Father and son, David and Josh Wiles, populate their family’s shop, Ursus Americanus Trading Post in Thomas, with furniture made from reclaimed barn wood.
The duo’s interest and passion in their craft is evident when speaking with them and visible in their finished products.
Both father and son took similar, somewhat circuitous paths to this passion. David was a contractor in Iowa, while he built custom furniture as a hobby. “I always had a saw in my hands. I’ve always done woodworking, and then I started to sell some of it,” he said.
Josh started out as a trim carpenter and did framing work. “I just hated framing out in the Midwest winters,” Josh said. “I realized I didn’t want to keep doing that.”
Both attest to their woodworking education through the process of trial and error. “He would kind of supervise, and I kind of went with it. I probably learned from him more than I realized,” Josh said. “He probably won’t tell you that I taught him, but I did,” David recalled laughingly.
Ursus Americanus is stocked with their works, including tables, dressers, vanities, smaller barnwood decor, mantles, shelves, coat racks, and mirrors. A slightly different touch is noticeable in their styles. “I’m more rustic,” David said. “I like a rougher edge than what he does, but I can’t really tell the difference between my work and his work.”
Before the family decided to open a shop, they were doing consignment work in Iowa. When they decided to begin a full time endeavor, they chose to move to Oakland to start the business. “We moved out here to do this. We took a giant leap of faith,” Josh said.
David’s wife, Jamie also runs the business.
The decision to move east was long coming. David’s side of the family was from Pittsburgh. “My aunt built a house on one of the mountains, and we fell in love with the lifestyle out here. It was just amazing to us,” David said.
“One of the reasons we chose out this way is there are so many rustic homes and log cabins. In Iowa, cabins and trees are few and far between. You’d be building out of cornstalks,” David said.
“We tried to get as much built as we could before we moved out here. We had two big Penske trucks full, and one was just inventory for the shop,” Josh recalled.
Many of their customers are repeat buyers who are drawn to their designs. Their biggest repeat customer is Lake Star Lodge on Deep Creek Lake who employed the two to build furniture for 20 rooms.
The barn wood that is transformed into articulately designed furniture all comes from the local area. A reliable supplier tears down the barns. “The teardown itself is a full time job,” Josh said.
After a barn is deconstructed, the cuts of lumber must be stripped of old nails, which their suppliers complete. But David and Josh still run a metal detector over the wood after they receive it. “Buckshot is especially tricky.
Buckshot is lead, so it will not get picked up by the metal detector,” Josh said.
“That’s one our biggest issues: nails,” David said. “And buckshot. It’s unbelievable how much buckshot we find.
It seems like everyone wanted to shoot at their barn,” David said. He estimated one missed nail will cost them about $100 if it goes through their wood planer.
Josh said he enjoys receiving a new batch of barnwood and imagining its potential. All sorts of lumber were used to make barns, and the Wiles are not particular about the type of wood they use. “A lot of time we choose a harder wood for something like a table that are subject to a little bit more abuse,” Josh said.
“Breed isn’t important to us. Basically we’re looking for quality lumber. We try to always get where the wood comes from, so we can tell people,” David said.
One batch of interesting wood history came out of Crellin, Maryland. Once an old mining town, Crellin had a one room schoolhouse. The Wiles obtained some of the wood from the remnants of the schoolhouse and built pieces made from the rafters.
“Working with this kind of wood, you work around the wood. Even when you think you know what it will look like in the end, it generally doesn’t. You kind of let the wood tell you what it wants to be,” Josh said.
When asked why the family wanted to relocate the shop from Oakland to Thomas, David replied, “Have you been to Thomas? Do I need to say anymore?”
The idea of moving was a consideration for three to four years before a suitable opportunity arose.
“Everyone up and down Front St. has just been open arms, excited to see another business open,” Josh said. The shop opened in late March.
Any father and son venture is sure to evoke some competition, and the Wiles are not an exception to the rule. “Sometimes we’ll help each other out, but we don’t both work on the same project. That’s just kind of how we’ve always been. I guess you could say there’s some friendly competition there,” Josh said.
Ursus Americanus Trading Post is located on Front Street in Thomas and is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. everyday except Wednesday.