In 1978 a small group of guys saw a need for lumber kiln drying services in southern Vermont, and HP Kiln was started at what is now 386 Depot Street. HP Kiln provided custom kiln drying services to brokers and smaller distribution yards without their own kilns, or to help those with kilns to handle extra capacity.
After many inquiries from local craftsmen it became apparent that there was a need for dried lumber on a retail scale, and with all the lumber around HP Kiln the obvious answer was a new division called Vermont Furniture Hardwoods, aka VFH. VFH's goal was to provide furniture grade lumber to the local cabinetmakers, furniture builders and serious hobbyists throughout the region.
The next obvious step was a need for milling services. In the mean time, HP Kiln had continued to grow and had purchased property south of Green Mountain Union High School in Chester on Route 103. In addition to new kiln facilities, a combination office, showroom, and woodworking shop was built, and VFH moved to the south side of town in 1981 with a 40' x 40' shop and small storage area.
At first, VFH primarily responded to needs for custom milling services and house trim packages, but there came a demand for pre-milled picture frame moulding in basic shapes. The line quickly expanded, and by the time David Waldmann graduated from high school in 1982 and was hired as a customer service rep, there were 18 profiles in seven species available from stock, though it was a small part of the overall business.
A year later David's childhood friend Roger Batchelder was hired to help out as part of a school-to-work program. When he graduated in 1984 he also came on as a full time shop employee. As the next few years went by David ended up as the store manager and Roger as the shop foreman. It seems fitting to mention here that David's ambition at the time was to be a cabinetmaker or furniture builder, while Roger was always interested in mechanics and auto body work. Nevertheless they felt that God had put them where He had for a reason, and so they continued on.
HP Kiln was bought out in late 1988, and the new owners wanted to close down the VFH division. However, the original owners hated the thought of their flagship going down and approached the current management team to see if they would like to get together and buy it. In addition to the woodworking shop, VFH also ran a construction crew and separate cabinet shop, but no one seemed interested except David, and he didn't feel inclined or able to do it on his own.
After talking it over, David and Roger (who were now brother-in-laws, having married sisters Rebecca and Ruthanne the year before) made an offer together that was quickly accepted. While neither had any business training, the previous owners were willing to give advice, and their (now late) father-in-law was ready and able to help out as a business owner himself for many years.
No sooner had the ink dried on the paperwork signed Friday than the new owners of HP Kiln announced on Monday their decision to move all production to their new facility in Ohio. Since we had a one year lease on our space it didn't have an immediate impact, but they soon approached us with an offer to move out early with some financial incentive.
After a successful counter offer we were soon looking for a new home. A local landmark − a building with "WEIRD WOOD" emblazoned on the roof − seemed to be empty, and after approaching the owner a deal was made for us to purchase it. The funds and financial concessions made by the new owners of HP Kiln provided us with cash for down payment and allowed us to be closed for the two weeks it took to move all the equipment and set up the electrical and dust collection equipment. The new location meant that everything was now under one roof (bulk lumber had been stored "up on the hill" at the HP Kiln facility). Though there was limited space for lumber storage and the ceilings were pretty low, the shop expanded slightly, to about 40' x 65'.
In 1989-90 the local and then regional economy VFH depended on for business took a big hit, and David and Roger seriously considered selling out while they could. However, after a reality check with a local business broker they decided the only reasonable course was to soldier on. While picture frame moulding had been a small part of the business, it was still continuing at about the same rate, so a decision to expand it was made. The addition of prefinished mouldings and a national advertising campaign in trade magazines started a growth that ended up continuing in a very steady fashion for nearly twenty years.
As the business became more and more product oriented and less material resale focused, the decision was made to modify the name to more accurately reflect the reality (also, a lot of people thought that since "furniture" was in our name, that we made furniture). While the corporate name remains Vermont Furniture Hardwoods to this day, we have registered and now go by the trade name Vermont Hardwoods. However, from long habit (and laziness!) we also use the old abbreviation "VFH".
By 1998 the storage area was becoming a severe bottleneck, and a small (42' x 60') warehouse was added to expand the amount of space available for rough lumber. However, a short five years later the shop was suffering from lack of capacity; and new machines were needed that there was no room for. Further, there was now demand for new finishes which required a spray booth.
Preparations were made to join the existing shop and warehouse with a 3,000 SF addition. A contract was signed with a builder, and down payment was made to begin the addition when word came to us that our old home at 386 Depot Street was for sale, and at a price which made us overlook the fact that the 30,000 SF facility was at least twice as large as what was really needed.
After much prayer, debate, and consultation, we canceled the contract on the expansion at Town Farm Road. One of the aspects that made this move feasible was a cooperative effort with a local company starting called The Flooring Mill (TFM). TFM wanted to source local material to be made into flooring and sold to local homeowners and builders, but didn't want to tie up the space and resources to store and machine it. We agreed to rent space for storage of raw materials, and provide the milling services as needed. Along with another local business that needed some space for storage, we were able to rent out about a quarter of the building and effectively reduce our mortgage payment.
Work started at Depot Street in early 2004. Though the building was only 25 years old it had had a hard life, and by the time we moved in during late September 2004, almost every aspect of it had been repainted, resided, reroofed, rewired or resomethinged. Almost all the work was done in the evenings and on weekends by David and Roger and their families (a total of seven children ranging in age from 10 − 16 at the time), as well as church friends and neighbors.
The actual shop is now about 6000 SF, and home to not one but two moulders, as well as two planers, a multi-bladed straight line rip saw, and linear profile sander, plus all the "normal" tools you'd find in any well equipped woodworking shop. A totally new dust collection system was installed that not only keeps the shop practically sparkling, but also blows all the chips and shavings right into an enclosed trailer so there is no handling required. We had room to put in retail hardwood plywood and lumber storage racks, and there is plenty of space (well, we have to be careful) to store our rough lumber within easy reach.
In 2008 the owner of the Flooring Mill decided it was time to move along and it seemed a natural extension for VFH to take over since most of the physical business was already here. A flooring showroom was added and a sales person was hired to deal with local contractors and expand our product to flooring stores.
After 21 years of the partnership, Roger finally answered his lifelong call to work in the automotive field in 2009. David and Rebecca bought his share of the company and continue to run it in the same manner. We expect to continue to provide those products and services that are requested, forming our company to meet the needs and desires of our customers.