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.
I never anticipated how hard it would be to garden and landscape in our yard; when we found the house, I was excited to have more property and space to cultivate, but it hadn’t occurred to me how aggressive the deer would be until they devoured hostas awaiting transplant that were sitting in pots literally inside our open garage door. There’s an overwhelming landscaping theme in the neighborhood: pachysandra and myrtle, but very little of anything else due to 1) lots of shade and 2) wildlife.
Everyone has their tried and true deer repellant method (soaps, chilis, hanging vials of scent, dog fur, human hair, boxwoods, all of it), and I’ll get around to trying some of them out over the years, but coming straight from my neighbors, tall fencing’s where it’s at, so it felt most obvious that I should just start there.
Last year’s garden worked fine – it was a trio of three square beds wrapped in a plastic deer netting, and we only grew tomatoes and attempted to protect berries, so it wasn’t a huge undertaking nor was it a lot to tempt the deer. At the end of the season, a big tree took out our gardens, which gave us a reason to rethink and rebuild. As you can see, in a very technical way, I used our ragged out gardening stakes to map out a circle in the desired area, which almost entirely consumes the area I dug up for last year’s 3 garden beds. Fallen tree looks on, everything but the trunk is cleared at this point, but Pete just bought a new chainsaw, so I think we’ll be able to clear out the rest of it pretty easily.
I made the circular garden a diameter of about 20′, using a straight edge shovel to first cut the outer edge, and then a rototiller to chomp on the grass and weeds in the entire center of the circle. Our soil is unbelievably soft and sandy, which makes rototilling straight through pretty easy and fast… in most cases though, you’ll want to remove the grass with a shovel before firing up the tiller.
I pulled the bigger chunks of weeds out of the way once they were loosened by the tiller, but I honestly didn’t give this part of the process too much time or energy. Reason being, is that once I decided I was going to make a bigger garden, I was determined to learn from previous experience and splurge on weed blocking fabric to keep the garden neat, clean, and weed-free (there are lots of products out there, but I went mid-grade, 6-foot wide quality from The Home Depot for about $30). The plants you see poking through are the berries that were saved from the fallen tree and then eaten to stubbies by the deer, now protected and given a chance to be revived in our fenced in area.
The round bed is our second attempt at garden in this yard, but we intentionally kept it pretty simple and only semi-permanent this year (used existing posts that jam into the ground, even though they’re a variety of heights), because we’re still experimenting with the size, and making sure the garden gets enough sunlight to be productive.
I had been looking for a great 8′ fence to no avail, which seems insanely high and excessive, but is what most of the neighboring homes have installed. The deer have been known to leap over “tiny” 48-inchers, but I don’t think they ever made it into ours, probably because there’s still plenty of other vegetation for them to eat this time of year. (Not to mention that any time we prune any tree there’s a 48-hour-all-deer-alert feast on our downed branches… we keep them plenty busy.)
Mid-way through the season, I began to think rabbits or other animals might be squeezing through the fencing, so I did go back around with the leftover plastic mesh from last year, zip tying it to the lower 18″ of the fence to create a second barrier to prevent entry.
I kind of think it’ll get bigger and bigger each year, once we get this down pat. In the future, I’d love to drop in some sunken posts and perhaps a real fence and gate, but for this year, my only investment was the weed block and 48″ metal fence.
I didn’t start anything from seed myself this year; 5 tomato plants were delivered by my parents, pumpkins from Pete’s parents, and I picked up 6 pickling cucumbers, 6 butternut squash, 6 acorn squash, 2 sunflowers from Rochester’s Public Market Flower Days in an attempt to try a few new things. You might be wondering if there’s actually enough space for that many plants in a 20′ circle, and no, it should probably have been a bit bigger to space them out more. I’m sure they all smothered each other a bit, which resulted in less production.
We’ve harvested and pickled all of the cucumbers, are about to harvest the sunflower seeds, have around 2 dozen butternut and acorn squash still on the vines that should last us into the winter months, assorted tomatoes (plum, cherry, currant, fourth of July, and something yellow), and a single, modest pumpkin that is just beginning to turn orange.
The gardening experience, especially with the weed block fabric, has been incredibly low-maintenance this year. We’ve had enough rain to avoid daily watering, cleared overhead branches nearby the garden to allow it a little extra sunlight, and now that we’re in full-on harvest mode, I’m going to attempt to can some tomatoes/sauces for the first year ever. (Favorite recipes for pizza sauce appreciated).
A growing, permanent art collection is something that I’ve been aspiring to acquire over the last year. It is exceptionally slow going, but that’s OK. Step 1: Identify what you love. Originals, new artists, pieces that really resonate and promise to contribute to a feeling of home. Step 2: Afford and frame (ca-ching). Keep it small until you can go big. Step 3: Dare to tap a new hole in your freshly patched and painted wall so that you can hang the masterpiece. Step 4: Be thrilled with yourself, and then go about trying to make the rest of your house look just as cool. Pants draped on chairs, uncool.
St. Monci produced a series of framed Training Missions this summer that I gravitated to quickly; as an abstract artist in Rochester, NY and muralist for Wall\Therapy, if you like modern art, you’ll want to keep an eye out on this guy. Continue to check out his online store, and find your own special piece of happy.