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In East Baltimore a woodworker’s woodworker plies an old trade

Mark Supik compares an original painted baluster from a Roland Park home with a replica made from sapele wood in his shop.
Mark Supik compares an original painted baluster from a Roland Park home with a replica made from sapele wood in his shop. (Amy Davis)

When a Baltimore carpenter or builder cannot locate the perfect replacement staircase spindle, or a weird replacement window shaped like a half moon, there is hope. An East Baltimore commercial woodworking shop supplies the bespoke wood parts that commercial hardware mega-stores decline to stock.

It’s an operation founded and owned by Mark Supik, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art who majored in sculpture. After leaving school he became a carpenter and general contractor and took on such Baltimore landmarks as a renovation of Bertha’s in Fells Point. In the 1980s he tried building shopfronts and counters for Harborplace merchants, but did not like the idea of having to do that work after business hours.

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He established a wood-turning business in an old Haven Street (north Highlandtown) veneer factory near the Pompeian olive oil works. It became the place to go for one-of-a-kind wood requirements.

Finding Supik’s current shop is not easy. It is in Orangeville, on Macon Street, just south of Armistead Gardens, off Erdman Avenue, where he relocated after his old location became trendy and is now an ax-throwing arena and brewery.

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Supik is not against breweries. Pre-pandemic, he got work from the burgeoning brewery trade, making thousands of wooden beer taps with custom imprints of the brand name.

But this summer, with the bar business not what it was a year ago, he’s been focusing on the needs of old Baltimore neighborhood homes where wooden porches are collapsing or staircases need an overhaul.

“I tell people you could go to a Home Depot and buy a stair spindle. But 10,000 other people will own one just like it,” Supik said. “If you let me make it, it will be yours.”

He says he’s been surprised — and pleased — by the work that goes on in Baltimore as home renovators take pains to restore homes off Greenmount Avenue in Barclay and along Auchentoroly Terrace facing Druid Hill Park.

“I like to see the uniqueness of the Baltimore rowhouse kept intact,” he said. “I hate to see so much of Baltimore’s housing stock demolished. It could be rebuilt and a lot of people could be put to work doing it.”

By nature he’s a person who likes to help people (he’s a volunteer at the Friends of Patterson Park and lives in Butchers Hill), and he seems to like a woodworking challenge. When a builder brought him a large 1880s wooden bracket used to support a fancy exterior cornice, he devised a way to cast its decorative leaves in urethane. The rest of the bracket (it’s big and weighs 10 pounds) was made of cedar wood. He also works in cypress and sapele, a type of African wood that has properties similar to mahogany.

Supik’s woodworking studio is a museum of operating and functioning machines. His oldest is an 1876 band saw he converted from line-shaft steam power. There are lathes and whirling shapers and table saws, planers and jointers with which he can make the parts for a porch column or a bedpost. It’s clean and airy and well ventilated.

In this micro field, Supik will host daylong classes so amateur woodworkers can gain experience making a salad bowl from a slab of maple.

He also preserves vintage woods, such as the linings of the old vinegar tanks along Cold Spring Lane that had in a previous existence seen service at the Melvale Rye Distillery.

Not all his work stays in Baltimore. When a porch at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park, New York, needed the right components, the National Park Service’s designated restorers made a visit to East Baltimore and Supik’s salon of custom wood tailoring.

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