A craftsman's heart is in pine Flooring: James Harvey can do just about anything with wood, but his specialty is custom flooring, preferably pine.

November 03, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

BOZMAN -- Ask James Harvey about pine, and his normally somber expression lightens with the love of a craftsman.

"It's so pretty," he said. "It's got good character. You know, oaks don't have any color to it -- you have to add color. The heart pine doesn't need any stain. It's got its own resin and pitch."

Harvey and his wife, Anna, are the owners of James E. Harvey Millworks in Bozman, a general-store-and-crossroads town in Talbot County. Although he can and does woodworking of all kinds -- oyster tongs, toy trucks for charity, restaurant interiors, wood ceilings and just about anything else he's asked to do -- his particular specialty is custom flooring, long tongue-and-groove planks cut and milled to order.

And his preference is pine -- the longleaf yellow pine native to the southeastern United States.

"It'll outlast anything in the house -- a lot of generations," he said of pine flooring.

Pine is so durable, in fact, that it has been used for a surprising number of things, wood industry experts say.

"It has tremendous history," said Carol Goodwin, who with her husband runs Goodwin Heart Pine, a company in Florida that reclaims pine logs left at the bottom of rivers a century or more ago, when pine was the wood of choice.

"George Washington's floors in Mount Vernon are pine. Pine is in Independence Hall. The caissons of the Brooklyn Bridge are pine."

The best, experts say, is "heart" pine -- the middle part of the tree, preferably the first growth, which tends to be denser with better grain and pattern.

Pine comes in various grades, Harvey and others say, and can cost $5 to $12 a board foot, depending on grade. Over time, Harvey said, its color will deepen -- "It needs sunlight to do that" -- and the best pine has a red-gold depth that can warm a whole room.

"This longleaf pine is an antique type of thing," said Gale Cortelyou, associate editor of Floor Covering Weekly.

Oak and other hardwoods dominate the flooring market, much of it in prefabricated flooring sold in outlets such as Home Depot. Few people make custom flooring, and most who do use wood reclaimed from old buildings.

(James Harvey, however, uses new wood harvested in the United States and -- of all places -- Laos, where he said pine is being cleared away for a dam project.)

"There are only a handful of people doing this," Cortelyou said of custom flooring.

Harvey agreed. Flooring is so specialized that it is only one part of his business. He expects to do 10 or so custom orders this year, he said, most of them from people who have seen his small ad in the back of Colonial Living magazine.

His biggest customer this year will probably be Terresa Schweitzer, who ordered 4,200 board feet of pine flooring for her home in Big Bear Lake, Calif.

She and her husband, Brent, were shopping for flooring for their two-story Colonial-style home in eastern California's San Bernardino Mountains, and they chose Harvey to mill the heart-pine planks she wanted through almost the whole house.

"I really wanted a specific look -- I wanted wide planks," she said.

Harvey agreed to do it, and what followed was a "flooring-by-phone" experience. After the planks were cut and milled, Harvey sent them by truck to California in March. But before she and her husband could lay it, it had to sit to "dry" for three weeks.

"We were on a tight schedule," she said. She was nearly nine months pregnant -- her third child was born five days after they moved into the house -- and she and her husband had to teach themselves how to finish the job Harvey had started in Maryland.

"There were a couple of panicky calls," she said.

But after the first room, the Schweitzers got the hang of it, and they put down every last plank in "two weeks of straight floor-laying," she said. They put pine floors in the kitchen, living room, dining room, den, master bedroom and bath, sitting room and hallway.

"It took an investment of time," she said. But they had plenty of encouragement and advice from the Harveys, who sent the wooden pegs to fill in the screw holes at each "butt joint," where the planks stop and start, and lent the Schweitzers a five-eighth-inch drill bit to finish the job.

They even followed the Harveys' advice on finishing -- they chose to use oil, rather than put down a coat of polyurethane, as others had advised.

Was it worth the work?

"I'm very much a perfectionist," Schweitzer said. "It's an exquisite floor."

Looks are one of the big advantages of pine flooring, said Goodwin, the Florida wood reclamation company owner. There are two others, she said -- pine's history as "the wood that built America" and its durability.

"It's become more popular -- more costly and more rare," she said of longleaf pine, the wood indigenous to the Southeast.

Like the Harveys', Goodwin's business stretches across the country. Jane Fonda bought 12-inch-wide reclaimed pine planks for her house in Montana, Goodwin said.

Goodwin estimated only 2 percent to 4 percent of all new floors are pine, and a 1995 survey of interior designers by the National Wood Flooring Association, an industry trade group, supports her.

Oak dominates the market with 67 percent, according to the survey, with maple at 6.5 percent and pine at 4.3 percent. (The next is ash, with only 2 percent, and cherry, walnut and mahogany with about 1 percent each.)

"Everybody sells that oak -- oak is king," Harvey said with a shrug. He has done oak floors for customers, as well as maple and Brazilian rosewood -- but he thinks pine is still the best choice.

Does he have pine in his house?

Absolutely. And he noted: "There's no carpet in our house. Never has been, never will be."

Pub Date: 11/03/96

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