Sierra Sunrise Woodworking
by Amie Rodgers
If you choose to live in the mountains of Arizona, there is a fairly good chance you’re a fan of the woods. Whether you live in one of our area’s many breathtaking cabins or you’re like me—who generally considers the trees around my house to be of greater value than my humble abode—you think wood furniture and décor is a beautiful way to bring the natural warmth of the forests inside.
Like many of us, Jeff and Char Baker of Sierra Sunrise Woodworking fell in love with the scenic beauty of the mountains and purchased property in Linden in 1998. A picturesque patch of woods on a hillside, it was the perfect place to build their lovely home with a breathtaking view. In order to move from Wisconsin, Jeff got a job teaching at Blue Ridge School and Char continued to work as a speech pathologist for the public schools until she could join Jeff in Arizona. Char spent nearly 40 years working with speech and language delayed students and continued her career in Arizona until she retired in 2011.
Before becoming a teacher, Jeff worked for Chippewa Shoe Co. for 13 years as their advertising director. “He designed their first full catalog, which was in color. He also was the first person to use scenes to display the boots and shoes in their natural usage areas (e.g., hunting boots next to a log with a gun propped up and steel toed shoes in a construction site). Now you see this style everywhere, but in the late 70s, this was new and innovative. He also helped to design a cushion collar for their boots, for which a patent was obtained,” says Char proudly. “Later on, the company sold to Justin Boots so Jeff was no longer needed. He had degrees in biology and geology so went back to school to get his teaching certificate in education. His teaching degree is in broad-field sciences, and he taught biology, general science, earth science, astronomy, geology, and his favorites, anatomy and physiology, before retiring in 2010. Since then, he has been doing ski patrol at Sunrise.”
Although the Bakers had always been handy in a shop, they had never seriously considered becoming woodworkers until after moving to Arizona in 2002. With the flames of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire stopping just short of their doorstep, they found themselves with an abundance of downed wood on their property. “With so much wood available, I volunteered to make candle holders for the White Mountain Woman’s Club Fashion Show in 2004. Everyone just loved them and so we went from there,” says Char.
Starting small, it didn’t take Jeff and Char long to build an impressive shop, lumber barn and acquire their Woodmizer sawmill while building a client base that appreciated their beautifully crafted furniture and décor. “We work with ponderosa, aspen and juniper,” Char added.
“Initially all of our juniper was salvaged from the Rodeo-Chediski Fire. All of the aspen we have was salvaged from the Wallow Fire. People seem to appreciate its the origin and consider it a memento. We completely sold out of our cutting boards made from blackened Rodeo-Chediski wood,” says Jeff, “The first step in what we do is collect the wood. In addition to all of the wood we have on our property, we have also gone out and done thinning for friends and bought logs from people doing private thinning projects. After it comes here, we let it dry if necessary and then we slab it out into a number of different thicknesses. If the wood is good and straight, we can cut up to a 22” diameter log about 12 feet long. The lumber then dries again in the lumber barn with stickers (little pieces of wood between each board) so the air can move freely and the boards dry flat.”
Once it is ready, the lumber goes to the shop where the Bakers bring out the very best in it to create truly unique pieces. “When it comes to furniture, we can make pieces in custom sizes to fit any room. We make tables, stools, benches and mantles. We also offer a variety of outdoor patio furniture with special UV-protective finishes that keep the pine from yellowing,” says Jeff, “We have a lot of repeat customers. They will start by ordering something like a table, but come back for another table or a mantle or a wall hanging. It makes us feel good that they are happy.”
In addition to furniture, rustic candle holders, cutting boards, and display rounds are particularly popular items for holiday or wedding gifts. “Every piece is as unique as the wood it is made from. Since we really love doing this, it is more of a fun hobby for us than work. We also like to travel with our cameras and offer prints and framed photos of our nature and travel photography,” chimes in Char smiling.
To see more of Jeff and Char’s work, you can catch them this year at the High Country Art Association’s 4th of July Show at Charlie Clark’s Orchard. To visit their shop or place an order, you can also call them at (928) 205-7819 or (928) 205-7820.