The smell of burning wood fills Charlie Wood’s garage.
No need to call 911. It’s just the 87-year-old going about his daily business of building birdhouses.
“Wood’s my name, and woodworking is my game,” said Wood, after putting the final touches on house No. 2,534. He numbers, dates and signs each one.
The self-taught woodworker and bird lover, whom you’d be hard-pressed to find sans a Denver Broncos baseball cap, could be one of the Pikes Peak region’s most longtime, faithful providers of happy, healthy homes for thousands of birds. Slumlord he is not. His houses come equipped with four easily removable screws on the cedar bottom floor, which ensures owners can clean out debris from the most recent mating season and tidy up for next year’s bounty of babies.
“I am a dreamer,” Wood said about his hobby. “When I go to bed at night, I’ve got 30 minutes before I sleep to dream up what to do tomorrow.”
Friends and relatives know where to find Wood. For two hours every morning and two hours every afternoon, the towering, soft-spoken senior perches on a high stool at his workbench. He can’t stand for too long due to arthritic knees and his “dead feet,” as he describes his neuropathy. He methodically glues and nails scraps of cedar together to create the layers of a birdhouse. His nail gun, clamps and assorted tools hang within easy reach as he affixes the gables of the house, glues on a front porch and drills a hole for a perch. Finally, he grabs a Bernzomatic hand torch and lightly scorches the outsides of the house “to make it look rustic, not blah,” he said.
Keeping him company is gospel music by The Cathedrals, a Southern quartet he loves, and other assorted gospel music CDs, and the occasional pop-in from Shirley, his wife of almost 68 years. “She’s a clean freak, and I’m a little messy. Sometimes the sawdust gets a little thick out here.”
Every night, Wood receives an email from the folks at American Classics Marketplace, a giant storefront on North Academy Boulevard that houses antiques, collectibles, gifts and more. They let him know what sold that day and what he needs to restock in his cozy “Birdie Land” store in stall No. C103L, right off the aisle named Elvis Presley Boulevard.
“People are buying them like crazy,” said Barbara Frey, a Marketplace sales associate. “Sales are pretty good for something small that’s not expensive. He does pretty well.”
The Birdmoor Inn. Birdie Barn. Home Tweet Home. Birdie Hacienda. Birdie Palace.
Wood’s creatively named and decorated single and duplex birdhouses start at $29 and line his shopping space. He’ll even create customized birdhouses. One customer recently requested one that looked like his house. But some of Wood’s best-sellers? The houses with roofs made from football license plates. He predicts the Broncos birdhouses will be a hot ticket this season, especially since “there are a lot of positive things this year” about the team, he said. He ought to know. He lived in Denver from 1957 to 1968 and never missed a game at Mile High Stadium.
During those Denver years, he worked as a supervisor for Furr’s Supermarkets, then moved to Colorado Springs to work as a general manager for Federal Food Service. After 25 years at each company, he retired in 1992. And while Wood was still his name, woodworking wasn’t yet his game. He’d been interested in the hobby but had never had time to pursue it.
After stepping out of the workforce, he built 500 to 600 wood computer stands for Focus on the Family. His appetite whetted, he ventured into the birdhouse business on a whim, after he met a woodworker who told him about a waterbed factory that dumped loads of scraps on Thursdays near Simla. He dragged some home, began playing around and let inspiration hit.
Longtime customer Julie Wallis first laid eyes on a Wood birdhouse about a decade ago at a farmers market in Monument. A couple of years ago, he gave up selling at farmers markets after it became too physically taxing. Wallis fell in love with the quaint collectibles and has bought 25 to 30 birdhouses over the years. She’s moving to Whidbey Island, Wash., in the next few months, and ordered four birdhouses to take with her.
“I just love them,” she said. “They’re just a real natural, woodsy type of birdhouse. They’re just cool. They’re very solidly made.”
Birdhouses aren’t only something to while away Wood’s days. They’re also a lifesaver. After a double bypass heart surgery in 1996, Wood was felled by congestive heart failure in 2015.
“I was supposed to die,” he said. “Six weeks later, I was back in the garage.”
Finding a passion or hobby to stay interested in is the key to aging well, he said.
“When you get to be my age, you think you’re too old to do anything. If you sit around the house and you don’t do anything, you get depressed. I have this to look forward to every day so I don’t get depressed.”
Contact the writer: 636-0270