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Putnam woodworker takes something old and makes it new again

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail photos
Matt Snyder, woodworker and owner of Bear Wood Company, cuts his signature piece, the state of West Virginia, out of reclaimed wood.
Matt Snyder stands in the showroom of his recently opened Hurricane business, Bear Wood Company, where he takes old wood and turns it into furniture and art. Woodworking has been Snyder’s hobby for nearly 22 years, but he opened up shop on Main Street in Hurricane two weeks ago.
A hand built farm table by Matt Snyder on display at Bear Wood Company in Hurricane. Each piece of furniture Snyder creates is hand-made and has a rich West Virginia history.
KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail
This Red Bear Trastero (armoire) is $650 in the showroom of Bear Wood Company in Hurricane. Although Snyder aims to make rustic furniture with West Virginia themes, hints of Southwestern style tend to appear in his work. The West Virginia native originally learned how to make furniture when he lived in New Mexico 22 years ago.
This West Virginia cut out is constructed of wood from church pews that were ruined by June floodwaters in Clendenin. The pews would have been thrown away, but Snyder’s friend called him and asked him to create something. One cutout will be given to the church once it is rebuilt, another hangs in the shop and a third cut out was donated to a flood relief effort.

For Matt Snyder, every piece of wood has a story to tell. The woodworker recognizes the rich history of West Virginia lumber, and has found a way to make old wood new again while telling its story.

Snyder never imagined his stress relief would eventually turn into his own business. While working a high-stress job at a local TV news station, Snyder turned to woodworking in his garage to relieve stress. Now, he’s left his job and opened Bear Wood Company on Main Street in Hurricane.

For Snyder, each piece he makes is unique and has a story. Snyder prides himself on the hours of labor over each and every project he builds. He spends at least 12 hours in the workshop each day, perfecting each piece.

Snyder can point to each piece of work and tell you the history behind all the lumber that makes up each piece.

“There are no two pieces in here that are alike,” Snyder said. “It all has different backgrounds.”

After the June flooding, Snyder’s friend brought him a ruined church pew from a Clendenin church because he knew Snyder could make something special out of it. Snyder refurbished it to make three wooden West Virginia cut-outs. One cut-out was given to a flood relief effort, another hangs in the shop and the third will be given to the church once it is rebuilt.

His hobby started when he worked for a furniture shop in Taos, New Mexico. There he learned how to make sturdy, handmade furniture. Though he makes rustic West Virginia furniture now with themes of bears, trout and evergreens, some of his pieces still have a slight Southwestern flare if you look closely.

Snyder obtains most of his materials from Habitat for Humanity, but also sources from local old buildings or barns that are about to be torn down. Snyder encourages West Virginians to contact him to see if old wood can be refurbished instead of thrown away.

“A lot of things are going to go to the landfill,” Snyder said. “If someone wants to get rid of an old barn or building, I would much rather them call me first before it ends up in a landfill.”

The wood that composes one West Virginia cut-out was donated to him by a couple who pulled out the original wood flooring in their Charleston home. On the back of the wood, there is a stamp from Meadow River Lumber Company in Rainelle. The factory, which was one of the largest sawmills in the world, went out of business in 1975, but now its lumber has found new life as part of Snyder’s art.

In the back of his gallery is a table that he’s using as a desk. The table top is actually an antique door, and the legs are porch posts from a house in Thomas.

“You’re not going to know who made your table when you buy it at a big box store,” Snyder said. “People like to walk in the door and know who made something, and it’s history — the story behind it and what not. I can relay that to them.”

Snyder said he’s had a lot of support from other small businesses, Putnam County and the City of Hurricane.

“I think I’m part of something even bigger here that’s happening in Hurricane, now, with the revitalization of Main Street,” Snyder said.

He also has noticed a lot of people are turning away from corporations to small businesses. With Bear Wood Company, Snyder thinks people appreciate knowing everything is hand-made and locally sourced.

“A lot of lumber companies are binding up lumbers, shipping overseas and building furniture there and shipping it back to us. That, to me, is just crazy. I cant wrap my head around that — and we’re buying it,” Snyder said. “I think people don’t connect to that. I think people will connect to this. They know who made it, they know where wood came from, they know how it’s built. I don’t think theres any substitute for that.”

Snyder also builds customized furniture that will last for generations. He labors over each individual piece to make sure it is sturdy and strong. For tables, he uses mortise and tenon joints, which is a method used by woodworkers for thousands of years. The method is simple — think of inserting a peg into a corresponding hole — but strong and ensures the table won’t fall apart in a few years.

Snyder recognizes wood is imperfect; it shrinks and swells as humidity and temperatures change. So each tabletop is designed with floating splines that allow for the wood’s natural movement.

“It allows for movement so the top wont buckle,” Snyder said. “It will last generations and I think thats something people will appreciate.”

Anyone who has wood they would like to turn into artwork or furniture can call Snyder at 304-539-3876.

For more information, visit www.bearwoodcompany.com or visit the shop at 2755 Main Street in Hurricane. The shop is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Reach Laura Haight at laura.haight@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @laurahaight_ on Twitter.

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