Photos by Hillary Ehlen, Nate Warren and Stephanie Bahnij
Fargo was founded in 1871, but North Dakota didn’t become a state until 1889. That being said, it’s not often that you come across antique furniture in the FM area that predates the late 1800s. However, gathering sawdust in the front of The Woodchuck Furniture Restoration is a dresser from the 1790s. This is one of the oldest pieces that owners Nate Warren and Stephanie Bahnij have received since taking over the family business in 2014.
About the Woodchuck
The Woodchuck Furniture Restoration was originally started about 25 years ago by a gentleman named Chuck Stenso. The business changed hands in the late ’70s or early ’80s. Then, in 2011, Warren’s father bought the business. After his father passed away in 2014, Warren and Bahnij took over the business. “We didn’t know if the two of us could take it on ourselves, but it’s three years later and we’re still here,” said Warren, a third-generation woodworker who has been woodworking all his life.
Nate Bahnij has customers all over the country. “There are very few people who do exactly what we do. We do restorations, so we’re able to replicate pieces that are broken, do custom builds or match things that are gone,” he said.
How do you restore antique furniture?
When restoring an antique, Warren normally starts by lowering the furniture into the strip tank. “We start by removing any hardware, put the piece in the tank and then pump it over with methylene chloride. Once the old finish is removed, we rinse it with water to neutralize the chemicals and let it dry for a couple of days,” he said. The next steps depend on the piece of furniture, but sanding and staining are usually involved.
Warren and Bahnij have a stockroom full of old lumber, which he often uses when working with period furniture. “When you’re missing a piece of wood in a piece of furniture, it can be awfully difficult to find a hundred-year-old piece of wood to go back into it,” Warren said. Luckily, they have quite the collection of antique wood.
After the pieces have dried, Warren and Bahnij move them into the workshop to be sanded. This is also where missing pieces get replaced.
These molding planes were made in England during the early 1800s and Warren uses them for shaping wood to match missing pieces on period furniture.
This is where they stain the furniture. Warren and Bahnij mix all of their own stains, while trying to remain as environmentally friendly as possible.
After applying the stain, Warren moves the furniture over to the drying room.
“We want to make sure that it’s nice and dry because the wood can change when it takes on moisture.”
When Warren Bahnij aren’t working, they like to collect antiques. These earrings were Stephanie Bahnij’s first real find. They were given as a gift from mother to daughter on December 25, 1921. The note reads, “My Dear Dell, These earrings were given to me over 50 yrs. ago. They were made from the floor of old Independence Hall in Philadelphia.” Warren and Bahnij have contacted museum curators and antique appraisers who have both confirmed the earrings’ authenticity.