ALLAGASH, Maine — What do Martha Stewart, Field & Stream magazine, “This Old House” and the 2009 movie “Straw Dogs” have in common? Each one has featured a piece of handcrafted northern Maine furniture.
At Allagash Wood Products, Louis Pelletier III and his father, Louie Pelletier Jr., work together to define the very nature of a value-added product.
“This all started out as a [lumber] mill,” the younger Pelletier said on a recent brisk winter day in Allagash. “My dad bought this little sawmill and started to putter around a bit.”
In the early 1990s the elder Pelletier specialized in custom cutting lumber to meet local needs, and one day his helper asked if he could use some of the scrap material to make a picnic table.
“Then I saw my grand-kids had this little plastic picnic table and I thought we could build them better out of wood,” Louie Pelletier Jr. said. “We started building them and they began selling like crazy.”
Within three years business was so brisk his son was able to quit his job working in the woods and join his father full time in the shop.
“Then I developed the website for the business and it went national,” Louie Pelletier III said. “Thanks to the website we’ve sold wood furniture to people like [celebrity photographer] Anne Liebovitz and Martha Stewart.”
In fact, the Pelletiers were featured guests on Stewart’s talk radio program.
Hollywood fame followed after the Pelletiers began making gun racks and they were contacted by the producers of “Straw Dogs,” starring Kate Bosworth and James Marsden.
“They saw one of my gun racks and wanted it in one of the movie scenes,” Louis Pelletier III said. “I haven’t seen it yet but I plan to order it on Netflix.”
Among the items produced at Allagash Wood Products are cedar picnic tables in child and adult sizes, glider chairs, shelves, benches, birdhouses, canoe seats and coat racks.
From stump to tables and chairs, everything the Pelletiers make comes directly from wood on their land, which the family has managed for sustainable timber harvest over five generations.
The winter months are reserved for tree cutting and log hauling so the Pelletiers can take advantage of the frozen ground to limit any erosion or other damage.
The logs are cut and taken to Pelletier’s sawmill for several rounds of cutting and it’s put through the planer.
Only the best boards and planks make it to the furniture shop to become the small company’s signature picnic tables or rocking chairs.
Every piece of furniture is first assembled and then dissembled for shipping.
“When people get something like our picnic tables it comes as a kit,” Louis Pelletier III said. “We had put it all together here at the shop so all the holes are pre-drilled and then we can take it apart and ship in a flat box and all the customer has to do is put it together.”
He added that all the hardware is included and, “I have not yet had anyone call to tell me they could not put a table together.”
The products are also unfinished, as the Pelletiers prefer their customers select the stains or paint best suited to their own climate and weather.
Thanks to agencies such as UPS, Louie Pelletier III said, shipping items throughout the country is relatively easy.
“It’s amazing how I can live here in Allagash and have a table the next morning in California,” he said.
In fact, there is a restaurant near San Francisco specializing in all-Maine products which has become one of the Pelletiers’ repeat customers.
“Every time he opens up another [restaurant] he orders tables from us,” Louie Pelletier III said. “He wants everything from Maine.”
The Pelletiers rely on word-of-mouth as their primary advertising in addition to a Web presence on Google and Facebook, something which does not always work out as planned.
“I made these wood-framed pet bowl holders and put photographs of them on Facebook,” Louie Pelletier III said. “A guy from Alaska bought one five minutes later and it’s the only one I’ve sold.”
Ultimately, however, he said there is no way the business would be enjoying its current success without the Internet.
“When your business is on the Web people don’t care where you are located, just as long as you can ship the product to them,” he said. “You know, they make tables in California, but I think people just like the smell of cedar and when they see ours maybe it reminds them of something like it they had in the past.”
The entrance to the Pelletiers’ shop serves as a small showroom where chairs, tables, cribbage boards, gun racks, shelves and the infamous pet bowl stands are all on display.
In the production rooms, stacks of picnic table components and lumber in all lengths and markings line the walls and fill racks.
“Look at this piece right here,” Louie Pelletier III said, holding up a pine board streaked with blue lines. “This is called ‘sap wood’ and it gets like this because some little worm or bug made some holes and chewed through the tree.”
But even the best of plans for some planks can go awry.
“Sometimes the wood does not cooperate,” Louie Pelletier III said. “We throw those pieces into the fire.”
The younger Pelletier admits working day in and day out with his father can be a challenge at times, but he would not give it up.
“Working here, I’m home every night and if my family needs me I can just go right home,” he said.
And while the Pelletiers certainly enjoy the publicity that comes with mention in Hollywood movies or national magazines, they both agree positive feedback from the public is just as satisfying.
“I got a call one day from this guy and it sounded like there was a fistfight going on in the background,” Louie Pelletier Jr. said. “He said he was calling from New York City and was outside a restaurant waiting to get in and saw one of our tables outside. He saw our stamp on the bottom of it and called us.”
To view more of Allagash Wood Products creations, visit allagashwoodproducts.com.