From the de-nailing station, the plank goes to the resaw, otherwise known as the Big Green Machine, which reduces its thickness. Here, the Metro Spirit board ends up in three separate pieces as well as the skinned surface, which is discarded because of possible lead paint.From here, the boards are moved to the ripsaw, which squares the edges. Of all the machines in the 100,000-square-foot building, the ripsaw looks the most conventional. Though far more utilitarian and far less dramatic than the mills, the building is an impressive, roomy structure with an impossibly smooth floor spotted with occasional piles of swept sawdust. The air is rich with the smell of wood. The sophisticated, German-built molder cuts the Metro Spirit board down to its final size. Because our board has been selected to be a more rustic “dirty top” finish, it needs to go through the molder twice in order to keep the surface the way it is. “It used to be everything we did was dressed on the face,” Marks says. “Now, the new trend it going to this rustic look. It’s going into homes, restaurants — even Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta. Everyone is looking for something different.” After the molder, an employee uses a florescent crayon to mark off the areas of imperfection. An optical scanner registers these cuts and directs an automated chop saw to cut away the imperfections, sending lengths of board to the end matcher, one of only two of its size in the nation, to make the tongue and groove for the ends. The automated chop saw, Marks says, is an example of safety-mindedness. While the building is filled with sharp blades whirring at unimaginable speeds, it is a surprisingly safe environment. Though all the employees wear work gloves, everyone appears to have all of their fingers.
A Piece of Wood
Following a piece of wood from a mill in Tifton to showroom in Texas David Acord is standing outside the ruins of the old Avondale Mill in Tifton, Ga., waiting for a flatbed truck that’s two hours late. Acord and his business partner bought the 130,000-square-foot facility in February for $215,000 — “dirt cheap” according to the Tift County Tax Assessor’s office. His intention was to tear it down and sell off its parts, and today those parts include roughly 12,000 board feet of Longleaf pine decking bound for Southern Wood Floors here in Augusta. At his sawmill on Gordon Highway, Charles Marks will take that planking, which Acord’s crew removed from the Tifton mill’s roof, and convert it into high-end flooring for a customer in Texas. It’s an arduous, labor-intensive process that we wanted to document. So as the inaugural story in our 101 series, which takes a look at cool stuff we ought to know about but sometimes don’t, we packed up the car and headed off to Tifton to follow a single board as it makes its way to — and through — the sawmill in Augusta.
Demolition, especially the demolition of something as awesomely large as a turn-of-the-century textile mill, might seem like a hard way to make a buck. But according to Acord, who earns his living making use of what he tears down, repurposing the Longleaf pine used in the mill’s construction is particularly satisfying, especially given the fact that the virgin timber ran out in the 1920s. For all intents and purposes, the only place to find Longleaf pine is in old construction like the Tifton mill, and as we’re made painfully aware every time we pull up to the gas pump, scarcity adds value. Primarily because of that scarcity, and because the Longleaf pine is so durable, Acord estimates that selling off the wood and brick will pay for the demolition and the purchase of the land. When he turns around and sells the land (he intends to leave the tower, the stack and a couple of warehouses), he will realize the profit he’s looking for. “It’s so durable that a lot of it was shipped to England to make castles back in the 1700s and 1800s,” he says, watching the road for the truck. “We have actually sold some of the wood to rebuild castles with.” Though demolition is a supremely practical undertaking, Acord confesses the age of the antique wood he deals with has a way of capturing his imagination. The Tifton mill, for example, was built in 1900. That means the timber was harvested in the 1890s, and judging from the rings he’s counted in some of the wood beams, the trees were probably 300 years old when they were cut down. Three hundred years from the 1890s means the planks he’s taken from the mill would have been seedlings about the time Shakespeare was fretting over what to do with Romeo and Juliet. How’s that for a bridge to the past? That New World resource, however, proved short-lived. Mills built just 20 years after the Tifton mill were already using second growth timber, which means that even with repurposing there’s only so much of that Longleaf pine to go around. “I figure there are enough mills to last 20 or 25 years,” he says. “A lot of them are getting turned into condos, which is good, and a couple of them burn down each year.” When the flatbed finally arrives, I choose my piece of wood — a smooth, 24-foot plank with plenty of white space. A disposable pen gives its life for the marking that will allow us to keep track of it, and I hang around talking slow-growth timber with Acord until the forklift eases the bundle onto the back of the truck. Though I don’t literally follow it back to Augusta, I am at the sawmill by 7:30 the next morning to greet it, confusing the truck driver, who seemed to remember seeing me somewhere before. For Marks, whose Southern Wood Floors has been making flooring since 1993, antique wood like the shipment from Tifton represents about 40 percent of his business and, given the economy, he’s happy the historic community is allowing people like Acord to save the pieces of the greater, and sometimes unsustainable, whole. Marks says he has customers as far away as Alaska and Hawaii and that he does a lot of business in the Caribbean. When it comes to value, the market has determined that such demolition is, in fact, worth the effort. When completed, Marks says the Metro Spirit board will sell for approximately four times what traditional flooring would sell for.You Might Also Like:
The first step in the process after demolition and transport involves de-nailing. Using pipes to straighten out the seriously old-school nails and hammers to pound them back out of the wood, workers methodically remove all the metal from the planks, which can take 10 or 15 minutes a board. After removing the large nails, they wave handheld metal detectors over the surface of the planks to find any smaller nails, which they remove with specialized nail pullers. Occasionally, a nail is burrowed so deep that it has to be chiseled out.Marks has three grades of antique flooring, and, in many cases, the distressed nature left by the nail holes adds to the desirability. Certainly, it adds to the conversational aspect of the flooring.
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