National Hardwood Magazine


April 2014 Feature Story


An aerial view of Bally Block Company Inc., located in Bally, PA
Bally Block Company Inc.—Not Your Grandfather’s Woodshop

 By Bridget McCrea

Bally, PA— Bally Block Company Inc., based here, manufactures butcher-block countertops. While butcher-blocks continue to be the company’s core focus, today Bally Block makes many different forms of face-glued butcher-block products—from workbenches to shuffleboards to windowsills.  To manufacture its products, Bally Block uses about 4 million board feet of Hardwood lumber annually. Its primary species are Hard Maple and Ash in 8/4, but it also uses other species and sizes based on specific requests from customers.

When General Electric needed a tower that it could take out into the field, attach to transformers, and shoot electrical strikes at to determine the transformers’ ability to withstand lightning strikes, it called on Bally Block Company for help. The company rose to the occasion and constructed two units that were 28 feet long and 2.5 feet wide. Made from two opposing pieces of wood, the tower had to be non-conducting and couldn’t include any metal. “Our limit is usually 24 feet,” said James Reichart, company president, “but GE needed the extra height to be able to effectively test out the transformers.”

According to Reichart, Bally Block’s willingness to go the extra mile for GE is just one example of the company’s adaptability and customer-focused culture. “We’ve made just about any product that you can think of,” said Reichart. “Our capabilities are limited only by our customers’ imaginations, wants, and needs.”

A 3-inch thick Ogee-edge Island Top is available in five separate species.
Bally Block’s green lumber is procured from sawmills and large wholesalers in the Northeastern U.S., and then kiln-dried in one of the manufacturer’s three kilns, whose total capacity is 240,000 board feet. “Both of our plants are located in Hardwood country so we don’t have to go very far for our raw materials,” said Reichart. “Our Pennsylvania plant buys most of its wood from Pennsylvania and New York, and our Michigan plant draws from the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, and from Canada.” 

Bally Block and its sister company, Michigan Maple Block Co., of Petoskey, Michigan, have been manufacturing butcher-block products since 1881. Bally Block was founded in Bally, PA, around 1920 with a primary product line that included caskets and cedar chests. Those product offerings were later expanded to include windows, windowsills, and some furniture. Butcher-block production started in 1926 and since that time Bally Block has been a leader and innovator in the industry.

In 1929, Michigan Maple Block Co. purchased Bally Block and the strengths of both companies combined to access both Eastern and Western markets.

In addition to Reichart, key employees include Dave Ritter, plant manager, and Fred Polhemus, general manager. Jack Dau, who owned and ran the company since 1949, was a driving force for the organization for many years. He passed away in 2011 at the age of 85 and his daughter, Ann Dau Conway, assumed the reins of ownership.

With about 90 total employees working in two, 175,000-square-foot plants, the company runs a single shift daily “with overtime,” according to Reichart. Sales are handled by Joe Barbercheck, vice president, and various other employees and managers.

While butcher-blocks continue to be the company’s core focus, today Bally Block makes many different forms of face-glued butcher-block products—from workbenches to shuffleboards to windowsills.
Most of Bally Block’s customers are wholesale distributors, but the company also sells to manufacturers who rework its products and sell them to their own customers. “We don’t have an outside sales force,” said Reichart. “We handle business through distributors, with each of us occasionally taking a road trip to an existing or potential customer site.”

An active member of the National Sanitation Foundation, the National Building Material Distributors Association, and Forest Stewardship Council chain-of-custody certified SmartWood, Bally Block has stayed on top of industry trends and changes over the years, despite the fact that it carved its niche out over 100 years ago. Recent additions include a new Weinig scanner and a coupling saw that replaced the “hand-drawn crayon” method of cutting that the company had been using for a decade.

“Traditionally we used a Brute saw and hand-drawn markings to identify defects on the rails,” said Reichart. “We don’t have to do that anymore because the machine handles all of that.” The scanner, for example, includes settings for specific species, and the cutbill is housed right in the computer. “There’s a limited human element in the first part of our operation,” said Reichart. “That has really created some efficiencies and helped with productivity.”

Investments in state-of-the-art equipment has also helped Bally Block make the switch from heavy duty, old-time meat blocks designed for butcher shops to manufacturing high-end workbenches. “This is not your grandfather’s woodshop; we’ve moved into a whole new era,” stated Reichart. “We’ve shifted to doing some pretty sophisticated work for our customers.”

Bally Block’s countertops are available in Ash, Black Walnut, Cherry, Maple, Red Oak, Teak and EcoLyptus™.
That transition has been a critical business move for Bally Block, which is continually challenged by the fact that it has been in existence for more than 100 years. “The whole ‘newness’ angle is pretty difficult for us to achieve,” said Reichart. “We overcome that issue by keeping our ear to the ground, asking our customers what they want, and then exceeding those expectations.”

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