Ron Sween began his custom woodworking business back in 1979 with his longtime friend Greg Lillejord. They started small, building display plate holders for collector plates. Over the four decades since, the pair has vastly expanded Northshore Wood Products to include a large menu of custom wood working projects.
Today, the founders work with three full-time people in their shop, just past the French River on Highway 61, to create hand-built, tasteful furniture and wood pieces, designed by the client or from the company’s stock styles. The company provides sketches and models for customer approval throughout the process.
Building with reclaimed wood from a variety of old structures is at the heart of what Northshore Wood Products does. Working with 300-year-old, richly grained dry-aged white pine, complete with knotholes and nail marks, gives many of the pieces they build their own unique character and style. They like to describe it as “bringing a piece of American history to life.”
“Northshore products are built to last,” Sween said. “We use waterborne stains and finishes and take pride in our handcrafted quality products. Our line of furniture can bring out the true elegance of a home. All handcrafted products can be purchased as-is or customized to the client’s specific needs or recommendations.”
The company’s vast product line includes log cabin tables, log benches, lodge mirrors, footstools, log coat racks, rustic wilderness lamps, chairs, beds, vanities, buffets, consoles, audio cabinets, coffee tables, desks, dining room and kitchen tables, dressers, end tables, sofa tables, kitchen cabinetry and fireplaces.
Specialty pieces include game and pub tables, floating shelves, railroad spike coat hooks, lamps, mirrors, plate and flag displays, wood spoon racks, golf ball and shot glass display cabinets.
Another aspect of the business is making cremation boxes from reclaimed Wyoming snow fences. The silver-grey wood has a natural weathered look that can be left as is or with a UV finish on it.
Besides integrating them in some of their projects, they also sell vintage wrought iron and wrought iron square nails and does millwork including railings and doors.
For commercial use in lodges, resorts and recreation areas, they build display fixtures, booths, tables, banquettes, chairs and other furniture.
Their work is on display in places like The Gunflint Lodge, Burntside Lodge, Canal Park Lodge, Caribou Highlands, Larsmont Cottages, The Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, Voyagaire Lodge in Crane Lake and Eden Prairie Liquor Stores.
Northshore Wood Products started getting reclaimed wood from the Globe Grain Elevator in 2001. Despite the elevator’s recent devastating fire, the company is still able to get some wood from the structure and will be getting some from the other two remaining elevators as well. “We also have a good supply of what we had gotten prior,” said Sween.
One unique product is also taken from the grain elevator reclaimed wood. The grain sculpted wood panels were created by 100 years of grain being poured into these bins, sculpting some one-of-a-kind wall art. The panels are 16 feet high by 7 feet wide and six inches thick.
“This natural distressing came from the conveyer belt filling the bins and sand blasting the wood,” Sween said. “We take it apart and number it. It can be left natural or sealed with a clear coat finish. We have sold some of the panels to UMD, Amsoil and Barker’s Island, and businesses in Minneapolis, among other places.”
Sween noted the company also works with many area designers, including Maureen’s LLC Kitchen and Bath Design Studio. Owner Maureen Plaunt said, “We have several pieces from Northshore Wood Products on display in our showroom. We have used pieces like floating shelves, beams, vanities, lockers and many others. Ron does such a great job. The local angle and the company’s use of reclaimed wood is also something that appeals to our clients. His pieces are manufactured to the highest quality.”
Sween added, “We are celebrating our 40th anniversary, and I still enjoy what I do every day. I like hearing back from our customers about how much they appreciate the pieces we have made for them.
Once such customer is Bruce Kerfoot from the Gunflint Lodge, who wrote, “The coffee service cabinet you built for us continues to be a focal point in the lodge for our guests. They continually remark on how well made it is and how attractive the design is.
The second cabinet we bought, based on the beauty and durability of the first one, is in our main dining room so all our dining guests can see it. The finish has kept its luster and fits the theme of the lodge beautifully. And when we can say that with a piece that is in a public setting, it means the quality is very good. We certainly appreciate the fine workmanship your shop employed in making these pieces for us.”