Photograph by Erika Bailey
Building a sturdy business in Saranac
In a rehabbed Agway building tucked on a hill above Route 3—the main artery carrying travelers southwest to Saranac Lake or northeast to Plattsburgh—Hal Moore takes a phone call from a customer on the hunt for a 10-foot sheet of plywood with birch veneer. It’s an unusual size, but Moore has it. That’s the bread and butter of Adirondack Hardwoods, those not-your-run-of-the-mill pieces that aren’t stocked at big-box stores. “If you can buy it at Lowe’s, I can’t compete with that price range,” Moore says.
But he can help a do-it-yourselfer pick out the perfect curly maple for an entryway bench, plane a load of rough-cut lumber, replicate a single piece of molding, or miter together some live-edge slabs for a countertop. And it doesn’t stop at raw materials. As Saranac Hollow Woodworking—Adirondack Hardwoods’ sister business—Moore designs and builds everything from tables and beds to full kitchen redos.
Like most people in the Adirondacks, 63-year-old Moore does a little bit of everything to make a living. But he’ll tell you it’s the variety that he likes best about working in this quiet corner of the world. Though his main focus is casegoods and cabinets, clients turn up with all kinds of requests. He just recreated a wooden pitman arm—a replacement part for a baler—for a local farmer. And he recently finished a “parklet” for the North Country Food Co-op in Plattsburgh, a custom outdoor gathering space where musicians play on Sunday afternoons. The diversity of the projects “keeps me interested,” he says.
Moore is from western New York, near Rochester, but he fell in love with this area as an environmental studies student at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in the 1970s. After graduation, he and some schoolmates bought about 300 acres of farmland in Saranac—just down the road from Adirondack Hardwoods—and founded the New Land Trust, an attempt at communal living that eventually crumbled. (The trust has since been reborn as a nonprofit; see “The Saranac Experiment,” At Home in the Adirondacks 2016).
Moore walked away in the early ’80s and, after a stint as a teacher’s aide, started looking around for a new direction. That’s when he remembered a guideboat building workshop he’d taken with master builder Carl Hathaway through North Country Community College, in Saranac Lake. He’d handcrafted a vessel over the course of three months—even digging up stumps to fashion traditional ribs. It was his first introduction to fine woodworking, and the experience stuck with him. So, in 1984, he enrolled in the Wendell Castle School, in Scottsville, learning the art of furniture making from a giant of modern handcrafted design.
Two years later Moore signed on at North River Woodworks, a cabinet shop in Burlington, Vermont, but he and his wife, Deborah Yokum, always knew they wanted to come back to the western side of Lake Champlain. They made the crossing in 1989, buying North River and relocating the operation as Saranac Hollow Woodworking in this 8,000-square-foot building, once the community’s farm supply outlet. It was an ideal space, with big, open rooms and a loading dock, though it took more than a year to fully renovate—including converting the second story into the couple’s home.
That much square footage might make it hard to maintain a livable temperature during a Saranac winter, but not when your business provides a ready source of fuel. The sawdust from the woodworking operation—supplemented by an annual truckload from a company in Montreal—is shoveled into what Moore calls “a glorified pellet stove,” heating the entire complex. Meanwhile, a 64-panel solar array provides about half of his energy needs. The system originally cost $74,000, minus a $40,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but “it paid for itself,” Moore says. Always looking to leave a lighter footprint on the environment, he also flirted with the idea of converting his van to run on cooking oil, but that “was an experiment that didn’t work.”
Moore started Adirondack Hardwoods in 1995, largely to ensure his own supply of quality lumber. He never expected it to be more than a sideline, but it has helped keep him afloat over the years—especially after the financial downturn of 2008. “If people weren’t ordering cabinet work, at least they were doing it themselves,” he says. Today the specialty lumber trade comprises about half of his business.
In a North Country version of retirement, Moore has scaled back this year, downsizing a three-man workforce to a solitary operation—though he says he could easily scale back up for a large job. With two kids in college he can’t envision a full retirement, and he’s not sure he’s ready for that, anyway. He says he’d miss collaborating with customers, as well as the “challenge of creating your own design and seeing it come to life.”
Moore’s furniture and cabinetry may not flaunt the twig-and-bark frills that define typical Adirondack style, but that doesn’t mean this setting isn’t reflected in the honest lines and solid craftsmanship of his work. “I’m inspired by the natural beauty,” he says. “It’s cheesy, but it’s true.”
Find Adirondack Hardwoods/Saranac Hollow Woodworking (518-293-8424, www.saranachollow.com) at 31 Chazy Lake Road, in Saranac, open 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and by appointment.
A version of this article originally appeared in the At Home in the Adirondacks 2017 issue of Adirondack Life. Subscribe now to receive eight issues per year.