January 16, 2013

Old ship beams find new uses in Massachusetts

A cache of wood believed to be pre-Civil War ship parts is, bit by bit, being routed to respectful uses.

By GEORGE BARNES Telegram & Gazette

(Continued from page 1)

Tom Mann
click image to enlarge

In this Jan. 4, 2013 photo, Tom Mann, of T.S. Mann Lumber, stands near a 300 year old oak beam at his shop in Athol, Mass. The beam was dug up near Boston Harbor where the Spaulding Rehab Center is being built. Mann has been commissioned to create a bench for the center. (AP Photo/Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Tom Rettig)


Mann's yard is filled with wood and other building materials he has purchased that he will either rework and sell, or resell outright, including a 40-foot beam from an old mill in Merrimac he said may be close to 400 years old.

Of the Charlestown Naval Yard wood, he said, "I am only its steward for a while."

The beams came to Mann after he bought a new sawmill. Another sawmill owner had the responsibility of using the old wood, but he was retiring.

After an extensive vetting process, Mann said it was decided he had the knowledge and equipment to properly work with the wood. One of the factors in his favor is that his family has been in the wood business for three generations.


On the last day of 2012, hospital officials contacted him and told him they had a plan for some of the wood.

Within days he was working on his first commission: a two-piece bench that will be installed in a public area between the hospital and the waterfront.

The piece he is working on first is a few feet thick with a beautiful curve to it.

He has been working to dry it out and smooth it off enough so it will be comfortable for public use.

He said it will not be sanded down much because the owners want the character of the wood to be retained as much as possible.

The bench will be substantial: A second piece of it is on a flatbed truck. Mann said he plans to unload it into his wood shop and work on it side by side with the other piece.

A second, single-piece bench is also being made.

The rest of the wood, a few dozen large pieces, including one that is about 31 inches square, is still being looked at by the architects.

And eventually, Mann said, the wood will let them know what it should become.


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