Nebraska Barnwood Makes Old Nebraska Barns Stand Tall Once Again
Tom Day and Graham Nabity are giving new life to Nebraska’s historic barns, one board at a time.
Nebraska’s countryside is dotted with old, dilapidated barns. Once beautiful and full of life, they were the backbone for the agricultural endeavors of prairie pioneers. These barns stood tall through the ups and downs that must be weathered on a farm, including dust storms and blizzards, lives born and lives lost. They supported generations of families, becoming a piece of their lives in the process.
Most of these distinctly charming barns have become obsolete as technology has changed the landscape of today’s farms and ranches, and the number of families involved in agriculture has decreased. They are expensive to repair and expensive to tear down, leaving the easiest choice to let them stand without care until they deteriorate and collapse, when they are then pushed into a hole and the remains burned or covered.
Each time this happens, a piece of Nebraska’s history is buried with it.
A Partnership Born Through Faith
The partnership of Tom Day and Graham Nabity may, at first, seem an unexpected one. Tom is an established entrepreneur, owning Day Construction LLC in Gretna for close to 20 years, and is divorced with two children. Graham, an Elkhorn native, is just one year out of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln—a former special teams running back and fullback for the Huskers—and working full time in real estate while approaching his first wedding anniversary.
They may be at different stages of their lives, but their faith and the construction industry brought them together. They connected at a Bible study group, and soon discovered they shared common interests. Tom enjoys dismantling old barns for friends when he isn’t building or remodeling homes. Graham earned a degree in construction management and has an interest in the outdoors and farm history.
Combining their skills, passion, and knowledge, these two ambitious partners created Nebraska Barnwood in June 2017.
Restoring Life to What’s Been Lost
Nebraska Barnwood is a specialty business that focuses on restoring life to what’s been lost. “Our desire is to see old barns stand tall again,” Graham said. “Each piece of wood carries unique characteristics that can’t be replicated with new construction. You can’t mimic God’s natural beauty.”
All of their wood comes from barns dismantled in Nebraska, so each piece of wood carries with it a piece of Nebraska history. Rather than losing that history, Nebraska Barnwood offers free dismantling and cleanup of old barns, saving the owner from having to pay for removal. They can also build a custom piece for the owner using the barn wood from their property.
“It’s a win-win for us and the owner,” Graham said. “We’re passionate about barn wood and hate to see it go to waste. The key is to find the barns before they tip over in order for the wood to be of any use.”
After dismantling, Tom and Graham de-nail and power wash the wood, although sometimes they leave it raw, depending on its end use. “Each piece of wood has years of patina and color variations that only comes with age,” Graham said. “Some of the wood is over 100 years old. Power washing can take the weathered finish away, so we work closely with our customers to get the end result they want.”
Initially, they sold planks of shiplap, siding, tongue-in-groove, 1x and 2x boards, beams, posts, and even barn doors to do-it-yourselfers. However, they have now expanded into building custom furniture with the reclaimed barn wood.
“Our custom creations have included conference tables, dinner tables, end tables, entertainment centers, buffets, office desks, countertops, and benches,” Graham said. “We’ve also covered entire walls and ceilings with exposed wood. It’s very satisfying to see the barn wood have life with a new family.”
Graham did most of the custom work in the beginning, but customer demand has required additional help. “We currently have six people working for us on construction of custom pieces,” he said.
Their custom furniture is made and sold in Waterloo and Gretna, and most of it is sold in Nebraska for residential use, although they do commercial projects as well. One notable commercial project was for the Henry Doorly Zoo.
Graham’s wife, Allison, also has a unique creative talent that is offered through Nebraska Barnwood, at least for the time being. She is gifted in calligraphy, custom painting and wall décor. Her beautiful penmanship can be found adorning walls of many homes in Nebraska. She hopes to open her own business soon.
The Path to Success
Each partner has a preferred role in the business. Tom focuses on working with landowners to dismantle and remove the barns, while Graham oversees the furniture and business side.
Graham credits Facebook and shows like Junkstock as being their most successful advertising tools. Junkstock is located on the western edge of Omaha and features more than 200 vendors and 60,000 visitors, so Graham and his wife strategically created a standout booth that visitors couldn’t miss, featuring overly large barn doors. Networking also plays an important role, as most of their business comes from word of mouth.
While using the right tools is important, Graham said, “You’ve got to put in the work to be successful. I work 90-100 hours a week. Success isn’t about money, it’s about how well known you are, which comes from being passionate about what you do.”
If you are interested in barn wood for your DIY project, a piece of custom-built furniture with historic charm and beauty, or have an old barn to dismantle, contact Graham Nabity through email or message him on the Nebraska Barnwood Facebook page. You can also see some of their custom pieces featured there. And, if you’re a Husker fan, be sure to check out “A Walk On To Glory: Graham Nabity,” by Arthur L. Lindsay.
For more information…
25005 W Center Rd.
Waterloo, NE 68069
(By appointment only please)