Re-Reclaimed: 500 year-old timbers begin their third life

We’re a bit wood obsessed (yeah, we know it’s pretty obvious!) and we are often infatuated with the character and history of antique, reclaimed wood. When that wood happens to be massive, 37″ x 42″ x 48′ timbers that were at least 400 years old when the trees were harvested, we’re all staggered. These timbers, originally from the Welland Canal Lock, have become one of our most iconic reclamation and reuse stories. Today they are in their fourth life (or third use) at Point of the Bluff Vineyards in the Finger Lakes Region of NY. But first, a little history: 

37″ x 42″ x 48′ timbers from the Welland Canal Lock. The trees were at least 400 years old when they were harvested in the early 1900’s. 


The falls and rapids of the Niagara River presented a major obstacle for an uninterrupted waterway from the Atlantic Ocean to the American heartland. To circumvent the river, the Welland Canal, with its eight large locks, was built. Initiated by local businessmen, the first canal was built in 1829. The present-day Welland Canal is the fourth to be constructed. The difference of 99.5 m (326.5 feet) between the levels of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie is now overcome with 43.4 km (27 miles) of canal.

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Heavy Timber. Trending for 200+ Years.

Heavy timber construction has been around for centuries. Timber is near to our hearts as we got our start making flooring with off-cuts from our sister company’s timber frame projects. For nearly 30 years our buyers, sales folks, and sawyers have worked with timbers. We supply structural timbers, accent beams, mantles, and anything else you need.

We inventory thousands of beams in our yards in McMinnville, OR and Farmington, NY.

These antique timbers are sourced from agricultural and industrial structures that have outlived their use. Some have hand-hewn surfaces, some are rough-sawn, others may feature various colors of paint. All served as the bones of old buildings, many a vital part of the industrial revolution or family farm, and all are ready for their next evolution.

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Reclaiming from the Iconic Centennial Mills in Portland, OR

Douglas fir timbers reclaimed from Centennial Mills.

Douglas fir timbers reclaimed from Centennial Mills.

We’re salvaging 400,000 board feet of timbers and planks during the selective deconstruction of Centennial Mills in Portland, Oregon. Deconstruction of five warehouses and several old grain elevators, deemed beyond repair and unsafe, began in September 2015 and is expected to be complete by June 2016. To date, seven tractor-trailer loads of Douglas fir timbers and cribbing planks have been transported to our McMinnville, Oregon yard.

“Ideally, we’ll be working to get as much of the reclaimed material back into the Portland market as possible,” said Jonathan our president and founder. We’ll have samples on hand in our design studio in Portland, OR.

Dismantling one of the grain elevators at the mill.

Dismantling one of the grain elevators at the mill.

“Some of the wood can be re-used as heavy timber and beams, while some will be re-milled for use as paneling or flooring,” continued Jonathan. (You can read more on the history of the mill on our Unearth the Story page.)

Centennial Mills, Portland OR

Centennial Mills, Portland OR

The Centennial Mills site is owned by the Portland Development Commission (PDC) and lies within Portland’s River District urban renewal area. “Working with Pioneer Millworks enabled us to streamline the salvage process, ensure the repurposing of as much material as possible, and return funds to the project budget,” said PDC Executive Director Patrick Quinton. “We view this as a very successful partnership and look forward to hearing about how and where Centennial Mills materials live on throughout the Northwest.”

Originally we hoped to salvage about 800,000 board feet of timber from the Centennial Mills site. However, due to rot and the difficult cost benefits of saving all the smaller pieces, that number has been reduced. We continue to work towards salvaging more of the wood, but politics make things sticky. The salvaged wood is of an exceptional grain quality and we’re excited to share it with our customers.

First stages of removal of a grain elevator at Centennial Mills.

First stages of removal of a grain elevator at Centennial Mills.

After passing an emergency declaration in December 2014 relating to the condition of Centennial Mills, the PDC enlisted Tigard, OR-based Northwest Demolition & Dismantling for the selective demolition and salvage of the property. Demolition of Warehouses A, B, C, D, and F as well as Elevators A, B, and C began the first week of October 2015 and is scheduled to conclude in June 2016. The subsequent phase is slated to begin in July 2016.

If you’re interested in helping keep some of this historic wood in Portland, or if you have a great project that will give it new life, let us know. We’d be happy to provide samples.

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Custom Eco-Friendly Engineered Floor Made from Reclaimed Bleacher Boards

Here at Pioneer Millworks we have a menu of more than 50 standard products. But we continue to push the envelope and work with clients who come to us with their own unique vision. In fact, nearly half of all the jobs we do each year are custom. We love these partnerships into uncharted waters and all the challenges that they entail. The extra sweat and tears spent in the production of these orders often leaves us feeling especially proud of the end results.

One recent custom order of which passed through nearly every hand in our shop was 8,000 square feet of Eco-Friendly Engineered Floor made from Reclaimed Douglas Fir Bleachers. Destined for a large corporate headquarters in California, here is what was involved:

  1. Bleachers were sourced from across the nation, from Webster, New York to Portland, Oregon and numerous stops in-between. Because only solid Douglas Fir bleachers could be used for this order, our acquisitions team traveled across the country to find the perfect stock. This was something of a treasure hunt as most bleachers that were installed in the last 50 years are plastic, pine or laminates. Bleacher - 0
    reclaimed bleacher board art pioneer millworks

    Some of the gum and graffiti we found on our collection of boards.

    Bleacher - 1Bleacher - 2
    2.After the bleachers were cut to 8′ lengths (the length of the plywood), we fully surfaced each board in our moulder and put them in our kiln for several days. This brought all the wood to a consistent moisture content and killed any nasty fungus that might have resided after decades of sweaty gym shorts leaving their mark (we learned this the hard way).Bleacher - 3Bleacher - 4Bleacher - 5

  2. The holes left from the original carriage bolts which once secured the bleachers to a metal frame, are drilled out and filled with custom plugs. Our detail oriented crew did an exceptional job matching the grain of the plugs to the grain of each board. Bleacher - 6Bleacher - 7Bleacher - 8Bleacher - 9Bleacher - 10Bleacher - 11
  3. Once plugged, each board was again surfaced in the moulder and then run through our frame saw. Here, a series of blades sawed each board into three thin wear layers.
    Bleacher - 12

    Going in.

    Coming out.

    Coming out.

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  4. On our glue line, each wear layer was carefully adhered to a FSC Baltic Birch plywood substrate. Bleacher - 15Bleacher - 16Bleacher - 17
  5. Finally, these glued-up boards were run through the moulder a third and final time where the tongue and groove was milled. After defecting out any remaining irregularities, each board was end-matched and stacked to ship. Bleacher - 18Bleacher - 19Bleacher - 20Bleacher - 21Bleacher - 22Bleacher - 23Bleacher - 24

I think that it is safe to say that everyone involved in the project is especially proud of this beautiful one of a kind floor. Keep the custom projects coming!

 

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