Things are winding down on Eager Street (stay tuned for more info on the latest block we’re deconstructing!) so we thought it’d be a nice time to go through some numbers. Fear not, arithmophobes, though the following numbers are staggering, no math is involved.
Number of houses deconstructed:
Number of bricks salvaged:
Number of square feet of flooring salvaged:
Number of board feet of lumber salvaged:
Number of nails pulled:
Landfill diversion rate:
Number of tons of salvaged material:
Number of jobs created for BALTIMORE residents:
All good numbers and all good news. The better news is that all of these numbers are going to increase with every project we take on: more houses, more bricks, more jobs, more of an impact in our beautiful, charming, working city.
We resisted calling this post Wane’s World, so we’re already off to a good start. What is wane? Or, more specifically, what is wane as it relates to wood?
The word itself is familiar enough, as in “waning strength” or “wax and wane.” The etymology is worth exploring- “wane” comes from the Old English “wana” meaning shortage or defect, which in turn comes from the Germanic “wano” which roughly translates to insanity.
In the wood world, wane is a rounded corner on a piece of milled lumber caused by the natural contour of a tree. In other words, wane is what happens when a tree isn’t quite big enough to yield that last piece of square lumber. Wane doesn’t necessarily weaken a piece of wood, but it does decrease the surface area for fastening floorboards and lath.
We come across quite a bit of wane. In some cases, traces of bark help us identify the species of tree which gave its life to become a stud or joist.
In the woodworking world, there’s a strong demand for live-edge furniture, that is, furniture that features the outermost part of the tree, bark and all. This furniture is usually made from slabs from felled trees, but maybe a “wane-edge” cottage industry will crop up, too.
If the title of this post led you to believe that you were in for a white-knuckled thrill-ride of lumber pricing fluctuations and market conditions in the year 1921, prepare to be disappointed.
It’s not that such an exploration wouldn’t be rewarding, it’s just that the title of this post is taken directly from an article in The New York Lumber Trade Journal from 1921, an article that is perhaps the greatest and most glaringly obvious feat of filling space in a publication.
The article somehow manages to literally say nothing about the lumber trade, but it might rightly be declared a master class on subjective constructions of reality:
“Baltimore, Feb 10: Opinions in regard to lumber trade conditions here vary with the experiences of individual members of the trade and with their temperaments. If a dealer of manufacturer happens to be of an optimistic disposition he will be able to see some good in the situation; but if, on the contrary, he is pessimistically inclined, the prospect will look to him very dubious and he will draw a decidedly discouraging picture of the prevailing state of affairs. This will account for the varying opinions elicited in response to inquiries from half a dozen or any other number of lumberman. There are those who have nothing good to say of the market and who declare that business remains almost at a standstill…On the other hand, some members of the trade manage to see the good here and there.”
Just flawless reporting: both sides explored with no sides taken, empathy for all, a far-reaching exploration of the human condition hidden within a seemingly mundane trade report.
As Edward J Burrell tells us in Elementary Building Construction and Drawing (1891):
“When common joists are used for spans of more than 9 or 10 feet, there is a want of stiffness, and a tendency for them to turn over sideways. This may be remedied by herringbone strutting.”
Herringbone struts are diagonal members, generally placed in an “X” configuration, that are fastened between joists. By tying one joist to its neighbor, herringbone struts firm up flooring systems. As Burrell alluded to, they also prevent joists from warping or twisting over time.
The joists in the houses on Eager Street stretch 12 feet from pocket to pocket. While this span pales in comparison to some of 16′ wide houses we see in the West side of town, builders nonetheless thought it prudent to include blocking between the joists.
Herringbone struts also made it easier to run pipes and lines because they could be run along the joists without having to drill through solid blocking. In the days of knob and tube electrical wiring, when joists were riddled with holes for wiring, herringbone struts made a lot of sense.
Herringbone struts required an extra degree of craftsmanship, as well. To fix the struts snugly, a beveled cut had to be made on each side of the piece- without the use of a fancy whiz-bang $600 compound miter saw, this was no small task. We’re glad Frank Novak’s crew made the effort, because 107 years after they were laid, our joists are straight as can be without a twist or warp in sight.
The careful observer may have noticed that the wood we salvage from Eager Street is usually marked with numbers. What gives?
Deconstruction forces you to slow down; rather than sending a 6 ton ball of steel through the houses on Eager Street, we’ve been taking apart the buildings surgically. One of the advantages of our methodical approach is the ability to track every ounce of salvageable material that leaves each house.
We’re not the only ones interested in our yields. The City of Baltimore, our steadfast partner through this entire endeavor, set goals for us: for every house in salvageable condition (i.e. houses unaffected by fire, water damage, or collapse) we’ve been aiming to salvage 800 board feet of lumber, 400 square feet of flooring, and 3000 bricks.
Every day, intrepid City Building Inspector Bill (above, right) comes by to check on our progress. We bundle our items by house number, creating stacks of salvaged flooring and lumber that correspond to each address. Bill eyeballs our harvests, checks our math, and signs off on our daily reclamation totals.
For flooring, we generally measure in lineal feet and then convert to square feet for the final tally.
For lumber, we measure each joist individually, write the length on the cut side, and bundle them in stacks with their housemates.
As for the bricks: we’ll need 105,000 to hit our goal and our pallets are stacked with 520 of ’em. That’s 201pallets if you’re counting, and if you’re not counting, rest assured that Bill is.
With the first several buildings down, we started to clear out a sizable chunk of our site for the brick processing area. One thing that helped further this effort was our first sale of material off the lot. Andy Evans, from BTN Salvage, came by with his trailer and hauled off a couple bundles of joists.
The joists we’re pulling are a mix of softwoods, most of which are filed under the commercial name “Southern Yellow Pine” or SYP as its commonly abbreviated. SYP generally refers to:
Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), grows from New Jersey down to Florida and west all the way to Texas. The word loblolly is a mix of English words from the 16th century, “lob” meaning a bubbling boil and “lolly” meaning broth. This tree is generally found in lowlands and swampy areas, hence the name which refers to the tree’s muddy habitat. Some old-timers call it Rosemary Pine because it has a pretty unique fragrance when cut. Stop by the site some time and maybe you’ll catch a whiff, as most of what we’re seeing is loblolly.
Shortleaf Pine (Pinus echinata) has a similar range as the Loblolly, though it grows a bit further north and more extensively in the Carolinas. It’s leaves are not short per se, but they’re shorter than the leaves of a Longleaf Pine, so that’s that. Shortleaf Pines can thrive in a variety of soils and habitats. During the tree’s early years, it grows slower than most other pines, so the experienced wood expert might be able to distinguish a Shortleaf by looking at the end grain.
Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii) grows in Florida and the southern tips of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina. Like the Loblolly, it grows in swampy areas which were (and maybe still are?) called “the slashes.”
Longleaf Pine is also considered to be part of the SYP group, but it’s a whole different beast that we’ll cover in a dedicated post. Longleaf is special enough for such an honor.
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is not a member of SYP: though it creeps a bit into some southern states, it’s range is essentially the entire northeast part of the US into, you guessed it, Canada. And it’s not a pine. Hemlock lumber was, and still is, commonly used in construction, and we’ve come across some joists that seem less piney and more hemlock-y.
The joists we’re salvaging were milled over a century ago and come from trees that were much older. Under the rough sawn exterior, the wood is as bright and fragrant as when the trees were first cut.
The title and subtitles of this post are meant to be puns (albeit bad ones), but if you’ve never heard of a “joist”, they may have struck you as particularly bad spelling errors. So. What is a joist?
First, the etymology: present day “joist” derives from the Old French “giste” which meant “beam supporting a bridge” which derived from the Latin “jacere” which meant “to lie down”.
Still unclear? A joist is a horizontal supporting member that runs between a foundation or walls to support a ceiling and/or floor. Reaching back to our Latin lesson, joists provide support upon which other members may “lie down.” A simple illustration courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation:
In a typical rowhouse, joists are set into pockets within the brick walls. Not only do they provide support for the floor and ceiling, but they act to stabilize the walls, bringing rigidity to what would otherwise be merely two or three-story towers of brick and mortar. The photo below looks like a super sweet abstract painting, but it also shows the pockets where the joists once sat.
In the photo below, you can see that the joists constitute the main horizontal element of the house- at this point in the deconstruction process, we’re really down to the most basic bones of the building.
Joists represent the largest source of salvageable lumber in a rowhouse. We wanted to harvest all of the rough sawn lumber, but we had to do it in a way that was safe for our workers and ensured that the buildings would retain structural integrity. For the first two houses, we decided to err on the side of caution; we ended up cutting every other joist, leaving around half of the structure to support the century old brick walls. If you look closely in the photo above, you can see that every only every other joist has been removed.
Our process for joist removal was pretty straightforward: we used a Sawzall to cut as close to the pocket as possible, leaving us as much salvageable lumber as could be reasonably harvested. One member of the crew operated the saw, while another firmly held the opposite end of the joist, waiting for it to become free. We then sent the joists through the back of the house where they were sent to…you guessed it…the denailing station.
Cutting the joists gave us a clean view of the end grain- in this case, it looks like most of the joists are loblolly pine and hemlock, two species commonly used for framing lumber during the early 20th century. Once the lumber was denailed, we measured the length, width and thickness to come up with our number of board feet. A board foot is a measure of volume that corresponds to one foot of length x one foot of width x one inch of thickness. Once the wood was measured, we wrote the length of each joist on the end grain, packaged it into bundles, and strapped it together.
We started digging in to the floors of the first house we’re deconstructing, #2328. The floor that Shawn is standing on may not look too purty just yet, but it’s just the kind of thing we love to see. Here’s why: under the linoleum tile, under the splintery plywood that was seemingly nailed AND screwed at random, we found 3 1/4″ wide, tongue and groove butt-end flooring. If you recall, we knew this stuff was down there when we spied it as we were gutting, but uncovering it is a different story, made all the more rewarding by the layers of renovations we had to uncover to find the original floor. Stay tuned to see how it cleans up!