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Published: Tuesday, 11/8/2011

Old barns nail new life

Retiree reclaims wood, creates furniture


HOWELL, Mich. — About two years ago, old barns began talking to Larry Hall.

He’d pass by them in his semitruck — Mr. Hall, 65, was a career cross-country truck driver — or see them on the way to and from his home in Livingston County, Michigan, about 20 miles north of Ann Arbor. He began mapping locations where barns, fallen and often dilapidated, appeared unused.

“I used to see these old barns, they’d talk to me and say, ‘Hey Larry, there’s a lot of good wood in here,’” he recalled, telling his story with a tinge of his native Kentucky.

About 18 months ago, Mr. Hall retired from driving trucks, bought two old barns off M-59 between Pontiac and Lansing — just a few miles from his home — and got to work doing what his mind had been telling him to do for so long.

In a garage turned wood shop, he recycles barn wood. From fallen wooden relics of the 19th century, he crafts tables, benches, chairs, desks, and an assortment of other creations.

He does so in “primitive” fashion, forgoing metal screws or nails, instead using wooden pegs or tenons — tactics used by woodworkers for hundreds of years before steel came along.

Totally untrained in the woodworking arts — except the obligatory wood shop project he completed in grade school — Mr. Hall crafts each unique piece by listening to the wood.

Wood, sometimes having sat abandoned for decades, transforms into a work of art in Mr. Hall’s hands.

“My lines aren’t the straightest, but it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I put the wood on the bench and everything starts working for me.”

Some things he makes in hours, others — such as large tables — take days.

But his work is unique, and sells well. Some pieces are priced close to $900.

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