Dig This With Deb

A column to tell people about the building process by Deb Blanchard

Sometimes the best things are right under your nose and somehow you did not realize it.  Such was the case when we were deciding on flooring for the various areas of the library.  Our architects arrived with samples of various kinds of carpeting, porcelain tile, linoleum and laminates.  The staff and library committee debated and finally agreed on certain areas of the library – heavy duty porcelain tile for the lobby and carpeting for the children’s room and so on.  One area that was still in debate was the historic Carnegie reading room.  In this restored and open grand area, something special was clearly desired.  Some people remembered that the original Carnegie floor was wood.  Wood would be the perfect choice for a grand old cozy reading room.  But what kind and could we really afford it?

Mulling over the laminate wood choices presented, I suddenly remembered a phone conversation and subsequent visit from a friend and outstanding carpenter from Cape Cod awhile back.  He had called asking if he could come for an overnight stay as he was heading up with a flat bed truck to purchase some unique wood from Mann Lumber here in Athol.  In front of a roaring fire and over a few drinks, I expressed surprise that he would drive all this way to retrieve lumber.  He assured me it was not just lumber, but reclaimed boards that had a special character only old wood can give and that Mann Lumber was known among the trade for coming up with some unusual woods.  My friend’s client wanted the best for his new home – antique, aged, beautiful wood.

Coincidentally, the next day after remembering this, our architect contacted me to say that he had seen an article or advertisement in a trade magazine about Mann Lumber having reclaimed wood.  I got in touch with Tom Mann and as luck would have he had purchased reclaimed beams from the Nichols & Stone building in Gardner, which was built in the 1900’s.  Heading up to talk with Tom, I got a chance to see these beautiful huge antique beams.  The operation that mills them into flooring and then kiln dries them is quite impressive.  A sample panel Tom had built for other customers indicated the beams, sliced into boards, would make a lovely floor.  And to answer my concerns about the hardness and durability of the wood, Tom gave me a chart from a trade publication that shows heart pine is only 5% softer than Northern Red Oak on the benchmark scale, unlike white pine which is 61% softer.

However in Massachusetts, all things must be bid out so a procurement solicitation was prepared to be provide 3,100 square feet of 3.25” reclaimed antique heart pine which had to be FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified for our LEED certification.  Four companies, including Mann Lumber answered the call and Mann’s was the low bidder.  Upon learning this, Tom called me to come up to the shop and with his mother Janet nearby, handed me a paper.  I was totally shocked to read that in addition to being the low bidder, Mann Lumber was giving a corporate donation of $10,000 thereby reducing the price even further for our beautiful new antique floor!  Tom’s comment was that he wanted the library to have a floor that would last for generations and he did not want one of his competitors selling us that floor in his own hometown.  He felt giving the donation was the right thing to do.  One thing I was very pleased about was that Mann’s would receive an unexpected bonus of having the library be a great showroom that any potential customer can visit, walk on and enjoy just as our own library patrons will.

Tom’s father Sid later contacted me about some unrelated newspaper research and I told him how thrilled we all were to have this lovely wood floor and how much we appreciated Tom and Mann Lumber’s generosity.  He suggested I ask Tom about the growth rings and dating the wood.

Tom was able to confirm they have counted the rings in the beam which put them as seedlings as far back as 1650.  Not all of them are that old, most are probably mid 1700’s.  Most of the beams were originally cut in the Carolinas and brought here way back when.  Our library floor will consist of just over 2 miles of 3.25” boards.  In order to get the quality we need for our floor, they imagine cutting about 5 miles!

Pretty soon you won’t have to imagine walking on our new wood floor in the historic Carnegie library – you’ll be able to sink into a comfy chair nestled up next to our restored fireplace and read the paper or the newest bestseller and gaze at the gleaming and warm floor full of history and character provided by a generous homegrown local company and their owners for which we are very grateful.

Pictured: Tom Mann proudly displays the timbers that will be milled into the floor for the new library.