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Material culture

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I found a new material the other day, but it turns out it’s not that new. Been around for years, in fact. Makes me wonder what else I’ve been missing.

Sally and I have wanted to redo our bathroom floors since we bought this house. The previous owners carpeted the bathrooms, which we hate, and we’ve been waiting for the right combination of available time and available cash to put something else down.

You can use anything in a bathroom, of course, but decided that the best option for our current use and potential resale value was either ceramic tile or high-quality laminate. With that in mind, we headed to a local home show this weekend to see what was available.

Not surprisingly, we saw lots of ceramic tile and lots of laminate at the various booths. But we also saw vinyl tile. No, not that thin, spongy stuff that comes in rolls, and not those thin tiles you glue down. This was thick, sturdy vinyl made much like laminate flooring. The narrow sheets lock together at the edges and, like laminate, the floor “floats” – no mastic or other adhesive required.

It appears to combine the best of both worlds. Like ceramic tile, it’s strong and solid underfoot, but like laminate it’s not so cold on bare feet. It’s 100-percent waterproof like ceramic, but installs like laminate with no mortar or mastic. It costs a bit more than laminate, but a lot less than ceramic.

I had never heard of this stuff; never even knew it existed. I was so used to thinking only in the realms of ceramic/laminate that had we not stumbled onto these vinyl tiles at that home show, I never would have realized they were the perfect for our bathrooms.

There’s a perfect analogy to woodworking here. We get so used to working with something and are so comfortable with it (a type of glue, a particular fastener, a species of wood, a joinery method), that we don’t realize that there may be something else out there better than what we’re using. Some of these have been around for years – I came late to the party on both pneumatic tools and pocket screws, for example, but now use both regularly. Others are brand new, but because we’re not “looking” for them, they often fly over our radar.

The point is, if you don’t constantly remain aware of what’s new, good opportunities to improve the way you work will pass you right by.



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What do woodworkers do when they’re stuck somewhere just sitting and waiting? They look around for wood to examine, of course.