/ by Brendan Blowers / photography by Eli Warren
The son of a woodworker, Jeremy Schrock was in the shop early and often. He learned how to use a table saw at eleven years old. “I was out there running baseboards,” he says.
With uncles also in the industry and a grandfather who owned a sawmill, Schrock grew up a self-described wood nerd. “I trained under my dad back in Ohio. Cut my teeth as a trim carpenter, then got into cabinets,” Schrock says.
He didn’t intend to make a business out of it; he just wanted out of Ohio. He moved to the south with hopes of steady trim work, but he recalls sitting at Edisto beach a half dozen years ago and being struck with the epiphany to go out and do it.
He convinced his brother, Mike, to join him. Custom homes were going up at a steady clip at Lake Keowee. Their first job was for a pair of trusses. Yoder Building Supply saw their work and spread the word. Schrock got four calls, one after the other, for custom beamwork and he recognized it as a sign, “This is where I’m supposed to be going,” he says.
They went from building beams in his driveway or on-site to moving into a really small shop, one with no office and no bathroom. Along the way, Schrock developed a signature technique.
“When I first started building box beams that were supposed to look like timber, I thought, ‘What do timbers have that three boards don’t?’ As timber dries out, it cracks. From day one, we started carving cracks in these boards.”
Other contractors do hand-hewn beams, but it’s the cracks that fool the eye. It’s what gives Schrock’s box beams their authentic look and the reason many of the best custom builders in the Upstate call them in. Creating the cracks is a trade secret that Schrock developed over time. “I lived in an old cabin that was built in 1850. It had hewn beams,” he says. “I’d sit there at night and study the cracks in the beams to be able to replicate it.”
Last spring, Schrock moved into a new shop. This one has a couple of offices and a bathroom. It also has 1900 square feet of floor space where the brothers can continue to fine tune their craft and fill the orders that keep coming in. “I’m always looking to develop new ways of doing things,” he says.
In two years, the business has grown to need three full-time and two part-time employees. Mike runs the shop and picks the music; a familiar folk rock tune jangles out of a small stereo by the door. Even when the business faces challenges, the brothers are bound by an unspoken loyalty: they’re in it for the long-haul together.
Most of Schrock’s Custom Woodworking business comes from referrals or from Instagram.
Most clients are looking to add ceiling beams and they design and build a lot of mantles. The beams are connected by a lap joint with a hidden seam. They are all glued with no mechanical fasteners. When the glue dries, it becomes stronger than the wood itself. Schrock says, “You’re guaranteed a product that’s going to last.”
Schrock picks up a hand-planed beam and holds it up against the window. Its true beauty is revealed as the texture hits the natural light.
Their box beams used to be built out of cedar, but today it’s mostly white pine from Maine and Vermont. Clients can choose the look they’d like from four style options: a smooth surface that contains the signature cracks and a hand-hewn edge, a rougher beam or one of the premium finishes like a hand-planed beam with cracks or an entire hand-hewn one.
The hand-hewn ones are the most labor intensive. With the board on the shop floor, Schrock stands over it, striking it in short curling motions with an old ship carpenter’s adze. “It works the back,” Schrock says.
The hand planes Schrock employs have a cambered edge and are used to cut dish-shaped grooves into the boards. “It takes some technique getting a feel for the plane. You get a rhythm going,” Schrock says, his brown eyes widen as his hands grip the plane. “Planing wood is almost spiritual. You got all of the senses involved. The smell of the wood, the feel of it cutting through.” As he works his way down the length of the pine, little curls of cut wood break free and lightly fall around his weathered boots.
Artistry goes into every square inch of Schrock’s beams, trusses and mantles. As new orders continue to pour in, he’s preparing to expand his shop space to 4,000 square feet, more than doubling the shop and enabling them to keep more wood in inventory and have a dedicated finishing area. Schrock sits in his office across the hall from the workroom, a guitar and two fishing rods lean against the wall. They don’t get picked up as much these days. “When we first moved here, on the way home from jobs, we’d hit the rivers a lot,” he says.
Much of Schrock’s time is spent generating build lists and generating quotes using a custom Excel estimating program he developed with his other brother, Jason. The company plans to move forward with more environmentally friendly stains and finishes. Box beams use 80% less lumber than solid timber and being stewards of resources is something of import to them.
With a greater footprint, Schrock is looking to team up with nonprofits to provide volunteer work and training. He hopes to use his shop as a place to teach high school kids, veterans and ex-convicts, anyone whose life could benefit from learning to craft wood. “I don’t want to just build nice beams, I hope to impact people’s lives,” he says.