I’m back, but with the renovation blues

No, I haven’t died or given up blogging to take up meth-cooking—as attractive as that career option is. All my free time has gone into renovating my home and building a website for my old-new business. Details on the latter will follow soon. Right now, I want to say something about the former—specifically about getting taken, I mean—and how easy it is to be had, even when you know your stuff.

As you might have inferred from my post on Writing and Realism, I know a lot about woodworking and construction. But it didn’t protect me from buying substandard hardwood flooring for my house. I got had. Not badly, mind you, but it hurts more when you should’ve known better.

Here’s the background to make sense of what happened. As hardwood flooring goes, the most reliable solid wood flooring is high-grade oak and maple.  The latter is especially tough. If you’re in the market for pricey imports, you can’t do better than Jatoba (aka “Brazilian Cherry”), which is harder than maple. Suffice to say, all of the above fell outside of my budget, at least in the quality I wanted.

One way to get around high prices without sacrificing quality (e.g., by buying short, knotty boards) is to buy second choice woods.  If you like the fine-grained look of maple, for example, birch is usually a cheaper substitute and most people can’t tell the difference; if you like course-grained oak, white ash is a good substitute and, again, most people can’t distinguish it from oak. (You’ll recognize white ash from your tool handles; it’s the wood of choice on account of its tensile strength.)

I went looking for either birch or white ash. I ended up going with ash because the market’s been flooded with ash (as a result of the ash borer infestation here in the northeast), so it’s available everywhere in nearly every shade and colour.

Here’s where I got screwed. The flooring was indeed “ash” and the boxes were not filled with ugly, twisted, knotted shorts. But the “ash” was not even predominantly white ash. You see there are several varieties of ash (variously named, black or swamp ash, blue ash, pumpkin ash, etc.), which are relatively soft and so generally never used in furniture-making, much less flooring (black/swamp ash was used in some Fender guitars). So it never occurred to me that the “ash” in those boxes was anything but “white ash” with the “white” dropped to avoid colour-confusion.  The reality was brought home, however, when I picked up the soft, feather-light boards, which marred as easily as poplar or pine.

Moreover, many of those long, knot-free boards had been cut from the pith of the tree, which is its most unstable part. Changes in humidity can turn boards cut from the pith into pretzels, which is why this part of the tree is never sold for woodworking. But I didn’t catch it because I didn’t expect to find it.

Anyway, the moral of this story isn’t really that you get what you pay for, since my “ash” was only marginally cheaper than oak and maple. The moral is that even people who know get caught, because they’re as much slaves to their assumptions as anyone else.


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