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.

photo 2 (54)

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.

Cal 10 Cal 2 Cal 9 Cal 8 Cal 7 Cal 6 Cal 5 Cal 4 Cal 3


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

Carl Jensen

One of the most frequent questions that I’m asked about our company is how we deal with all the nails that come to us in the reclaimed wood that we buy. I usually answer by singing the praises of our de-nailing crew who work outdoors, year round, using metal detectors, chisels,  hammers and a custom tool that we call a “slide grip” to prepare material for the saws. But the reality is that, as good as our crew is, a few nails still find their way into our mill -and boy can they do a number on a saw blade! When a nail sneaks into the mill, the first place that it is likely to make itself know is at the Head Saw or Re-Saw. Anyone who has worked in the mill longer than a week will recognize the distinctive loud pop and snap of the band saw blade breaking. Most of us cringe at this sound but Carl Jensen smirks through his beard in delight. That’s because Carl is our full time blade-sharpener, chisel-grinder, chainsaw-tuner and master tinkerer. He’s got an arsenal of sharpened band saw blades in arms reach so that the saw will be up and running again before you can say “down time”.

Carl 8

Carl 9










The “slide grip” that I mentioned earlier: Carl invented it. He has also been fabricating them for us for nearly two decades. Just clamp the “slide grip” on that ‘ol rusted nail and a yank or two will bust it free from the gnarliest barn timber you can bring us.


slide grip

Band saw blade sharpener.

Band saw blade sharpener.

Tooth straightener.

Tooth straightener.

Pass through this door to enter Carl's workshop.

Pass through this door to enter Carl’s workshop.

Food for thought when sharpening.

Food for thought when sharpening.

These teeth are sharp.

These teeth have a bite!

Short and wide chisels and long and narrow chisels. A chisel for every occasion!

Short and wide chisels and long and narrow chisels. A chisel for every occasion!

Carl's custom stool.

Carl’s custom stool.


Mushroom Boards

Mushroom-Walking-80580Though Joe citizen isn’t swinging by the Home Depot to buy “mushroom boards”, in the reclaimed wood industry this material has become a staple product for many businesses. Pioneer Millworks however, hasn’t traded in mushroom boards in nearly a decade. That doesn’t mean that if the right opportunity arises, we won’t jump at an opportunity to add this cool wood to our East Coast and West Coast Inventory.

Mushroom boards

In this case, the opportunity came to us in the form of the the old Franklin Mushroom Farm which is currently being re-purposed as the Washington County Agri-Business Park. Last week, over the course of three days we stacked, banded and shipped over 50,000 square feet of this textured product.

Mushroom 6 Mushroom 3 Mushroom 1Mushroom 4

So what is this “mushroom board”? Well, as I understand it, these hemlock boards were loaded with straw and manure and seeded with spores. As the mushrooms grew, they consumed the softer tissue of these boards thereby leaving behind a surface that looks heavily weathered. The dark brown patina, black staining and expressive grain pattern make these boards look remarkably like old chestnut (sans the wormholes). The face that was not ravaged by fungi retains the original circle-saw marks.

The morel of the story:

As far as consistent, textured paneling products go, this material is the Shit-ake!


Building Products Dealer Profile

Building Products recently caught Jonathan for an interview where he shared Pioneer Millworks’ and New Energy Works Timberframers‘ history, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. You can read the article below, or live on their website.


Dealer Profile: Pioneer Millworks

Restaurants are frequent customers, such as for this reclaimed American Gothic Oak in an Upstate New York eatery.

Restaurants are frequent customers, such as for this reclaimed American Gothic Oak in an Upstate New York eatery.


Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. Well, in this case, the light bulb flashed in the brain not of a mom, but a dad.
Jonathan Orpin, founder and president of Pioneer Millworks, Farmington, N.Y., owned (and still owns) New Energy Works Timber Framers, based in Farmington, and, of course procuring wood for its operation was front of mind. “It was important to look for a stable timber source for the framing business,” Orpin explains, gazing back, “and this part of New York State had always used a certain amount of agricultural timbers.”
So, he reasoned—the light bulb moment—why not reclaim that vintage wood for modern use?
Thus, in 1988, Pioneer Millworks was launched “in a small, ramshackle building in a town not that much bigger,” looking to specialize in salvaged flooring.
“I liked the idea of using timber 50 to 100 years old—material that had undergone a slow drying process, which provided stable lumber. And that wood ended up with a story to tell,” he shares. “There were barns going down—I hate that, but at least we could give that wood new life. Here, in the classic rust belt of America, lots of buildings were built with big timbers. Plus, there’s the environmental aspect of it: Through Pioneer Millworks, the world has gained 23 million bd. ft. of lumber that would have ended up as landfill. We’ve become a major player in changing that direction, converting it for use in homes, restaurants, offices: gorgeous applications.” (A look at the photo gallery on the company’s website backs up his claim.)
That 23 million ft. breaks down into 1,042,000 bd. ft. saved a year, which, Orpin is quick to do the math, would fill a lineup of semis, bumper to bumper, for over 32 miles.
Sounds like a no-brainer start-up. Easy, right? Trust me (and him): It wasn’t. Another facet of the website plays homage to scores of big, complicated and expensive-looking machines resting on Pioneer’s nine-acre site. “We started on the cheap, bootstrapping as we went, buying used equipment. We got word of timber needed for a New Energy project, but we were required to buy the whole building, so we developed ways to use everything, even the sawdust”—it segues into animal bedding—“and chunks, which heated our kiln.”
Pioneer Millworks took hold and grew. Today, the two operations exist side by side, sharing administration and communications, but not manufacturing. “The child became more powerful than the parent. We’re our own best customer,” Orpin states. “We got the word out, one project at a time, as the cliché goes: timber framing that uses our own reclaimed wood in projects—a strong, built-in client.”
Pioneer sells to builders, remodelers and flooring contractors, primarily through its website (there’s no showroom), shipping nationwide. Architects and interior designers prove pivotal in influencing the homeowner’s or building owner’s decisions: “Highly refined design & build clients ask for it,” Orpin explains,” because it’s an attractive alternative to boring bamboo or the oak flooring of a chain restaurant. People love it because there’s a natural honesty to it; plus the amazing textures, with natural variations. And the environmental aspect—we’re not ruining any rainforests. And, of course, there’s the story”—the romance is provided—“behind its former use. These clients are thrilled, so it becomes fun.”
Products offered include timber, barn siding, paneling, countertops, and more. And that timber—awesome in its diversity and lineage—is cherry-picked: over 50 species, grades and specialty items, including teak from a dilapidated Indonesian structure; antique heart pine from a 1905 mill complex; oak from a coal plant of the 1800s; reclaimed hickory, with its contrasting knots and sapwood “that wears well—suitable for dogs and kids;” salvaged bowling lanes; FSC-certified recycled wood panels geared for quick and easy installation, even pairings of engineered wood and antique flooring. And cold storage oak—the Holy Grail of reclaimed wood—white oak flooring from a long-ago cold storage facility.
Projects range from a Manhattan restaurant utilizing a reclaimed gym floor from a Minnesota high school to the Wolverine company store in New York, using old planks salvaged for re-use as wall cladding: “lots of residences, restaurants. And offices: all the progressive, high-tech San Francisco firms. If you can name them, we’ve probably done the wood.” What sells best? “Weathered, rugged wood, and wood with a story.”
And how about supply vs. demand? “It’s always variable, always a challenge, but our supply channels are well-oiled.” (He’s got a network of scouts out sleuthing potential barns or what-have-you, but if he told me more, he’d have to kill me.) Pioneer employs a staff of 40—“good workers, thoughtful, smart—and they care about the environment.” Pioneer’s website personalizes the crew, complete with candid photos and homey bios, thanks to a strong marketing program. “It’s done in-house because we have a complex and personal story to tell,” the boss explains.
Margins must be golden for the highly-coveted antique wood, right? Wrong. “It’s a complex and difficult business,” Orpin claims. “It’s heavily labor-intensive—extracting nails located with a metal detector, for instance. There’s lots of waste, plus complex customer interactions, so we struggle with margins. They’re very, very tight.”
Adding to that challenge is the reality of competition out there—“half a dozen strong national companies and a hundred smaller regional players,” he tallies. So then, why does Pioneer continue to flourish? “Service! We’re very service-oriented,” Orpin is quick to respond. “We come from a custom-design background, so we’re adept at creative solutions. And we serve the hell out of folks: quick turnaround, quick delivery, good communication.
“Over the past 10 years customers have begun demanding delivery yesterday. So we keep a multi-million-dollar inventory on hand. An order can be for the 70,000 sq. ft. that a university recently needed, or just 70 ft. of trim. (We have a $100 minimum.)”
Pioneer, like the rest of us, was buffeted by the recent recession—“Sure, it hurt. But we made a point of no layoffs, no cuts in salaries or benefits. But we tightened margins; we did what we had to do to survive.” And business is not only back—it’s booming. “Last year was our best year ever—up 14%—and this year, even more! Another 14%!”
So, to keep things interesting, Orpin recently chose to open a second location on the opposite coast—a three-acre establishment in Portland, Or.—“for personal growth,” he explains. “In New York, I’m not needed as much on a day-to-day basis. So, I was looking for new mountains to climb. Plus, we have many Pacific Coast clients and do some salvaging out there.” Another light bulb moment.