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© Copyright 2006 Work-4 Projects Ltd.
If These Floors Could Talk
Hardwood with a History

By Judy Penz Sheluk

When it comes to flooring, especially for living room, dining room and family room applications, hardwood is at the top of most homeowners' must-have lists. So it's not surprising that consumer demand has led to a plethora of choices in size, colour and finishes - all in the quest to entice buyers with something new and unique. But new isn't the only solution: Some things in life actually improve with age. We interviewed two hardwood flooring manufacturers who have found a way to rescue and rejuvenate old wood. Not only are their products and processes environmentally friendly, the end result offers a patina and character that only time can create.

Barn again
If your client is looking for a rustic look, reclaimed wood flooring may be the answer. While some wood is recovered from buildings, factories and warehouses facing demolition, the majority of reclaimed wood started life as an old barn.
Bill Van Veen of Century Wood Products, an Orangeville, Ontario-based company that has manufactured reclaimed flooring since 1997, explains the process:
"The majority of our wood is re-sawn out of old beams from barns or granaries, which can range from 4 inches up to 12 inches. The first step is to scan each piece with metal detectors. If we don't find it, you can rest assured our equipment will, and that's an expensive oversight. Next, the wood is slabbed and kiln-dried. People are often surprised that century old wood needs kiln drying, but it is required so that the product conforms to different moisture areas. Because the kiln can cause cracking and shrinkage, the dried wood is then put through a series of saws, where it is prepared for the last step: re-cutting and moulding for tongue-and-groove installation. As you can imagine, it's a labour-intensive process, and there is a high waste factor, but we don't waste a thing. All the wood we can't use is ground up for use as fuel in our biomass furnace."
Century Wood's reclaimed flooring is available in hardwood (beech, black ash, elm, maple and oak) wide plank flooring and softwood (fir, hemlock, red, white and yellow pine) and is always finished on site. Because it is a solid wood product, there are limitations; for example, it's not recommended for damp areas such as basements. However, it works well with radiant heating and, properly finished, it can take a lot of foot traffic. Just check your local Montana's Cookhouse: All of the wood used in their restaurant flooring is reclaimed lumber.

Imagine telling your clients they can have a wood floor salvaged from logs that had been submerged underwater for a century. That's exactly what Logs End Inc., an Ottawa-based company, has to offer. Assistant sales manager Steve McCord explains the history behind the hardwood:
"In the 18th and 19th centuries, logging operations in the Ottawa Valley would float masses of logs down the Ottawa River for shipment across the country. It is estimated that 14 billion logs had been harvested and floated down the river. Every drive, two to five per cent of the logs would be lost, and today these logs lie at the bottom of the Ottawa River."
Logs End's retrieval process for this "lost" timber is strictly regulated, and the company is committed to using only the least intrusive methods of salvage available. As such, actual salvage operations only take place for very short time each year: June to Labour Day. During this time, scuba divers are sent to locate and mark the logs, and each log is surfaced individually by hand. While this is a much slower recovery operation than methods like dredging, it virtually eliminates any negative side effects experienced by the water body, its fish and the fish habitat. The positive effect is that the process also cleans up the river bottom.
Once surfaced, the logs are tied at each end to salvage boats and towed to shore. Again, this is preferable to dragging logs along the river bed which disturbs fish habitat and causes sediment movement. Finally, logs are towed to old log dumping points, removed from the water and transported to the Logs End mill, where they are air-dried, kiln-dried and processed.
"What's surprising is that, although 85 per cent of the wood retrieved is pine, it is not the soft pine of today," says McCord. "That's because these logs came from thick forests that had never been harvested, and the trees grew slowly, forming dense growth rings. And since the water has eliminated all the gum and resin, it less susceptible to shrinking and travelling than traditional hardwood."
Logs End specializes in wide plank flooring, which is site finished. In addition to white and red pine, other woods include yellow birch and red and white oak.

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