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updated: 6/26/2013 6:38 AM

Carpenter uses skills for birdhouses

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  • A row of birdhouses on a shelf are seen in Matthew Martin's workshop in Washington

      A row of birdhouses on a shelf are seen in Matthew Martin's workshop in Washington
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Most birds that fly through Washington swoop from soybean fields to telephone wires and roofs, nestling in for some rest where and when they can get it.

But outside a wood shop on East Guth Road, a chubby bird has made his home inside a blue birdhouse equipped with windows and indoor lighting. Carpenter Matthew Martin built it as a Mother's Day gift last month.

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"He must have finally gotten a girlfriend to move in, and he went to work bringing in sticks," said Martin, 42. "It got me thinking. Maybe they're just like us."

Just three months after starting to build birdhouses, the cedar designs decorate Martin's lawn and he sold his first pair a few weeks ago for $250 each. In the coming months, the Washington native hopes to expand his venture into a profitable business by advertising and working toward a booth at Peoria's Riverfront Market.

"They're just cuter than cute," said his brother and fellow carpenter, Chuck Martin, 46. "He wants to make 10,000 of them."

Matthew Martin has more than 20 years of carpentry experience, but he didn't gravitate toward crafts until a lifetime of mending broken bones and other ailments began to catch up with him.

Just a few yards from his wood shop, a 6-year-old Martin had been struck head-on by a car as he peddled his bike.

He recovered from breaking 15 bones, suffering a collapsed lung and losing 75 percent of his liver and went on to try his hand at drag racing, where he never wrecked his car, but came close on a few occasions.

Martin also had an affinity for the rodeo, and braved injuries in his pursuit of adrenaline and cash prizes. Though Martin's final ride lasted just a few seconds, it led to a four-month recovery from the bull stomping on his foot.

"The doctors thought I wouldn't last this long, but here I am at (almost) 43," he said. "You only got one life to live and I didn't want to look back and say, 'I wish, I wish, I wish I would have.'"

Eventually, Martin decided to try more low-key carpentry, from building crosses and mosaics to pet coffins.

Now he's found a niche. His intricate, rustic birdhouses have shingles, name plates, multiple rooms and levels, and sometimes windows and mini flashlights that come on with the press of a button.

Customers can ask for an engraving of their family name, or choose from the named houses he has in stock, such as the "Country Inn" or "Chic Saloon."

"It's just peaceful. I put my mind into it and just let it go and this is what I design," Martin said. "And you've gotta love birds."

In one day of work, he could make one of his large birdhouses, which stand close to 2 feet tall without a post, or complete a handful of smaller pieces.

And by using primarily scraps from past carpentry projects, Martin keeps the business' costs down.

If the crafts don't sell in the area, Martin said he isn't afraid to follow the market and move south.

"A lot of things down there can move," he said.

But Doris Bernard, 69, of Peoria said that shouldn't be necessary.

She bought two of his larger birdhouses at $250 apiece, marking Martin's first sales. The time and effort the pieces require makes the price tag worth it, Bernard said.

"Something that's homemade is just so personal," she said. "And it looks like a house you'd move into yourself if you were little. He does really good work."

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