Engraved Memorial to an Industrial History

February 06, 2018

engraved image of American Snuff Company

A 3x4' section of flooring became a memorial to 100 years of work

An interesting project came our way.

This project had it all: Demolition, problem solving, living history, and art. And it all started with a piece of flooring…

We were sent a three-and-a-half by two-and-half section of individual boards.

Well, not just any boards. These were floor boards, attached to a backing board so they would stay together just as they had been lifted from the building where they had sat for well over 100 years.

These boards were dinged, scratched, nicked, and gouged…

Everything you would expect from the floor of a factory building that had employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of workers.

This flooring was all that was left of the original American Snuff Company warehouse Georgia. And I was given the task of turning it into a historical keepsake – a testament to the work and workers that had created the beaten boards I was looking at.

With the flooring was an artistic rendering of the original building – this was to be the image I engraved.

This flooring was all that was left of the original American Snuff Company warehouse Georgia. And I was given the task of turning it into a historical keepsake – a testament to the work and workers that had created the beaten boards I was looking at.

With the flooring was an artistic rendering of the original building – this was to be the image I engraved.

The first problem I faced was how to get this large conglomeration of pieces into my machine, a machine built to work on plaques, wooden boxes, small signs, and projects you can easily pick up with your hands. I quickly realized I had to dismantle my $60,000 120Watt Epilog Legend Ext. in order for this project to fit.

So, with more than a little trepidation, I did.

piece of an engraved wood plaque showing the American Snuff companyFirst I removed the front panel of the machine, allowing the flooring panel to hang out from the front of the machine about 24 inches. Because of how far this hung out, I had to brace up the project.

As I dismantled my laser engraver and customized it for the project at hand, I began to think about how I would actually engrave this image.

See, a laser engraver takes a digital file I create and burns away the wood in the pattern I have chosen. But typically the wood is smooth, or I only have the natural grains and knots to work around. In the case of this flooring, I had a hundred years of wear and tear to work around. 

How was I going to get the engraved lines to show up through this wood damage?

How was I going to get the image to look like a whole building with these scratches and dings marring the outlines?

And, there was a second, even larger problem - I wasn’t sure how I was going to rotate the flooring panel to exactly 180 degrees in order to get the wood hanging out of the machine into the machine while perfectly lining up the image to continue the engraving – but I had an idea brewing.

Besides…I actually had to get the first half successfully engraved!

It was a real challenge.

And it began with one pass at a time!

Once I was able to rig my machine to take the project, I began to work on a digital rendering of the image. I had to plan out how the image would sit on the boards so as to work with the wood damage.

Once I had my digital file, and a mental plan of action, I let the laser go.

First I did a light score, just to set the design in the wood, something without much depth that could be sanded off if needed. Once done, I set the laser a little deeper and made another pass…

I only had one shot at this, this was it. The building was gone, I couldn’t just replace the wood if I messed up – and so painstakingly, pass by pass, I set the laser a little deeper

And pass by pass, I watched the image come to life.

As this process took place, it was hard not to let my imagination wander. Looking at these floor boards, it was easy to make up a story for each mark in the wood, each gouge…

That one looked the where a tool had fallen and skittered across the floor…

That one looked like the wheel of a cart had locked up and peeled back the wood as it fought against the inertia of being pulled along

That one could have been from where a table or counter leg sat, pushing the weight of pounds of tobacco into the wood below.

And that one, the deep straight line, almost looked like someone had taken a sharp implement and had deepened it pass by pass, intentionally – much like I was now doing with my machine!

Slowly, the image of the once busy factory took shape across the floor boards.

And when it was done – even I was impressed. Pictured there was a moment in Industrial history, frozen on the sweat soaked, dirt encrusted, work worn flooring from which it came. The history of men, of a town, of an American Company – the stories locked inside that wood being hinted at by the image now engraved upon it…

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Partial funding for development of this website made possible by a Rural Business Enterprise Grant through the Northern Community Investment Corporation from USDA Rural Development.