- Published on Friday, 01 March 2013 10:37
This past autumn, we had a particularly exciting opportunity to salvage thousands of board feet of wormy American chestnut and red oak lumber from a dairy barn here in Fayette County, West Virginia. Built in 1934, the barn had served its purpose for many years before falling into disrepair. Its cinder block walls were cracking and becoming unstable, and the roof of the barn was already in pretty bad shape when this past summer's derecho storm came through and sealed the deal. After receiving their insurance money for the damage to the barn, the new property owners decided that it was a good time to have it removed.
Though no longer usable as a barn, there was an incredible amount of high quality salvageable material in the structure. Hundreds of square feet of corrugated metal roofing would provide the perfect covering for the outdoor stacks of reclaimed lumber back at our base camp. The planks supporting this metal roofing were beautiful rough cut red oak on the order of 1000+ board feet, and just about everything else in the wooden structure was wormy American chestnut!
On a crisp October morning we got started on the deconstruction. It felt great to be up on the roof peak overlooking the surrounding farms and also to be gaining access to these wonderful materials. We quickly and carefully removed, denailed and stacked all of the corrugated roofing, and in a few hours time, Brian and I had already started prying off the oak planks from the roof rafters.
Though it takes slightly longer on the front end, we have found that it is best to remove all of the nails from each board immediately after being pried off of the structure. This reduces the chances of injury to both workers and to the lumber. It also makes the wood easier to move and stack every subsequent step of the journey. Our mindset in deconstruction always in "harvesting materials" as opposed to "tearing down a building". The photo above is a detail of the red oak planks from the roof. Note the beautiful quarter sawn figure on the middle board hiding just underneath those rough saw marks!
Over the course of the next six days, the barn slowly came apart. First the roof planks, then the chestnut rafters. The second floor became a temporary denailing station until it too was removed. None of the flooring from the hay loft was salvageable. Pine does not seem to hold up to weathering and wet/dry cycles. Fortunately, chestnut is a very rot resistant lumber species, and nearly all of the floor joists underneath this flooring were in wonderful condition as were the posts and beams that supported them.
Without the nails, the lumber stacked easily into our trailer, and every day we took a nice load the short distance to our wood shop in Oak Hill. All in all the deconstruction yielded a surplus of useful material. Of course, the 2000+ board feet of wormy chestnut framing lumber was the most valuable, but there was a great deal of other salvage. The roofing planks have found their way into a number of projects already, and the corrugated metal roofing is already being put to use protecting our lumber. We also were able to find some interesting and useful tools from the old dairy barn including a number of old heavy duty syringes that we use to inject glue into the cracks of damaged boards. Old gates and barn hardware will no doubt find their way into some furniture someday, and the steel hitching rail that ran the length of the barn will also likely make at least two custom table bases in the future. Newer building materials like OSB, wall studs and plywood were also salvaged. We like to recycle material for shipping crates and packaging also!
Our first commission from this material was for a dining table from the owners of the very barn that we had just torn down. They had purchased the land and dilapidated dairy barn a few years back and built a beautiful house on the rolling acreage on the back side of the property. Using a nice selection of the roof rafters, we made them a 76" x 46" table with tapered legs cut out of some of the barn beams.
Their dining room actually overlooks the ramparts of the old barn. It must be kind of neat to sit down at the table for a meal and look out at the spot where the boards were harvested. We hope they enjoy it for many years to come! Without the wooden structure holding it together, the block walls in the old barn quickly collapsed. This spring, the family plans to have the site cleaned up, but are hoping to preserve the old grain silo for a project in the future.
Though it is likely second growth, the chestnut recovered from the barn has wonderful character and color tone. Also, as a characteristic of it's original cutting and milling in the early twentieth century, there are plenty of worm holes to add interest to the lumber surfaces. We are already producing some wonderful pieces from this lot of wood. If you would like to enjoy something built out of this chestnut or red oak in your home, please contact us. We would love to build it for you!
- Published on Monday, 18 February 2013 13:55
West Virginia's high country is a special place indeed and a wonderful destination for anyone looking to get out of the city for a few days. The wide open spaces, breathtaking mountain vistas and long winding country roads throughout the Allegheny Highlands in the Monongalia National Forest are located within 500 miles of over half the United States population, but you wouldn't know it while you are there.
Visits to the high country offer a pleasant respite from the summertime heat and humidity of the lower elevations. Temperatures here often remain in the 70's throughout the hottest part of the year, and the mountain air is crisp, fragrant and refreshing. If you are feeling the need to head for the hills this season, you may want to check out the attractions around Gaudineer Knob along the way. Located a few miles north of Durbin, West Virginia on Highway 250, the Gaudineer area offers a couple of exciting attractions, especially if you are into big trees!
In the Allegheny Highlands, red spruce becomes a dominant species above 3800 feet in elevation. This is quite apparent when observing the mountain landscapes where the lighter greens of the upland hardwoods give way to the dark green ridge tops and sharp profiles of the proud spruce.
Gaudineer Scenic Area protects a small tract of virgin timber that was spared from logging due to a surveying error. A failure to account for the difference between magnetic north and true north resulted in a 1000 acre wedge of unclaimed timber land. Though the original error resulted in the uncut tract in the early 1900's, it is hard to believe that the mistake was allowed to persist for decades until the forest service was able purchase the unclaimed land to preserve the virgin growth. Whatever the reason for the long oversight, I am thankful that we have at least a small window into the past where we can get a glimpse of what our original forest would have been like. Within the scenic area, a half mile loop trail winds its way through towering spruce, and upland hardwoods including yellow birch, ash, and sugar maple. The scale of the trees is truly amazing!
West Virginia's spruce forests proved to be valuable timber tracts during the early twentieth century logging boom. Dense groves of virgin spruce could yield up to 100,000 board feet of lumber per acre, and the timber proved to be ideal for numerous applications. Most red spruce was either milled into lumber and used for construction or used for paper pulp. It was also a sought after tone wood, and high quality boards became luthier material for stringed instruments or used in piano sounding boards. Once the timber land was clear cut, poor forestry practices resulted in numerous wildfires and soil erosion. Of the original 469,000 acres of virgin red spruce that once stood in West Virginia, only 50,000 acres regenerated to second growth.
Even though the trees at Gaudineer Scenic area survived the initial wholesale logging of the state, they have endured numerous wildfires and are now struggling to survive in a changing climate. Acid rain also damages and ultimately kills spruce trees. Being less resilient, the older growth trees are affected the most. As amazing an experience it is to walk beneath the ancient trees in a timeless landscape, I actually felt saddened as I walked the loop. The original trees are not faring well. Many have fallen, and it will only be a matter of time before they are all gone.
At 4,450 feet in elevation, Gaudineer Knob is one of the highest points in West Virginia. It is named in memorial to Donald Gaudineer, an early forest service ranger who perished in 1936 while trying to save his children from a house fire. His wife was the only survivor. In 1937, the Gaudineer Fire Tower was built atop the Knob offering a wide view of the surrounding country. The tower has been torn down in recent years, but it is still possible to locate the original foundation.
The Knob sits on the border between Pocahontas and Randolph Counties. Accessible by vehicle via a forest service road, the summit offers a parking lot, outhouses, a picnic area and a wonderful short loop hiking trail that leads to a sweeping overlook. The summit loop trail meanders through one of the finest examples of the red spruce forest that once prevailed over all West Virginia's high mountain tops. The second growth spruce forest on the knob is magical and vibrant. The forest floor is covered with abundant ferns and a thick carpet of green moss. It is likely that the uncut timber nearby allowed this area to re-seed itself so well when so many other spruce forests did not return.
West Virginia's highland forests areas serve as islands of habitat for trees and animals typically found in far northern latitudes. Gaudineer Knob is one of these. In addition to the red spruce (typically found in New England and eastern Canada), the Knob is also home to a variety of beautiful wildflowers, wood warblers, black bear, snowshoe hare, northern flying squirrel, and the rare Cheat Mountain salamander. It's a wonderful and peaceful place to visit. I hope you can make it there sometime and find as much enjoyment as I did. If you go sometime, post your favorite photo on our Facebook Page and let us know what you thought of your visit!
- Published on Wednesday, 30 January 2013 06:22
There are so many things that I love about what we do here at VTLC that it is hard to pick a favorite. Pursuing deconstruction opportunities may take the cake though. Exploring old structures and finding out what they are made of is a lot like a treasure hunt. You never know what you are going to find, and it is exciting to think of the woodworking possibilities when looking at all kinds of beautiful old lumber locked up inside a building's construction. I also really enjoy meeting new people, and it's always a treat when you get to hear about the history of the property and the area from someone who has lived there a while.
I followed up on a new deconstruction opportunity a few days ago in Fayette County, West Virginia and found a great candidate. Crooked Run Road meanders through the pastoral countryside just south of Fayetteville. It's definitely an old road that passed through some of the original farms on the plateau. We recently tore down a 1930's dairy barn out here. As she drove by and watched us work day after day, our new friend Autumn decided to contact us about a house on her property just down the road.
Last Saturday, I showed up to take a look around and had the pleasure of getting a tour of the house from Autumn's father Wayne, and his dog Gypsy. Wayne had originally purchased the house and property in the sixties and as he put it, "It was an old house even back then." Originally built in 1904, the structure was part of a hundred acre farm that has since been subdivided. I could tell just by looking at the place from the outside that it would yield some good reclaimed boards.
Weathered cedar shingles, a rusty metal roof, old poplar fascia boards and a hand cut stone chimney all added charm to to the old dilapidated structure giving testament to the building's age. A spot in the roof was peeled back from the weather and I could see that the roof sheeting was made from white oak planks. Often these are spaced widely apart under the metal roofing, but these ones appeared to butt against one another indicating that there should be plenty of planks under the metal for us to reclaim.
First we took a look inside. Though some of it was covered up with newer layers, it was easy to see that the original floor was old tongue and groove oak, a classic and common choice from the time period. Even after over 100 years this floor still looked beautiful and only slightly worn. Not much of the house's structure was visible from the interior as it was covered with wall paneling and drywall, but I was able to determine that much of the framing in the walls and rafters would be hemlock.
We then took a look around back and I crawled underneath to look at the under-structure. Oak floor joists supported by a hand hewn center beam were exactly what I was hoping to see. Brian and I had just been talking about how we were starting to run a little low on our oak framing lumber, and what do you know? Here it is for the taking. We are looking forward to getting to work on this one in the coming weeks and will be sure to keep everyone posted on our progress. I can't wait to see what kind of furniture that we end up creating from this beautiful old virgin timber lumber!
- Published on Friday, 11 January 2013 10:16
One of the most rewarding aspects of producing (and purchasing!) furniture from reclaimed lumber, is in knowing that in some way we are helping to preserve the history that is carried in each piece of wood. We recently had an opportunity to create a meaningful heirloom that took this concept one step further.
Jason and Joanna are some of my oldest paddling friends. Now married and living in the Washington DC area, they commissioned VTLC to build a small dining table using some wood from Jason's old family home place in the coal fields of Raleigh County, West Virginia. When their land was purchased by the mining company fifty years ago, Jason's grandfather tore down some of the structures from the family property and used the reclaimed wood to build a variety of outbuildings at his new place in Beckley.
Though I never had the opportunity to meet Jason's grandfather, I think that we would have gotten along very nicely. This guy had lumber stacked up everywhere in his old recycled buildings. I thought that I was the only crazy guy that salvaged and collected buckets of old rusty nails... Nope, Jason's grandpa was a hoarder just like me.
After surveying the available wood in his stacks, I walked down the hill to check out an old log building that had once been home to the family mule. It was around the back of this building where I found Jason and Joanna's table top. Nailed to the side of the barn were a number of 12" wide wormy chestnut planks that had obviously been exposed to the elements for many years.
Braving the early June poison ivy, I pried the boards from the barn and loaded them up into my truck. The first thing that I noticed was how straight they were, and then that they were still in excellent condition. American chestnut lumber is extremely rot resistant. I couldn't believe how well they weathered what must have been more than four decades.
Brian took over once the boards arrived at the shop. Ripping them in half first, he milled them into flat 6" stock and arranged them into a beautiful table top composition. The weathered surfaces contained deep coloration and texture that we knew would eventually produce a very special surface.
Welded out of 2" square stock, the steel table base was custom built by Devo from Liquid Metal Fab. Because it was welded into one rigid piece, adjustable feet were added to level the table on virtually any floor. The steel was left "raw", washed and coated with polyurethane to prevent rusting. It turned out to be a beautiful and solid base that was simple in form. A perfect compliment to the top!
After being sanded to perfection, many coats of clear satin polyurethane were used to finish the table top. The oxidized and weathered surfaces really came to life when finish was applied. Contributing to this exquisite table top were the deeply stained "cracks" and nail holes that could only be formed from years and years of exposure.
Jason dropped in to pick up the table just in time for Thanksgiving. The top fit nicely into the back of his Jetta wagon, but the base had to be strapped to his kayak rack on top! I'm sure that he turned some heads on the interstate during his trip back to DC.
We are glad to hear how much they are enjoying the table. Seeing that Jason's grandfather passed away last spring, it feels good to create such a meaningful heirloom for my friends. It's also pretty cool that the lumber in this table has been recycled twice!
- Published on Thursday, 08 November 2012 20:26
We are now proudly offering both men's and women's Virgin Timber Lumber Co. tee shirts through our web store. We chose a wonderful 50/50 cotton poly blend tee shirt from American Apparel to sport our logo. With a soft and elastic feel and the perfect weight, we think that you'll agree that it's the most comfortable tee shirt ever. Made in the USA and printed in West Virginia.
- Published on Thursday, 19 July 2012 14:52
"The vast trees met overhead like cathedral roofs. I am not a very religious man; but often when standing alone before my Maker in this house not made with hands I bowed my head with reverence." (Horace Kemphart 1925)
Located on US Route 50 in the rolling countryside of northeastern West Virginia, the 132 acre Cathedral State Park houses an ancient hemlock forest of majestic proportions. Trees up to 90 feet in height tower over the lush forest floor providing shelter for a variety of ferns and shade loving wildflowers. Interspersed among the giant hemlocks stand impressive examples of old growth oak, birch, beech, maple and cherry hardwoods.
The park land was originally property of the Brookside Hotel, a luxury retreat. As the surrounding sylvan landscape fell to the early twentieth century timber boom, the resort property remained among a precious few remnants of the untouched primeval forest. The hotel closed in 1924 and the land was purchased by Branson Hass, a former employee with great respect for the trees. For ten dollars, he sold the property to the State of West Virginia in 1942 with the provision that it be preserved in its natural state.
Since then, the park has been listed in the National Registry for Natural History Landmarks as, "an area that possesses exceptional value in illustrating the natural history of the United States."
- Published on Thursday, 07 June 2012 08:23
After doing some renovations to their older home, some local friends of ours brought in some nice wide planks that they obtained when tearing out an interior wall. They wanted us to build them a book shelf and thought that it would be cool to reuse some of the old material for the project. The wood turned out to be poplar, and though they did not provide nearly enough material to supply for the design, we were able to supplement with some of the reclaimed lumber in our stock.
We use a classic design for our shelving systems that is both beautiful and extremely sturdy. Dado joints cut into the thicker vertical supports accept the shelving providing excellent support and resistance to movement. This design can be applied to any size and configuration, and we regularly design, build and install shelving for a variety of applications.
To make nice flat surfaces for the shelves, the wide planks had to be ripped in half, re-milled, and glued back together. The resulting surfaces exposed vividly colored poplar heartwood with shades of yellow, green and even purple. We made it a point to save the front faces of the shelves from milling in order to preserve the warm patina and original saw marks from the antique planks. This provided an interesting contrast between the distressed outer layer, and the wood grain within.
Further accentuating this contrast, the heavily weathered planks we chose for the shelf backing (also Poplar) were only lightly sanded before being coated with polyurethane. This showcased the warm color tones in the lumber's original patina and preserved original saw marks to be enjoyed.
The vertical side supports were created by milling up and gluing together 2" thick framing lumber. The front faces of the side supports were loaded with stained nail holes, and as a testament to the age of the lumber, we accidentally hit some of the square iron nails hiding inside the wood during the re-milling process and left them as part of the finished face.
- Published on Thursday, 15 March 2012 23:41
With an amazing cliff top setting overlooking the New River Gorge and Bridge, Adventures on the Gorge Resort offers a wide variety of activities for guests looking to experience excitement in the mountains and rivers of southern West Virginia. In addition to all of the adventure activities, the all inclusive resort also offers upscale dining and lodging at their base camp.
This winter AOTG has been undertaking massive improvements including a new Frisbee golf course, high ropes obstacle course, a fabulous two tiered clifftop swimming pool and a total remodel and expansion of Chetty's Pub known to many as the home of Monday's Wing Night. With a two story timber framed interior, Chetty's Pub already had a nice open floor plan, but the owners really made some improvements that will allow for better traffic flow, service and all around quality of experience for restaurant guests. Not to mention, it looks AWESOME in there now!
Virgin Timber Lumber Co. was consulted to design and construct the new bar and top for this fine establishment using wormy American Chestnut lumber for the finished surfaces. The majority of the reclaimed materials for the bar top were salvaged a few short miles away in Lansing, WV and were likely milled for the first time in the mid 1920's. Having been extinct for decades, American Chestnut lumber can only be sourced from salvaged materials. It is highly sought after for it's scarcity, unique warm color tone and of course the namesake worm holes that add to the character of the reclaimed wood.
As it should be, the three sided bar is the focal point of the restaurant connecting four large posts that are part of the main timber frame structure. For the comfort of the seated guests, the bar top was designed to offer a generous amount of leg room underneath with a full 16 inches of overhang. Finishing out the design, the bar base was veneered with stacked stone by a local mason.
We were fortunate to have my father Frank Petretich, down from Ohio to help frame out the bar for the first few days. Having been a contractor for over 30 years, we appreciated his experience and efficiency in creating a sturdy framework for the finished bar.
It took us two full days to lay out the tongue and groove around the bar's continuous three sided surface. We used a herring bone pattern at the corners for a nice transition as the direction of the tongue and groove layout changed direction. The sides of the bar top were trimmed out with beautifully distressed, five inch wide Chestnut stock, provided by Eric Moerschel from Saltbox Millworks.
To create a surface that will withstand years of use and abuse, we opted to finish the top with clear two part epoxy. This style of finish is applied first by painting on a seal coat, then by flood coating the top with 1/8" thick layers of epoxy. With all of the worm holes and gaps between the strips, this was a particularly "thirsty" bar top requiring 12 gallons of epoxy to get the desired result, a finish with the illusion of a thin contiguous layer of glass over the entire surface.
We were also asked to design and build a combination three tiered liquor shelf and draft beer dispenser. Glass inserts were placed in the shelves to allow lighting from beneath to emanate through the bottles.
Restaurant guests can also enjoy our work on ten new reclaimed hemlock table tops.
All in all this was a great experience. There was a short window of time given to us to complete the project as the whole renovation took place in less than a month! It's rewarding to think about how many people will enjoy our work in the coming years as they relax and enjoy a beverage of their choice at the new Chetty's.
- Published on Tuesday, 21 February 2012 06:56
We recently finished a deconstruction project down the road in Mount Hope.
The town of Mount Hope has a rich and varied history. It is the subject of many stories of early Fayette County and the pivotal role of coal in the plateau as well as the New River Gorge. Before the Great Depression, more than twenty coal companies had offices in the city. Their commitment to the town and the development they spurred ensured that even after the devastation of a city-wide fire, Mount Hope rebuilt in less than two years and remained one of the most modernized townships in the region. Unconfirmed reports claim more than thirty thousand people lived within walking distance of the city at its peak.
Currently, Mount Hope is undergoing another revitalization after nearly five decades of decline. The historic offices of the region's largest coal company, the New River Company, are occupied by new developers Trinity Works. Trinity coordinates what must be Fayette County's largest project since the coal boom, The Summit Bechtel Family Scout Reserve.
Our names are Gabe and Drew, friends of VTLC over at Earnest Demolition, LLC. The owners of this house called us up after receiving an order from the city to remove the dilapidated and hazardous structure from their property. With more than a century of history, this building served as everything from a loving home for four generations to a convenience store. Now that the house is cleared, they're hoping to rebuild soon on the land. Read on for more info about the project or venture over to our Facebook gallery to see more pictures.
Reportedly built around 1900, the owners told us that the original structure was moved (ever seen a house moving?) to this, its final, location sometime shortly after the Fire of 1910. Over the years they expanded and remodeled the structure, suffered two fires, and finally vacated it in 2006.
We didn't find a vapor barrier in the rear of the house, a ticking time bomb for any primarily wood building. Coupled with a hole in the roof the support beams weakened and the floors degraded. The walls literally fell in on themselves, bringing the fully furnished house to its usable end.
We set to work in early December and completed the project in under two weeks, just in time to go home for the holidays. We used no power tools or heavy equipment in the job, only hand tools and a whole lot of elbow grease. A single 30 yard dumpster rented from the fine folks over at Oak Hill Garbage Disposal was enough to take care of the refuse. The rest, an estimated 65-70% of the entire material removed from the site, we either salvaged or recycled. The average demolition contract for a single family home sends more than 6 times as much volume to the landfill.
Our first impression of the house had us thinking we'd be lucky to salvage 30% of the structure at best. However, through diligent work almost entirely by hand, we were able to pick through the piles of trash and sequester unique and invaluable materials. We found a more than modest cache of wormy chestnut framing lumber, super wide poplar and hemlock planks, some cherry boards, white oak joists, and mostly hemlock beams. In the very back of the basement, we even found a 15 foot american chestnut 8"x8" holding up the only part of the house that was standing.
We also found a handful of antiques, and were able to return some family heirlooms to the owners. We recovered a couple coal load tags (a pit tag), a copper oilwick miner's lamp, a brass handled fire poker, and a homemade anvil forged from a flat bottom railway rail. We're finally able to wash our work clothes with a recovered and functional Maytag Wringer Washer, and we are coveting the numerous Coca Cola bottles manufactured in various West Virginia and Appalachian glass factories. Try recovering items like those with a backhoe!
This spread of lumber is typical of the era and in this type of construction. They are what allow the craftsfolk at Virgin Timber Lumber to make such incredible reclaimed wood furniture. If you're interested in having a part of this history in furniture or in raw form, we're drying the lumber now and would love to reserve you some. Contact us through the website and we'll make it happen for you!
- Published on Tuesday, 03 January 2012 09:18
Here is how this works... If you need a piece of furniture, contact us, and we'll build it for you. Simple right?
This is how it happened for our new friend Robyn. She wanted a small solid wood coffee table with a lower level shelf. Robyn researched the web and found a design she liked in Crate and Barrel's catalog. Having both good taste, and social awareness, she decided to have her piece of furniture made here in southern West Virginia from reclaimed Appalachian lumber.
She messaged us through the website and explained her sizing needs and design preferences with a link to the item that she liked. We spoke on the phone and worked out the details of payment and delivery, and quickly got to work.
Robyn wanted her table made out of reclaimed chestnut. The table was to be 24" long by 18" wide, and 17" high. We chose some nicely distressed planks to be milled for the table top and shelf, and created each surface from it's own plank of lumber. When glued together, this made for a nice uniform finish.
Glued mortise and tenon joinery connected hand sanded square stock making for a simple, elegant and very sturdy design. In building furniture we are continually aware of our finish faces and like to show off the interesting grain patterns and distress in our reclaimed wood. We believe this makes each piece of furniture unique and special.
For finishing, the piece was hand rubbed with all natural high quality tung oil, which enhances the grain and reacts with the wood to provide excellent water resistance.
Robyn decided to drop in for a visit to the shop to pick up the table. We gave her a quick tour and sent her on her way with a great piece of furniture at a fair price. We hope it brings her enjoyment for many years! We'll be sure to let you know how her new kitchen table turns out as well...
- Published on Thursday, 24 November 2011 09:23
Probably my favorite use for reclaimed wood is in making tables. The material lends to a very sturdy construction, and I think that sitting at a table among friends sharing a conversation or meal is likely the best way to enjoy Virgin Timber Lumber.
About a year ago, I came up with a concept for a simple table design based on 2" rough cut framing lumber, a material that I happen to have in great supply. My good friend Donn Ketchum, a talented woodworker, helped me finalize the design last winter to include removable legs for easy shipping and storage.
After re-milling the boards for the table top, they are glued together to make one solid surface. We make it a point to only mill our lumber enough to properly join them together leaving the wood's original patina to be enjoyed in the finished product. The legs are attached to the table apron using 5/16 hanger bolts, and they can be quickly removed using a 1/2 inch wrench.
We can make tables of all sizes using oak, chestnut, pine, poplar or hemlock lumber. Drop into The Purple Moon in Charleston, WV to see one for yourself.
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