Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guest Post: Is It A Defect? Or Character?

Big thanks to Pete Mazzone and the good folks over at The Woods Company for sharing some thoughts on wood and character. While the work The Woods Company primarily does is flooring, this info goes to any woodworking!
Make sure you check out their site and follow them on Twitter!

In the wood flooring industry the terms “defect” and “character” can mean different things to different people, and can even have different meaning according to industry standards and personal taste.  But sometimes, when considering wood flooring, seeing the combination of these two words is usually not an indicator of something good!
In the reclaimed flooring world, however, they are in fact indicative of what makes our products so beautiful and unique.
Character can be defined as a genetic trait:
Genetics any trait, function, structure, or substance of an organism resulting from the effect of one or more genes as modified by the environment.
This definition directly addresses what constitutes character in lumber grading. Character is the long term result of all the factors combined during the life of a fully matured tree.  What was the soil composition? How much sunshine did the tree get? How wet or dry was the environment? When in its life cycle did it develop branches, which will later transform into knots? And finally once the tree was taken where was it used? All of these elements come together in the timber when it is made into a wood flooring planks, and the end result is an overall floor that is truly unique.
The knots add a traditional, sometimes rustic charm—you feel like you’re living on an authentic, natural floor covering. Sometimes the soil is rich with nutrients and minerals native to a specific area, and contribute to the rich color tones of the wood.  Mineral streaks, a discoloration in any species of wood caused by mineral deposits the tree extracts from the soil, are commonly seen as a blackish-blue streak within the grain and add a unique element, reminding us that the wood was once alive, taking nourishment from its environment.  And a favorite character type is the worm holes found mostly in Antique Chestnut, and occasionally in Red Oak. It’s what gives Chestnut its nickname, “wormy Chestnut,” a sought after, rare, and interesting wood.
Defect is the second part of the equation. Unfortunately, many of the same terms we describe above as adding unique character to your floor are also common terms when identifying defects. Some of these terms might be considered a defect, but are many times, in fact, character, as we illustrated above.
In terms of lumber grading these attributes are by definition defect in the bad sense. But at The Woods Company, Inc. we see these traits instead as character since in our opinion it makes our product so incredibly unique and beautiful in every sense.
Which is precisely why it is difficult to determine when a characteristic is considered a flaw or defect and cut out of a floor.  The NWFA and NOFMA allow 5%  for “defects” in manufacturers’ flooring orders. But what might be considered a defect for one specie may not be in another. In a recent article in This Old House magazine, the writer gives the example that, “…knots are nonexistent in the best grade of Maple and plentiful in the same grade of Australian cypress.”It then comes down to individual manufacturers’ grading system and the customers’ personal preference.
Our floors tell the incredible story of the tree from literally the ground up. You can see where the grain took a turn due to a broken limb. You can see the spaces in the grain where the wet years and the dry years stand out. Then there is the second life of the tree in an old factory. Our industrial timbers were used in a wide variety of warehouse settings. These second lives put another layer of character and defect into play.  Now the tree has reached what will most likely be its final destination, your floors. You get to enjoy the colorful history and dynamic look and feel of our reclaimed flooring.


  1. Wow, I love the first picture. That is beautiful. And I"ve always loved maple wood, for furniture and flooring, so know that sometimes knots are considered "good" or "bad." Great job on the post.


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