timber reclamation and restoration company is on the outskirts of Altenberg, 15Km north of Linz, principal city of Upper Austria and 2009 European Capital of Culture.
Large, orderly reclaimed timber stacks dominate the village outskirts and the drive to the Ramerstorfers' private house and offices is lined with pallets of ready cut boards and neatly processed bricks, some bearing imprints of the Austrian royal and imperial brickworks.
Robert Ramerstorfer welcomes me and soon we are standing amongst stacks of sawn and raw old timbers on a bright winter's day while he explains the peculiarities of his business.
Thirty-five years ago his father began buying and selling bricks and furniture from demolished Viennese houses. He prospered and when his sons matured one became a master mason, the other a specialist in old timbers.
Most of the reclaimed timbers are of spruce and vary in quality. Some reclaimed from derelict houses bear signs of their former functions with large drill and dowel holes, rusty nails or notches. Reclaimed timbers and
bricks usually come from rather grand houses but also timber frame dwellings, barns and stables, the thick planks of which are often very good material.
Robert Ramerstorfer explains that many of the old timbers are not only historically aged but also antique in terms of contemporary preparation –– often with an axe. This contributes to the attraction of the structures in terms of re-use by architects, interior designers, joiners and carpenters.
He acquired a Wood-Mizer LT25 band sawmill in 1997 and electrified the sawing head himself to speed it up since the manual feed and hand-cranked height adjustment were too slow.
Today, old timber is sawn by three employees on the old LT25, on a new LT20 and a single-head resaw, all from Wood-Mizer. Usually, only the four outer surfaces of a beam can be remade into furniture, doors, window frames, interior trims etc. and the remainder shredded for firewood.
Often, unwanted items hidden in timbers 'attack' a band blade which has to be replaced after a single cut. This is where the narrow blade technology comes into its own since the blades cost less and are inexpensively maintained if compared with wide blades. Narrow blades are easily handled and quickly replaced. Robert Ra
merstorfer is not attracted by in-house sharpening and since 2000 has had all Wood-Mizer blades sharpened and reset by Wood-Mizer Germany, especially since the charge is reduced in real terms to ?7- per blade including transport.
Unlike new timber, old timber boards are always sawn from the lower side, guaranteeing optimum yield. A keen eye is needed to identify the best part of a valuable old board, easily ruined by the wrong cut.
Italian, Austrian, Swiss, French and German customers now deal with the company in an atmosphere of mutual trust and new business comes by word of mouth. A joiner in the Tyrol, for example, ordered pallets of reclaimed boards for kitchen panels. Trusting Ramerstofer's offer, he also knows that he must expect 50% waste. Often, insect-damaged timbers need treating and dried in special equipment which hikes up the price by 100 Euros/m3 –– but still worthwhile for the joiner. If Robert Ramerstorfer is unable to supply a special timber, he refers the customer to one of his numerous competitors. Some day the favour will be returned.
He processes 3.000m3 of old timber and 20 tonnes of wood shavings as a by-product p.a. This led him to instal an extract facility producing wood briquettes of high calorific value, lowering the 200m2's house's heating costs.
The other source of income is from Robert Ramerstorfer's brother's stonemasonry. In a spacious, floodlit hall on the estate he creates marble, sandstone and granite modules for tombstones, kitchens, bathrooms, portals and delicately decorated frames for doors and porches.
At the end of my pleasant day at the Ramerstorfers, Robert showed me the new cellar, a finely built vault constructed of imperial and royal bricks with columns and a granite, spiral stairway. Yet another impressive example of a well functioning family operation, where one branch helps and learns from the other and where three generations live in harmony under the same roof.Friedrich Halweg
Wood-Mizer GmbH, Germany