Mountain Laurel Handrails

mountain laurel handrails

Handrails made from mountain laurel or the woody stems of rhododendron shrubs are a distinctive part of the Appalachian style. These handrails are traditional in the mountains. There old-timers make their own. Growing wild all around them, they would use or burn it just to prevent the shrub from taking over.

But what old-timers did for themselves, no one was producing for others. James began taking custom orders and shipping across the country. An idea became a side project, and a photo became a business opportunity.

How did you get into your craft?

"First I started roofing, then as a carpenter doing sighting work with a crew. Eventually I was doing everything, framing, trimming, flooring, siding, windows, everything except the plumbing, electric and HVAC. We were building spec houses, and one project had a walkway from a deck to a log frame covered bridge, and it needed 230 feet of railing. A truck showed up with mounds of rhododendron sticks, and the boss said 'Who wants to build these handrails?'. I ended up building all of the railing, that would prove to be the start of Mountain Laurel Handrail. I worked as a General Contractor for another six years before some photos I had put online got me a phone call. First an inquiry from a lady in Washington state, then St. Louis, Missouri. I realized I had a business."

laurel wood in home   laurel in house

What do you look forward to the most in your work?

"The varied nature of it all. On any given day I could be driving to the lumber yard, building a section of handrail, or taking care of the business side on the computer. I really love my customers. The people I deal with are actually looking for my product. I don't have to sell it, instead I provide it. Working as a contractor can be so cut-throat, and you have to compete with the price of those using cheaper materials. Not having to deal with the negative stuff, that's actually my favorite part. Offering a specialized product with strong demand is much more enjoyable."

mountain laurel handrails

What would you say to a young person who wants to do what you do?

"To say I am the architect of my own life would be laughable. I fell into what I do. I have recognized opportunity, then worked my ass off to pursue that opportunity. I have two children, and I want them to know that no matter what they want to do, they're going to have to work hard at it."

collecting mountain laurel

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