When Dan DeSerto couldn’t find the resources he needed for his woodworking projects, he launched his own business. It’s now a one-stop-shop for quality materials, expert advice, woodworking lessons and much more.
Dan DeSerto has long been passionate about his woodworking. So, when he was struggling to find quality wood at local outlets, he developed a way to take his hobby to a whole new level.
In January 2016, he founded Bull Valley Hardwood, 1251 Cobblestone Way, in Woodstock. He converted the building into a woodworking retail store that also handles custom furniture, bar top, countertop and cabinet design and builds.
His mission: to be the only shop a woodworker could ever need. DeSerto’s “log-to-lumber” approach gives him the ability to oversee every step of the cutting and drying process for the hardwood he sells. His dedication to quality helps him to ensure that Bull Valley Hardwood’s lumber and woodworking supplies are top of the line.
“We can’t compete with the big boxes,” says DeSerto. “We’ll never have that kind of buying power, so what we do instead is focus on providing the best.”
Often, customers recognize that quality because DeSerto and his team have plenty of experience in woodworking and offer the same products they’d use on their own projects.
“We don’t just bring items in here and convince you to buy because we sell it,” he says. “We use the products ourselves, and we’re very knowledgeable about them.”
DeSerto and his staff maintain quality in several ways, starting with the way they source lumber.
Residential tree services, planned forest management harvests and logging companies all supply the logs that will eventually be made into something special.
“We’re a boutique mill and, as such, we don’t always want perfect logs,” says DeSerto. “There are times that we want gnarly logs, or logs with character.”
These logs contain what is, technically, known as defects, but DeSerto doesn’t see it that way.
“As a woodworker, you have to decide if that’s a defect or a feature,” he says. “With the advent of epoxy into the woodworking world, they can be the most amazing features created by Mother Nature.”
Once cut, the lumber usually sits in the drying shed for up to two years before going into the kiln, where the moisture level in the wood is brought down to around 7 percent. That process usually takes up to three additional months. At that point, the wood is ready to be sold and used to make something useful and beautiful.
A growing maker movement throughout the United States is leading to a growing interest in hands-on learning and handmade projects. For these makers, Bull Valley Hardwood offers much.
“We carry 70 different species of wood here,” says DeSerto. “The exotic species we carry, in some cases, are carried specifically for the makers.”
Those exotic woods tend to make their way into craft items like cutting boards and charcuterie boards. Special finishes and epoxies help makers to finish their projects with a shine.
DeSerto says he plans to one day create a makerspace of his own, providing local makers with a place to learn, tinker and grow their ideas.
Knowledge is the final piece of the puzzle for Bull Valley Hardwood. It’s a commodity DeSerto and his staff don’t keep for themselves. A formal classroom and woodturning studio host a wide range of classes for woodworkers and woodturners of all skill levels.
“We felt that we needed to be able to offer everyone the ability to learn,” says DeSerto. “We have put a tremendous amount of attention into the educational aspect of what we do here.”
In a typical year, Bull Valley Hardwood hosts around 20 classes, each one centered on a different aspect of woodworking, starting with an up-close look at the wood itself.
“Wood is a kind of living organism of sorts,” says DeSerto. “It will continue to move throughout its life, right up to the point that you convert it to a pile of ash.”
DeSerto’s wood technology classes are designed to give the budding or experienced woodworker a healthy respect for the medium they’re working with.
“When you design a piece of furniture, you have to build in the ability to allow the wood to move according to the conditions of the environment. Otherwise, Mother Nature will always win, and she will pull your project apart,” says DeSerto. “If you understand the technology of wood, you can incorporate that into design.”
Once students are comfortable with the wood they’re working, other classes will follow, including basic and advanced joinery, veneering, bent lamination work, hand tools and power tools. The final subject, finishing, is taught over its own set of classes.
“There are many, many aspects to finishing,” says DeSerto. “It is the Achilles heel of woodworkers. They spend months, sometimes, building a beautiful and perfect piece of furniture, only to wreck it during the finishing process.”
For the woodturning studio, DeSerto brings in guest teachers, giving students a chance to learn from some of the best woodturners in the world.
“We’ve had celebrity teachers in, and we’ve had teachers who come in and are off-the-charts amazing,” says DeSerto. “Our students can range anywhere from ‘I’ve never touched a lathe before’ to ‘I’ve been turning for 10 years, and I want to go to the next level.’ It’s gone over very, very well.”
DeSerto encourages aspiring woodworkers to take advantage of hands-on education instead of trying to learn from the internet.
“We teach the proper way to do it,” he says. “There are tons of horrible videos out there with people who pretend to know what they’re doing and totally mislead the public.”
For the aspiring woodworker who is just getting started, DeSerto recommends stopping in to learn the ropes.
“It doesn’t have to be like drinking from a fire hose,” he says. “You can learn as you go. You don’t have to be overwhelmed. Just take it step by step. That’s what our classes are for.”
Like the logs that are stacked outside Bull Valley Hardwood, DeSerto’s hobby has changed into something different – and it’s especially helpful for many area woodworkers.
“In a lot of cases, when we make furniture out of the logs we bring in, we know the story of the log,” he says. “That part is important to some customers. We’ll design and build stuff for them that will give those logs a life, long after those leaves drop.”