In May, 2008, Kelley located some large Southern yellow pine logs, which he thought would make good flooring for the house, at Yancey Mill near Crozet. Since the logs were larger than the mill usually handles and milling them would require resetting a lot of machinery, it was not cost-effective for the mill to saw them. Kelley borrowed John Boody’s log truck, and we headed for Yancey Mill to buy some logs.
Southern yellow pine is a traditional flooring material, because it is the hardest of the pines, it is relatively inexpensive, and it is very beautiful. There are many varieties of Southern yellow pine. When the European settlers arrived in North America, the eastern coastal plain from southeast Virginia to Florida was covered with Southern longleaf pine forests. The longleaf pine, which is extremely slow-growing, was in high demand; it was used especially by the Navy for timber, turpentine, and resin. Now, only about 3% of that forest remains. The very desirable pine called heart pine has usually come from the longleaf pine; most of the heart pine used for flooring today has been reclaimed from old buildings. The logs Kelley found are from another variety of pine, the shortleaf pine. The logs were very large, some of them nearly 36 inches across. This variety of pine grows faster than longleaf pine, and there is a smaller proportion of heartwood to sapwood. You can see in the photo below the pronounced circle of heartwood in the center of the log.
The size of a tree’s rings indicate the speed of its growth. The closer together the rings, the more slow-growing the tree. As a tree grows, the cells of the old center part stop carrying nutrients and, essentially, die, while the outer cells continue to nourish the tree. The older the tree, the larger the proportion of heartwood (“dead” cells) to sapwood (“living” cells). The color of the heartwood is different from that of the sapwood. It is also harder and more stable and is therefore more desirable.
Kelley took the logs to the Taylor and Boody sawmill at John Boody’s place, where he and John Boody flat sawed them to a thickness of 1 1/8 inches, to allow the wood to shrink and move as it dries and still produce floor boards 3/4″ thick.
Even though quarter sawn lumber is more stable than flat sawn lumber, Kelley and John flat sawed the pine logs. Flat sawing produces wider boards and allows the growth patterns to be visible in the surfaces of the finished boards. John very carefully sawed the boards so that the heart sections aligned properly on the saw from one end of the log to the other to produce the most beautiful effect. Kelley and Lewis plan to use boards of varying widths in the house; the widest boards will probably be 12″ wide.
The boards have been stored and stacked now for a year, air drying. They are ready to go into the kiln to complete the drying process. After they are kiln-dried, Kelley will take the boards to a mill to be made into tongue and groove flooring. We will use the wood throughout the main floor of the house.