The Indy Carpenter Turning Trash Into Timber

Ross Tuggle
Ross Tuggle in his workshop.

Tony Valainis

It all started with a Dumpstered porch swing that Ross Tuggle’s wife saw as they walked by. She expressed her disappointment that it was headed to a landfill. “I thought, I’m going to fix that and give it to her,” Tuggle says. But much of the swing had rotted. Salvaging what he could, he tried to build a picture frame instead. “I was in over my head,” he says. “I gave up on that and thought, What if I just arrange the wood in a funky way?”

His sweetheart loved it. Just a year later, the Indianapolis resident now sells his work to the public under the name Tuggle’s Timber. When he’s not at his day job with the Marion County Department of Child Services, he reworks old wooden pallets, box springs, and more into geometric art. He has shipped the pieces, which cost about $45 per square foot, as far as California.

When Tuggle comes across old wood he likes, he starts by yanking old nails and smoothing the boards a bit. Next, he uses a table saw to rip strips to different depths for a 3-D look. He adheres them to plywood with wood glue and a pin nailer, then mixes stains and paints—mostly unwanted mis-tints from retailers—to make each strip unique.

The self-taught artist initially felt uncomfortable accepting payment for his work. “A friend suggested I donate the funds to a nonprofit,” Tuggle says. He did—and still donates 10 percent of sales to The PourHouse, a local group that helps people experiencing homelessness. “We’re using unwanted things, and we’re giving back to people who are basically unwanted,” he says. It’s part of a bigger plan. “I’d love to create a place where I could teach the homeless population how to make and sell these pieces to make their own money,” Tuggle says. “That’s my end goal.”