Meet the team featuring: Steve

Notorious for his sense of humor and discerning eye, Steve is great when you need to smile or need detailed expertise on wood finishes. He filled us in during a recent Q and A: forest fires, contracting, bluegrass music, and an unusual fear of antiques…read on for details. steve w laser
What do you like about living and working in Upstate NY?
The weather! No, not really. I dislike the weather here 10 months out of the year. I’m into 70 degrees with sun and we get that for just a few weeks per year…which does make those weeks extra special. Truthfully, the best part about our neck of the woods is that my family lives in the area. After traveling the country looking for a place to call home, my wife and I settled back here, where we grew up.

You’ve been part of our team for four years. What role did you start in and where are you now?
I started stacking boards and bundling at the end of the moulder line. I could read calipers so Dave C taught me how to setup and run the moulder. Some time later there was a need for a finishing crew leader. While I wasn’t a finishing expert, I like to lead and learn, so I spent months researching finishes, reading everything I could get my hands on – including scouring forums of flooring contractors who freely gave their opinions of different finishes.

It seems like just yesterday I ordered samples of several different waterborne polyurethanes and tested them all. I specifically tested for ease of application, scratch resistance, and availability – I obviously had to be able to get the product when needed! I shared with our larger team and we decided on Vermont Natural Coatings because of their commitment to the planet; their finish is really good; and it’s made in the USA. Win Win Win!!  (Specifically, Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey Floor Finish was engineered to take advantage of whey protein – a byproduct of the cheese industry. We can almost say that we are using a reclaimed product on a reclaimed product.)Steve promo pic

 monocoat finishing sp oakTJ and team finishingWhat is your team’s role?
I lead the finishing and samples departments  – we produce about 1,300 samples annually, many of them fully customized for individual projects. Last year we pre-finished 30% of all projects – that’s several hundred thousand board feet. We also have a laser etcher which is a fun tool for special customization like adding logos or phrases to various planks.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s your background with wood?
I graduated from the University of Vermont where I studied Forestry. I focused on forest ecosystem restoration – I wanted to repair damaged ecosystems, and restore Old-growth northern hardwood forests to the Northeast.

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Slade Hall, University of Vermont. Steve and co-habitants created daily vegan and vegetarian meals and lived a planet conscious lifestyle.

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Normally behind the camera during his Fire Line Sawyer days, Steve found one image of himself geared up in Yosemite.


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After college, I did what every forestry graduate does: I headed west to fight fire. I worked three fire seasons with the National Park Service, primarily working prescribed fires in California, Oregon, Nevada, and in the Everglades. I worked my way up to a Fire Effects Monitor and Fire Line Sawyer before calling it quits. I watched fire burn around the bases of the Sequoias, was dropped off in the Yosemite backcountry via helicopter, and took a boat through the everglades to torch 10,000 acres of sawgrass. Ah, to be that young again!

Immediately prior to Pioneer Millworks, I owned/ran a business installing tile and hardwood floors and doing light construction work. Overall, the workload was very up and down. Timing was right; Pioneer made the choice to leave my business very easy.

What about reclaimed wood appeals to you?
The idea that we reuse/repurpose wood that would have ended up in a landfill is very exciting to me. I am an active advocate for environmental causes and being able to work for a company that purposely limits it’s impact on the planet makes it very easy for me to come to work.

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Which product is your favorite?
My favorite product is Settlers’ Plank Mixed Oak. When sanded just right and oiled, to me it becomes the quintessential reclaimed floor. The richness, the mix of grain, the depth of patina, make it such a timeless floor.

On a side note, I would only use one product to finish this floor: Rubio Monocoat. By utilizing Monocoat you can be assured that you will never have to sand the floor to remove finish (like you would a poly or aluminum oxide) to fix a scratch, etc. Sanding would potentially destroy the original saw marks and coloration that make Settlers’ Plank what it is, so the finish is a key element.

What fun finishing story can you share with us?
Back when we used 2-component polyurethanes we would end up with some waste at the end of a job. Instead of disposing of the finish in liquid form, we would pour it into nitrile glove and let it set up overnight. You see, with a 2-component polyurethane, it has a pot-life of a few hours and then it begins to gel up and it eventually turns to a  firm rubber-like consistency. We would dry out the poly hands, and occasionally ship them in care packages to our salespeople across the nation. We wanted to offer them a helping hand. All in good humor!

IMG_7159What are your hobbies outside of work?
In the rare instance that I have a few minutes to myself, I love to play Clawhammer Banjo. I started out loving bluegrass music until I re-discovered Old-time Appalachian music. Old time music skips the lyric driven tunes of bluegrass and throws out the mandolin and finger picks on the banjo. It’s a simple kind of music with big sound and a driving rhythm that will make you dance all night. My wife and I have vowed to instill a musical sense into our daughter from the day she was born. She attended her first music festival at 10 months old – The Great Blue Heron Festival near Jamestown. As a rule, we’ve determined that any festival that hosts Donna the Buffalo, is likely going to be child-friendly and fun. Otherwise, with a 5-year old in my life, my evenings are spent painting, coloring, and reading. 

Family, a vital part of Steves story.

A family of nature lovers.


Care to share something quirky about yourself?
I have a phobia of antiques – in particular, newspapers, furniture, dinnerware, and especially eating utensils. You won’t find me at an antique store looking for treasures. How do I work with antique wood with this phobia? I don’t know but I do love reclaimed wood even if it is old.

(A few more images from Steve’s fire chasing days are below):

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Meet the team featuring: Josh

Josh has been a member of our team for over a decade. If there’s a forklift moving around in our yard, Josh is most likely driving as he handles all of our inventory. He’s as accurate as our inventory software when it comes to answering “what’s in the yard?” off the top of his head. After a little cajoling, Josh shared more about himself: 

josh hugs reclaimed timber 1How long have you been part of our team?
12 years! Pioneer Millworks and New Energy Works [our sister company] is a great community. We invest in our employees and I have had many opportunities to advance. I’m proud of our ethos and the incredible work we do.  Also, we’re always finding new sources of wood. Sometimes it’s a small batch of locally sourced material…other times, we find vast quantities and develop new product lines around them. The products themselves are ever-changing and that keeps things interesting.

What do you like about living and working in Upstate NY?
As someone who loves the outdoors, what’s not to love about the Finger Lakes? I love the geography here; the  hills, valleys, and glacial lakes…Not to mention, we’ve  got an inland sea just a few miles to the north. More importantly, I come from a large family and most of us live in the area.

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De-nailing and acquisition: Bryan, Josh, and Alex circa 200(?)

What’s your history with the company?
I started as an entry-level nail puller years ago. I’d just quit a horrible job and needed something temporary to pay the bills. I never thought I’d be here for over a decade, but it’s a great place!

What is your role on our team?
I supervise the yard/de-nailing team and manage our inventory. I’m also part of the acquisitions team.

JoshPeckWhat’s your favorite part of your job?
There’s always a challenging project going on, always something new and unexpected.

black and tan wall paneling pioneer millworks portland orWhich product is your favorite?
I’m terrible at choosing favorites. If I have to pick, right now, I’m really digging our Black & Tan [shown above in the 50/50 grade] I love when the wood has a story to tell.

AlexMSpeaking of stories, you must have a fun story or two from your years here…
Several years back Alex and I took a trip to Bethlehem, PA to load some industrial salvaged Heart Pine timbers and decking. Alex beat me at a game of pool that night and as a result I had to eat scrapple, and only scrapple, for breakfast the next morning. It was the first and only time I’ve eaten scrapple (a Pennsylvania breakfast staple apparently). When I ordered only scrapple the waitress gave me an incredulous look….I had to explain that I’d lost a bet. [Alex and Josh (above) remain friends and coworkers and still share the occasional ‘bet’.]

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When ‘hover cat’ stormed the Internet, we debated on replacing Josh’s forklift with this new ride…always a good sport, Josh still chuckles when we bring this photo up.

louie and JoshWhat are your hobbies outside of work?
Between keeping tabs on my 3 year old son and minor projects around the house we bought earlier this year, I haven’t had much spare time. Too many hobbies to list but a few big ones: I enjoy fishing, hiking, gardening, home brewing, and playing guitar.

What’s your favorite book?
I could never pick a favorite…there are just too many. A couple of the better things I’ve read recently are “Suttree” by Cormac McCarthy and “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman.

How would you describe it?

“How would you describe Pioneer Millworks and the beauty of our products to a blind person?” Our Japanese partners asked us this very question. After posing it to members of our team we asked them to reply anonymously. We are continually impressed with the thoughtfulness and creativity of our team and wanted to share with you:

(The images in this post are from our Twitter “Texture Tuesday” collection. We’re inspired by the character, colors, and macro views of wood we find in our mill, yard, and offices. We hope you enjoy them as well!)

img_7804“The wild of nature, brought in from the outdoors. Each piece has its own story to tell, its own scars and wrinkles from a long life before us. As a whole, it’s a complex mix of swirls and patterns, tones and textures that are as intoxicating to your senses as a bite of cold vanilla ice-cream and warm caramel syrup.”

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img_7936“What a tough and interesting question. It would change the answer if the blind person had had sight and lost it, versus having always been blind. If they’d had sight, we could assume they’d understand and remember things such as colors, or wood grain, or the width and lengths of wood and how they connect. I went with the assumption that they’d never had sight:

Pioneer Millworks has reclaimed over 26 million board feet of wood across the country from industrial and agricultural structures that are no longer in use and have often fallen into disrepair. The wood we reclaim is destined for landfills, burners, or to simply rot away. Part of the beauty of using Pioneer Millworks’ products is knowing you’re helping recycle and reuse; you have a hand in keeping our planet healthy.

There is beauty in the story each plank, joist, or timber holds. Some could tell of thousands of footfalls from young men earning a living building tractors, others could tell of women striding and sitting while operating embroidery machinery, others know the skill of artisans creating ornate tiles with heavy clay and bright glazes, while still others could speak to years of abundant harvest, of severe drought, of blistering summers, freezing winters, soft spring rains, and the gentle sounds of livestock settling as nights slid over the farm more than a hundred years ago. In our Oregon and New York mills each plank is studied and honored by our craftsmen as they trim, plane, mould, sand, and fulfill orders.

Character is beauty. The character of our antique wood hints to the stories of its past, of man and nature: tight grain patterns, deep patinas, original saw marks, ferrous staining with occasional nail holes, weathered surfaces, remnants of paint. Random length boards abut one another creating a harmonious mosaic on walls and floors. Beneath the bare foot a reclaimed wood floor is solid, cool, and smooth with a soft luster from our preferred natural oil/wax finish. To touch the surface offers interest of varying textures. From subtle grain ridges, flat knots, and softly curving marks where an old saw blade struck the log into planks, to deeply grooved, weather worn fascias.”

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img_8819“Our reclaimed wood emboldens projects effortlessly complementing every style.”

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img_9653“I would say our wood is warmer than most since it holds the souls of previous owners.”

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img_8819“Pioneer Millworks is a is a company of designers and craftspeople who work every day to provide wood flooring, paneling, timbers, and millwork, using wood salvaged from barns, warehouses, factories, shipping containers and more.  The products we craft from these 20 or more species of reclaimed wood are a mosaic of color and texture and exude the warmth and natural beauty that only hundreds of years of age can provide.”

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img_6335“Rough swirls of hard natural fibers in linear planks in a rage of gold to brown.”

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img_1954“I would talk about the texture, the combination of smooth and rough in our patina and skip planed floors. I would talk about how the scars of it’s previous life, those nail holes and insect marks, each little pin hole that interrupts the smooth surface of American Gothic, tell a story of a life of purpose and function.

I would talk about it’s durability under foot, the solid feel of the dense grain antique wood, the sturdy sound of it as you walk across the floor. I’d describe the smell- rich wood and sawdust, the warm smell of a natural oil finish. The silk-soft surface of a well burnished surface underfoot or in hand.”

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img_6732Pioneer Millworks is the vehicle by which our reclaimed wood comes to a second, or third, chapter in their story…telling the tales of where it has been, and its original intended use.  The texture of the saw marks, the bolt holes, and the mortise pockets are all physical examples and evidence of the story it wants to tell.  You can feel the history with your hands, poke your fingers in the holes and know it has a past.

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img_6403“Reclaimed wood is as wonderful to ponder and touch as it is on display. Sure, designers look to the relationship of hues to the room, but unlike paint or fabric or other surfaces, reclaimed wood is more than ‘tommy grey’ or ‘burnt brown.’ Imagine if you will, you have no vision or that color doesn’t matter. Reclaimed wood then becomes an adventure for the other senses. For your nose, a smell from another century, sometimes musty sometimes piney, and always earthy. (Sometimes when even our best wood experts can’t identify a species, we take out our knives to score through the patina and breathe in the newly exposed cells.) For touch, a myriad of adventures in texture lay before you  — you can travel up weathered ridges of alternating sapwood and heartwood, or follow small trails where tepid explorers once burrowed their way through the fibers, or pause at round and oblong pits where nails or bolts secured timber to timber. And if your fingers don’t find these signs of previous life, perhaps your hand will pass along perfectly parallel lines curving gracefully across the plank’s face, a rough memorial to a different era when craft was slow. Lastly, there’s the sense of heart and soul that is reclaimed wood. No two planks are the same (thank goodness!), some pieces endured decades, some centuries, of weather and wear, ready to start a new adventure. And in doing so, perhaps saving a new tree from mass consumption. While Stormy Grey may drive the choice, the real color is in the story.”

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Harmony on Hudson

harmony-on-hudson-imageWhen Greg & Dee approached us about their family’s timber frame retreat home we knew it was going to be fun. They had great plans and land with amazing views – but more, their goal was to create a home as environmentally friendly as possible. Eliminating VOCs and incorporating reclaimed and organic materials (plus a solar array) were “must have” elements. We recently had a chance to chat with Greg about life on the mountain:

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Expansive views of Catamount and Butternut Mountains enjoyed from the home.

 

“Well firstly, we loved the rich color and character we saw in the reclaimed timbers in the showroom,” explains Greg. “Now that they’re part of our home, we are so pleased that we went this direction.”

pmw-timbers-barn-siding-walnut-ent-ctr-and-floor_web_shGreg has a special affinity for a particular Douglas fir post near the kitchen. It isn’t uncommon to see him hugging the post on his way into the common areas. “Every time I come into the house after I haven’t been there for a while, there is a post that I wrap myself around and give a giant hug too. I’ve been known to give it a little smooch as well. I really do love this house.” We can relate. In fact, hugging, handling, smelling, and staring dreamily at wood is typical day-to-day around our mill and office.

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Our teams do love reclaimed wood!

“We wanted to use as much reclaimed wood as possible because it’s environmentally friendly and a healthier option for our family, but also just as important, we love the sustainability aspects of re-purposed wood,” Greg continued.

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img_4902wanut-floor_olsenWe learned that it would be common for Greg & Dee to have large gatherings and lots of cooks in the kitchen. Foot traffic would be heavy, but they live in a relaxed atmosphere, so shoes would be off. This type of living would be a good fit for Walnut as it is a softer hardwood. The rich coffee, purple, caramel, and tan toned wood flows throughout the main level of the home. “The Reclaimed Walnut floors are one of the best decisions that we made. We used a no VOC finish so they do require more care, but they are so beautiful that it’s totally worth it.” To balance out the darker floors, the custom NEWwoodworks cabinetry stays light.

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Reclaimed Walnut flooring meets American Prairie Taphouse siding and is joined by Reclaimed Maple/Beech furniture (crafted by NEWwoodworks).

The interior trim is Douglas fir which joins with American Prairie Taphouse reclaimed softwoods on the bedroom, entry, and stair walls. “We were initially concerned that with having too much wood, that decorative wood paneling on the interior walls could be overkill. Turns out the team at Pioneer Millworks suggested just the right amount and it ended up being the perfect complement to the interior of our home.”

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nww_stairs_web The custom stairs and railing were crafted by NEWwoodworks.

The stairs lead from the main level to a rec room, kid’s bedrooms, and an exercise room via Douglas fir and Walnut raisers and treads with a cable railing system.

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The lower level rec room includes an entertainment center crafted with Reclaimed Settlers' Plank Hardwoods and topped with Reclaimed Beech.

The lower level rec room includes an entertainment center crafted with Reclaimed Settlers’ Plank Hardwoods and topped with Reclaimed American Gothic hardwoods (crafted by NEWwoodworks).

The lower level features Reclaimed Teak, an incredibly durable species with rich, warm tones. “Choosing the reclaimed teak was an excellent decision for downstairs. We love the look and really appreciate how well it has stood up to heavy traffic from the kids, friends, and our gym.”

gamerm-teak-floor-rec-barn-siding-ceiling_web_sh“The rec room’s ‘as-found’ industrial salvaged timbers add a lot of fun and character to the space. Using them throughout the house would not meet our aesthetic desires, but in this room the timbers along with the reclaimed barn-wood on the ceiling definitely add to our house.”

olsen-reclaimed-softwoods-siding-pioneer-millworksWhen approaching the home it appears to have grown out of the land, to be part of the surrounding forest thanks in part to the exterior siding’s hard-earned natural tones. “Our favorite Pioneer Millworks element is the cladding on the exterior of the house. Perhaps more than any other feature, this multi-color, multi-textured wood sets the tone for the uniqueness of our home.”

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Homeowners Greg & Dee.

 

“One of our favorite things to do is wake up in the morning on a cold winter day and lean back and our chairs in front of the picture window and drink in the view with a nice warm blanket and a hot cup of coffee. If a mountain was able to give birth to a house, this would be the house.”

Thanks Greg, Dee, and family for letting us be part of your dream home!

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New Energy Works Timberframers (our sister company) designed Greg and Dee’s retreat home creating a layout with ample party space with unobstructed southern views of the Catamount and Butternut Mountains. They included screened and covered porches which blur the line between interior and exterior spaces. Their team enclosed the home with the high efficiency Matrix Wall System and SIP roof panels. This same group was also responsible for installing the American Prairie Reclaimed Siding. We work elbow to elbow with New Energy Works and are always thankful for how smoothly our combined projects go. Plus, they’re as wood obsessed as we are!

(If you’re interested in the whole story, Timber Home Living Magazine has followed this project from design to completion.)