Tom Guelcher ran a successful painting company with seven employees in the 1980s before his attention turned to woodworking, the eventual primary focus of his career.

Guelcher, a Macalester-Groveland resident, has stayed busy ever since as the owner of Turning Point Woodworks, 1270 Grand Ave. Clients call him to create balustrades for staircases, spindles, railings, fireplace mantels, porch restorations, column bases, furniture repair and structural pieces for historic homes.

“It’s a lot of custom work,” Guelcher said. “I do odd stuff that nobody else does.”

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Macalester-Groveland resident Tom Guelcher of Turning Point Woodworks holds spindles he crafted from scratch in his Minneapolis workshop. Photo by Brad Stauffer

He aptly describes a profession that is largely in the background of many home improvement projects, but plays a crucial role in them. Two other local woodworkers also live and often have clients in the area. Tom Henly runs TC Woodworks at 797 Selby Ave. and Paul Johnson runs HandMod, formerly in the Keg & Case Market on West Seventh Street, but now selling out of the new Dayton’s Project in Minneapolis.

Guelcher and Henly have decades of woodworking experience, often re-creating architectural features of historic properties. Johnson uses only reclaimed wood for building coffee and dining tables, doors, storage bins and accent walls. He also works with artists to build frames that are works of art in themselves.

Guelcher, 62, said he initially excelled at painting, winning the first American Painting Contractor contest in 1997 that came with $5,000 in cash and materials. He won again in 2002, the same year he published a piece in Old House Journal about the restoration project he did for a Minneapolis bungalow.

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Tom Guelcher, shown here creating a spindle on a lathe, has been doing custom work for decades. Photo by Brad Stauffer

He has kept his painting equipment in storage “just in case a big, big job comes along.” Otherwise, he said he is mainly getting hired to work with other contractors on big projects or alone on smaller ones. He works on both commercial and residential buildings.

 

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“I do a lot of older home replication, including architectural parts for vintage structures,” he said. “And I’m always busy.”

Henly, 73, of Summit Hill, has been certified by Ramsey and Hennepin counties as a Victorian house specialist for windows, doors, railings and spindles. “I make those things for a lot of historic houses, especially on and around Summit Avenue,” he said. “That’s my specialty.”

Clients come to Henly because few people do woodworking for historic homes. He tackles such tasks as adjusting a 1,000-pound pocket door and adding new sashes to double-hung windows.

Trim and old windows always have been made of clear white pine, a plentiful wood that has not been hard to find. “I try to keep (the restoration) real,” Henly said.

While he works with individual homeowners, Henly has had plenty of projects come through Ramsey County foreclosures. The county hires him to fix up the homes and he is currently working on two of them, one in Merriam Park.

“Those are big jobs to go in there and fix all the things that are broken or need repair before the homes can be put on the market,” Henly said.

“Those are big jobs to go in there and fix all the things that are broken or need repair before the homes can be put on the market,” Henly said.

Johnson, 41, of the Midway area, started HandMod four years ago. His handmade furniture and decor are built from old wood removed by a fencing company and by his brother’s decking company. In addition, his parents’ farm in Saint Michael has “truckloads” of material his father has collected over 40 years of being in the contracting business.

“Everything I make comes from reclaimed materials,” Johnson said. That has been an advantage for his business and his customers since he pays nothing for the wood, which has skyrocketed in price over the past few years. His projects include accent walls, sliding barn doors and many different pieces of furniture with a seasoned grain look.

Sometimes Johnson paints the wood to give it a weathered, distressed appearance. Other times he sands it down to a smooth finish.

“The patina is really unique,” he said. “What’s neat is that the wood has been out in the sun for many seasons. It’s often 20 to 30 years old.”

Johnson also works with artists. “I make frames for their art,” he said. “What I do is take the art and transfer it on to hardboard and then frame the piece around the art. They’re basically wooden box frames.”

— Frank Jossi

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