Woodsmiths transform trees into flowers

The practice began as a way to help a company to earn supplemental income.
PULASKI, Pa. -- When Bob Rannard looks at a tree, ideas start blossoming in his head.
Nine years ago, Rannard and David White opened White-Rannard Woodsmiths on state Route 208 here. Working out of a Victorian carriage house they built for their business venture, the men focused on building custom furniture and restoring antiques.
While the business was starting out, Rannard said, "I was looking for added income -- something to pay the electric bill."
He decided to supplement his budding business by creating wooden flowers.
"It just blossomed from there," he said, smiling at his pun.
Today, the wooden flower arrangements White and Rannard create at their wood shop make up nearly a third of their business.
"We didn't invent wooden flowers," Rannard said. "But no one has developed them to the extent that we have."
Crafting a bloom
Holding a piece of wood no wider than the diameter of a dime, Rannard explained the process of creating the flowers.
"We use green wood," he said. "The largest piece is about as round as a half dollar." Laughing as he explained where he gets his wood, he said, "None of the neighbors have tree branches that are lower than my arm's reach."
In a more serious tone he explained, "We go into areas that have been forested out."
Using old-fashioned hand tools, Rannard peels the bark and whittles, chisels and shapes the delicate strands of wood into flower petals. White has created different flowers using a circular lathe. Once the wood is shaped into a flower form, it is painted.
"People are surprised by the vividness of the colors," Rannard said. "You can still see the fiber in the wood."
Rising to challenges
"This is our interpretation of a rose," Rannard said, pointing to a bouquet of red, wooden flowers. "We make violets, morning glories, tulips, daisies ..."
"Someone will come in and want a certain flower. Sometimes we are successful. Sometimes we are not. If it comes out successfully, we add it to our line, " Rannard said.
"We just created a day lily," Rannard said, picking up a flower. The large petals, nearly four inches long, look identical to the delicate blossoms of a live day lily.
"We will be using these in a wedding," Rannard said, smiling at his creation and adding, "I like doing the weddings. They are the most challenging, but they're the most fun."
Occasionally, Rannard will get invited to the wedding. "It is thrilling to watch my flowers go down the aisle."
Both men enjoy the thrill of creating masterpieces out of wood.
Learning process
White, working on a restoration project, explained the delicate process of creating an inlay.
"A lot of times, we have to create our own tools," White said.
"I'm still learning," he acknowledged, even with more than 20 years in the business. "You never stop learning."
"Young people want to learn a profession in a couple of years," Rannard said. "This takes many years to develop. It can be tedious and frustrating. You learn about the wood, its moodiness, what stress and humidity will do to it."
"It is very labor-intensive," he said, adding, "You have to enjoy doing it."
White, meticulously cutting the edge of an inlay, nods his head in agreement.
White and Rannard have restored and built more than 9,000 pieces of furniture in the nine years since they ventured out on their own, and their wooden flower business idea to "pay the electric bill" has grown into an enterprise with samples of their work found in nearly every state in America and in 18 countries.

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