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Pioneer Millworks, headquartered in Farmington, N.Y., has a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.

Pioneer, Dismantling The Past To Build The Future
By Clare Adrian

Farmington, N.Y.—Pioneer Millworks has prospered over the years, reclaiming 20,000-pound Douglas Fir timbers from the Welland Canal locks at Niagara Falls dating back to 1927 and measuring 34”x28”x42’. The company has found dry maple flooring from the original Buster Brown Shoe Factory, Moberly, Mo., and rafters salvaged from the original 1937 GM factory plant No. 5 in Tonawanda, N.Y.

As one of the largest timber recyclers in the country, Pioneer obtains antique wood from the commercial demolitions of factories, pressing plants, barns and tobacco and cotton mills, many of which date back to the end of the 19th century. A fair amount of long leaf Southern Yellow Pine is garnered—a species which is not commonly harvested commercially because most of it was logged out by WWI. By salvaging the various floorings, timbers, beams and millworks, the company is diverting solid waste from landfills and waste streams and turning it into useful products. Not only is recycled timber an environmentally responsible product, but also it’s also advantageous for its low moisture content and dimensional stability.

As a custom m
Jonathan Olpin formed Pioneer Millworks in 1989.
ill, Pioneer transforms reclaimed antique wood into a host of woodworking products that match historical period profiles accurately. In addition to trim, moldings and stairs, rough-sawn board stock is available, which is typically straight-line ripped into 1-inch increments for ease of handling and tallying. 

Jonathan Olpin originally formed Pioneer Millworks in 1989 as an offshoot of New Energy Works Timber Framers, also in Farmington, to supply custom timber packages to timber frame builders across the country. He had been in the construction industry as a consumer, and flowed naturally into production with New Energy in 1983.

Conveniently, the juxtaposition of the 60,000-square-foot plant, only two miles from the New York State 3-way, Interstate 90, a major east to west transportation thoroughfare, serves to connect the company to its Northeastern market. An additional facility in Shortsville, N.Y., houses a millworks division that produces cabinetry, stairs and doors. A storage building for flooring has been added to the same location. To augment Pioneer’s product mix, the company buys just over 1 million board feet of fresh sawn lumber per year of Douglas Fir, Eastern White Pine and Cedar.

Accuracy of dimensional timbers is critical to the framing industry. To saw timbers to specifications, the company is equipped with a large Timber Harvester band sawmill, a separate Timber Harvester resaw system, a large 4-sided Europlaner with up to an 18-inch capacity, and a Mattison straight-line rip saw. Once board stock is kiln-dried, it is sent on to the Weinig Moulder on which, if there is a knife for it, a
Iain Harrison serves as marketing manager of the company, which has grown 4 to 5 percent annually since its inception.
ny profile of moulding can be produced.

In addition, Pioneer has devised its own wire brush machine, which counter-rotates two wire brushes to raise the grain on board stock. And before the reclaimed antique wood begins any stage of processing, it is first denailed by hand to remove extraneous metals and is then checked with a metal detector. A number of bobcats and skidders, an all-terrain Manitou forklift, and three indoor and two outdoor forklifts transport the timbers about on Pioneer’s 12 acres, from storage to the production line. 

Customers can be assured that Pioneer is committed to a short lead time, and fills orders accurately. According to Iain Harrison, marketing manager, the company custom cuts a timber package for customers that send in a cut list with very specific dimensions for the desired number of pieces. A recent redesign of Pioneer’s sawing operation transformed the method from sawing one timber at a time into a sawmill type operation that processes timbers into board stock on one continuous line, reducing lead time for the majority of products. Most of the orders are shipped common carrier, but the company has an International flatbed truck for local deliveries.

“We maintain as little inventory as possible, based on demand and tracked with the Just In Time System business model,” Harrison said, who started as a timber framer with Pioneer five years ago. “Though relatively small, the company is strong. We are able to react pretty quickly to changes in the market. The growth pattern is steady, at 4 to 5 percent annually. In 2004, we reached the limits of our prod
Shown here is some of the quality craftsmanship offered by Pioneer Millworks. 
uction capacity so we expanded in 2005.”

With the intention of continuing that expansion, the company is adding equipment and personnel in 2006. The number of employees will increase by four people, and the current kiln will be moved outside to make room for a new, larger one.

Consistent with the company’s environmental responsibility policy, Pioneer is actively searching for suppliers accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council.

“The number of suppliers is not growing as quickly as we’d like. It’s a supply and demand issue,” Harrison acknowledged. 

Pioneer is in the process of establishing that demand from suppliers. Harrison concluded that until companies such as Pioneer specify FSC accreditation as a prerequisite to buying their lumber, suppliers aren’t going to go through the additional steps it takes to get the accreditation.

“The end user is prepared to pay a little more to get the FSC certification. It is very much a price sensitive commodity,” Harrison stated.





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