by Jon M. Casey
For C&D contractors who demolish old barns, timber framed factories and other buildings dating back to the 19th century, sending the wood to a landfill or grinding it into mulch are not the only options that they have for disposing it. They might want to consider recycling it through Pioneer Millworks, a national reclaimed wood recycling company headquartered in Farmington, NY with a west coast branch in Portland, OR. For more than 20 years, contractors have been able to salvage their structural timber, barn siding and other desirable wood waste items, turning them into new products such as flooring, siding, paneling and cabinetry with the help of Pioneer Millworks.
“Our goal is to see that these old timbers and barn siding materials do not end up in a landfill,” said Michele Caryl, as we began a tour of the Pioneer Millworks facility recently. Michele, who serves as acquisition manager for the company, said that while it is challenging to find the kind of wood that they need to meet their customer’s needs, much of it comes from east of the Mississippi River since that is where most of the older buildings built with large timber framework, are located. She said that her past years of experience as the owner of a building contracting company, prepared her as a buyer. With hands-on experience in construction, her experienced eye for wood type and quality, are necessary when it comes to bidding on salvaged wood.
“We are able to produce finished products from about half of the wood that comes in to our yard,” she said. “The rest is what’s left once we prepare it for use. So it is important that we know what we are dealing with when we contract with the C&D companies for their wood waste.”
“The buildings need to be taken down with a certain amount of care so that the wood that we buy has a good chance of being used as a finished product,” she noted. “With half of the material ending up as sawdust, fuel for our kiln and non-marketable wood, it’s a challenge to find the material that we need at the right price.”
Michele said that she works with the C&D contractors to help them learn how to disassemble the buildings to provide them with the most material at the best prices. If they handle the wood in the desired way, they receive a better price for their salvage. Over the years, Michele has developed a good working relationship with several contractors who specialize in tearing down old factories and buildings built with timber frames.
Once Michele has worked out the details with a contractor and they have agreed on a price for the wood, her work isn’t always finished. “We work with them to safely and securely load the material onto flatbed trailer loads so that it can be transported here to the plant for processing,” she said. “Initially, some of them need tips on how to take down the structures. Once they learn the process, it becomes routine. We have a number of contractors who are repeat suppliers (or vendors) for us. When they bid on demolition jobs where the material meets our criteria, they contact us.”
Jennifer Young, general manager for Pioneer Millworks, explained that once the wood arrives from the jobsite to the supply yard, it is stacked according to its size and type. As we toured the nine acre yard before going inside, we saw stacks of timbers from barns and factories, a pile of fence boards from a large horse farm, even a stack of weathered barn siding with the telltale hint of the original paint still visible on some of its surfaces. Other items such as wood from vinegar and pickle vats are also a material in demand.
As the salvaged wood begins its journey through the milling process, it first goes to “The Bunk” where a crew of workers that numbers from five to seven depending on the workload, manually takes out the metal that has found its way into the wood over the years. Workers use metal detectors and their own visual examination to check for nails, screws, hinges, bolts and other metal in the wood.
When they have thoroughly removed the metal from the timbers, the wood is loaded onto a conveyor and brought into the Head Saw where it is “skinned” to remove accumulated debris, paint and the scars that go with being a part of a once working building. After the initial “skinning” is completed, the timber can be run through the four-sided planer or it can be further cut into board stock as the work order demands.
From there, the wood is stacked on “stickers,” to help ventilate the boards as they are prepped for drying in Pioneer’s wood kiln. The boards are kiln dried for three to five days to stabilize the moisture content, to kill any bugs that might be present, and to give consistency to the wood before it is processed further. Any remnant material from the “skinning” or trimming of the wood is used as fuel for the kiln.
“Our scraps are used as boiler fuel,” said Jennifer. “There is very little waste here. We gather the scrap material and floor sweepings that accumulate in our milling process and we grind it into sawdust. We sell that to a wood pelletizing company for making biofuel for wood stoves and boilers.”
When the wood emerges from the kiln, it is cooled and moved into the plant where it is re-sawed, edged and graded for use in the projects for which it is intended. This labor intensive process calls upon the skills of the more experienced workers, some of whom have been with the company 20 years or more. Since Pioneer Millworks is an outcropping of its parent company, New Energy Works (a timber framing, design and woodworking company), some of the employees have a lengthy history with the company. This experience gives them the expertise necessary to grade the wood for optimum use.
Depending on the customer’s needs, it is at this point that the wood can be stacked and prepared for shipment to the customer, or, if it is to be turned into wood paneling, flooring or other value added products, additional steps are taken to prepare the desired finished products. Pioneer offers a variety of innovative, decorative and esthetically beautiful products. From tabletops reclaimed from the alleys of a bowling alley, to wood siding for external use on upscale timber framed buildings, there are a myriad of products available for custom finishing a home.
“We reclaim the wood because we want to prevent it from going to a landfill,” said Jennifer as we concluded our tour. “We have rescued more than 22 million board feet of wood since we started. We not only provide a service to the environment, we also provide beautiful products to our customers.”
“We can see that these wood products add character to a project because they have been a part of the history of this nation. It reminds us of the industrial age from which it came. Some of the wood still has the saw marks and the markings from the hand hewn timber cuts that were made when the timbers were first cut,” she said.
“The wood has deeper richer colors and meets the needs and desires of today’s customers,” she added. “For example, our engineered products use low VOC adhesives to make them as eco-friendly as possible. The same goes for our external coatings as well. Whether it is stains, oils, flame retardants or other finishes, we take great care in making them healthier for our customers.”
For more information visit Pioneer Millwork’s website at http://pioneermillworks.com or give them a call at 800-951-9663. Pioneer’s Portland, OR location can be contacted at 503-719-4800.
by Jon M. Casey