Filosophizing on Farm to Floor

Filosophizing on Farm to Floor

Titus Gilliam
Pfft-Thunk! Pfft-Thunk! The sound of the nail-gun securing the tongue-and-groove flooring on top of the ridges of mastic spread across the floor of the house evokes a monotonous rhythm. My mind is focused on the task in front of me. Weeks of prep-work has culminated in this moment. Measure, cut, glue, nail. Measure, cut, glue, nail. The process of installing one of our engineered, hard-wood floors would seem far too repetitive if not for knowing all that went into this product.

My mind wonders as I think back on all the steps involved, all the attention paid to details, and the process of learning that I underwent in order to be installing this piece of art. Only five months earlier I was a former Philosophy-graduate turned computer salesman. I had labored for years trying to sharpen my skills of logic, rhetoric, and reason in order to be someone of influence. However, dreams of grandeur and doctorate-level degrees eventually gave way to the reality of asking my customers, "Do you need any ink or paper today?" Only a few months into that job I was told by a friend that there may be a job opportunity at a shop in Nampa, Idaho. "What do you do there?" I ask. He responds, "We mainly make doors, flooring, and tables." "I don't know anything about making those things," I say as I realize I have very few skills to offer at this possible job. "We will teach you everything you need to know," my friend tells me.

A few weeks, and one interview later, I find myself about ten-minutes from the small town of Parma, Idaho (the town I was born and raised in) in an even smaller town known as Notus. The story goes that as the early settlers were travelling on their way to Fort Boise (originally located in Parma where the Boise River empties into the Snake River) that they stopped in the area and asked one-another, "Who's going to Parma?" To which many would reply, "Not us!" Hence, the town of Notus was born. My new job was to demolish an old feedlot and attached corrals. The wood would eventually be used to make various products which I had no idea how to make. Some would be used for flooring, some for stiles for doors, and some for exterior siding on a cabin or house. I, however, was responsible for none of these things. My limited skills made me less useful in most areas other than prying off boards, de-nailing them, cutting them to length, and stacking them. This continued for two months with me periodically going to the shop in Nampa to help the more experienced craftsmen in one way or another. It was at this time that I began to learn the various steps that went into all of our products. I helped to resaw, plane, and sand various boards including many that I had taken from Notus in the previous months. Each time I went back to Notus to work on demolition, I was more aware of what the wood was going to be used for. Some boards that I would have tossed aside as junk in the previous months were now becoming precious gems to be saved for one project or another. Boards that I originally had thought were useful became stickers under the stacks of wood I was salvaging. Just as the usefulness of various boards were growing, so too were my skills.

By the beginning of March, I found out that one of my more experienced co-workers was quitting to pursue other options. And with that, I was asked to begin learning more about the shop-work. The experience was certainly a jump from the frying-pan into the fire. Before myself and my co-worker knew it, we were told we were making around a 1000 square feet of random-width, mixed pine and fir engineered floor. We were going to be installing it around the end of March or early April. And with that, the de-nailing began. With machinery so fine-tuned and a product with 0% room for error, every board that would eventually go into the floor would need to be 100% de-nailed and metal-detected. Entire days were spent with hammers, nail-pullers, and various other instruments in order to ensure all nails, screws, staples, and yes, even bullets, were removed from the wood. All of these things added to the character and diversity of the final product. After this step came resawing the veneers out of the rough boards. Fast-forward to the middle of April and I am now the one showing a new co-worker how to run the resaw.

I continue to spread mastic and lay pieces of flooring, and I chuckle as a thought passes through my mind: "How could such rough-sawn, weathered boards fit so perfectly together? I can't tell where one piece of flooring ends and another begins." Much of this seamless beauty comes from planing the rough-sawn boards. A cracked, gray board can suddenly turn into a beautifully textured veneer with deep tones of brown and red. Hidden saw marks and checking appear to make every veneer unique. This step is only enhanced by the sanding process. Tenths of millimeters are sanded off at a time until each veneer is dialed in to the perfect combination of thickness, color, and texture. As I help with each of these steps I realize that my skills and usefulness at the shop are growing.

Finally, two weeks before the install date we receive a shipment of backing for our veneers. The shipment had spent months in transit in a shipping container from Poland. Sometimes it takes a lot of waiting and a unique source to make the product just right. The day was a mess and the backing took hours to unload, but we were finally ready for the last phase of a process that had already taken weeks. By the following week we were gluing our veneers to the newly-arrived backing and placing them in our press. I was relieved when this fast-paced step was over, but there was still a lot to accomplish before our install. After ripping the material to size, square-cutting and filling each piece, and adding the tongue-and-groove, we were finally ready to install the floor. My mind refocuses on the task before me as I continue to install the floor until eight o' clock that night. As I drive home I realize all the steps of producing such a beautiful floor. Wood that seemed to have little use other than as firewood was now transformed into a work of art that would last for generations to come, and a Philosophy major with little initial use as a craftsman went every step of the way with that same wood. I pull my car into my driveway at home and smile as I realize that the old wood from Notus and the guy from Parma are a bit the same, we both just needed to uncover our hidden use. (Administrator’s note: this story was contributed by a valued employee at RLP)