If you’ve never been to one of BIG!NYC’s Reuse Centers, they’re basically like a Costco, except with reclaimed furniture and appliances. Here, and at BIG!’s other location near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, you can find just about anything you need to start furnishing your home. You’ll find office desks, sinks, toilets, whole kitchen cabinet sets, ovens, dishwashers, brand new floor tiles from warehouse liquidations, and even half cans of paint.
Since opening in 2005, the Astoria location has only been able to sell reclaimed furniture and building materials taken from old buildings as-is. Now, BIG!Millworks will allow the crew to create new wall paneling, wood flooring, and dimensional lumber objects all from wood that would have otherwise been thrown out as waste material.
“Material like a reclaimed joist gets thrown out everyday anytime a building is coming down or something is being upgraded,” Jaclyn Jablkowski, BIG! communications manager, said during the Millworks tour. “Most of the material is ending up in a dumpster carted to a landfill or incinerated, and we think there’s a value to this material and our mill is going to prove that.“
The new Millworks is located towards the back of the right wing of the Reuse Center, which BIG! just began renting last summer. While the shop has been an idea for a long time, it only recently took shape as a physical space in the last four months. And like its mission to create reclaimed wood materials, the Consortium for Workers Education built the entire space using recycled materials.
The star machine of this new section is the hydraulic Wood-Mizer; a massive wood saw that looks more like large piece of farming equipment. Sam Welch, the Millworks foreman and lead craftsman from Tri-Lox, explained that it’s currently equipped with a conveyor belt to feed long beams of wood. But it can also carve apart large tree trunks measuring 36-inches in diameter – more than enough to take care of the large swath of “zombie” trees the Parks Department will be cutting down this season.
Most of the wood that the Millworks works with comes from old building joists, structural timbers that make up building frames, and ceiling beams. Welch says that a single beam can yield up to four long wood planks and then even more new building materials can be cut out of a thicker structural timber. The varieties of wood that the Millworks can provide are also diverse, and include white oak, Alaskan yellow cedar, and redwood.
All the wood goes through a process of deconstructing, milling, kilning, and then processing (otherwise known as planning). After the table saw, the panels go to a shaper machine that uses different cutter bits on a spinning spindle to either create rounded edges or cut a tongue-and-groove system into the boards. After that, the planks go into a into a 110-degree Fahrenheit kiln to dehydrate the wood. Lastly, a wood planer will shave down the wood to its final thickness, cut straight edges, and create a smooth finish. The ultimate goal for the project is to create a wide variety of milled products that do-it-yourselfers, architects and the larger design community can use.
When we visited, Sam said that the Millworks just put its first order of wood planks into the kiln. By the beginning of next year BIG! expects to be selling its first round of product lines including flooring, paneling, and perhaps molding products. At first, the products coming out of the Millworks will be building materials as Tri-Lox, who is working in partnership with BIG! for its infrastructure, begins to ramp up its production of green building materials for larger orders.
Another large component of the Millworks project is that it will provide woodshop training for individuals from disadvantaged communities. The Green Training Program will primarily consist of people who may not have GEDs or are having a tough time finding a job after being incarcerated. The hope is that the program will provide these individuals with important skills that will help them get jobs elsewhere or to be hired on as permanent Millworks workers.
To create a pool of trainees, BIG! is working with the Young Adult Internship Program and the Fortune Society. BIG! Millworks will host its first wave of four new trainees and employees starting next Monday. From there, it will begin acclimating its first group and developing the curriculum that will be in place for the future of the program. We certainly hope it will be a long and prosperous green mission.
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Images © Kevin Lee for Inhabitat