The roundabout way in which I learned of and got myself invited to tour Pioneer Millworks and New Energy Works is a story in of itself; this isn’t a sponsored post, and I don’t work for the company, but I’ve wanted to know more about them because I think they’re a lesser-known gem in the Rochester-area, and doing incredible work nationally and internationally.
Before I geek out on woodworking nuances, Pioneer Millworks specializes in reclaimed and sustainable wood products, like flooring and fine finishing, while New Energy Works builds timber framed homes. They’re sister companies, and both are housed under one roof in Farmington, NY. Both are companies I’ve had a crush on for about 5 years, or as long as I’ve known they’ve existed, and though I never aggressively tried to get a job there myself (shoulda, woulda), I did several years ago network with the general manager who went to the same college as me, and then nearly leased our rental house to a girl who now has a desk there, kept in touch, and she’s who got me the hookup for a tour, so, small world, is I guess what they say to that.
It was around the time that I was borrowing weathered floorboards from my parent’s barn to make things like this mirror frame that I realized how much appreciation I have for working with reclaimed woods. My adoration for rustic, timber frame architecture goes back way before then (traceable back to the days when the upper lodges at Holiday Valley were getting a major facelifts).
I’m no researched expert on this, but I can speculate that the reclaimed wood industry as a whole has really boomed in the last decade – the onslaught of green living trends, restoration, material appreciation, sustainability, raw wood design, it all contributes to the fact that the world has embraced reclaimed wood and hardwood installations in an exceptional way. With that said, I don’t think I’m making this stat up when I say it (there’s always a chance that my notes may be wrong) but if you stand on any corner in Manhattan, you’ll be able to look around and visibly see at least one retailer who has Pioneer Millworks reclaimed wood installed, and that, I think, is insanely neat.
It’s not often that you look around at the architectural details in your favorite retailers and really consider where the lumber was sourced from (it’s more like “Ooh, I want a wall/floor/countertop/table like that in my house”) but Pioneer Millworks does supply for new construction to a LOT of retailers and restaurants you’d be familiar with (LUSH, L.L. Bean, Starbucks, North Face–and Rochestarians–the new Jeremiah’s in Penfield, TRATA, that kick ass wall in Village Gate, among others, the list just goes on and on and on). And yes, they supply to residential projects, so theoretically, you can get hooked up with that reclaimed look you love in Anthropologie, because chances are, they were in some aspect responsible for it.
The wood is sourced nationally for the most part. PM has another facility in Oregon (since the west coast has access to much different wood varieties, the two homes share wood back and forth across the country for jobs) but its distribution spans internationally. They provided wood to a really cool J.Crew in Hong Kong, for instance – and because I originally saw the company touting this installation on its Facebook page, you should follow them there, if only for the sake of seeing what other neat projects they’re working on every single day. And if you’re interested in learning more about how they find the wood (contacting homeowners about their barns, getting down on buildings ready for demo, etc.) you’ll want to check out this section of the Pioneer Millworks website, because that was something I found interesting too.
This is the kind of place that I could (and I know some of you could) spend an entire day exploring, starting with the 9 acres of reclaimed wood, stacked, inventoried, and ready to be reused.
These companies, founded and grounded in all things reclaimed-renewable-sustainable, obviously take it to heart in its ways of manufacturing. From powering its offices with solar panels on site, to repurposing sawdust into pellets and burning scrap wood for heating the facility during the colder seasons, both companies are committed to maintaining as many efficiencies as they are able to, being socially and environmentally-responsible. (Side note – during the summer months, employees are welcome to take enormous and free blocks of wood like those shown below for campfires and such – luckiest employees ever. How many did I want to take for my own future-to-be-determined craft projects? I calculated that ~48 could fit in the Jeepster).
Those big throwaways are over on the New Energy Works side of the company, but right alongside them are piles of new lumber for timber frame structures (factoid: 70% of lumber used in timber framing here is new lumber). With respect to the job shown below, they also manage the maintenance of older timber frame structures that were completely disassembled on-site, labeled meticulously, brought to New Energy Works for clean-up and rehab before being shipped back and reassembled. Is that real life? I don’t even know where I’d start with an organization effort like that. Timber frame rehabilitation is incredible, not to mention the intricate joinery that is so cool that my jaw was resting on the ground when I had the chance to see it up close.
One more, mortises cut from new lumber for an up-close view party. So cool. See what I meant about geeking out?
For new construction timber frames, one of the most interesting parts of the process (to me) was how the timbers and arcs are cut to size with precision. Though the company does have an immensely huge, computerized power tool called the Hundegger which makes aspects of the process up to 6x more efficient than it was as recently as the late ’90’s, many cuts are still perfected by hand, using a collection of precision arc templates that (I would suspect) are worth their weight in gold. New Energy Works builds 60-some-odd timber frame structures a year, and continues to grow.
There’s probably no way to easily explain to you how big some of the timbers are in person. Are you familiar with those orange Home Depot 5-gallon buckets?
In other obsessions, the Pioneer Millworks side of the factory was enlightening in an entirely different way; for one thing, can you even comprehend how many different types of wood flooring they have available for retail (and residential!) projects?
Secondly, engineered flooring! This was probably the biggest surprise to me during the tour.
Pioneer Millworks has the “World’s Most Eco-Friendly Engineered Floor,” and not only was I able to see and handle product (the only feasible way to compare it to anything engineered and sold by a Big Box), but I was also able to learn firsthand how it was cut, glued, and dried (almost all of this happens almost entirely on-site – even the coolest company ever finds efficiencies in outsourcing some components). All I can say is that at 3/16″ of reclaimed wood, this engineered flooring can be refinished as many times as my solid maple flooring, which is otherwise unheard of in an engineered product. It looks amazing in person, too. Straight, solid, still perfectly reclaimed in quality and appearance.
Between the flooring, paneling, fine woodworking and custom millwork, you can probably deduce that there are a lot of jobs going on any any given point in time (the specialists behind those machines and processes, those are some people I’d love to have drinks with someday – still geeking a bit). The shop was running a North Face job when I was in Pioneer Millworks that day, planing and quality-control checking pieces of wood that would eventually become… floors? walls? ceilings? Something that someone out there is bound to show appreciation for in its future installation.
It pretty much sold me on the notion that I absolutely need a quality planer in my life; I swear, I’d find a way to use it all the time.
Big thanks again to the folks at Pioneer Millworks and New Energy Works who took the time to show me around (Natalie on the left, Megan on the right, Julia taking the picture). Happiness ensued! Hopefully someday we’ll find a way to integrate some of this product into our home.