Fine furniture from fallen trees: a local business blooms
Published 10:51 am, Friday, May 10, 2013
Their workshop was Arnow's family's verdant backyard, just off Oenoke Ridge Road, in Pound Ridge.
But what makes the pair's furniture unique is the wood they use. Rather than purchasing materials from a lumber yard, they rely on fallen trees, such as those that fell during Hurricane Sandy, to build their products.
Turning their hobby into a business, they chose the name Epilogue Woods. They've now sold a handful of their wares online.
"We have no real background," Arnow, 24, said in his workshop, checking the moisture content of a couple boards of cedar he had milled recently with a small digital moisture reader. He said his father received all the tools a wood shop could possibly need from his dad's uncle 30 years ago, and they've just been sitting in the basement, rusting, until about six months ago.
Arnow built a table once over winter break by relying on a YouTube video. Rohrs, a 25-year-old New Canaan native, said the last wood shop experience was in, well, wood shop class at New Canaan High. The pair taught themselves their craft mostly via the Internet.
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"Many YouTube videos later, we've made tables," Arnow said.
A chance meeting at a December party in Brooklyn brought the two former classmates together. Rohrs and Arnow had been classmates at Union College, located in the aging industrial city of Schenectady, N.Y. They had known each other in college, but it wasn't until they spent the majority of a party sitting on a couch, talking about wood and tables, that the pair realized they had a connection.
"This December, I came out for a weekend we started working," Rohrs remembered. "Then Eli looked into chainsaw milling, popped the cork on a chainsaw, and took down a cedar across the street."
But cutting down trees is not what Arnow and Rohrs would do ideally. The conservation-minded duo wants to use trees that have recently come down due to weather or age, such as those which fell during Sandy.
"Sandy's been a boon for us because so many trees fell at once and no one knows what to do with them. People say, `Come take our trees!'" Rohrs said.
And that's what the paid has done, locating and milling into boards many area trees that have come down. Arnow estimates that they have an inventory of about 160 boards. Some of the trees are enormous, with four foot diameters, big enough to make a table out of. Arnow, standing over several about six foot sections of a massive maple that he's cut with a chain saw, said that the value comes from milling the trees. To buy the boards on the market would be prohibitively expensive, he said.
"It's kind of evolved to be this completely vertically integrated company," he said.
"My old neighbors told me they had a couple trees that fell in their yard," Rohrs said. "They also want a table. In theory we could give them a table from their own tree."
"That would be the ideal," Arnow agreed.
Trees take time to dry out enough to work with, two to three years, at least for fine furniture. The cedar the pair brought down is a lightweight, porous, wood which dries quickly. They used it as a stop-gap between the time the wood from Hurricane Sandy would be ready.
But they've got a cool idea. The guys make the two- to three-year wait time into two to three months with a solar powered kiln they've constructed on Arnow's family farm in Cumberland County, N.Y. The kiln is a rectangular building with a translucent plastic roof. The walls are painted black to absorb the heat from the sun, and there are vents at the top of the structure. Fans with solar-powered motors circulate the hot air, which picks up the moisture of the wood planks, rises to the top, and exits through the vents. The pair found the basic instructions for how to build it from a Virginia Tech article on the internet and made some modifications.
It's uncertain what the future has for Epilogue Woods. Arnow will enroll in an ecological studies graduate school program at the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry in the fall. Rohrs lives in Brooklyn and works for an advertising firm in Soho, coming up only on the weekends. He said they plan on working through the summer building up inventory to be sold when Arnow is at school. He is working on building the company a professional website and talking to local retailers. During breaks and summers, they'll continue making new tables.
Rohrs said if things work out over the next two years, he'd be happy to quit his job and work on the business full time.
Arnow was more philosophical. Standing over a split tree trunk, he looked at the pattern of rings, and coloration of the wood.
"Doing this has given me a whole new appreciation for trees. I've always loved walking in the woods but this has added a new element," he said, appraising the sun-dappled log. "It's really amazing. You don't know what's in there and then you get in and it's like a beautiful book."
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