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Woodworker's bird 'mansions' to support charity

An Oregon man who makes elaborate birdhouses and furniture in his free time hopes proceeds can be donated to the local community. Now, he's just looking for a cause.

GLADSTONE, Ore. — Thomas Keppinger grew up in Northwest Portland and started to learn about woodworking in high school.

"I went from a D student to an A student," Keppinger explained.

He went on to work as a contractor, renovating homes for about 30 years, before retiring.

That's when the birdhouses started.

From his home workshop in Gladstone, Keppinger began producing beautiful, handcrafted wood furniture with top-grade lumber. He said he did not want the leftover scraps go to waste.

"After 60 birdhouses, I was finally able to get rid of the wood," he laughed.

His sprawling garden is accented with warm-colored birdhouses, but some might fall into a different category.

"That's right, they're bird [mansions]," he joked. "[The birds] don't pay much rent though, unfortunately."

People approaching Keppinger's front gate are met with an ornate, temple-like structure, 12 feet tall and lifted eight feet above the ground.

"The big birdhouse in front, that one is made out of yellow cedar. And it's about a 1,600-year-old tree," he said. "The grain is just perfect."

His home is also filled with his custom furniture. He said the original plan was to sell pieces, but the cost of labor and lumber made the final price tag too expensive for most potential customers.

"Maybe about $14,000 for a piece of furniture...that's a lot of money," Keppinger said.

However, in a promotional video produced by Grant Keltner and Jonathan Swanson prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Keppinger's friend described his motivation as way more than money:

"[He] creates something that is from his hands, heart and soul."

Now, Keppinger has new inspiration. Instead of selling, he hopes pieces can be auctioned off, with money going to a local charity or nonprofit, such as the Audubon Society.

Groups or individuals interested in helping with the effort are invited to tour the property to see Keppinger's work.

Keppinger can be reached on his workshop's Facebook page for an appointment.

"If it makes them happy, that's what we need to be right now: a little more happy," Keppinger said.

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