Local Vendor Spotlight: Manayunk Timber

Steve Ebner and his daughter Rebecca operate the sawmill; in addition to salvaging buildings, they save local logs.
Susan Ciccantelli, for the Shuttle

From Factory Floor to Our Food Store

Reclaimed wood from Manayunk Timber is featured prominently inside Weavers Way Ambler. Just look up above the sandwich/charcuterie area! Naturally, Steve Ebner, proprietor of the city’s only sustainable lumberyard and sawmill, knows exactly where this wood is from.

“The building was in Wayne Junction on Berkley Street between Greene Street and Wayne Avenue. The mill, Van Straaten & Havey, made linen children’s clothes,” Ebner told Weavers Way facilities manager Steve Hebden.

“The first wing was built in 1889 with longleaf pine and the second wing was built in 1910 of Douglas fir. The longleaf pine was old-growth — more than likely the trees were 400-500 years old and they were very high quality.”

The Ambler signs are made of longleaf pine.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, the mill made silk hosiery. Though the building was among 17 former industrial sites in the Wayne Junction National Historic District, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections deemed it in imminent danger of collapse. Though the building was demolished in 2012, the site is still an empty lot.

Van Straaten & Havey mill photos by Weavers Way Working Member Stuart Shils.

Manayunk Timber photos by Weavers Way Working Member Susan Ciccantelli.

Despite its long history of a diverse — though often besieged — tree canopy, the city of Philadelphia has but one sustainable urban sawmill — Manayunk Timber, on Umbria Street near Domino Lane 

Stroll through the spacious (60,000 square feet) and well lit grounds overlooking the Schuylkill on a day when Steve Ebner or his daughter, Rebecca, are available to chat and you are bound to learn something you never knew about the past and present of Philadelphia’s trees and buildings. There are stacks of old wood everywhere, both reclaimed beams and planks from demolished 100-plus-year-old buildings and logs from fallen trees that lived for hundreds of years in and around the city. Much of it is still drying out and won’t be ready for use for years. (Natural curing happens at the rate of an inch a year.) 

Ebner’s inventory includes everyday furniture material — oak, pine, walnut, cherry — as well as less familiar woods such as Osage orange, black locust (never rots — great for boats and fenceposts), holly, white and yellow cedar (rot-resistant, so perfect for raised beds), longleaf (yellow) pine, horse chestnut, old-growth tidewater red cypress, even Western species like redwood and Douglas fir.

With experience in both construction and fine woodworking dating back to the 1980s, Ebner can answer your questions about all of them.

Ebner and his brother bought their first sawmill in 1994, the better to handle both the logs and the massive beams and planks he takes out of old buildings. He says it is the only sawmill in Philadelphia, and certainly the only one dedicated to salvaging old wood. 

He traces the upswing in the popularity of reclaimed wood to around 2005, when LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “green” building certification gained momentum. Using reclaimed wood in new construction can earn developers credits toward LEED status.

Plugged in as he is to the area’s demolition network, Ebner is knowledgeable about the city’s buildings and their history. (See accompanying story on the wood used for signage at Weavers Way’s new Ambler store.)

Besides selling lumber, Manayunk Timber also transforms old wood into finished products and interior environments, from floors and shelving to cabinetry and wardrobes, kitchen countertops and island tops, moldings, doors, windows, paneling and sills. The company’s custom work can be viewed in many Philly bars and restaurants including Wissahickon Brewery, 3705 W School House Lane, which features wood salvaged in 1985 from Ortlieb’s and Schmidt’s breweries. 

A showroom is planned for spring 2018. Lumberyard hours are 9 to 3:30 weekdays, till 2:30 on Saturday. Visit www.manayunktimber.com or go on Instagram @manayunktimber for some great pictures of finished products. 

Susan Ciccantelli is a Weavers Way Working Member.