The Northeast is full of beautiful old homes and other structures that were built before the turn of the 20th century, many of them still in excellent condition, with the kind of sturdy construction that modern builders and materials aspire to match. You could attribute this to the fine craftsmanship produced by time-honored manual techniques, but there’s something hidden within the walls of those buildings that tells more of the story: eastern white pine. Long before composite materials like OSB and plywood came onto the market, high-quality, strong boards of pine were the standard for sheathing.
When the historic White Pine Series of Architectural Monographs was restored in 2006 – many decades after the previous issue, printed in 1931 – NeLMA returned to its roots with reporting on how the industry and building standards have changed. In Volume XXVII, Issue I, we get a look at ‘Sheathing Techniques of Yesterday and Tomorrow,’ taking us to a home built by Bob Vail in Cumberland, Maine.
“Today’s builders are flush with backlog, so the swiftness at which the current project is completed is imperative,” the story reads. “But the speed advantages of building with OSB and plywood versus board sheathing are overestimated. Not only that, but the pricing and supply can be erratic, and old-school methods still prove to stand the test of time. Yes, it takes more skill to install, but it is skill where builders are able to differentiate themselves and add value.”
“….Vail and his crew of five build only a handful of new houses each year, with several remodeling jobs happening throughout the state’s short building season. The only marketing Vail has is his well-built homes. He has no shortage of work, and one look at the detail and craftsmanship is proof positive. But it’s what’s understood the surface, visible only during construction, which truly sets him apart. It is the Eastern White Pine board sheathing used over framing that adds an increased level of superior quality to his homes.”
Read the rest of this piece and check out these photos at a larger size at the White Pine Monograph Library.