There are a few good places to find lumber in the city, but there is only one working sawmill in these five boroughs and it is Re-Co Brooklyn. Some of you may be wondering what the difference is between a sawmill and a regular lumber yard. In short, the difference is night and day. Luckily, we had founder Dan Richfield with us when we all met at the ReCo lumber yard to explain how it all works.
Unlike ninety percent of lumber yards, the first thing you notice when you set foot in ReCo’s yard is the stacks of huge tree trunks piled high in just about every available corner. Some were ripped from their roots by storms, others felled by homeowners or developers looking to utilize every square inch of their properties, but every single trunk in those massive piles came from within an hour or two’s drive of the yard in Brooklyn. Back in 2012, when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on most of the city, ReCo started working with the co-ordinated clean up efforts. As a result, they gathered so many trees that they are still working their way through it all.
Once a tree is brought into the yard, the first step is to cut it into slabs. Again, unlike most lumber yards which trim off the rough tree edges turning the slabs into nice, clean, rectilinear boards, at ReCo they leave the edges rough or “live.” These live edge slabs are what furniture maker George Nakashima turned into his signature look.
The slabs are then stacked in order (called boules) and left to dry in open air. After a period of air drying (depending on the species and thickness), the boules are then moved to the kiln. By “kiln,” I mean that Dan and his partner Roger converted an old shipping container with a heating unity and ventilation fans to keep the air circulating. Inside they can stack several tons of lumber for drying, a process which takes up to six weeks.
Once the slabs are dry, they are either stored and ready to sell (you can peruse through their website or visit the yard and pick them out in person) or are brought into ReCo’s workshop for the other half of their enterprise. That’s right, ReCo also makes furniture. Most of their work, the tables and countertops at least, preserve the live-edge look of the lumber they create but they also do sleek, modern chairs as well.
Obviously, if you’re looking for some live edge slabs, ReCo is your best bet in the NYC area. But as a woodworker, it’s comforting to know that for those of us who are concerned about where our raw materials come from and how they are processed, there is a place so close to home where you can go for locally-sourced lumber that otherwise would have been tossed in a wood chipper and turned to mulch for some suburban garden center. And if you’re thinking about price, buying direct from a sawmill means that the price per board foot is competitive with dimensional lumber, but you get so much more in the bargain.
[Update: Since our visit in 2014, ReCo has moved their shop from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Ridgewood, (technically) Queens. But since they’re such nice guys, we won’t revoke their hipster card just yet.]