Birmingham’s KMAC Greenworks is a reclaimed construction materials company that dismantles abandoned industrial buildings and salvages the rare and beautiful wood and brick they find there. This allows KMAC to offer their customers such products as flooring made from heart pine, siding made from antique oak, imposing beams and pallets of hand-cast bricks, as well as rustic camp and cottage furniture made with wood and even nails that have been saved from the landfill.
Greenworks has been operating in downtown Birmingham for almost six years. But the predominately family-run business is a division of the industrial recycling company KMAC Services, which has existed for 24 years.
“My father is a 50 percent owner in KMAC, the whole thing,” says Brad Klinner, general manager of Greenworks. “And I've worked for KMAC in the summers since I was 17. When I finished college at Jacksonville State I was ready to get a desk job and put on a suit and tie because before that I worked as a laborer. I was out cutting iron with a torch and getting filthy dirty every day. I was ready to be done with that.
“About that time is when we got wind of this whole wood reclamation deal,” Klinner says. “We bought our first mill out in South Carolina. We spent several months taking that building down with the plan of just selling it all wholesale, but we got back to Alabama and found there was a big market in retail. So they said, ‘Brad here's an opportunity,’ and they just set it in my lap and said run with it. It started with just me and eventually we grew and hired more people and got saws in here. So this is like my baby.”
Greenworks specializes in deconstructing deserted and decayed factories, brick by brick, plank by plank and refinishing the materials to sell as renewed building supplies. And each piece of wood salvaged is a piece that isn’t milled from a new tree.
“We take the wood down,” says Klinner. “We wholesale some of it. The wood comes in raw and we have to clean everything. Everything has to be run through a metal detector to find all of the hardware and nails in it, then we put it on our saw and pretty much just fillet it. The wood has nail holes in it a lot of character that wood today just doesn’t have. And then it’s green, which is the other selling point. We’re just recycling the wood. It’s already been used for hundreds of years now. We're going to take it rather than it going to a landfill or somebody burning it. We'll take it and clean it and remanufacture it, turn it into a new product. I think this is a trend that’s really going to take hold, not just because people like the reclaimed look, that distressed look, but because it’s recycling.”
But Klinner, who graduated from Jacksonville State University with a degree in history, sees his job as more than just reclaiming building materials. With each mill he and his brothers, Alan and Clay, deconstruct, the Klinner are renewing the past.
“These places are huge, and back in the day would employ 4000 people, two shifts, seven days a week,” Klinner says. “When you go into the towns where the old mills are, everybody has some sort of tie to that facility. So when we come in to take down a building, people come up to us on almost a daily basis and tell us their story about how they worked there for 40 years or how their grandmother worked there and can they have a brick. It’s really sentimental for them. Our mill in Tallahassee has a lot of history. Part of it was there before the Civil War, and during the Civil War it was an armory. They manufactured muskets and linens for tents and uniforms.”
Klinner gladly opens Greenworks’ doors to anyone who’s curious about the process, displaying each procedure from de-nailing to sawing and documenting the history behind the lumber every step of the way. “We invite any and everyone that’s interested to come down and look,” he says. “I think part of the experience of buying reclaimed wood is coming down and seeing the process, how it works, seeing the raw wood and letting us tell you about the buildings and the history and where that wood is coming from. We're open to the public and we're working on trying to open a small showroom, a boutique out in Homewood in the SoHo area, where we can have all our products on display. We do reclaimed furniture too. I just love showing this stuff to people. They really get a kick out of it.”
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