One of the most frequently asked questions we hear at Des Moines Mercantile is, “Who made this beautiful ________?” (Bowl, bench, rolling pin, stool, cutting board, cribbage board, charcuterie board – pick one and insert.)
The answer? The man, the myth, the woodworker - Brian Peterson of BP Customs.
(A.K.A. Mallory’s dad.)
I had the privilege of traveling out with Mallory to visit Brian’s woodshop and see it first-hand, covered in sawdust and smelling like jerky from the smoker that sits in the room with all the other equipment. He gave me a tour:
“Dust collector. Table saw. Another table saw buried in junk. Band saw. Planer. Router table. Jointer. Miter saw. Air filtration system. Lathe.”
And that’s just one room. He has another, larger space where he fits together the larger pieces of furniture he makes with even more equipment in it.
After 30 years of being a shop manager at Manatt’s road construction, Brian’s love of woodworking led him down a different career path. He told me woodworking had been a self-taught hobby of his since he was a child, learning some basic skills from his dad and the rest on his own. And, for me, this conjured up images of some rudimentary furniture or shelf-making skills, but don’t let his humility fool you. I learned that his “dabbling” culminated with him building the Peterson family home in 1987, a beautiful, three-story log cabin style home that Brian still refinishes the outside of himself (one side of the house per year) to weather protect the wood. Brian started taking on side jobs like making furniture or cabinetry while slowly buying up the equipment he needed before finally taking the plunge to retire from his job as shop manager and dive in to full-time woodworking in 2017.
Brian originally started his full-time woodworking by doing a lot of custom cabinetry for people’s homes but found that it included a lot of the management he was trying to move away from. When Mallory opened Des Moines Mercantile in 2020, it was a perfect opportunity for Brian to be able to make more of what he wanted and get it out to the general public while bringing in the custom orders he loves so much.
“Tables,” Brian said. “Tables are probably my favorite thing to make because it really shows the wood. There’s a real love of the wood going into it. I spend a lot of time pulling out the beauty of the wood, mixing and matching the boards and laying it out just right. I never have an ending plan for how I want it [the wood] to look. I just start and let the wood tell me what to do. The process changes as you see what comes out in the wood, the beauty and the flaws.”
Brian spends a great deal of time finding and selecting wood to use, always reclaimed if possible and a lot of it coming from the land he and his wife live on. Ash, maple, walnut, whatever he can find. You’ll see a lot of these different varieties in the bowls sold in the shop at Des Moines Mercantile.
“Walnut is my favorite wood to work with,” Brian says. “It always ends up looking better than you think it’s going to look. There’s so much beauty in it that you can’t see until you’re finished.”
It takes 4-6 weeks from start to finish to make the bowls because of the special drying process needed for the bowl shape to ensure it won’t crack, letting the bowls dry out for a week or more between turns and finishes. And then, in the end, there are still bowls that don’t work out and can’t be used or that Brian just doesn’t like the look of.
“He’s such an artist,” Mallory said of her dad’s perfectionism.
Brian’s love of the craft and respect for the wood drive his acute attention to detail and patience. Whether it’s a piece made to sell at Des Moines Mercantile or a commissioned project for a customer, each work is made with intention, expert craftsmanship and built to last.
Stop by Des Moines Mercantile to shop for BP Customs woodworking or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with him about a custom piece.