Woodworks shop is a one-man operation

As far as numbers of employees go, a small business does not get smaller than Community Woodworks in Julian.

“It’s been me, really, for a good 25 plus years,” owner Tom Barr said.

The smell of lacquer and sawdust permeates the building where Barr glues, strips, stains and performs other work on furniture. The business primarily does restoration work, not always antiques, and performs repairs, Barr said.

Much of the antique furniture taken to the shop is Victorian-era or from the mid-19th century, and he has worked on some from as early as the 1700s. Most pieces come from Bellefonte and State College, but furniture from all over the state and from as far away as New Jersey has been repaired there.

Not all of the work is done in Julian, Barr said. He sometimes gets calls from moving companies about repairing furniture nicked or damaged in transit. Some of those pieces are taken to him at the shop and other times he has to travel, sometimes up to three or four hours, to perform “in-house” repairs.

The business began in Boalsburg about 30 years ago, Barr said, and his involvement started when the original owners needed someone to take finishes off of furniture that needed work. Although he had some experience with carpentry and home restoration, he had little experience working with furniture.

“I sort of got thrown into this,” he said.

He decided he wanted to do more and took courses on repair, read up on the subject and studied old furniture to see how it was put together. He also practiced on his own furniture and that of willing friends and started helping with restoration and repair work at the shop.

Experience and on-the-job training has proved to be the best teacher, Barr said.

“Over 30 years, you run onto a lot of stuff and figure out how to do it,” he said.

The business moved to Julian in the early 1980s and the shop itself had to be taken to its present location on Julian Woods Lane. It was the Tire Town building on North Atherton Street, and when they built a new one, the old one was purchased and moved piecemeal to where it now stands, Barr said.

While keeping the furniture as original as possible is the ultimate goal, an aspect of the job is “fakery” in a sense, Barr said. Some pieces require him to remove damaged portions, make replacement parts, glue them back in place and restain them to look original. That can be especially rewarding, Barr said.

“It’s fun because you take it to to a customer and they want to know what piece you replaced, and you tell them, ‘That’s for you to find out,’ ” Barr said.