Hi, this is my dad Howard Berger in this photo. He started the Basswood Man brand. He’s 93 this year and still cuts Basswood and glues up practice butcher blocks for County Line Products LLC. Notice the snow on his shoes. Basswood likes the northern snow country.
I asked Dad how he got into the carving wood business.
“I’ve worked with wood all my life, everything from cutting trees, hauling logs, sawing lumber and building houses. Most of my working life has revolved around wood.
“In the 1980s and 90s your mom and I lived the winters in a Arizona trailer park. I was taking woodcarving classes just for something to do. Not go crazy you know? Each of us guys paid $10 for this tiny piece of wood. I thought, I’ll bring my own piece of wood next year. The teacher was talking about how great northern basswood was. The guys asked me if I knew this wood? I thought, ‘Are you kidding? It’s all over the place at home.’ Junk wood. Not much good for burning. It’s what you call gofer wood – you put it in the furnace and go for more. But I started thinking that if the carvers like it, I could bring pieces of this ‘precious stuff’ to friends in class. So I filled the van up next winter and that’s how it all started.
“My teacher told me about a couple guys in the Phoenix area who were professional carvers. How I should go see them. So I showed them my wood and they really liked it and started buying from me. Pretty soon I’m filling the van and a trailer with carving blocks. Carvers came right to our trailer to buy ‘em.
“One guy picked a block right out of the van and gets his knife out of his pocket. Starts whittling right there. ‘Just like butter,’ he says. Didn’t even look up – just kept carving. Don’t know what he made from that block, but he sure liked it!
“After we stopped going to Arizona, I went to this store in Green Bay Wisconsin. Showed my wood and the owner really liked it. He called his assistant over to look and they bought everything I had with me. He also gave me some advice. Said I should clean up the blocks – sand them and make them look good. Wouldn’t make them carve any better but they’d sell better.
“Word spread and I started getting requests from other woodcarvers. Pretty soon I bought a little stamp that said “Howard Berger the Basswood Man” and my carving blocks began appearing on shelves in hobby shops and stores around the country.”
My husband Ray and I own County Line Products LLC. These days we make the Basswood Man brand blocks and plaques. It’s still a family owned business.
Maxine Berger Henry