restoration shop in north Fargo for just a few weeks, but he's part of a family for whom woodworking has been a way of life.

"I'm pretty sure we eat, drink and breathe sawdust," said Nate's mom, Nance Warren, whose husband, Leroy, worked at Woodchuck for about 20 years before buying the business in 2011.

Leroy Warren died unexpectedly in early July at age 66, leaving the business in the hands of his son, who, while having grown up around woodworking, didn't see himself as the proprietor of a restoration operation.

"It was his dream," Nate Warren said, referring to his father and the shop he worked at for so long and operated so briefly.

"It was his baby, and I came to help him with it. Then he passed away, so here I am. I can't see giving up on it," Warren said while taking a short break out of a long work day.

"I'm here about 80 hours a week," said Warren, who is helped around the shop by his mother and three part-time employees.

He said the extra hands are appreciated because there's a lot to do.

"We have about a four-month backlog right now. We're booking pieces for November," he said.

While every job is different, a typical project might involve a dresser that needs refinishing and maybe some rebuilding.

Depending on how many drawers the dresser has, the job might take two weeks to complete and cost $600 to $1,000.

Many of the pieces they see are 100 years old or older, though lately they've been seeing a lot of mid-century modern furniture show up.

Nate Warren said the popularity of shows like "Mad Men" might be contributing to that, but another factor might also be at work.

"People in my generation are inheriting their grandparents' furniture, and it's kind of a little beat up or not the color they want. That happens a lot," he said, adding that when it comes to mass-produced furniture worth fixing, mid-century modern may be the end of the line.

"With mid-century modern, you're getting right on the edge of furniture that was designed to be restored," he said.

"Your '70s and '80s furniture, you're starting to move into stuff they built a lot cheaper, and it was more designed that when it broke, you threw it away," he added.

There are still makers of good furniture out there, "but you pay a lot of money for it," Nate Warren said.

Restoration is the mainstay at Woodchuck, but they also do custom builds.

"If it's got wood in it, we'll fix it, or build it," said Nate Warren, who recently designed and built a handicapped-accessible crib for a woman who uses a wheelchair.

The Warrens estimate 90 percent of the clients dropping off furniture find them through word of mouth.

Nance Warren said some pieces that come in are so beautiful it's hard to see them go.

"I threaten I'll keep 'em if they don't come and get 'em," she said, adding that while both she and her son appreciate the value of old-school workmanship, the new also holds appeal.

"We like technology," she said. "Both Nate and I, we're both kind of junkies as far as iPads and the Internet, that kind of stuff."