People of the U: Miles Backstrom
Published on Friday, July 7, 2017
By: Alana Bowman
Dental student Miles Backstrom’s interest in woodworking was sparked by events that happened before his birth.
In the late 1800s, Charles Durrell Shelton ran Shelton Brothers’ general store in Brunswick, Shelby County, Tennessee, not far from Memphis. Miles’ father, Paul Backstrom, remembers that store from his childhood.
“I remember when we were growing up, we would go to my grandaddy's store,” Paul said. The store was located by a train depot, and townspeople would purchase basic necessities like sugar and flour on credit until crops were harvested to provide money to pay for the goods.
The store closed in the early ‘70s, and sometime later Shelton passed away.
“We had to do something with the store,” Paul said. His mother and Miles’ grandmother, Bettie Jo Backstrom, decided she wanted to use lumber from her father’s store to build a “new old house.”
In 1976, Miles’ grandfather, father and two uncles – Bill, Paul, Forest and Charles Backstrom, respectively – began taking down the empty building board by board.
“They took all the lumber from this old general store, brought it down to Columbus, Mississippi, and built a house out of it, out of this 100-year-old, 12- to 14-inch-wide pine,” said Miles, who recently started his fourth year in dental school.
The “new old house” became Backstrom Country Bed & Breakfast in Columbus, run by Bettie Jo until recently.
“My grandmother has gotten to an age where she can’t run it anymore,” Miles said. “It’s just a really neat house. My dad, his two brothers and my grandfather did a lot to make that house what it is. He had all this experience in woodwork from his father, and I picked it up from him growing up.”
When Miles needed a coffee table for his college dorm room, he said he built one to fit his needs rather than shop for one.
“So that’s how I got into [woodworking], and I just really love it.”
Miles graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in engineering. “I like to say the piece of paper I have from State is just so I can do woodworking,” he said.
Miles designs all of his projects from scratch. He draws the specifications on paper, which he keeps in a binder. Miles’ creativity could be credited to his grandfather, who, along with having carpentry skills to pass on to his son and grandson, was an artist. Bill Backstrom was interested in sculpture and wood carving and owned a stained-glass business in his retirement.
“I catch myself a lot of times out in my garage sitting and staring at a project, thinking about ways I want to make it work," Miles said. "I credit my engineering degree to helping make that happen. It helps with dentistry, too, to a certain extent.”
Miles has built multiple beds: a queen-sized bed for himself and his wife, a crib for his son and a twin daybed with a trundle. He likes to use reclaimed wood for a lot of his projects.
“It’s a good correlation with the Gospel and with dentistry, taking something that was old, repurposing it and making it beautiful and useful," he said. "It’s the same thing with a broken-down tooth and making old wood into something great.”
Miles, his wife, Laura, his son, Bennett, and his newborn daughter, Lottie Leigh, live in Madison in a house filled with handmade furniture and decor.
“I had a lot of fun preparing for our son to get here almost a year and a half ago,” Miles said. The piece of which he is most proud is his son’s crib.
“I built it out of red oak. I went really old school with it, without using any nails or screws,” he said. “It was all square peg in square holes, mortise and tenon, wood clamps and wood glue. It is really gratifying that my son sleeps in it every night.”
Miles also has built a high chair and, for Bennett’s Christmas present, a rocking airplane with a propeller that spins. He said he wishes he had time to make his daughter a crib as well, but being in his final year of dental school doesn’t allow him much extra time for hobbies. Future plans include wooden shutters for the house and a children’s swing he’s already designed.
Paul said his son has far surpassed him in the number of handmade projects he’s completed. “It just amazes both me and my wife what he has accomplished.”
Miles said one of the dental faculty cautioned him to “steer clear of the saws” to avoid hurting his fingers and risking his dental career.
“I’m too far into it now. I can’t give it up,” he said. “I love it. It’s very productive, relaxing. It’s a good stress reliever for me from school. My savior was a carpenter. What a great occupation or hobby to have.”