Kentucky Tobacco Warehouse Timbers

We recently acquired some handsome pine timbers that were salvaged out of a Kentucky tobacco warehouse. This structure was part of a mammoth complex which at it’s peak offered over 8 million cubic feet of storage space along a major rail line. A casualty of the steady decline in tobacco farming, these buildings have been decommissioned and by the end of the year will be entirely dismantled.

I was able to take a trip down south this summer and visit this site while there was still something to photograph. My pictures are below. As for the timbers, they’re stunning. Almost entirely free of demolition damage and rot, these pine beams have a beautiful, unpainted ,circle-sawn texture and mocha brown patina. Best of all, they come in dimensions that architects, engineers and designers are always asking for: 8 x 8″ and 8 x 12″. My only complaint is that they don’t have even the faintest hint of tobacco aroma – they just smell like wood. That’s not so bad though, is it?

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Reclaimed Douglas Fir A Part of Chicago History

WoodStackWe recently reclaimed 67,000 board feet of Chicago’s manufacturing and industrial history from the A. Finkl & Sons steel mill. Douglas Fir timbers were extracted from the 1890s manufacturing plant that was centrally located in the Windy City along with several other steel forging factories. In 2007, an overseas firm purchased the company and the manufacturing plant moved to the southeast side of Chicago, leaving many of the historic buildings covering over 25 acres, vacant. As the demolition wrapped up in late 2014, crews ensured that nearly 90% of usable material was recycled.

finkl steel mill 2Over 450 of the reclaimed A. Finkl & Sons Douglas fir timbers were recently repurposed for a large timber frame project in Michigan. Available currently from this reclamation is a collection of 5 x 11 timbers. They are free of heart with original ‘sandblasted’ surfaces.

Along with our new-reclaimed Douglas fir, flowers on the property are also finding new homes. Beds of lilies and hydrangeas have been transported to other historic locations in the Chicago area to celebrate the once industrial valor of the area.

a finkl 3A. Finkl & Sons was founded by Anton Finkl, a German-born blacksmith that arrived in Chicago in 1872. In 1879, Finkl developed a new kind of chisel to clean bricks from buildings destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, creating a new business opportunity. As the business expanded into steel products, the company moved around the Chicago West Loop area, absorbing several existing properties along the way. Buildings that were constructed for Standard Oil and Cummings Foundry Company became additional puzzle pieces in the web of plants utilized by A. Finkl & Sons.

Let us know if you’re interested in the 5 x 11, free of heart, ‘sandblasted’ timbers.

Reclaimed Gym Flooring and Bleachers Puts Eco-Minded School Design Firm Ahead of the Class

Original gym flooring with reclaimed bleacher boards add character to the Ashley McGraw office in Syracuse, NY.

Original gym flooring with reclaimed bleacher boards add character to the Ashley McGraw office in Syracuse, NY.

We teamed up with a local architectural and interior design firm in Syracuse, NY  to make their workspace a little more playful for employees. Ashley McGraw Architects collaborated with us to bring reclaimed gym flooring and bleacher boards into their snazzy, newly remodeled office space.

The material was sourced from Geneva Middle School, just 55 miles from Ashley McGraw and 28 miles from our headquarters in Farmington, NY. “Sourcing this so close to our headquarters, from a gym I played sports in, was remarkable,” shares Jered, one of our reclaimed wood experts. “When Ashley McGraw reached out looking for reclaimed wood for their office remodel, I knew immediately that we had the right product. It is a great fit and it feels good when a local company gives reclaimed wood a second life.”

The gym flooring was reclaimed by Pioneer Millworks from Geneva Middle School in Geneva, NY.

Tony de-nails the gym flooring on-site as we reclaimed it from Geneva Middle School in Geneva, NY. While the planks are checked again at our mill, this initial de-nailing made packaging and shipping much more efficient.

Our friends at Ashley McGraw specialize in school design and were excited to bring iconic school building materials into their space. (They cherish their memories of sometimes winning a game of dodgeball and finding an okay square dancing partner.) The office remodel utilized Geneva Middle School bleachers and gym flooring. Original surfaces were maintained allowing the mixture of court lines and varying school-spirited colors to be celebrated. “It looks like confetti!” said Susan Angarano, Interior Designer with the firm. Tonal differences in the wood from the various schools helped create a border from the circulation spaces into the office areas at the company. Bleacher boards (sans bubble gum) were incorporated as screen walls and ceiling accents.

We salvaged the hard maple flooring and Douglas fir bleachers from the 1920s gymnasium during the building’s deconstruction last spring. As always, special attention was given to maintaining the original appearance of the wood, including surface finishes, bolt-holes, colors, and milling.

Reclaimed from educational institutions across the country, gym flooring can be re-installed as is, with the color schemes creating a random and playful reminder of its source.

Reclaimed from educational institutions across the country, gym flooring can be re-installed as is, with the color schemes creating a random and playful reminder of its source.

“Gym flooring is one of our most colorful reclaimed products with a history most folks quickly relate to,” says Jered. The painted planks from the gymnasium were sorted from the others and used in the circulation spaces of the office, while the remainder of flooring from two other schools was used in the materials library. The old gym flooring has varying lengths, some up to five feet long while the bleachers boards are up to sixteen feet long.

Reclaimed oak boards were used for wall cladding in the break room.

Reclaimed oak boards were used for wall cladding in the break room.

We’ve certainly found likeness in our commitment to sustainability and conserving the world’s resources. “Every day, we challenge ourselves to embrace the possibility of a fully sustainable world,” states Ashley McGraw. “Our contribution is schools and campuses that respect, support, and nurture the learning experience and work in concert with the earth and its resources.”

David Ashley and Ed McGraw founded Ashley McGraw Architects in Syracuse in 1981. Their work includes classrooms, laboratories, recreational, and residential buildings, as well as sustainability strategies and master plans for public and private primary, intermediate, secondary, and high education facilities.

Reclaimed oak boards were used for wall cladding in the entry way.

Reclaimed oak boards were used for wall cladding in the entry way.

Couldn’t do this in 1999



Our marketing department recently provided our shop with a new tool; this snazzy ipad! Safely encased in an industrial rubber sheath, it primarily hangs out with our moulder crew. When they begin milling a job, they lay out the first dozen or so finished boards, grab the ipad, and snap a few pictures. These pictures are immediately sent to our customer service department where they are put on file for future reference. Thanks Steve Jobs!

Sometimes though, the temptation to use it for less official purposes is too strong. Turns out, the ipad is a great companion for a leisurely walk through the yard on a friday afternoon. The time lapse feature is especially fun to play with.


Always innovating!


It isn’t a laser guided nail-pulling robotic spider, but this cool new custom tool was fabricated over the weekend to help our guys pull some feisty 8″ long nails out of Douglas Fir timber stock. Don’t be fooled by the pretty metallic red paint job; this tool has already proven itself to be a brutally effective. Of course this new tool was created by our full time blade-sharpener, chisel-grinder, chainsaw-tuner and master tinkerer – Carl Jensen.

“How does it work” you ask? We will reveal this secret later in the week with an exclusive video. In the meantime, send us your guesses. If you nail it, we’ll send you a prize (perhaps your very own mystery tool).

Kiln Drying: Get the moisture out!

We recently read an article in Hardwood Floors that gave some really good details on the kiln drying process and its importance to any wood flooring, reclaimed or fresh sawn. We were inspired to dig back in our archives to find a post about our drying process and the steps we take to control moisture. We’ve re-posted it below for your reading pleasure.

If you have a few extra minutes and enjoy knowing the details of manufacturing processes, you might also like to read the Hardwood Floor article.

Why Dry?

by Reclaimed Wood Expert Roblyn Powley

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about our kiln in the context of conservation (we use our scraps to fire our kiln, lessening our waste- how cool!) but you might wonder why our kiln is such a big deal at all.

“Pioneer Millworks, why do you dry your wood?”, we’re asked, “If it’s reclaimed, doesn’t that mean it’s already pretty dry?”   “Why do I care if it’s dried when I can buy reclaimed barn siding somewhere else for one dollar per square foot?!”

All good questions!

We dry all of the wood that we process into our beautiful reclaimed flooring, siding and wall paneling for a couple of very important reasons.  While it is true that reclaimed wood does tend to be drier than fresh sawn products, the raw materials we use are exposed to environmental moisture both at the original site and here at our facility.  This means the wood is not quite as dry as it could be, and probably not as dry as your home, or office or restaurant.  Our reclaimed planks are dried to a 6%-9% moisture content and ultimately this means that the material is more dimensionally stable when you receive it at your job site.  Wet wood shrinks when it loses moisture, and the more moisture it has to lose, the more dramatic the change.  This shrinkage can result in cracking and buckling after installation.  While all wood expands and contracts as it absorbs and loses a small percentage of moisture over the course of the seasons, it is the significant change that can cause the greatest problems or possible installation failure.

Drying the material also helps us maintain our quality milling.  With a consistent moisture content, we can generally be assured that we won’t have a batch of flooring that moves or shrinks to a greater degree than another while it is waiting to be milled or after the milling process.

The other big reason that we take kiln drying so seriously is the possibility of insect infestation.  No one wants to think about bugs in their barn siding, but old wood will very likely have, at some point, insects living in or on it.  It’s not a very exciting thing to talk about, but it’s a very real concern in the reclaimed wood industry.

The high heat of the kiln drives out and kills any insects that may be inhabiting our reclaimed materials.  Kiln drying, like all of the other parts of our production process contributes to material cost, but also ensures that reclaimed floor or paneling you install is product that you will be satisfied with.  And we really, really don’t want you to accidentally bring insects into your home (or office, or restaurant – yuck!).

Kiln drying is critical to the quality and value of our products and just one of the many ways we differ from others in the reclaimed wood market.  What other questions do you have about our processes and methods?  Is there anything else you’re curious about?  We love to talk about our products and what sets us apart from the rest…

Air Jordans (yawn), OMG check out those bleachers!

Sometimes I spend so much time laboring on a job that visiting the installed material can feel like a reunion with an old friend (or “frenemy” depending on how much stress the project imposed upon my life). That’s how I felt last week, when on a brief trip to Chicago, I was able to squeeze in a quick visit to an old bleacher project that consumed my summer of 2012.

NIKE 1As you can see, the installation looks quite handsome (no we did not make the sneaker/basketball chandelier). The intent of the client’s design was to replicate the look of a traditional wooden retractable bleacher wall and in my opinion this is perfectly accomplished.

Hinsdale Central Gymnasium (NXPowerLite)

This is the actual gym that we sourced the bleachers from.

Often the simplicity of a design masks the complexity required in its execution. The demands of this particular job were especially rigid and resulted in an epic team effort.

We successfully sourced nearly 10,000 square feet of material from a school that was local to the Chicago area. This material was shipped to our shop in Farmington, NY where we…

  • cleaned decades worth of gum off of every board, (this was full time work for several employees; we still have gum remnants on our shop floor)
  • ripped the bullnose edges off of half the stock and then re-attached these bullnose edges to the remaining material
  • milled a custom profile into the top and bottom of each assembled unit
  • backed each unit with 1/4″ Luan to achieve the requireed thickness
  • sanded and refinished each unit with three coats of polyurethane
F 10 in

The raw stock.

We frequently are involved in projects of large scope but few have required the level of precision that this job demanded.

As I surveyed the installed project, I could not help but feel a disconnect between the drama that permeates my memory of its production and the simple, unassuming appearance of the material in situ. I found myself wishing that I could have experienced this finished project in the company of all the other co-workers who labored in its execution. We could have shared our battle stories as we toured the site. Unfortunately it was just myself and a herd of holiday shoppers, who I suspect found the display of Air Jordan’s more compelling than the bleachers on the wall.

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On another note, I live with a daily reminder of these bleachers. Soon after the job completed I built a chicken coop in my garage. I used some of the left over bleacher scrap as paneling inside inside the coop. My hope was that the stenciled numbers would make my chickens more intelligent. It did; they escaped.


Anyhow, we still have some of these cool scraps in our shop. They are ripped to about 5″ wide and would add some real funk to any project. If you’re lucky, you might even find a remnant or two of juicy fruit stuck to the back.


This business isn’t always pretty.

Normal day at the office attire.

Acquisitions attire.

Acquisitions attire.

Acquisitions 2This week we spent one of the last beautiful days of autumn dismantling a local vinegar vat. While we’ve become pretty expert at this type of work, this vat in particular humbled us with 6″ of cider sludge at the bottom. We new fathers on the job could not help but to compare its consistency to diaper contents though I have to say that the smell was fouler.  Suffice to say that at the end of the day everything I wore ended up in the dumpster.

But don’t despair, after a thorough power washing, the wood that we brought back to our shop will likely make its way into a boutique women’s clothing store near you in short time!


This Post Has Not Been Approved By Our Marketing Department

We have a stellar marketing department. This dedicated crew of three work tirelessly to give our brand a clear and distinct presence in the growing reclaimed wood marketplace. Between designing new trade show booths, posting on Facebook, and fielding requests from industry publications, these guys also find time to maintain a bulletin board in the break room of our Farmington, NY mill. Every month or so this bulletin board gets updated with new pictures of recent finished projects. The intention is to share with employees the fruit of their daily blood sweat and tears. And if a visiting client stops to check out these handsome images on the way to the restroom, its an added bonus.

bulletin board


What they never anticipated, but have reluctantly come to tolerate, is that these images would be creatively bastardized by employees with nimble hands, company issued utility knives and a healthy (if not sometimes twisted) sense of humor. Here are some of my favorite collaborations-yes I’ve been saving and collecting what I consider to be the best of the best.

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Special thanks to our resident artists. You know who you are.