March 25, 2021

Zen and the Art of Hammering Reclaimed Wood

This blog post was authored by Maddie Davidson, a member of the Tivnu 7 cohort from New York, New York. In her free time, she enjoys spending very quality time with very quality people, exploring the oxymoronic gritty labyrinth that makes up Portland, and biking to exotic monumental bodies of water. She interns at Street Roots and Tivnu construction.

Since coming to Tivnu, I’ve shattered my 18-year-long streak of only handling a hammer to deal with bedroom wall decor. I agree, this is equally as impressive as it is upsetting. This particular new-found instrument, “The Hammer,” led me to an epiphany.

My hammering journey started during day one of “how-not-to-chop-off-your-fingers-using-this -really-heavy-and/or-sharp-object-101” otherwise known as Tivnu Tool Training. This is where Erik Brakstad, our construction coach, was first introduced to the cohort. My previous visit to Portland last February had already given me the inside scoop on Tivnu staff, so I was fairly familiar with his outrageously contagious love for construction and everything that comes with it. 

Erik had brought in some support from his inner and outer construction circles. Among them was a T5’er (which is Tivnu lingo for a 5th cohort participant) who was put in charge of the station that would soon inspire this blog post: the hammering station. He guided us in taking a 3-inch gold-colored nail, pinching it by the neck, and driving it into the battered 2×6 with a navy blue #7 Tivnu-labeled hammer. Then, I had to take the very same nail right back out, leaving a shockingly un-gaping hole sitting in the wrinkled, withered and waterlogged piece of wood before me. That day I learned that “de-nailing” is a common practice in the world of reclaimed wood, which is a world I have immersed myself in completely and fully. This “world” goes as follows:

Step #1: Random lumberers cut a tree or two. 

Step #2: They use the harvested wood to build a nice new couple a house.

Step #3: 50 years pass. 

Step #4: The nice old couple decides to downsize. 

Step #4.5: Demolition.

Step #5: Free aged wood with at least 5 different ecosystems of metal hidden underneath the surface is up for grabs!

Step #6: De-nail. 

Step #7: Use that very same wood to build a solar panel structure… create a stage for an underprivileged elementary school … make a gatehouse for a homeless village. The wood will take you as far as your mind can go. 

Now, my brain lives and breathes through metaphor. Given that piece of valuable information, you could guess that my mind was set ablaze with this new understanding that wood goes on such an inspiring and elaborate journey. 

We are all reclaimed pieces of wood: wrinkled and withered and waterlogged from our many past lives. These scars each tell a different story of love and anger and celebration and friendship which we carry on our backs to each new experience; with each new experience comes a new stain. 

We’re tempted to hide every stain and smooth out our edges until we look like paper; but we don’t have to. We can, instead, acknowledge our imperfections, take out the nails, and build something. You’ll never see a single piece of wood making a difference on its own: you see all these pieces of wood come together to build something.

I’ve found that in Tivnu. My fellow pieces of reclaimed wood, damaged and beautiful, came here searching for community and purpose. We are coming together to create a foundation as building blocks of a better world.

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