STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART

BY BARRY WALDMAN

When you look at a longleaf pine tree, you see the sturdy bark and graceful pine needles, like fingers, beckoning you. In the core of these manly behemoths is the heartwood, the dense central pulp that steadies the tree as it grows up to 110 feet high. Old growth heart pine, 75 to 100 years old when harvested near the end of its life, serves as floors, walls, staircases and furniture in houses throughout the Lowcountry.

Pine trees, in fact, enjoy a long and prominent role in America’s history. When British settlers arrived on the continent, they reported back to King George III about their utility and beauty. Knowing they would make excellent masts for his royal navy, the king claimed ownership of all straight pines with diameters over two feet.

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Today, Charleston Heart Pine turns pine logs, reclaimed beams and lumber into magnificent flooring and other home products for customers seeking a natural look. Offering an array of types and grades, the company can satisfy customers’ demands for any style, from traditional to contemporary.

The company’s sawmill in Jamestown, South Carolina, is located just 25 miles from the town of Kingstree, so named because the 1732 settlement grew up around one of the king’s trees on the banks of the Black River.

Heart pine is a great wood for homes because it’s strong, insect- and rot-resistant and beautiful, and it won’t break the bank. Many of Charleston’s historic homes were built using heart pine, says Steve Scott, owner of Charleston Heart Pine.

Whether the old growth is reclaimed from existing structures or purchased after it has already been harvested, the wood’s beauty and durability come without the stigma of contributing to the destruction of old-growth forests. “We’re not running around deforesting old growth,” says Scott.

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Because pine is the work of nature, each timber is unique. Subtle variations in color, patterns and markings mean that the wood in one person’s home will have a slightly different character from the wood in another’s. But, in every case, the rich reddish-brown patina, if well maintained, can last hundreds of years.

Heart pine is strong. (In fact, it can be a challenge to drive a nail into it.) But Scott says it’s a poor choice for framing lumber. Rather, he says, its beauty should be shown off. If you’re in the market for wood floors, see Scott’s buying tips below.

HARDWOOD BUYING TIPS

1. If you’re installing hardwood on the first floor, you need to consider how much moisture is under your house. You don’t want your floor buckling from dampness five years later.
2. If your hardwood is going on a slab, you need to protect it with a suitable subfloor first. Solid wood flooring can’t sit on concrete.
3. If there is a crawl space beneath the first floor, you need to make sure there is sufficient ventilation and climate control before installing the floor.
4. Avoid strand board (plywood) as subflooring. It doesn’t hold nails well, which means boards will eventually loosen and squeak.
5. Be careful about your wood choices: some woods are not suitable for a humid climate. Relatively moisture-resistant wood, like pine, walnut and mahogany are best. Exotic woods, like Brazilian cherry and some northern hardwoods, like hickory and maple, tend to cup and crown in humid climates.

Charleston Heart Pine sells flooring in six styles, ranging from rustic to elegant: Colonial, Contemporary, Country, Cabin, Plantation Antique and Very Select Antique. Each style offers a different look. The company can also create gorgeous heart pine furniture, wall panels and staircases to match the wood chosen for flooring. Scott says once customers see the natural beauty of the product, they tend to want more of it.

“What generally seals the deal with customers is the ability to show samples,” he says. “It’s rare that we don’t make a sale once people see the wood.”

Barry Waldman is principal of Big Fly Communications, a PR/marketing firm for nonprofits and small businesses. Gobigfly.com.