Woodcrafter started with peach crates, progressed to fine furniture

Woodworking is something that Charlie Gunderson has always done, beginning in boyhood by knocking peach crates apart to make hay racks for his toy wagons. He now crafts fine furniture and other small items.


By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Woodworking is simply a part of life for Charlie Gunderson of Upsala.

“I’ve always done woodworking,” he said. “When I was seven or eight years old I was knocking peach crates apart to make hay racks for my toy wagons. I grew up on a farm; we fixed everything ourselves.”

Taking advantage of the modular scheduling during his shop class years, Gunderson spent a lot of his time in the shop room.

“Other guys would be playing basketball, and I’d be in shop,” he said.

During his junior and senior years of high school, the shop classes built two houses in Upsala.

After two years of carpentry classes at St. Cloud Technical College, Gunderson owned and operated Gunderson Construction in Upsala for about 10 years.

After back troubles forced him to quit, he bought the local hardware store and ran that for about five years.

He worked for a friend making cabinets at Friedrich’s in Rice until George Friedrich died. Then he went to work for Design Line in Sauk Rapids.

“I spent two weeks on the job before even filling out the job application,” he said.

Crystal Cabinets bought out Design Line and Gunderson continued working there until the Sauk Rapids location was closed in 2009, after 20 years on the job.

Meanwhile, he had set up a shop at his home on Main Street in Upsala in 1994 and spent time out there after work.

Charlie Gunderson makes a number of curio cabinets from three main designs — with variations in style, size and glass.

Over the years, he did jobs for a variety of people and places, including about $20,000 of furniture for a St. Cloud church.

“I made the altar table for Gethsemane Lutheran in Upsala using the communion rail from the old church,” said Gunderson.

He crafts a lot of curio cabinets, using three main styles with the variations people request. Blanket chests are very popular.

Making mostly furniture and various small items such as cremation urns, Gunderson also accepts custom orders.

After making a bench for an architect in Minneapolis, he received a request from her for round mirrors.

A television cabinet is waiting to be delivered to Roseau, while 24 tool boxes are ready to be donated to the annual Upsala Lions Club’s Santa Breakfast.

“The kids can visit a ‘Wee Shop’ and buy gifts for their parents and grandparents for $1 each,” he said.

Gunderson’s favorite wood to work with is walnut. “It doesn’t have to be stained,” he said. “I just seal it with Danish oil and it looks beautiful.”

He prefers not to work with pine. “It’s too soft, harder to cut and harder on tools,” said Gunderson. “You just look at it, and it scratches.”

Oak is the easiest wood to work with, for Gunderson. “It cuts nice and planes nice,” he said.

Gunderson’s wife, Beth, is pretty understanding about his tendency to collect wood, which is stacked against the walls of his shop.

“He collects wood; I collect Christmas trees,” she said. The Gundersons have a daughter, Annika.

But woodworking isn’t the only activity keeping Gunderson occupied. He works about three-fourths time for Schultz Auctioneers Landmark Realty. He builds and conducts the online auctions, an average of two to three per month throughout the year.

He helps Miller-Carlin Funeral Home with visitations and funerals.

Although he retired after 31 years as a volunteer fireman, this is his 31st year as a first responder. “I think that makes me the longest-serving first responder in Morrison County,” he said.

Two of his brothers, David and Alan, farm the home farmstead and Gunderson helps them out with baling hay and hauling grain when needed.

Photos of some of Gunderson’s products can be found online at www.custommade.com/by/kh gunderson.

For more information, call (320) 573-2602.