I recently completed installation of some new counter tops in my kitchen renovation at home. After seeing some of our bowling alleys being cut down for tables in a restaurant, I knew they would be perfect.
The angled holes from the old lag bolts are visible at the edges, along with a shimmering steel cleat that became exposed during sanding. Did you know bowling alleys are nailed together one strip at a time?
The colors play well from the nearly-black dark brown cabinets, the tile, and the rich leathery tones of the flooring. Talk about durable – 2 1/4″ of solid hard Maple finished with a butcher block oil – these will hold up for generations, and only get better with age.
The light tone of the Maple helps to brighten the space and balance out the darker colors.
The foul line markings were positioned at the end of the slab over the bookshelves where they are easily noticed, along with the collection of Alton Brown books.
We’ve got a lot more of these here at Pioneer Millworks, in both Maple and Heart Pine. Want a counter top with a story to tell? Give us a call – we’ll make sure your project scores a perfect 300.
Mineral & wine stains, natural color variations, and clean grain makes reclaimed wine vat stock a favorite for paneling, cabinetry, doors, shelving, fixtures, and more.
We are fortunate to have a major wine production facility just down the road from our Farmington, New York shop. As part of their long-term modernization plan, we are called every 3 or 4 years to dismantle some decommissioned wine vats. The work is arduous but the wood that we are able to reclaim from these vats is well worth the labor.
The 17 foot high wine barrels provide some of our favorite board stock, complete with deep patina and character and even the faint aroma of the wine they used to house.
Over the past ten years we’ve gotten some beautifully patina’d redwood, cypress, Douglas fir & white oak.
Having participated in two of the four scheduled vat deconstructions, I am always quick to share tales of the epic labors involved in the acquisition whenever someone expresses interest in the material.
For starters, the barrels are 17′ tall. They are spaced less than two feet apart and are typically located deep in the labyrinth-like recesses of a fully functioning production facility.
Each barrel is disassembled with the help of a pneumatic impact wrench, a sawzall, an electric grinder and our favorite tool – the sledge hammer!
This past summer, when we were asked to remove eight vats, we enlisted two members of New Energy Works (our sister company) to assist with the deconstruction. Andy and Matt, being timberframers, were accustomed to working at heights and were equipped with the safety harnesses. To their delight, they were given the responsibility for cutting loose and dropping the ceiling of each barrel.
In July, upstate NY temperatures typically reach the mid 80′s, but atop the vats our crew sweated through temperatures in the high 90′s and labored in grime and dust that had accumulated over 70+ years. It was not glamorous work.
After the ceiling was dropped we began dismantling the steel ribs that keep all the wooden staves cinched together. Two ribs were always left intact towards the bottom to prevent the entire vat from potentially collapsing outwards.
The most physically taxing task for each barrel was knocking the first stave out with the sledge hammer. Because the vats fit together so tightly, the hammer was passed from one fatigued hand to another until the stave had been loosened enough to pry out.
Once this was accomplished we could begin the adrenaline inducing process of knocking individual (or sometime groups of) staves loose and then “guiding” them as they fell inwards. It was not always graceful but it was always thrilling.
After the wood staves and steel ribs were carted out on a converted drywall dolly, all that was left was to dismantle the base.
Eight days later: Job complete!
Split in half, the staves show clear evidence of their pedigree. The exterior boards exhibit a dark patina with perpendicular markings left by the steel ribs. The interior boards retain a red/pinkish stain left from 70+ years of having been a vessel for millions of gallons of Finger Lakes Wine.
Wine vat stock, lightly planed (alternating exterior and interior boards).
You don’t have to be a wine fanatic to appreciate this reclaimed wood. It’s beautiful and has a vivid story to tell.
For the past couple of months I’ve been working with a residential client on her sun-room addition. We started talking about rustic flooring, then moved on to paneling, trim and mantles for a two sided fireplace. By the time the details were worked out and measurements settled, the time frame for the project had become quite tight.
Thankfully, between our large volume of timber stock and the greatest team of dedicated craftsmen in the industry, we’ve now got the client’s order milled, finished, packed, and ready to go. It will deliver to her home today, just before our shop closes for the long holiday weekend.
These long planks of custom milled bead board (center and left) are waiting for their final coat of Tung Oil to be applied. The American Gothic grade was selected for the walls to complement the texture and character of the Settlers’ Plank flooring (right of image).
Given that the average amount of time an American spends working at a single company is 4.1 years, an employee who has delivered 18+ years of solid performance to a company deserves commendation. Our man Calvin has been elbow deep in reclaimed wood since 1994. No longer the wild whipper-snapper who joined Pioneer Millworks in the pre-Internet-Age, Cal has grown into one of the mill’s respected patriarchs.
Need to know how to provide maintenance to our 500lb planer? Ask Cal. Not quite sure how to sort for our many grades of Heart Pine? Ask Cal. Want to hear a juicy story about some dude who used to work in the shop ten years before anyone else in the room even set foot in the mill? Pull up a seat next to Cal and prepare yourself for an epic tale. Generous and knowledgeable, Cal has been an invaluable resource to the younger generation of millworkers who are more often than not newcomers to the reclaimed wood industry.
He’s fine-tuning the new Mattison.
As the principal operator of our Mattison straight-line saw, he has handled nearly every barn board that has passed through our shop in the past 5 years. Ever eyeing for the greatest yield and potential in each individual board, Cal processes material with the speed and expertise that in no small way contributes to Pioneer Millworks’ ability to maintain its place at the top of the industry.
Cal in Taiwan
Recently returned from a two week vacation in Taiwan, Cal has currently been busy taming a new Mattison which was upgraded in his absence. Come swing by our shop in Farmington, NY. Take a tour of the mill and meet this longstanding member of our family!
Rather than defecting out bolt holes, why not make them an integral part of the design? Old meets new, rough meets clean, dull meets shiny.
The old adage in retail construction is “Everything changes, except for the opening date.” This is incredibly true, and despite all the planning in the world, sometimes there’s just not a lot of time to pull a project together. Recently, one of our customers needed 40 sf of custom T&G for a wall panel for a new store overseas, and it had to be in a container 48 hours from the beginning of the conversation. Within 3 hours, we had the stock milled, packaged, and ready to be picked up by UPS, who got it to the container terminal with time to spare. It’s in our DNA to jump through hoops. We know that even a small quantity such as this can make or break the visual impact of a design. We’re continually honing our ability to recommend a material that we know will work with the design, be logical to mill to order, and ship out quickly.
To most, it is a stack of old wood. To our trained eyes, it is a stack of possibilities. How would you use these recycled wine vats?
Each project presents us with opportunities for using materials in our vast stock to make every installation special. We don’t limit ourselves to what is seen on our extensive website, although there are plenty of options available. Our team of sales people, hail from design & construction backgrounds and enjoy finding the perfect wood to set the project apart. A recent restaurant installation in Rochester NY is a great example of this type of effort. Looking beyond the original use of the wood as trusses in a factory, I worked with the owner to develop these planks which celebrate the history of the wood, right down to the old shear ring marks surrounding the bolt holes.
Our teams works seamlessly together allowing for fast project fulfillment, handling the occasional “wood emergency” with ease.
Of course, if we cant get a product to the job site efficiently then none of our work matters. Commercial construction often mandates deliveries be made at times well before the opening of the mall, or while traffic is at a minimum on city streets. Our shipping coordinator, Renee Knowles, has assembled a team of transportation providers that go above and beyond to work with strict delivery requirements. Need a 4 am delivery? No problem. Accurate documentation, communication with the job site and trucking company, and easy-to-manage packaging make it easy.
Clear labels on our protective lumber wrap help the job site know where to direct every skid during hectic offloads.
What challenges do you face in your projects when it comes to selecting reclaimed wood? Let us know, and we can help you hit your opening date. Because we completely understand – it is the one thing that never changes.
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…
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.
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.
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!
Brian Dwyer and the other founders of Pizza Brain. From left: Ryan Anderson, Joseph Hunter, Brian Dwyer and Michael Carter. (Photo by Brian Dwyer)
Brian Dwyer has earned himself a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as a purveyor of the largest collection of pizza memorabilia. Incorporating our reclaimed wood into his one-of-a-kind project also earned him a spot here, on our blog.
Brian and his partners recently opened the world’s first pizza museum and pizzeria in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia called Pizza Brain. I got the chance to work with them on their totally unique project.
I met the Pizza Brain team early on in the construction process and it was clear to me they wanted to incorporate as much reclaimed material as they could back into the museum/restaurant.
Our Settlers Plank reclaimed mixed hardwood flooring joined a tin ceiling which had been reclaimed from a nearby church, and the team even used discarded pianos to build the pizza bar! There is truly a long list of reclaimed products throughout the space – and that’s not even counting the pizza museum memorabilia pieces.
I stopped by the other day (captured a few images) and had lunch with one of the owners. Great food!!
Display cases built into the floor house pizza memorabilia which are frequently rearranged and refreshed. (The display case in the floor near me housed pizza related dolls!)
As I sat eating a piece of pizza, I noticed my eyes were drawn to the floor. And it wasn’t just because of the rich browns, golds, tans, reds – the original wear marks, knots, saw marks, nail holes – but I was enamored with the display cases which are recessed into the floor. There are several displays scattered in the Settlers Plank mixed hardwoods. Each hold various pieces of pizza history and commercialization. They add to the uniqueness of this place.
Settlers’ Plank reclaimed mixed hardwoods offered just the right texture, durability, history, and visual interest the Pizza Brain team was looking for.
Brian Dwyer plans on constantly rotating the museum collection within the space, so each visit will be different from the last. The next time I’m in for a slice, I can’t wait to glance at the floor and see what’s on display.
Pizza Brain is connected to Little Baby’s Ice Cream that also incorporated the Settlers Plank mixed hardwoods reclaimed flooring throughout their parlor. They offer plenty of unusual ice cream flavors including, of course, “pizza”. On my next visit, I plan on sampling the Maryland barbecue flavor which combines Old Bay mixed with barbecue sauce. Sounds delicious!
I was watching a documentary over the weekend about plastic and waste. Among the many eye-opening pieces of information in the film, there was a discussion about recycling and how much of the material that we think is recyclable or is being recycled ends up in the waste stream, or worse – in our natural environment. I consider myself to be pretty educated about these kinds of things, but it really made me consider the waste I make that doesn’t go away. As I was watching images of plastic scraps swirling in the Pacific Ocean, it got me thinking about what we do here every day and the fact that I can see exactly what happens to the wood products that we reclaim. It all starts at the very beginning of our process: when we reclaim material from an old barn or industrial demolition site it instantly prevents a large volume of wood from heading to the landfill.
This exotic Indonesian hardwood blend is a perfect example of what can be created with the rough, as-found faces of recycled wood. Here spaces are divided and texture is created by these walls of a popular coffee shop.
The character in our reclaimed wood floors and other products is not only part of their beauty, but it also allows us to maximize our use and minimize our waste. Our wide plank floors come from large agricultural and industrial timbers, the mid-sized planks come from smaller items, or those pieces with damaged edges that can’t be saved. Our rustic flooring grades make use of the original faces and saw marks that history has provided, celebrating this patina rather than throwing it away.
Our Dust Collector pulls the sawdust from the shop and chipper so it can be sent for processing into pellets.
And with the waste – the broken ends, the boards with knotholes that are too big to salvage or the dry-rot we find when we cut in to something – we fire our clean burning, high efficiency boilers, we power the kiln that dries our wood and we heat our offices. The sawdust and small scraps are ground down and sent to become the compressed pellets used in pellet stoves. Even the metal scraps our de-nailers remove from every piece of wood are recycled.
All metal must be removed from our wood prior to any other processing. These old nails, nuts and bolts are also sent for recycling.
So while I slowly work to try to minimize my own dependence on the disposable, I’m thrilled to look around every day and know that we are taking care to account for the waste that we generate and ensuring that we’re not contributing to a landfill or litter.
We’re pretty proud of it- 21 Million board feet (and counting)!
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.
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.
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!