Necklaces made from burl pieces at Rainforest Custom.

Making furniture with a unique cartography

Each piece at Rainforest Custom tells a story. The day I visited Dean Graber’s woodworking shop in the barn at Don Abel’s, the showroom hosted a 173-year-old piano, its top taken off and inner workings exposed, waiting for the sheet of glass that will transform it into a kitchen island and a singular conversation piece.

“This wood is Brazilian rosewood which you can’t get anymore because it’s protected,” Graber explained. He didn’t have to go far to find the piano, though: “Craigslist,” he said, “right here in Juneau.”

Nearby is a bench and barn door made of a complicated mesh of wooden strips. Those strips are reclaimed Boeing parts crates, a lucrative material for Graber.

“That’s the second shipment and I’m looking for a third shipment right now,” he said. He recently completed a bed and matching nightstands with a design that emphasized the material’s tetris-like qualities.

But the piece that drew my eye is a table where two pieces of raw wood rest under glass, the light wood riddled with dark burrows made by teredo clams. It’s an absolutely unique cartography.

“This is what sinks wooden ships,” Graber explained to me. “Any wooden ship at some time or another is going to have teredo clams in them and that’s what could sink them.”

There’s a lot about wood and woodworking I didn’t even know I didn’t know before I spent time with Graber: starburst veneer, burl bowls, bookmatched cabinet doors, the peculiar hardness and unique look of bamboo endgrain.

“Those things mean a lot to me in the quality of the piece and I think to a lot of people, they mean something after I pointed them out,” Graber said. “They may not know that but it makes a difference.”

Making a different type of product is what Graber seeks to do with his high-quality, custom-designed pieces in a town crowded with furniture from Fred Meyers and IKEA.

“This is a big step up from that,” he said.

People have taken notice. Rainforest Custom celebrated its one-year anniversary on Sept. 15 and is going strong. “Business keeps growing,” Graber said as he talks about hiring another employee after one jumped ship for a career in Arctic and Antarctic cruises (CCW freelancer Daven Hafey. Check out his article about the Northwest Passage here http://tinyurl.com/zxtorfa.) “I’m looking forward to getting somebody else to keep things flowing because I keep getting more jobs in.”

During its first year, Rainforest Custom got a big contract for the State Library Archives and Museum building, crafting all the boxes and blocks for the artwork to sit on, as well as a couple of conference tables.

“That was a big kick for the business… and we were honored to do it,” said Graber.

But Rainforest Custom works on projects big and small. Recently, he’s shifted the focus more toward turning out smaller items like boxes, iPad stands, sushi trays and necklaces for Public Market in November. Graber will have a double booth in the lobby at the JACC where he hopes the smaller items will entice people toward his business.

“People don’t realize that custom work can be affordable,” he said.

Customers can come to him with complete plans or “something as simple as ‘I have an idea,’” and Graber will meet with them to design their piece.

“I like to be creative… I like trying new things,” Graber said. “It’s been a great first year … and we are looking forward to making a lot of stuff here in town.”

To find out more about Rainforest Custom, visit www.rainforestcustom.com or call 635-0293. Graber’s shop is open Tuesday-Saturday 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. or by appointment.

• Contact Capital City Weekly staff writer and design wizard Randi Spray at randi.spray@capweek.com.

A 173-year-old piano which will be given a glass top and turned into a kitchen island at Rainforest Custom on Sept. 27.

Rainforest Custom owner Dean Graber.

Rainforest Custom owner Dean Graber at his workbench on Sept. 27.

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