From Tree to Table

Glacier High School teacher Jake Deitz turns hobby into business with Deitz Custom Woodworks

By Maggie Dresser
Woodworker and furniture maker Jake Deitz stands with a slab of freshly milled cottonwood at his shop in the foothills of the Swan Range east of Kalispell on June 10, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As a kid, Jake Deitz remembers spending countless hours chopping cherry wood on his family’s farm outside of Spokane to sell for barbecues. Decades later, his connection to wood still exists, but instead of using it for fuel he now creates custom furniture with cherry and other locally sourced species including, Douglas fir, birch and cottonwood.

For the past eight years, Deitz, a biology teacher at Glacier High School, has spent his downtime salvaging trees and transforming them into tables, desks, shelves and more. He formerly chainsaw milled the lumber, but he recently purchased a sawmill, which he says has been far more efficient, and launched Deitz Custom Woodworks, transforming his hobby into a business.

“My story in terms of focus is tree-to-table furniture,” he said.

Deitz sources wood locally and has salvaged dead trees from power companies, private individuals and public parks. He also thins timber in his own yard to reduce forest fuels while also giving the Douglas fir and birch a second life.

Woodworker Jake Deitz mills the trunk of a cottonwood tree at his shop in the foothills of the Swan Range east of Kalispell on June 10, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“I’m taking a lot of this out from a (forest) health perspective and trying to give the wood the most value I can,” Deitz said.

Some of the trees Deitz works with are likely more than 75 years old, including a cottonwood he recently salvaged in Kalispell, and he’s fascinated with the character of each individual tree.

Deitz brings the salvaged trees to his shop, where he uses the sawmill to cut slabs of wood, followed by a drying method called stickering, which spaces the wood out in a grid while also adding weight to deter movement. He then either lets the wood air dry, which takes a year per inch, or he takes it to Missoula to dry in a vacuum kiln where it takes three weeks per inch.

“You want to make it as flat as possible because once you start building with it, all of those pieces move independently of each other,” Deitz said.

The wood is ready once it’s dry. Over the years, Deitz has built everything from stand-up paddleboards to Hawaiian slings for spear fishing. But lately, he’s been receiving a lot of requests for tables, desks and floating shelves.

Deitz doesn’t necessarily have a vision for the final product before he saws into the lumber, and he says each tree is a surprise with its own unique character.

“Most of the time the piece of wood tells me what it’s going to be,” Deitz said.

Woodworker and furniture maker Jake Deitz points out features on a round of wood at his shop in the foothills of the Swan Range east of Kalispell on June 10, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Not only does cherry wood hold sentimental value from his childhood, he loves working with it because it darkens over time. He also works with a lot of birch trees, which form unique patterns from fungi called spalting.

After woodworking as a hobby for years, Deitz has become more serious about the business aspect of it in the last year since moving into a new house with a bigger shop. He hopes to build his own kiln in the future and spend much of his summers building furniture while he’s on break.

“I love giving the soul of a tree its second life,” Deitz said.

“My focus is to give a second life to these trees and make something that’s going to last and look really nice in somebody’s home,” he added. “That’s my ultimate goal.”

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