Winter Sun Construction owner James Pader and his lead carpenter build mountain laurel railing sections in the companyís shop, bringing in another carpenter as needed.
courtesy Winter Sun Construction Winter Sun Construction owner James Pader and his lead carpenter build mountain laurel railing sections in the companyís shop, bringing in another carpenter as needed.

James Pader, owner of Winter Sun Construction, in Franklin, N.C., has turned to a niche craft — building rustic railings of mountain laurel branches — to generate income for his company. He says the railings are “a great opportunity ... especially with the tough local housing market,” and have the advantage of being a commodity he can sell online. He promotes the product on a separate website, awoodrailing.com, and locally in a rustic furniture store.

Crafted by Hand

It takes about 4 1/2 hours to make an 8-foot section of railing. Pader uses mountain laurel branches salvaged from his projects or brought to him by tree cutters. He works with homeowners to fulfill the orders and explains the installation to their contractors.

Pader says that creating rail sections is similar to weaving but that the mountain laurel branches don’t flex. Each stick is first wire-brushed to clean the bark, then Pader starts with longer sticks and weaves in shorter branches, making sure gaps are no larger than 4 inches so the railing complies with code. He uses a finish nailer with galvanized nails to attach the pieces to cedar 2x4 top and bottom plates.

The 31-inch-high sections allow for a toe clearance and a 2x6 top rail for a 36-inch installed height. Pader builds the sections an inch longer than the customer’s post-to-post measurement and explains his installation process over the phone or via e-mail to out-of-town contractors telling them to trim the 2x4s to fit the section between posts, attach it with screws, and add a top rail.

—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.