Woodworkers flock to Gibsonville’s Hardwood Store of North Carolina
By Noah Salt
Photograph by Sam Froelich
Not long ago, in pure frustration, I phoned a friend who is an accomplished amateur woodworker, wondering if he had any idea where I might find a good source for hardwood lumber. My wife and I had recently refurbished a cozy den in the house we purchased in Greensboro last autumn and needed just a couple of key elements to complete the project: a hardwood countertop and companion hardwood shelving to replace the inexpensive Formica counter that had topped a built-in cabinet since the 1960s. My goal was to match the new wood to the beautiful golden oak parquet flooring of the room.
I’d spent weeks traipsing through every big box home improvement store in in the Triad (or so it seemed), but the closest I could come to what I might be looking for was some expensive unfinished oak lumber that couldn’t be sold in custom lengths.
My friend had a quick answer. “There’s only one place to go for what you want. It’s over in Gibsonville, a place called the Hardwood Store of North Carolina. You won’t believe the hardwood they keep in stock — stuff you’ve never even heard of. They can do almost any kind of custom job. It’ll blow your mind.”
It sounded almost too good to be true.
But during a guided tour of the small firm’s sprawling 40,000-plus-square-foot showroom with its marketing director, Cheryl Lewis, I’m quickly becoming a true believer, not to mention something of a gobsmacked shopper.
Housed in a former home to the town’s textile mill on East Railroad Avenue, across the tracks from Gibsonville’s quaint main drag, the Hardwood Store of N.C. is indeed a woodworker’s dream come true. Essentially a resource warehouse, it carries at least 40 different varieties of traditional and exotic hardwoods typically priced well below what you’d find — if you’re lucky — at any popular home improvement store. The firm’s 10 helpful employees will not only sell you whatever amount of wood you need — no purchase is too small or too large — but also custom cut and finished basic pieces like the countertop I had in mind.
“We have been called a grocery store for fine hardwood,” explains Lewis as she walks me through the warehouse where customers are indeed selecting choice hardwoods from designated bins and loading them onto their rolling carts for checkout in the showroom. All wood is priced and sold by the simple board foot. “We find that customers love the experience of touching the wood — kind of the way they would select produce in a grocery store,” Lewis adds with a laugh. “That’s not only permitted, it’s encouraged here.”
Arranged in the bins around us are familiar old friends — cherry, maple, mahogany, walnut, hickory, poplar, and red and white oak — and slightly more unusual varieties like basswood, alder and cypress. Then there are flat-out exotics I’ve never heard of: purple heartwood, bubinga, wenge, canarywood and sapele, most of them from Africa and South America.
“Check this out,” Lewis suggests, pausing to show a curiously distressed wood called pecky cypress.
“Pecky cypress is so cool. It’s an old growth wood that comes from Florida that looks weathered due to a fungus that eats into the wood over the years,” Lewis explains. “Don’t you just love it? People use in everything from furniture to flooring. Thanks to [HGTV star] Joanna Gaines and her love of shiplap, pecky cypress is really big right now.”
Two decades ago, Lewis and her husband, David, discovered the then-newly opened Hardwood Store of N.C. David is a skilled woodworker who makes fine custom furniture for Triad designers, among other clients, and simply couldn’t find the kind of high quality hardwoods he desired through traditional lumberyards.
“We started out as customers and I wound up working here,” Lewis explains, diving into the tale of how company founder Hilton Peel had worked for years in the conventional lumber business before sensing a potentially lucrative niche market of hobbyist woodworkers, professional builders and and custom furniture makers, and venturing out on his own.
Not long ago, THSNC celebrated its 20th anniversary in business and invited Graham resident Roy Underhill, the star of Public Broadcasting’s The Woodwright’s Shop, who greeted fellow customers to “talk shop.” It’s an indication of why THSNC has quietly become the go-to resource for fine wood craftsmen, cabinetmakers and custom builders across the region.
Not surprisingly, the company does a brisk business in custom cabinetry, molding, veneers, hardwood flooring, stair treads and decking of every sort. Patrons have come from 46 states and several foreign countries. The firm’s hardwoods have been used in restaurants and stores throughout the state — even in handrails custom-made for UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill. One inspired customer used hardwood from the store to build himself a boat that cruises around Lake Norman today.
“We have lots of stories like that,” allows Lewis as we finish up our walking tour. “I particularly like the guys who come in here to find wood for clocks or the grandfathers who make chests for their grandchildren from aromatic cedar.” She stops to reflect: “Woodworkers have a personal relationship with wood. They can spend hours in here searching for the right pieces, touching, feeling, even smelling the wood.”
At a bin nearby, a rangy T-shirted fellow is carefully selecting pieces of mahogany and having just such an experience. His name is Michael Fels, an artist and art professor from Elon University, it turns out, who is buying pieces of hardwood for a custom cap to a cistern at a greenhouse gallery on the campus.
“This place is remarkable,” Fels enthuses. “The real challenge is to settle on one kind of wood. I come here all the time. The quality is so terrific.”
After my own patient consideration of stock, at Lewis’s suggestion, I settle on a countertop and shelving made from finished white oak. “That way,” she says, “You can stain it to match your oak flooring and have something that looks like its own work of custom-made furniture.”
I place the order and drive home one happy fella. h
Noah Salt’s dogs love his new countertop, especially when treats are left on it.
The Hardwood Store of North Carolina is located at 106 East Railroad Avenue, Gibsonville. Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m.– Noon. Info: (336) 449-9627 or hardwoodstore.com.