The Saw-Maiden

Amber Williams and her love for wood
Artisan Osm Amber Open

Photo by Audrey Hall

Amber Williams is the timber production manager at On Site Management in Bozeman, Montana. Working in a traditionally male profession, she calls herself a “saw-maiden,” honoring her Norwegian-Danish heritage—where, in folklore, women who fought alongside the men were called “shield-maidens.”

Artisan Osm Sink

A classic palette of rustic materials, including a dramatic hewn-oak vanity (sourced from OSM), gives this Montana powder room an unmistakably western look. Photo by Amber Williams.

From the moment she signed up for shop class in high school, Williams was in love with wood—the texture, the smell and how it could be shaped into artistic and functional purposes. Shop class is also where she met her life partner, Gabe Williams, who works at OSM as principal and yard operations manager in nearby Belgrade. “He was the only boy who would sit next to me in an otherwise all-male class,” she recalls with a smile.

Mountain Living caught up with Williams in OSM’s 14-acre “bone yard,” where an immense inventory of reclaimed timbers, logs, snow fence and corral board waits to be groomed, milled and repurposed for new uses.

Artisan Osm Building

Reclaimed materials from the “bone yard” contributed to Glacier National Park’s rebuilt historic Sperry Chalet, badly damaged during the 2017 Sprague Fire. Photo by Amber Williams

Mountain Living: Where does the wood in the “bone yard” compound come from?

Amber Williams: Most of the timbers come from old timber-framed barns, granary mills and railroad bridges. Also from original homesteads built by early miners and farmers who needed shelter as winter approached. You can still see the marks of axe and adz.

ML: What are your favorite woods?

AW: I prefer working with softer woods because they are easier to groom and machine. But I started out as a cabinetmaker and am still fond of hardwoods like maple, cherry and walnut.

Artisan Osm Work

Williams works in OSM’s 14-acre “bone yard” surrounded by a vast inventory of reclaimed wood. Photo by Audrey Hall.

ML: What are your favorite tools?

AW: I own over a dozen chainsaws—different sizes, different horsepowers, some gas, some electric, some with specialized heads. I also love broad axes and adzes. It is how people would originally hew wood. I have used them to replicate the original work, to match the existing hewing.

ML: You’re working in what is traditionally a men’s profession. Did you have to prove yourself?

AW: I started out as a very confident young woman who knew what I wanted to do, and I’ve never lost that confidence.

Artisan Osm Mt Ranch

OSM’s Montana Mountain Ranch (published in Mountain Living, August 2017), is a working ranch constructed of restacked walls and antique timbers for a rugged hand-hewn look. Photo by Audrey Hall.

ML: What do you love most about your job?

AW: Being a builder is the only way I can make a living and be an artist at the same time. We build amazing works of functional art that people can live in.

ML: What do you do in your spare time?

AW: My partner, Gabe, and I are renovating a little 1890s ranch in town. We made all the furniture from scraps and cast-offs from work. The hand railing, for example, is made out of maple, and we have a bed made out of walnut. We love giving new life to old wood.

Categories: Artists & Artisans