We make heirloom furniture by hand in your community and we make it for your family to enjoy for generations.
When we first bought our property 3 years ago, it was absolutely perfect for us, even though many of our family and friends who lacked our vision thought we were crazy! We saw the potential in our property, but it was certainly hiding behind a lot of hard work, money, stubbornness and perhaps some creative spirit.
Our property used to be part of a much bigger farm, and in fact, what is now our house, is a timber framed barn from the late 1700’s. Yes, you heard that right, our house was built with hand hewn timber, cut from this property and all by hand over 300 years ago. (Since then, the farm has been divided into a smaller parcels.) More recently our property was a sheep farm, but since the 1970’s or so the land has been largely neglected, fields allowed to turn fallow and grow into an unruly mess of brambles, swamp and neglected forest.
We decided that work on the house could wait, but we couldn’t wait to start working the land. We envisioned bringing it back to its former glory (and perhaps better?!), we bought a tractor with a backhoe (I don’t need much of an excuse for toys) and got to work.
When a property is allowed to go completely wild, many times the invasive species (are able to) take over and will compete with the more traditional flora/fauna that should be thriving. Little changes to the ecosystems can throw the entire property into chaos and soon you are left with a mess of brambles, vines (that could have come straight from the Jungle Book), diseased and crowded trees and generally just unusable land + soil.
We started by clearing the underbrush of invasive species, weeds, and other nasty things (think poison ivy, poison oak, etc.), taking out diseased/dead trees, and selectively clearing timber to allow strong old growth trees room to breathe again. Sadly, this area has been hit very hard by the Emerald Ash Borer and unfortunately, all of our ash trees are diseased and dying. White Ash is such an iconic part of North Eastern forests, and the lumber is prized for many purposes; it has quickly become one of our favorites due to its appearance, strength and resiliency. Realizing how many trees had to be removed to make the property safe, productive, and harmonious again, ultimately led us to our current adventure.
Building a sawmill
In order to save our beautiful dead ash trees, diseased oaks and crowded cherry, hickory + maple – we decided to mill our trees into lumber and use the lumber to build furniture, barns and complete updates to our house. We are not ones to take things lightly or go the easy route (you may see a theme develop here), we decided that I should build the sawmill. It wasn’t like I had ever run a sawmill, closely inspected one, seen a bandsaw mill in person or even welded a day in my life, but still this seemed like a good idea. Jordan knew how to weld from a high school class, and (in turn) taught me the basics of stick welding in our driveway. The lessons seemed to have taken root and with some luck, lots of swearing, sweating, blood and more than a few tears – 5 months later we had a custom bandsaw sawmill sitting in the driveway! *Now 5-months may seem excessively long for this project, but I will note this was built while I was traveling a minimum of 2-3 weeks a month, however, when I was home it was full on fabrication and welding. I would work from sun up to way past sun down when I was at home; I have the scars to prove it. On a work trip during the height of sawmill building, I was attending an important conference in Las Vegas, my hands were so gnarled that when I tried to put on a suit, I had to immediately call the hotel spa for help.
Our custom designed and built sawmill is capable of milling much wider and bigger trees than most commercially available models (ahem, see not taking the easy route). The only downside is that it is a mostly manual model, hydraulics and computer sawing aids are available on commercial models and as you can imagine they make the process of sawing logs much faster + easier. Of course, if you are interested in welding, fabrication, redneck engineering (what I’ll lovingly call my non-professional fabricating) and just basically making things work no matter what – we are going to be building version 2.0 of “Thomas the sawmill” as my mother calls it, complete with hydraulics and several high end features that will strongly boost our production, and save our backs..
Now back to the story- With a working sawmill and tractor we were able to save all the trees that either died or had to be removed from our property, and nothing was going to waste on our land renovation project. The underbrush was chipped for mulch/compost, small trees for firewood and all larger trees were sawed into lumber. We brought in special breeds of goats, sheep, cows, and chickens to help rejuvenate the land.
Milling and drying process
Once trees are saved + sawed on the farm, they start the drying and conditioning process. To be able to make high quality furniture from salvaged trees, a lot more goes into the process than just simply cutting them into pieces on the sawmill. They must be milled in a very particular fashion, slowly air dried and then finished in a kiln. The kiln brings the moisture down to an acceptable level, (while also sterilizing the wood, killing any bugs and stabilizing the slabs), so that it can live its next life as heirloom quality furniture without any problems.
Now just a quick aside – when trees fall down due to storm damage, die from old age, disease or have to be removed for safety, they are often chipped, burned or literally thrown into the landfill. We won’t get too in-depth here, but trees are literally giant chunks of living carbon – they have spent their entire lives (sometimes for hundreds of years) sucking carbon from the atmosphere and turning it into natures greatest and most versatile building material. When a large tree is saved from being chipped, burned, or trashed – its carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere for eternity. That’s right, your new solid hardwood furniture is literally storing and saving a large amount of carbon from being released back into the atmosphere. Now this is a great fact by itself, and we think super helpful to nature, but there is another major secret to this recipe, and it involves the global supply chain.
When disposable furniture is purchased, say from a certain Swedish company, or perhaps your favorite design-y looking large furniture company. Most people don’t realize that these companies are cutting down perfectly healthy forests in pristine locations across the globe, shipping the trees and/or material to factories in Asia and then shipping the finished furniture back to us here in the good ol’ US of A, before it is then shipped to a showroom or warehouse and finally shipped to your doorstep. Now I don’t have to tell you that, that is a lot of shipping, but that’s not even the worst bit! Not only are pristine forests being razed, but the “wood” that ends up in your furniture is a shell of its former self. It is far from being solid wood, these items are full of wood amalgams, veneer, plywood, nasty glues + binders and toxic finishes.
Now this may seem like I’m being a little hard on the big guys, and maybe I am, for good reason! To put a pin on the point here – let’s recap; shipping all over the world, built by machines and foreign workers, ruining forests, fake wood, toxic finishes AND one last strike, these pieces aren’t meant to last but a few years in your house! That’s right, these companies are banking on you either getting bored of the style, breaking the furniture, or just moving on to something else- so it’s also disposable. Let that sink in- not only the ethics behind this practice, but your new and possibly expensive furniture is meant to spend a few years in your house, then the rest of its miserable life polluting in a landfill.
We aren’t crazy hippies or environmentalists, but we do study these issues and we greatly care about the natural world around us. I grew up in the Hudson Valley, and we both spend as much time as possible outside or interacting with nature. We are very concerned with keeping the natural world wild + healthy, and we know that doing our part is very important. Hoener Farms feels that we can make an impact on this very pressing issue, and we believe it all starts with awareness.
We believe in- Shopping local, supporting small businesses and craftsmen + women and being nice to the world.
Now to get back on track, let’s recap how we build furniture for our Full Circle Furniture Collection:
- We use salvaged logs from only local hardwood trees that are either lost in storms, removed for safety, or lost to natural causes (most of our current supply was grown right here on our farm).
2. We custom saw each tree with the ultimate furniture piece in mind, making beautiful pieces that aren’t an option with commercially purchased lumber.
3. We dry the wood in solar powered kilns, which save tons of co2 + energy (wood takes a lot of energy to dry and stabilize, and we mean A LOT)
4. Our designs are timeless, customized to you and meant to stand the test of time. We only build heirloom quality furniture and use ancient techniques that have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years, for good reason. Our designs come from the trees + wood itself, so they never go out of style.
5. We build everything by hand, here in Millbrook, NY from only local solid hardwoods.
6. We use only natural, non-toxic and no VOC finishes, hand rubbed oil with a hard wax. This is our way to give the wood a warm beautiful and natural luster that is easy to maintain and more durable than even the harshest chemical finishes – safe for your home, your family and made to last for hundreds of years.
Hoener farms designs and builds heirloom furniture & furnishings - we sawmill, dry in solar kilns and hand build all on our farm in the Hudson Valley.