When woodworker Glen Waller saw old wooden dam gates lying on top of a burn pile, there was no way he would let them go up in flames. They came from the Lamoille River dam in Morrisville, Vt., and the time had come to replace them with new metal gates. Even though they had been relegated to the excavator’s burn pile, Waller knew they had value and that someday he’d find a use for them. He salvaged the dam gates and stashed them in a storage unit, along with other slabs of wood he’d similarly reclaimed.
Five years later, the center-cut oak gates found a new purpose as the unique front door to a custom home by Sisler Builders. The wood had been submerged for about 80 years and look as though they’d been sandblasted by the volume of water sloshing against them. They’ve also been naturally ebonized by the reaction of the steel I-beams and rods that held the gates together, with the natural tannins in the wood. Waller removed I-beams and other fixtures before storing the gates for five years.
Cushman Design Group of Stowe, who designed the house, also designed the the unique front door. “We like working with creative designers and architects like Cushman. They create the designs and the vision, they give us the leeway to design-build as we see fit, as long as their overall vision comes to fruition,” said Seth Allen, Waller’s co-worker in the woodworking division at Sisler Builders.
It took Waller and Allen over 600 hours to reclaim the oak dam gates and give them their new life. The client had wanted a unique front door, and is overjoyed with the end result.
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Seth Allen and Glen Waller make up the core of Sisler Builders’ custom woodworking division. Allen was hired in early 2012 as a carpenter and soon moved into the wood shop to build furniture for Sisler Builders’ clients. Shortly after, Waller was brought on to help collaborate on a large order of custom furniture that included three separate pieces—an architecturally designed, high-end walnut master bed with AV cabinets, drawers, and an oversized headboard; a claro walnut (Juglans hindsii) coffee table; and a black walnut (Juglans californica) dining room table. Sisler Builders’ custom woodworking division was launched!
“We are not set up for high volume,” notes Waller. “We do specialty things, such as master vanities, full kitchens with interiors made of poplar, not plywood, for non-toxic houses, built-in cabinets, and furniture.”
The woodworking shop is modest, completely kitted out with Powermatic tools. The only element that is off-site is a spray room. “We do mostly natural oil finishes. A lot of present-day finishing systems only require one or two coats, so we rarely need a spray room,” Waller adds.
Waller and Allen both became interested in woodworking when they were kids. Waller’s father was an aerospace engineer with a woodworking shop at home. This in itself was enough to inspire young Waller to take woodworking classes throughout his school years. He also enjoys metal fabrication. He moved to Vermont from California, and prior to joining Sisler Builders owned a custom door-making business in Moscow, Vermont.
Allen modestly claims he received his own training from the school of hard knocks, but he also attended Vermont Technical College’s architectural design and engineering program, as well as wooden boat school. After graduating from high school he worked for a high-end construction company in Southern Vermont, where he built homes from the ground up, getting involved in all aspects of building.
Allen later moved to NYC to chase his girlfriend, who he eventually married. “I didn’t want to build houses and lug tools, so I started working in wood shops in New York City and that is where my love for furniture and woodshops began,” says Allen. Woodworking also runs in his family. His father owned a construction business and his father-in-law is Johannes Michelsen, a world-renown wood turner known for his amazing wooden hats.
Most of the custom woodworking projects come from Sisler Builder clients who are having new houses built or major renovations done. “Our clients don’t usually want to stick with a set design. They want the flexibility to make changes along the way,” Allen explains. This gives Sisler Builders the ability to achieve anything their clients dream up. So instead of contracting out furniture and custom projects, he and Waller do the custom work in house.
“We get some interesting projects,” says Waller. “We recently did an outdoor bench that can be raised and lowered, according to snow depth, using a marriage of steel and wood to create a gear mechanism that is operated manually with a hand crank.” Waller was able to employ his metal fabricating skills to design the gearing.
Other creative projects the two have completed are a suspended outdoor shower enclosure made from a reclaimed hot tub, a shuffle board table, a bamboo-cladded front door assembly, and a custom live-edge Douglas fir bench.
“We can do almost anything custom,” says Waller. “If we can’t do some aspects of a the project we will find someone we respect who can, but for the most part we do everything in house.”
Seth Allen, custom woodworking division manager for Sisler Builders, said it took about four weeks to design and build the cabinet and another week to install it. Master woodworker Glen Waller finalized measurements and the design, and built it with Craig Gants and Allen. “Everything was built with blind fasteners. You can’t see any screws or hanging devices,” Allen explains.
The team took measurements of each individual ski item and built “boxes” sized precisely to each item’s dimensions. Like assembling a puzzle, they organized the boxes to create a final display measuring approximately 20 feet long by 8 feet high. They used prefinished maple and whitewashed raw maple plywood, with exquisite attention to detail. The museum provided materials, while Sisler Builders donated the design, knowledge, and craftsmanship to create the custom display case.
Owner Steve Sisler, a longtime skier and ski history enthusiast, was happy to donate his company’s expertise to build the cabinet for the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum so that visitors to Stowe Mountain Resort could enjoy a different perspective of Alpine skiing.