She’s “saving the world one recycled piece of wood at a time.”
Woodworker Erika Jarnes lugs a giant tool bag filled with her trusty nail gun, sanders and drills. This way, Jarnes is always at-the-ready to ply her craft, whether it’s in a woodshop she uses not far from Mankato or her residence near Maple Grove.
Nicknamed EJ, Jarnes has been building handmade home décor, such as tables, serving trays and signs, out of reclaimed or recycled wood through her business, Tattered Timber, which she launched last year after she moved back to her native Minnesota from Nashville, Tenn. “I’m very mobile and constantly building in different spaces, so it’s the easiest way to transport all of my gear without me forgetting anything,” Jarnes says. “Plus, (the tool bag) has wheels, which makes it easier to roll around because it gets pretty heavy.”
Woodworking isn’t your typical career path for a woman, but such boundaries are swiftly pushed aside by Jarnes, 29, who says she was a tomboy as a child. True, she adds, there aren’t as many female woodworkers as their male counterparts, but that number is gradually growing. To help Tattered Timber stand out among the woodworking community on Instagram, Jarnes highlights the hashtag #femalewoodworkers on her page. “My mom was in the Army, and she has a Harley [motorcycle],” Jarnes says. “She was always breaking these stereotypes for women. I grew up with that mindset. For me, it wasn’t like girls are as good as boys. It was girls are better than boys. I was always trying to prove everyone wrong. I always wanted to beat the boys in pull-ups.”
Her interest in woodworking began just about three years ago, under the tutelage of her boyfriend, Jeremy Harvey’s late grandfather Dale Wingen. The retired industrial arts teacher died last July. Jarnes still uses Wingen’s workshop, located in the house he and his wife, Carol, shared in Good Thunder, Minn., south of Mankato. Jarnes and a few other family members began selling their work out of an old granary building on the Wingen property last summer. Aptly called The Granary, it will be open for occasional sales again this spring.
“They would go downstairs, and she would learn all the machines that Dale had,” Carol remembers of Jarnes. “You always knew where they were. They were working. He would go right back to his teaching. It wasn’t hard for him to do.”
Jarnes was a quick study. When she and Harvey moved to Nashville, she honed her woodworking skills as a carpenter, building such things as cabinets, kitchen islands and barn-beam mantels. “My grandpa got her on her feet,” says Harvey, a professional musician, who drums for Cloud Cult, a Minnesota-based indie rock band. “She’s just taken it and run with it. She’s a natural; she’s got the vision for it. She has a definite taste, and many people like that.” Jarnes has a theory for why woodworking comes so easily to her. “My dad is very handy, my mom is very crafty, and so I got a combination of the two,” she says.
For Jarnes, woodworking is not merely a job. It’s a passion. Before moving to Nashville, Jarnes worked for three years at a desk job for an insurance company. She likes woodworking more. “I love that I get to be up and active and using my body in my work,” she says. “I enjoy that creative outlet about making something and showing people something maybe they haven’t seen before.”
Jarnes’ craftsmanship is wide-ranging, from dining room tables and nightstands to all sorts of wood decor. “She can see something completely different from what I see or anybody else sees,” Carol says. “She once picked up an old board in our barn and said it would make a cute table. ‘A table?’ I thought. I didn’t see it. However, she made a table, and it was gorgeous.”
Jarnes prefers to work with hardwoods, such as oak, hickory or walnut. She especially likes live-edge walnut, where the bark is still on the sides. Depending on the piece, Jarnes preserves as much of the reclaimed wood’s character as possible. That includes keeping wormholes and dents. “Many people will use epoxy and fill the wormholes or cover that stuff up,” she says. “I’ll usually wipe it down and sand it very lightly to make sure there are no splinters.”
Of her recent work, she enjoys making geometric decor pieces out of wood. “They look more like wood art,” she says. “Somebody called them wood quilts. They’re challenging, depending on the design. It’s a lot of angle work.” Her best-sellers are cutouts in shapes like animals or pumpkins, typically made from reclaimed pallet wood. “A woman asked me to do a bunny because she owns a bunny rescue,” she says.
Jarnes has gone to great lengths to procure reclaimed wood for her projects. In Nashville, she would do a lot of “dumpster diving” near her job. Back in Minnesota, she searches Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. “I’m a Craigslist hound,” she says. “I find lots of stuff by clicking on the free section. Many times, people have good intentions. They see something on Pinterest, and they want to create it. They get all the materials, and they realize they don’t know how to do it.” She is also able to use a vast collection of wood Wingen amassed before his death. “If he knew a building was going down, he would call them up and come haul the wood away,” she says.
Her dream project is a personal one. She and Harvey—who live with Harvey’s sister Kate Becker and her husband, Tony, in Corcoran—are looking to buy their own house. Harvey says Jarnes wants a “she shed” to call her own. “We’re assuming we’re going to get a house that needs some updating,” she says. “I’m excited to get my hands on that. I’m always doing that for other people. My dream is to create the perfect spot for us.”
Her Social Network
Most of Jarnes’ sales or requests are a result of social media. “The unique thing about business these days is you really can get a feel for sink or swim on social media before you commit to something,” she says.
Instagram’s photo and video-sharing networking service is a good way to showcase her work—and herself. “At first, I was posting product photos. It was good, but it was like people, who knew me, were liking it, and that’s not helping. The second I started posting more photos and videos of me building and sanding and painting, that helped. They could see the person behind the craft that seemed to make a world of difference.”
“Many people say she should have her own TV show,” Harvey says. “She’s so extroverted. She gets her energy from meeting new people. It’s exciting for me to hear her talking about her crafts because it inspires her.”
Jarnes is also passionate about the environment and posted this on her Tattered Timber Instagram page: “Saving the world one recycled piece of wood at a time.” She says, “That’s why I use reclaimed stuff or recycled wood. I think it looks cooler because it has character, but it also speaks to me on a different level because I know I’m creating something out of nothing. Something trashed is given a new life.”