With our trusted friends Walter and Eric of Veteran Wood Floors, LLC., I witnessed, and lent a hand in, the laying down of over 15,000 square feet in a little over 3 days.
Three days was about how long I spent laying my studio floor. It was a very casual experience as I hand picked each piece and the whole floor was assembled like a precious puzzle.
Walter and Eric did not have that luxury. Time was of the essence. Aided by a crew of a dozen men working round the clock, the installation process was a relentless hustle where choices were made instinctively, on the fly.
Along with the original finish, various accent colors ranging from black to white, grey, yellow, green, orange, blue, purple, brown and red are left intact on this extremely durable grade.
Reclaimed Gym Floors require both a skilled hand during installation and an acute visual sensibility. Because the flooring is reused as-is (without any additional milling), gapping and irregularities are to be expected and the installer must be attentive to keep the rows straight. In addition, an effort must be made to keep the original paint markings evenly dispersed during installation.
Layout, sorting, nailing.
Walter’s crew were installation pros. As one man nailed the flooring down, two guys would work ahead of him sorting and laying the pieces out. At the end of each day, what had been installed was then screened, vacuumed and coated with single application of protective finish.
We installed a heavier mix of painted boards on the first floor.
The finished floor looks pretty wicked. It’s sporty, playful, durable, and one of a kind!
This is Nolan. We met this summer while I was traveling in Alabama, sourcing reclaimed timbers for our sister company New Energy Works. It was 107 degrees in the town of Fayette where the demolition was underway of a former Union Underwear Inc. mill (makers of Fruit of the Loom). As I measured and photographed the timbers which had been carefully plucked from the wreckage, I was approached by an older gentleman in a white pick-up truck. I had seen him earlier driving around the site, chatting to the workers and keeping an eye on the activity, and had assumed that he was some sort of foreman or security employee. After a warm greeting he inquired as to what I was doing. We spoke and it turned out that he was not an employee of the demolition company, but rather a kindly man name Nolan who had retired from the mill in 1985 and had taken on the role of something akin to town historian. He lived nearby and liked to monitor the progress of the mill’s demolition. This day he was there to gather some bricks to add to his collection of mill memorabilia.
Union Underwear Inc. demolition site.
Our customers are constantly asking about the origin of the wood that they buy. Often we can tell them that it came from a barn in a neighboring state or a factory in a nearby city. When we meet a fellow like Nolan it’s like striking gold!
After showing this Yankee a southern trick for keeping cool (wearing a water soaked dish rag around your neck),
Here I am sporting some southern airconditioning (i.e. a wet dishrag around my neck).
Nolan headed home to have lunch with his wife and to see if he could dig up any pictures or documents related to the old mill. An hour later he returned with not only pictures and documents but also a bag of tomatoes, cucumbers and an ear of cooked and buttered corn wrapped in foil. I thanked him effusively for his generosity.
Upon my return to upstate NY, I received a manila envelope from Nolan filled with more documents which was followed by another delivery a month later. This one contained photographs (including one picturing some massive catfish that Nolan caught this summer) and a sweet “Mystery Money Changer”.
I use it around the office to try and con folks out of a bill or two.
So what did I learn? The Union Underwear Inc. mill was built in 1921 as the Fayette Cotton Mill. The factory was built adjacent to the Brown Lumber Company. Logs were transported by rail to the lumber mill, sawn into hefty timbers (many as large as 9″ x 15″ x 26′), then used in the construction of the cotton mill next door. Nolan’s father worked at the lumber mill at this time and was sadly the victim of a fatal accident.
old photo of the Fayette Cotton Mill
Nolan himself began work at the Cotton Mill in 1944 and except for the two years he spent in the service during the Korean war, worked there for 39 years. Since the mill closed in September 2003, the town of Fayette has certainly felt the loss of a major employer, but Nolan has made it a mission to keep the memories alive. Our correspondence continues, and we share what we learn with the clients who have given the wood from The Union Underwear Inc. mill a second life.
It should also be noted that the wood that we have reclaimed from this mill has been some of the nicest material we’ve seen in a long time. Just look at the dense grain in this beautiful Douglas Fir timber that we recently used for a job!
Back in the late 1990’s, we procured some of the most amazing timbers in North America. Quite different from the large timbers salvaged from warehouses and factories, these were used to form the lock gates on the Welland Canal which held back Lake Erie.
On the rails laid through the canal for construction, a pair of cranes flank a 50 foot flat car and lift a single timber into position.
That is not a typo. You can see for yourself in the above photo, the sheer size of the gates as they were being constructed. While we were used to big sticks, these behemoths were like nothing anyone had ever seen — 37″ x 42″ x 45′ in length, in a single piece of Douglas Fir.
Timing is everything, and our sister company, New Energy Works, was just getting into the construction of a restaurant with a nautical theme, Steamboat Landing in nearby Canandaigua, NY. All but two of these beasts were used in that project, right down to the sideboards being cut into trim around the windows & doors. The last two timbers remained here at our shop, waiting to be used in a form that would respect their size and the trees in Western Canada from where they were harvested.
Two timbers + plenty of bolts = a single truckload.
Earlier this year, we cut a length off for shipment to our shop in Oregon and we were reminded of how unique and special these timbers really are. After being submerged for nearly 100 year the colors and staining through the timbers were nothing short of magical.
Try to count the rings – on some of the timbers, we lost count somewhere well past 300.
Not long afterward, a great client of mine came by and we were discussing the perfect slabs to use for tables in his new restaurant. We thought about some large joists from a barn, but they weren’t big enough. Huge timbers from a warehouse would look fantastic and have a great story to tell, but again, they just didn’t have the girth he wanted from a single slab. Then I remembered the Welland Canal timbers. We hadn’t even gotten within arms length and he already knew these were perfect.
After cutting a section off the main timber, we used an Alaskan Mill to slice the pieces to rough thickness.
The huge bolts which were used to mount a 12″ thick “bumper” left significant staining through the entire timber.
Once rough-cut, they were planed down to the finished thickness, leaving the edges just as they had aged. A crew of many unloaded and set the slabs onto their steel bases on the site, then sanded and finished the pieces to perfection. The results speak for themselves:
Table for twelve, please.
At 5 1/2″ x 29″ x 120″, they’re the largest single slabs we’ve ever cut for a table, making a perfect compliment to the rugged tones of our barn siding within the restaurant. Rounding out the decor (pun intended), thick, curved wine barrel staves were used to create an accent on the wall as you enter the space. If you’re in Rochester, stop by TRATA, The Restaurant At The Armory, and check out the fruits of our labor over some fantastic cuisine and a lovely beverage. Don’t be afraid to stare at those tables — they’re hard to miss.
When Annie made the hour and a half trek to our Farmington, NY headquarters from Buffalo, NY, she was in the midst of a major kitchen overhaul in her 19th century home. She had her eye on our Grandma’s Attic Mixed Reclaimed Softwoods after viewing our website and when we chatted on the phone she decided to come out and see it for herself.
Grandma’s Attic offers a very old, casual wide board look that is the result of careful selection and partial planing. Generally our attic flooring is crafted of a mosaic of hemlock, eastern white pine and Douglas fir, however other softwoods are used as available. It is a versatile option that can be left as rugged as the original planks, or smoothed out to replicate a footworn old floor.
While Annie visited we were able to really discuss her project and her family’s lifestyle – kids, dogs, and home offices for both her and her husband – all revolving around the newly expanded kitchen in her historic home. We reviewed the finished sample panels and pieces of the unfinished planks in our showroom so she could really get a feel for the color and character in Grandma’s Attic. We also discussed our other options.
Recently our sister company, New Energy Works Timberframers, installed a Grandma’s Attic t&g ceiling in a timber frame home. I really like how the original depth of patina, saw marks, scrapes and dings, compliment the clean lines of the heavy timbers. I’ve found the mixed softwoods have big impact whether on the floor, ceiling, wall, or even when crafted into fixtures.
Annie wanted “warm” and rustic, something that looked and felt like it could have been there for a hundred years. But she also wanted something that would be durable and forgiving in a busy space. Oh, and one more thing – she wanted W-I-D-E, minimum 7″ widths. Taking all of this into consideration, I suggested the Settlers’ Plank Mixed Reclaimed Hardwoods instead of the Grandma’s Attic. While the Grandma’s Attic is a beautiful choice for a wide range of spaces, it’s also a floor that is going to show its age over time. It’s a floor that will change with its new environment just as it did in its first life so it’s great in lighter traffic areas, on walls or in spaces where the owner really wants to see and celebrate these changes.
Settlers’ Plank mixed hardwoods is crafted from a variety of elm, beech, maple, hickory, ash, and other hardwood species we may have available. This grade is more relaxed, creating a barn floor look with a greater variety of color and grains due to the many species featured. It is very durable and looks great with a poly finish (as shown in this image of The Vermont Street Studio) or a more traditional tung oil.
In Annie’s case, she just preferred the idea of the Mixed Reclaimed Hardwoods, a floor that would help to hide the scrapes and dings every floor incurs. The Settlers’ Plank Mixed Hardwoods allowed Annie to get the warm, wide plank, authentic, and lived-in look she wanted, in a low maintenance, budget friendly form. Not only would the reclaimed hardwoods look like they had been in the house for a century, they also came with a history of their own, a story Annie is sure to share with family and friends. Annie emailed us exclaiming, “Everyone loves it! It has been great to see people’s reactions.”
Annie finished her 7+ inch wide Settlers’ Plank Mixed Hardwoods with a natural tung oil. If her floor gets scratched, she’ll be able to “erase it” by lightly sanding the scratch then re-applying tung oil. Her project is also a great example of the flexibility of this grade – it works well in a variety of settings from historic homes (like Annie’s), to modern/contemporary designs (such as the studio below), to commercial spaces.
The Settlers’ Plank flows from Annie’s kitchen through the family dining area sharing character, history, and color.
I was thrilled to see the finished project – the warmth and age of the wood are a beautiful complement to Annie’s cool toned walls and white cabinetry. It’s a perfect blend of history with a modern sensibility in a family oriented space.