Expert Advice on Custom Millwork

Many Americans barely give the exterior details of their home a second thought. But some people who live in historic homes or own stylish commercial buildings may need exterior pieces to be specially made. This is known as custom millwork, and it’s a craft and art form all it’s own.

We asked Eric Hollenbeck of Blue Ox Millworks in Eureka, California to share his expertise about custom millwork.

Why should a homeowner consider custom millwork on their home?

There are two reasons to have your millwork made to order. The first one is to exactly match the original millwork of one’s house, thus preserving its historic value. The second is in higher-end, new construction, where the owners want something different from everyone else. We produce custom millwork for both types of clients.

What are some of the specific applications or products you can create using custom millwork?

Blue Ox is a complete job shop that makes doors, windows, turnings up to 18’, any mouldings or sidings up to 12” wide, any style of wood gutters including curved gutters, and even wrought iron work from our own blacksmith shop.

At Blue Ox, we can also work off drawings, historic photos, and original pieces; or we can come up with a design for you. With 40 years in the trade, we have become some of the best problem-solvers around, and every project has some problem that needs to be solved!

What are some of the custom millwork projects of which you’re the proudest?

Over the last 40 years, we built real coppered planters for the White House, all the windows and doors for the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in the US (Unalaska), all the exterior millwork for the restoration of the historic Governors Mansion in Sacramento, California, the reproduced doors for the Leland Stanford Mansion in California, all the exterior mouldings for the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, and many more. But the project I am probably the most proud of was building a 10” tall Tyrannosaurus Rex with movable arms for a 6-year old autistic boy, who took it to school for show and tell.

What are some tips for maintaining wooden gutters, and how should they be treated differently than standard aluminum gutters?

Like any type of gutter system, wooden gutters should be kept clean and free of debris so they won’t clog up and force water over the edges and onto the ground. Also, it’s important to apply a coat of shingle oil once every five years to keep the wood strong. Make sure to only use shingle oil; other types of oil (like linseed oil) can leave a film behind which will eventually create the conditions needed for wood to rot.

How is Blue Ox more than just a contractor or service provider?

Blue Ox also operates an educational program for disadvantaged high school students in conjunction with the Office of Education. After attending classes, these teens can come here to Blue Ox and start learning a craft. The kids produce numerous items that are sold in our gift shop, and sales of these goods help the teens learn the value of making money and creating products for the public.

Blue Ox is also a historic park which is open to the public for tours. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people each year visit our park to view our antique millwork equipment, some of which dates back to the mid-19th century. We even offer full workshops and complete day activities which allow people to learn about the crafts of ceramics and blacksmithing.

Photo credits: blueoxmill.com