Saranac Hollow Woodworking has a 20-year history in upstate New York of offering custom cabinets, furniture and casework. Owner Hal Moore studied under Wendel Castle and got his start working at another shop that he eventually bought.
The town of Saranac is about halfway between Lake Placid and Plattsburgh, N.Y., and about a half-hour’s drive from Saranac Lake, a popular summer vacation spot. In other words, it’s off the beaten path. Moore says the shop’s success has depended on making things that will last for years and having the skill to do whatever is asked.
A specialty business
Moore grew up in Western New York near Rochester. His father was a production engineer who enjoyed woodworking as a hobby and was a tremendous influence on his impressionable son. Moore attended the State University of New York at Plattsburg in 1973 and enrolled in an environmental studies program.
“I went up here to go to college and did construction afterwards, mainly carpentry. At the time there was a guy, Carl Hathaway, who ran this program through North Country Community College in Saranac Lake where you could build a guideboat with him as a group. I signed up for it and that was my first introduction to fine woodworking after college.”
Woodworking soon became Moore’s new career focus as he appreciated the creativity and hands-on aspect of it all. His desire to learn more only increased from there. He moved back to Rochester and attended what was then called the Wendell Castle School in Scottsville, N.Y., that taught furniture design and traditional woodworking techniques. Named after its founder, Castle is an internationally acclaimed modern furniture designer. The experience had a lasting impact on the importance of integrity.
“He taught me to keep my standards very high and not to fudge things,” Moore says.
“That program doesn’t exist anymore. It was absorbed by the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts. But, at the time, it was a small woodworking school and I took a two-year associate program in arts and design and build. After I was done with that, I moved to Burlington, Vt., in 1986 and worked at a cabinet shop, North River Woodworks, for three years.”
The shop’s owner decided to retire and offered the business to Moore who purchased it in 1989. Included with the sale were client lists and existing contracts, making it easy for him to carry out the existing business as his own.
“I stayed and worked in that shop for six months, but my wife is from Plattsburg and she wanted to move back here. We found this building for sale, bought it and moved here. Most of the clients from that shop in Burlington were from New York City, so it didn’t really matter where my shop was.”
Moore’s 4,000-sq-ft. shop, formerly a cheese factory and Agway store, has undergone substantial renovations. He installed a second floor in 1991 and moved in with his wife and two sons. He devised a way to heat the entire building through a sawdust furnace system.
His clientele and product offerings haven’t changed much through the years. The majority of his work is cabinets and casework. Stand-alone furniture has always accounted for about 10 percent of his orders.
“My niche is producing anything you can’t buy in a store, the odd and unique things. We’re a specialty business. We sell a lot of lumber and the specialty is we can do anything from selling the lumber rough to milling it to fabricating it and finishing it to a finished product that we install.”
Hardwood dealer, too
Moore started Adirondack Hardwoods in 1995, which operates out of a 2,000-sq.-ft. facility next to his shop.
“I developed that because it was so difficult to get good lumber,” Moore says. “A guy started a small lumber sales business for hardwoods and I ended up purchasing it from him. We were partners for a few months; then I took over. I was stocking this lumber mostly for myself, but now lumber sales are about half of my business.
“The lumber division also brings in a lot of work from people who are looking to have lumber planed or made into butcher-block tops. They may come in for the lumber and decide to have us make the project for them instead.”
His shop serves a 100-mile radius, mainly in New York’s Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.
“It’s a pretty sparse population where I’m at. I work a lot in the Lake Placid, Saranac Lake areas where there are a lot of vacation homes. I also work in a lot in Plattsburg, which is more residential.
“I stopped doing work in New York City when the economy went bad in 2009. Our customer base dried up and I started doing more work up here. When things got better I never bothered to go back.”
Projects range from a single piece of custom molding to a $75,000 kitchen.
“We do lots of high-end work, but we do everything — absolutely everything — from small to high-end jobs. Last year we did three large jobs interspersed with a lot of smaller projects, including a sleek modern white kitchen with flat-panel doors and high-end hardware; a walnut job in a rural farmhouse to match the time period it was built; and cabinets and elaborate vanities for a large home.”
Moore has two employees, Bob Palmer and Justin Green, plus a chocolate-lab shop dog named Cocoa. He’s had more help in the past, but that just made it more difficult to organize projects. Moore also prefers working in the shop to having only management duties.
Though most of the shop’s work is generated through word-of-mouth referrals, Moore markets through Facebook, public radio announcements and the shop’s website.
Moore says he has more than enough work to stay busy and doesn’t foresee making any major changes.
“I’m 63, so in five years I don’t know if I’ll be doing it or not. Everything I do is so custom that I don’t do a lot of repetitive work. The most rewarding part is sitting and designing something and seeing it come to life. I still enjoy doing it.”
Contact: Saranac Hollow Woodworking, 31 Chazy Lake Road, Saranac, NY 12981. Tel: 518-293-8424. www.saranachollow.com
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue.