By Chase Warner, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author
When the longleaf pine was nearly logged into extinction after the Civil War, the finest heart pine lumber produced from the tree was transported north to construct homes, factories, and warehouses during the Industrial Revolution. Due to the species’ strength and stability, most of the original 19th century buildings still exist today but, unfortunately, many of the structures are being demolished and much of the heart pine they were built with is discarded. By discovering a sustainable and profitable method to reclaim heart pine and other antique wood from historic buildings, Marc Poirier of the New England-based Longleaf Lumber is providing wood with a résumé throughout the world.
Starting out as a carpenter and general contractor for high-end renovations in the 1980s, Marc salvaged wood from demolition jobs in order to match clear quartersawn heart pine floors throughout historic homes in Boston. At the time, he was painstakingly re-installing reclaimed planks because he was unable to purchase or produce the antique lumber that a lot of renovations required. “It was way too much work,” said Marc. “I knew I wasn’t the only one with this problem, there had to be a way to manufacture fresh-milled heart pine flooring.” In 1997, Marc decided to create his own reclaimed wood flooring business and established Longleaf Lumber in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In the beginning, Marc learned all he could about flooring mill production while his wife, Alice, handled everything else the start-up needed. “I still remember our home-made kiln and pushing piece after piece of reclaimed heart pine decking through a little tabletop planer,” said Marc. “We started on a budget.” When the business started, Marc realized Longleaf could improve their overall efficiency and production and purchased a Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic sawmill. “The saws had a great reputation for quality and durability,” said Marc. “Another important part of the decision was that [Wood-Mizer] parts and service were readily available. That’s big.”A few years later, Longleaf expanded and moved their millwork operations to a larger space in Berwick, Maine and purchased a second sawmill to keep up with demand for their products. Longleaf has continued to grow significantly throughout the past two decades, beginning with a handful of employees and now employing twenty full-timers. Today, the company offers flooring, paneling, beams, tabletops, and custom millwork from a variety of species including reclaimed heart pine, American chestnut, oaks, white pine, hickory, maple, walnut, and others.
On a day-to-day basis, Longleaf runs their successful salvage, millwork, and retail operation from their two locations in Berwick and Cambridge but the entire process begins with Marc and the task of discovering high-quality salvaged wood from demolitions. “Finding wood is one of the most important parts of the job, as reclaimed wood varies tremendously in quality,” said Marc. “If there is too much paint or oil, too many nails, or the wood is too rotten, shakey, or twisted, you can take a big loss with your waste factor.” To ensure quality, Marc scouts buildings before demolition and is often on-site during dismantling to see that the reclaimed lumber is not broken or damaged during loading. “I enjoy the history of the buildings I visit and survey for lumber,” said Marc. “I get the chance to see incredible beams in old barns, heart pine-framed massive mill complexes, and learn the history of the buildings in the area.”
In order to continuously supply the business with raw materials, at least one demolition project is always in progress. From demolition to finished product, Marc is actively involved in every aspect of the Longleaf operation. “I still work in the mill every week,” said Marc. “Not because I have to – our guys in [Berwick] Maine are so excellent at their jobs – but because I like it and it keeps me in touch with the production and quality of material that’s coming off our lines.” After the reclaimed wood reaches Berwick, Longleaf de-nails each piece by hand, which Marc points out is the most time-consuming stage of reclaiming lumber. When all nails and metal are removed, the reclaimed material is milled on their two Wood-Mizer LT40 Hydraulic sawmills that run at least 10 hours each day. “The hydraulic turning capabilities allow us to saw around defects and optimize cants,” said Marc. “This is big when cutting quartersawn and other specialty products.”
The milled wood is then kiln-dried on site and either sold as roughsawn lumber or crafted into tongue-and-groove flooring, paneling, mantels, countertops, bartops, tabletops, shelving, or moulding. Many of the products such as tabletops, stair treads, and assembled millwork are made completely by hand to ensure each piece’s quality and grade meets Longleaf standards. “Our most popular product is our #1 clear quartersawn heart pine flooring,” said Marc. “We’re one of the only places in the world where you can get a true clear quartersawn – I mean no knots, custom lengths and custom widths.” Longleaf specializes in reclaimed heart pine flooring, expertly milled in seven different grades. For every reclaimed piece, Longleaf dedicates a minimum of three graders to inspect each board - and the quality shows. “We have a lot of dedicated employees that really look out for defects in the material – at the de-nailing station, on the Wood-Mizer, at the ripsaw and planer, and after it has been molded,” said Marc. “We work really hard to make sure every single board is the quality that the customer expects.”
In Cambridge, sales take precedence. Working closely with homeowners, contractors, designers, architects, restaurants, and commercial businesses, Longleaf provides tailored services to each and every customer based on their specific needs. “It’s a very personal experience for customers, as we help them pick out boards for small projects, do custom cuts, and more,” said Marc. “We ship zero waste material in our milled products, so that wins us a lot of repeat commercial and residential customers.” Word-of-mouth referrals are a large part of Longleaf’s ability to expand their customer base without spending a great deal on marketing and advertising. “Nothing beats a solid, personal reference from a satisfied customer,” said Marc. “That’s not something you can win with a good marketing program, it can only come from making your customers happy and treating them with respect.” As far as advice, Marc says, “Hire good people, work as hard as you can, and ship the highest quality product possible.”
In addition to their entire business model being built around the environmental advantages of using a recycled product, Longleaf also dedicates a sustainable strategy in their daily operations, using tactics such as biodegradable soap to wash trucks, biking to work, and going paperless with their product brochures. “I would love to see us get to a point where we consume zero fossil fuels,” said Marc. “We’re installing solar panels on our new building, but it won’t cover all our electricity consumption.” For the future, Marc plans to install more renewable energy generated on-site and find a way to lessen their reliance on diesel fuel for their trucks. “There’s a better way,” said Marc. “The economics just have to work for us.”
Longleaf continues to grow by providing salvaged and reclaimed wood from the Eastern United States to people all over the world. “Twenty years ago, half of demolition lumber went straight to the landfill and the high-end lumber demand was being filled by exotics and fresh-felled trees,” said Marc. “Knowing that we’re able to keep waste materials out of the landfill and satisfy customers with [reclaimed] products is the most rewarding part of creating Longleaf.” By identifying a need and working tirelessly to maintain quality throughout all aspects of the business, Longleaf Lumber is poised for continued success in the reclaimed wood industry.
For more information, visit www.longleaflumber.com.
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