Paul Morrison grew up on a farm, where
"you were expected to learn whatever was needed; you just work
hard and do it," and had a grandfather who was a cabinetmaker.
He traces those influences back to the beginning of his interest in
woodworking, but after high school, it just seemed to be a "n
fit" to parlay his interests in math and science into a career
as an engineer, "with woodworking in the hobby category. I was
thinking some day, I'd do it in retirement."
It didn't quite work out that way: Paul
is now the proprietor of The Wood Cycle of Wisconsin
, a family-owned,
full-service woodworking operation. The business takes a project from
its start, as wood in tree form, to finish. "The Wood Cycle name
is part of that," Paul said.
It all started, because, as someone
with Dutch heritage, "Dutch don't buy wood, we buy a sawmill,"
Paul said. The Wood-Mizer sawmill he bought for his woodworking hobby
several years ago was producing more than enough wood for his own
projects, so procuring wood and building projects for friends and
others became a side job, in addition to his engineering work.
"One day, someone said, 'This is
obviously your passion, so why are you sitting at a desk?'" Paul
said. After some time contemplating whether, "If it's a job,
does that change things?" Paul concluded that he would get just
as much enjoyment of making things for others as he did for himself.
From the beginning, Paul set up Wood
Cycle as a full-time business, noting that with the investments in
equipment and lumber storage, it wasn't on a scale to run out of his
garage, "it was a business with employees, rather than a one-man
show." He started out with himself and a nephew "with the
same passion for woodworking, the same hard work ethic" as
employees. They've since added another employee.
They started out with the business on a
converted farmstead, using the old farmhouse as a finishing studio,
and a couple of the barns for the rest of the operation. When talking
to a neighbor about his business plan in 2008, Paul happened to
mention that at some point, he'd need to pull down a shed and get a
bigger barn. "He said 'You need a barn? I have a barn.'"
That conversation resulted in moving a 36 x 30 round-rafter barn,
which had been slated for demolition, to the old farmstead and
consolidating most of the shop operations into it, as well as adding
a showroom. (Sawmill storage and lumber remains in one of the old
barns; the old farmhouse is now an office.)
Having everything on one site, Paul
said, is helpful in keeping track of individual customers' wood. A
lot of those pieces have family stories with him, like, "this is
the tree Johnny fell out of and broke his arm, and now it's his
kitchen," Paul said. "We do lot of taking a project from
stump to finish; if a tree came down in somebody's backyard, we'll
put it in their kitchen."
Having the ability to mill their own
wood also gives Wood Cycle a unique perspective: "You have guys
who run sawmills who make an occasional project, and guys who are
woodworkers who occasionally find a log and have somebody saw it up,"
"We find chunks of wood that loggers would leave in
the woods, or a tree service would cut up; we find pieces with live
Paul admits that he, personally, does
have a bent toward big furniture projects, such as big slab tables.
"I like the variety that it gives me, sometimes with the shape
of the slab, sometimes in working with the client as to what fits the
style of the home -- whether it's Mission, Arts and Crafts, or
The variety of the business in general
also appeals to him. In one day, he might be making flooring,
"essentially pushing wood through machines," then go cut
down some walnut trees, supervise an employee making a table, and
later on meet with a client about a kitchen design.
Wood Cycle produces a mixture of
furniture, cabinetry, fireplace mantels ... "If we find a good
client, whatever they need in wood, that's what we make. Eighty
percent of clients are repeat customers within a year. My background
is 'there's no project you can't handle; it's just figuring out how
you're going to handle it and how long it's going to take.'"
Currently, Paul and Wood Cycle are
primarily working with urban woods, with three quarters of their
trees coming from the city of Madison or adjoining areas. This means
that, while their specialty might be locally grown hardwoods -- like
walnut, cherry, maple, red and white oak -- they also work with
lesser-known woods like honey locust, black locust, hackberry,
butternut and more.
Perhaps one of the more memorable trees
they've worked with was a burr oak that recently died: it was one of
the trees from the neighborhood where rhesus monkeys that had escaped
from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, in 1960 were found. Paul and
Wood Cycle made a table and chairs for the tree's homeowner (and were
able to get nine big tabletop slabs out of another burr oak tree in
the neighborhood that measured 56 inches wide).
They've also made accents throughout a
house from a walnut tree lost in a tornado, and turned a deceased
tree that had been a corporate symbol into a conference table for the
business, as well as smaller projects like a turned bowl for the
All in all, with current efforts that
include selling wood; a business plan that take a project, as Paul
says, "from stump to finish"; and the variety of efforts at
Wood Cycle, looking back over the past 12 years of the business, it's
clear, Paul said, that "one of the big things for us was the