Why Dry?

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!

The kiln at our Farmington, NY location is running day and night, all year long.

Our production team uses moisture meters to determine the moisture content of our reclaimed materials. There are different requirements for boards and timbers due to the material thickness.

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.

Our reclaimed boards are stacked and “stickered” prior to drying in the kiln- small pieces of wood are placed in between the layers as the boards are stacked to allow the heated air of the kiln to circulate around the material.

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!).

Powder Post Beetles are among the insects that we commonly find evidence of in reclaimed wood. The telltale holes and trails give the planks wonderful character – after the bugs are gone.

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…

Share

Reclaimed Gym Flooring Installation

Heart Pine in my studio.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a large commercial installation of some reclaimed Gym Floor. It was a good experience for me because the largest install that I had done to date was about 100 square feet of Premium Select Vertical Grain Heart Pine in a small studio of mine.

With our trusted friends Walter and Eric of Veteran Wood Floors, LLC., I witnessed, and lent a hand in, the laying down of over 15,000 square feet in a little over 3 days.

Three days was about how long I spent laying my studio floor. It was a very casual experience as I hand picked each piece and the whole floor was assembled like a precious puzzle.

Walter and Eric did not have that luxury. Time was of the essence. Aided by a crew of a dozen men working round the clock, the installation process was a relentless hustle where choices were made instinctively, on the fly.

Along with the original finish, various accent colors ranging from black to white, grey, yellow, green, orange, blue, purple, brown and red are left intact on this extremely durable grade.

 

Reclaimed Gym Floors require both a skilled hand during installation and an acute visual sensibility. Because the flooring is reused as-is (without any additional milling), gapping and irregularities are to be expected and the installer must be attentive to keep the rows straight. In addition, an effort must be made to keep the original paint markings evenly dispersed during installation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Layout, sorting, nailing.

 

Screening process.

Walter’s crew were installation pros. As one man nailed the flooring down, two guys would work ahead of him sorting and laying the pieces out.  At the end of each day, what had been installed was then screened, vacuumed and coated with single application of protective finish.

 

Screened floor.

 

Final Finish.

We installed a heavier mix of painted boards on the first floor.

The finished floor looks pretty wicked. It’s sporty, playful, durable, and one of a kind!

Nice work Veteran Wood Floors, LLC.

 

Share

Where Did This Reclaimed Timber Come From? Ask Nolan!

Nolan

Meet Nolan

This is Nolan. We met this summer while I was traveling in Alabama, sourcing reclaimed timbers for our sister company New Energy Works. It was 107 degrees in the town of Fayette where the demolition was underway of a former Union Underwear Inc. mill (makers of Fruit of the Loom). As I measured and photographed the timbers which had been carefully plucked from the wreckage, I was approached by an older gentleman in a white pick-up truck. I had seen him earlier driving around the site, chatting to the workers and keeping an eye on the activity, and had assumed that he was some sort of foreman or security employee. After a warm greeting he inquired as to what I was doing. We spoke and it turned out that he was not an employee of the demolition company, but rather a kindly man name Nolan who had retired from the mill in 1985 and had taken on the role of something akin to town historian. He lived nearby and liked to monitor the progress of the mill’s demolition. This day he was there to gather some bricks to add to his collection of mill memorabilia.

Reclaimed timbers

Union Underwear Inc. demolition site.

Our customers are constantly asking about the origin of the wood that they buy. Often we can tell them that it came from a barn in a neighboring state or a factory in a nearby city. When we meet a fellow like Nolan it’s like striking gold!

 

 

After showing this Yankee a southern trick for keeping cool (wearing a water soaked dish rag around your neck),

Here I am sporting some southern airconditioning (i.e. a wet dishrag around my neck).

Nolan headed home to have lunch with his wife and to see if he could dig up any pictures or documents related to the old mill. An hour later he returned with not only pictures and documents but also a bag of tomatoes, cucumbers and an ear of cooked and buttered corn wrapped in foil. I thanked him effusively for his generosity.

Upon my return to upstate NY, I received a manila envelope from Nolan filled with more documents which was followed by another delivery a month later.  This one contained photographs (including one picturing some massive catfish that Nolan caught this summer) and a sweet “Mystery Money Changer”.

I use it around the office to try and con folks out of a bill or two.

So what did I learn? The Union Underwear Inc. mill was built in 1921 as the Fayette Cotton Mill. The factory was built adjacent to the Brown Lumber Company. Logs were transported by rail to the lumber mill, sawn into hefty timbers (many as large as 9″ x 15″ x 26′), then used in the construction of the cotton mill next door. Nolan’s father worked at the lumber mill at this time and was sadly the victim of a fatal accident.

reclaimed timber source

old photo of the Fayette Cotton Mill

Nolan himself began work at the Cotton Mill in 1944 and except for the two years he spent in the service during the Korean war, worked there for 39 years. Since the mill closed in September 2003, the town of Fayette has certainly felt the loss of a major employer, but Nolan has made it a mission to keep the memories alive. Our correspondence continues, and we share what we learn with the clients who have given the wood from The Union Underwear Inc. mill a second life.

It should also be noted that the wood that we have reclaimed from this mill has been some of the nicest material we’ve seen in a long time. Just look at the dense grain in this beautiful Douglas Fir timber that we recently used for a job!

Thanks again Nolan.

 

 

Share

The Tables at TRATA

Back in the late 1990’s, we procured some of the most amazing timbers in North America. Quite different from the large timbers salvaged from warehouses and factories, these were used to form the lock gates on the Welland Canal which held back Lake Erie.

On the rails laid through the canal for construction, a pair of cranes flank a 50 foot flat car and lift a single timber into position.

That is not a typo. You can see for yourself in the above photo, the sheer size of the gates as they were being constructed. While we were used to big sticks, these behemoths were like nothing anyone had ever seen — 37″ x 42″ x 45′ in length, in a single piece of Douglas Fir.

Timing is everything, and our sister company, New Energy Works, was just getting into the construction of a restaurant with a nautical theme, Steamboat Landing in nearby Canandaigua, NY. All but two of these beasts were used in that project, right down to the sideboards being cut into trim around the windows & doors. The last two timbers remained here at our shop, waiting to be used in a form that would respect their size and the trees in Western Canada from where they were harvested.

Two timbers + plenty of bolts = a single truckload.

Earlier this year, we cut a length off for shipment to our shop in Oregon and we were reminded of how unique and special these timbers really are. After being submerged for nearly 100 year the colors and staining through the timbers were nothing short of magical.

Try to count the rings – on some of the timbers, we lost count somewhere well past 300.

Not long afterward, a great client of mine came by and we were discussing the perfect slabs to use for tables in his new restaurant. We thought about some large joists from a barn, but they weren’t big enough. Huge timbers from a warehouse would look fantastic and have a great story to tell, but again, they just didn’t have the girth he wanted from a single slab. Then I remembered the Welland Canal timbers. We hadn’t even gotten within arms length and he already knew these were perfect.

After cutting a section off the main timber, we used an Alaskan Mill to slice the pieces to rough thickness.

The huge bolts which were used to mount a 12″ thick “bumper” left significant staining through the entire timber.

Once rough-cut, they were planed down to the finished thickness, leaving the edges just as they had aged. A crew of many unloaded and set the slabs onto their steel bases on the site, then sanded and finished the pieces to perfection. The results speak for themselves:

Table for twelve, please.

 

At 5 1/2″ x 29″ x 120″, they’re the largest single slabs we’ve ever cut for a table, making a perfect compliment to the rugged tones of our barn siding within the restaurant. Rounding out the decor (pun intended), thick, curved wine barrel staves were used to create an accent on the wall as you enter the space. If you’re in Rochester, stop by TRATA, The Restaurant At The Armory, and check out the fruits of our labor over some fantastic cuisine and a lovely beverage. Don’t be afraid to stare at those tables — they’re hard to miss.

Share