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Room and board

Looking for extremely wide boards? A time machine can help.

Really wide boards are rare in modern woodworking. If you have access to a specialty lumber supplier or a bandsaw mill (and a really big dead tree), you can get them, but you just don’t run across them in daily life. Unless, of course, you step into a house that’s a century or two old. Then, they’re downright common.

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That’s one of the solid-oak floorboards in my daughter’s house in Connecticut. Measuring about 19" inches, it’s among the larger ones, but there are dozens between 16" and 18" wide everywhere.

Her house was built in three different centuries. The oldest, smallest part is circa 1760 (Nathan Hale’s nephew used to live there). An addition was made in 1849 that more than doubled the size. And then owners in the 1970s added more space (although they made no effort in that section to follow the rest of the home’s historical interior design).

The two oldest sections have all the delightful quirks of historical homes -- short doorways, some non-plumb walls, canting of the floor here and there, that sort of thing. And what I think I like best is those floors and the fact that my daughter’s made no attempt to update them.

Some owner, many years ago, took up the flooring and installed a subfloor and then reinstalled the original flooring exactly as it was. But all the boards still bear remnants of past paint (in different colors) and exhibit between 170 and 260 years of constant wear and use, depending on which part of the house you’re in.

The craftsmanship of that flooring isn’t the greatest, but it is typical of the period, as is the common use of those wide boards. Today that kind of floor would be an expensive luxury. Back then, it was just how they did things.

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