Mississippi Firm Restores Wood, History

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Logosol four-head planer-molder well suited for shaping old heart pine lumber

FOREST, Mississippi — Don’t ever tell Bill Blossom, owner of Historic Woods, that you’ve thrown away a piece of old heart pine. He’ll track it down and make something out of it!
“We find buildings that are at least 100 years old, buy them, dismantle them, and re-mill the lumber,” Bill said. “We make the lumber into flooring, paneling, moldings and architectural structural components such as beams, posts, mantles, and brackets.”
Historic Woods is not unique in recycling old heart pine and other lumber into new uses. What makes the company different, he said, is that they track the history of each piece of wood so the customer knows where it originated.
“When I buy a building, I get the history of it,” Bill said. “Most of the time, if it’s survived 100 years, it has some historical value to it. We document that and provide our customers with the history of every product we make, as well as with a 4-inch brass plaque that gives a snippet of the history and our name and telephone number.”
The company brands its products clearly. “We have a brand with our logo and telephone number on all our products,” Bill said.
The building that houses the offices of Historic Woods also is unique. The company’s headquarters is Forest’s historic train depot building, which Bill owns.
“It was completed in 1891, and 15 years ago it was scheduled to be demolished,” he said. “I bought the building to demolish it and get the salvage out of it, but I ended up restoring it and putting my offices there.”
At the company’s plant building, Bill brings in the old lumber and then sorts it into various categories, such as timbers of various sizes and lengths, rafters, floor joists, and other components. He and his five employees remove any nails and fasteners and clean the wood. “We just wash it off to get all the grit and grime off it,” Bill said.
If the wood is painted and Bill is going to restore the original surface, the paint must be carefully removed. With heart pine, it is not as easy as simply applying paint remover; they use heat to melt the paint off.
“We’re tried lots of different ways to remove paint, and a heat gun is the most effective thing we’ve found,” Bill said. “You can scrape the paint off without damaging the patina of the wood. Most people who buy our products want them to look old, and they don’t want us to plane all the ‘oldness’ off the wood. So we try to preserve all the dents and nail holes and so forth so it still looks old.”
Old heart pine is unique in its lack of uniform color, Bill observed. “This wood is peculiar in that nothing else looks like it,” he said. “It has a huge range of color, from bright yellows to reds to browns, all in the same board. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen.”
Once the lumber is clean and dry, it is resawn into boards. The resawing is done on an Accutrack band mill. The boards then are put through a Morgan two-saw edger.
For processing the lumber further into flooring, molding and other products, Historic Woods uses a Logosol PH 260 four-head planer-molder. The Logosol can be set up to make tongue and groove flooring, molding, crown molding, stair rails, and other specialty products.
“We use the Logosol every day with this wood,” said Bill. “It has four surfacing planers and can do both edges and the top and the bottom all at the same time in just one pass. We put a rough board in one end, and when it comes out the other end it’s a finished product.”
One reason Bill was attracted to the Logosol was its size. The Logosol planer-molder is compact and has a small footprint.
Another reason was price. “I couldn’t afford to spend $80,000 for a molding machine,” said Bill. “When I read about this one, I found out that the only distributor in the United States is in Ridgeland, Mississippi, only 55 miles from where I live. When I went to look at it, I found that it was small and compact.” Priced at under $20,000, it was much more affordable for his budget.
One of the benefits of the Logosol planer-holder is its ability to handle wood that is as variable as old heart pine can be, noted Bill. “This wood is not perfect,” he said. “This has knots. The grain is not always straight or consistent. We may have to make three pieces to get one that’s good, but when we get that one piece, it’s beautiful.”
Another benefit of the Logosol is that Bill and his employees can easily clean it and change the knives and heads. The old heart pine and other species are tough on machinery, he observed.
“Most of the wood is so old and so hard, and it has so much resin in it that we can’t run very much before we have to stop and clean the machine out,” Bill said. “It’s unbelievable how concentrated the resin is in the material and how much residue there is. And the knots are so hard that it’s like hitting a rock. Running this material is really hard on the machinery. I have to change knives every 1,000 to 2,000 board feet.”
Bill has been so pleased with the performance of the Logosol planer-molder that he plans to buy another in the future. “Right now we have to break the machine down when we change from making, say, moldings, to making flooring,” he said. “It would be nice to have one machine for molding and one for flooring.”
Historic Woods sells mainly to custom builders and renovators, decorators, and others who want high quality trim and building components made of old wood.
“These are not cheap products,” Bill noted. “We supply materials for high-end commercial buildings, banks, and businesses. Our customers are at the upper end of construction. I normally deal with either architects or the primary owners of the businesses.”
Historic recently has started making a line of furniture, including large conference tables and straight-back chairs. “One of the by-products of what we’re doing is a lot of small pieces of lumber that may be six inches by six inches and three feet long,” Bill said. “They’re too small to do much of anything with, but they’re absolutely beautiful.” The company is using the material to make chairs and other, smaller furniture.
One of his goals is to continue preserving the history of the buildings he purchases. “That information is part of our history,” said Bill. “I want to create more than just a pretty product. I think I’m taking this business in a different direction than other companies are.”
That also is a part of his biggest challenge. “I want to defeat the notion that we’re just like everyone else,” he said. “We’re not trying to get as much for our lumber, as fast as we can. We’re careful about what we sell, and the image that we have. What we’re selling is the integrity of our product and the integrity of ourselves.”