Master craftsman: It’s all about the details for Saltillo man

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Bob Rundquist used to build houses for a living, and that was deadline-driven, on-the-go work. He doesn't feel that kind of pressure in his workshop, not matter how intricate the piece he's working on.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Bob Rundquist used to build houses for a living, and that was deadline-driven, on-the-go work. He doesn’t feel that kind of pressure in his workshop, not matter how intricate the piece he’s working on.

By M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

Bob Rundquist’s version of eternal torment would be a room where he was forced to make the same thing over and over again.

“I enjoy doing something different, and I don’t really care what it is,” the 48-year-old said. “It would drive me crazy to make something again. I try to do something different, even if it’s just a subtle thing that’s different.”

There’s no sheet of parchment or plaque on the wall to say so, but Rundquist is a master craftsman. From bowls to beds, jewelry boxes to side tables, and an intricate lamp to an iguana’s gazebo, the evidence of Rundquist’s ability is scattered throughout the home he shares with Jackie Tutor in Saltillo.

“I’m Type A. I’m nervous,” Tutor, 55, said. “You’re going to do what? You’re going to build something in my house? When he started building it, it was like, he does know what he’s doing.

“He’s so meticulous,” she continued. “Everything has to be perfect. Nothing can be halfway done. Is that true?”

“I guess,” Rundquist said. “It’s what I’m told.”

One of his creations is a lamp that was constructed with 2,252 pieces of wood. Each tiny bit had to be individually shaped and sanded, then carefully put into place to create the open-segment effect he wanted.

The job was spread out over 14 weeks. He might take $2,000 for the lamp if offered, but even that price would work out to a tiny hourly wage.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Bob Rundquist got good at making square and rectangular items, such as this jewelry box, so he challenged himself to make rounded creations.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Bob Rundquist got good at making square and rectangular items, such as this jewelry box, so he challenged himself to make rounded creations.

“This was really a slow process, so you can’t get in a hurry,” he said. “It actually takes about an hour to put one ring on and go all around. That’s not turning it, sanding it and all that. That’s gluing one piece to the next piece, getting the space between them right and everything flush.”

“He said it helps to be OCD,” Tutor said.

“When I was done with that,” he said with a grin, “I was ready for a small project.”

Surprise for mom

Rundquist grew up in Michigan, but his grandparents had a farm in Mooreville, so he and his siblings spent summers in Mississippi.

He was the kind of kid who built treehouses for the neighbors. He liked to put things together; he liked to take them apart, too.

“My mom came home one day. I had her sewing machine completely taken apart,” he said. “I had every gear out and laid out, then I put it back together. It worked. That was 12 or 13 years old.”

He studied drafting and was trained as a welder. Most of his professional life has been spent building homes. He started in California in the 1980s, then moved to Mississippi in the early 1990s to join his family.

“My parents had moved here. All of my brothers and sisters moved here,” he said, “but one sister just moved to Wyoming about a month ago.”

He built houses at first, but now he focuses on custom cabinets and kitchen remodels, among other paying projects.

In a perfect world, he’d be a motorcycle mechanic. That’s his first love. He’s built bikes, as well as a drag racing car, from the ground up. The garage holds three motorcycles, and the smell of oil and grease permeates the place.

“Oh, yeah, I’m a mechanic more than a wood person,” he said, “but it pays a whole lot less.”

He’d like to someday transition away from cabinets and construction to selling his wooden creations, but that desire to be different presents a problem. He’s been told that to succeed at craft fairs and festivals he needs to mass produce easily affordable items.

That sounds too repetitive to Rundquist – almost like torture.

“I’d love to sell. I’d like to be able to sell for a living,” he said. “I showed at GumTree this year and did really good, but I’d rather do pieces like (the lamp) for $2,000 than pieces for $20. It would drive me insane to do 1,000 of the same thing.”

The Tupelo GumTree Festival was a learning experience, and he wasn’t exactly prepared.

“This lady came in. She bought about four pieces,” Tutor recalled. “She said, ‘Do you have any sacks to put them in?’ He said, ‘No, I didn’t think I was going to sell anything. I didn’t even bring change.’”

“I didn’t have a dollar in my pocket,” Rundquist said.

Busy, busy, busy

He wakes up at 5 o’clock in the morning and he’s wide open from then because there’s always something do. He’s built birdhouses for the pair’s eight birds, dog houses for their seven dogs and two iguana houses (one for indoors and a summer gazebo outdoors).

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com This open-segment lamp has 2,252 individual pieces and took Rundquist about 14 weeks to complete.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
This open-segment lamp has 2,252 individual pieces and took Rundquist about 14 weeks to complete.

When he wanted to build a wine rack, he scoured the Internet for plans but didn’t find anything to his liking. He designed his own with a hinged top to hold wine openers and other utensils and a small table that slides in and out to hold a glass while it’s filled.

A lady wanted a table that used steer horns for legs. Tutor liked it so much that Rundquist made one for her office. The original had crosses cut into it, so needing to do something different, he cut images of Kokopelli, a flute-playing, stringy-haired god of fertility, into Tutor’s table.

“He knows how much I love everything Southwestern,” she said.

Speaking of the West, Tutor fell in love with an Indian vest during a visit to Sedona, Ariz. A polite inquiry revealed the price to be $9,000. Wheels started turning in Rundquist’s mind.

“He said, ‘Buy a hide and I’ll make it,’” Tutor said. “It took him about two years.”

“But that was really, really in my spare time,” he said.

“He mostly did it when it was raining and yucky and he didn’t want to go outside,” she said.

The finished piece, which costs about $150 not including labor, hangs over a stairwell that leads to the pair’s bed and breakfast, known to visitors far and wide as A Lazy Dog Ranch.

“We’ve had them from Europe and everywhere,” Rundquist said.

When visitors stay the night, they can’t escape Rundquist’s creations, even if they wanted to. He made the bed they sleep on and the side tables they use

He builds almost everything in a humidity-controlled workshop he constructed inside the barn that fronts their 38 acres. Unlike the garage and its oil, the workshop is rich and pungent with fresh-cut wood. It’s an exacting place, where details matter.

Then again, the details always matter to Rundquist.

“Anywhere I go, I pick apart everything about it,” he said. “You go to the Biltmore Estate (in Asheville, N.C.), everybody is ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ and I’m picking apart how they built it using horses and stuff. It’s really, really analytical.”

“He can figure out how to do anything,” Tutor said. “It’s amazing.”

It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise, he might go out of his mind.

“If it looks like it’s impossible, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “Something different, another challenge.”

scott.morris@journalinc.com