Sunlight streams through an east window, its gleam and shadows falling over a melange of sturdy boards.
These arenâ€™t your run-of-the-sawmill two-by-fours and particleboards. In this little warehouse, every piece of wood has a story.
â€œPeople crave this stuff,â€ says Jay Robertson, who mines weatherworn barns for wood thatâ€™s stood the test of time. â€œThe character you see in reclaimed wood is completely unrivaled.â€
Though obviously aged, you wouldnâ€™t guess that these sunlit beams have been salvaged from a ramshackle barn. Theyâ€™re pristine and squarely cut.
Thatâ€™s because Robertson always washes every board, pulls out nails, and cuts out any bad spots. Then he sells the boards to furniture makers and carpenters and anyone who wants to build something of storied wood.
Robertson, an energy engineer, founded Kentucky WiseWood in November 2013 in his one-car garage in the Highlands. â€œIt kind of started one customer at a time, a truckload of wood at a time,â€ he says.
â€œVery soon after that, my garage was piled to the ceiling with old, dirty wood.â€
In February 2014, he moved the operation to a facility rented from Shine Contracting, at 1535Â Lytle St in Portland.
â€œItâ€™s kind of fun going out into barns and stuff and seeing whatâ€™s out there,â€ he says.
But the work can be time-consuming, especially when the barns are overly dilapidated.Â So Robertson, who runs the business around his full-time job at Earthwell Energy Management, sometimes hires two other men to help.
â€œWeâ€™re very picky with what wood we take out of old barns,â€ he says.
Those barns were built from trees that grew in the forest and werenâ€™t fed steroids at a tree farm. Growing in the wild gives wood more knots and more interesting grain patterns.
And then, over perhaps a hundred years as part of a barn, the wood yields itself to the artistry of the elements â€“ holes, cracks and wormholes.
A board thatâ€™s held up over, say, 250 years, has proven itself.
â€œThat piece of wood has a track record that itâ€™s a solid piece of wood,â€ Robertson says. â€œItâ€™s not going to rot. Itâ€™s not going to attract termites.â€
Robertson stumbled onto the reclaimed wood business one weekend when he wanted to make some shelves. Heâ€™d seen reclaimed wood at bars and restaurants around town, and thought heâ€™d find some.
â€œI realized you couldnâ€™t get it in Louisville,â€ he says.
So he drove 45 minutes south of town and spent the whole weekend pulling wood out of the mud, cleaning it, removing the nails and hauling it back home.
He had discovered his niche.
To survey the resources, Robertson took a drive out in the country looking for barns. â€œI noticed there are hundreds if not thousands of abandoned barns in the state of Kentucky,â€ he says.
â€œThereâ€™s a surplus of really good wood thatâ€™s just rotting into the ground.â€
Robertson got into woodworking when he was 15. It all started with a poker table.
â€œI started building it, thinking I just wanted a poker table, and I fell in love with the wood,â€ he says.
Now that Robertson is a wood supplier, he loves seeing what other people do with what he sells them.
â€œSeeing the transformation is very rewarding,â€ he says. â€œThatâ€™s my favorite part of it.â€ VT
For more information, call 502.550.7635, visit www.kentuckywisewood.com or email Robertson at email@example.com. For updates of new projects built with Kentucky WiseWood, visit www.facebook.com/Kentuckywisewood.