110 A Report from the 2017 National Heirloom Expo


On the podcast this week are three interviews I recorded at the 7th annual National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California in the first week of September 2017. The organizers of the expo, Baker Creek Seeds, hold a press conference in the midst of the fair and that gave me the chance to talk to some really interesting folks including:

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How to Fix a Termite Damaged Hardwood Floor


We knew we had a severe termite problem when they made their way through the middle of our living room floor. To address the problem we had the house tented and filled with a recitation of my lesser ideas. Believe me, those termites quickly left and ran down Sunset Boulevard! When it came to fixing the floor the pest control person suggested wood putty. Ugh.

Thankfully, when I installed our floor fifteen years ago I saved some scraps for such a contingency. So here’s how to fix a hole in a wood floor without resorting to wood putty:


1. First, carefully remove the damaged piece. You could do this with a circular saw but I used a chisel and mallet to avoid the risk of damaging the adjoining, undamaged flooring. Living in the hipster capital of the West Coast I, naturally, used a bespoke mallet I made myself. Be careful to avoid banging your chisel into a nail (this is why I used a cheap chisel rather than, say, a bespoke hand hammered one). I chiseled down the center of the damaged piece of wood and then carefully explored the edge of the wood where you’ll find nails. Once I removed most of the wood I used a small crowbar to remove the rest.

2. Next, use your chisel remove the tongue on the adjoining strip of flooring. This will make it easier to put in the replacement piece. You’ll be left with a hole in the floor that looks like this:

IMG_34243. Now place your new strip of wood next to where the damaged piece used to be. Carefully mark where you need to cut the piece. For the sake of accuracy, I’m fond of a striking knife rather than a pencil. You could also use a razor blade. You’ve probably heard the adage, “measure twice, cut once.” But this repair is a perfect example of why it’s actually best not to measure things with a ruler but instead to hold the piece to be cut up to what it needs to fit into. And for this repair, since we need a precise fit, I cut the new piece a little bit long and filed it down.

IMG_34324. You also need to remove the tongue on the replacement piece. I did this with a chisel.


5. Once you have a good fit you can nail the new piece down with finishing nails. You will need to use a small amount of putty to hide the nails.


If I had a larger section of floor to repair I’d rent a floor nailer which places the nails at an angle through the tongue and groove. This tools hides the nail holes and keeps the flooring snug.


If I were installing a new floor I would highly recommend renting a pneumatic flooring nailer. Our small living room and hallway required 1,000 nails and my arm hurt for a week after using a manual nailer.

And, at the risk of ascending the saddle of my very high horse, let me use this moment to express my disdain for laminate flooring. The interwebs are full of propaganda about how laminate flooring is, “better than it used to be.” The facts are still the same: laminate flooring doesn’t look like real wood and it can’t be sanded. It’s yet another disposable item to clog our landfills along with its laminate brethren, i.e. crap from Ikea. Go ahead and eat the meatballs but please pass on the laminates.

Saturday Tweets: Plywood and Mean Cats

A Celebration of Craft

Dave Miller at work. Photo by Josey Baker.

Dave Miller at work. Photo by Josey Baker.

The highlight of the National Heirloom Expo, for me, was running into three people who epitomize the value of dedication to a craft.

I’ve found that such craftspersons keep no secrets and are more than happy talk about techniques and tips. They are also, according to Matthew Crawford, an antidote to our culture’s narcissism. Crawford says, in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,

The moral significance of work that grapples with material things may lie in the simple fact that such things lie outside the self. A washing machine, for example, surely exists to serve our needs, but in contending with one that is broken, you have to ask what it needs. At such a moment, technology is no longer a means by which our mastery of the world is extended, but an affront to our usual self-absorption. Constantly seeking self-affirmation, the narcissist views everything as an extension of his will, and therefore has only a tenuous grasp on the world of objects as something independent. He is prone to magical thinking and delusions of omnipotence. A repairman, on the other hand, puts himself in the service of others, and fixes the things they depend on. His relationship to objects enacts a more solid sort of command, based on real understanding. For this very reason, his work also chastens the easy fantasy of mastery that permeates modern culture. The repairman has to begin each job by getting outside his own head and noticing things; he has to look carefully and listen to the ailing machine.

The trio of craftspersons I ran into at the expo included a baker, a tomato farmer and a nursery owner. They share common qualities: humility, openness and an attention to detail.

The baker is Dave Miller who I helped bring to LA to teach a series of classes. Miller specializes in whole grain breads made from freshly milled local grain. Most “whole grain” loaves baked in this country are actually white flour with food coloring, sugar and a small amount of stale whole grain flour. Miller can turn wet, sticky whole grain lumps into perfectly formed, airy loaves with one deft flick of the wrist. He has the skill to build an empire the size of La Brea Bakery but is happy working at a smaller scale selling loaves at the Chico farmer’s market once a week. I think he’s the most talented baker in the U.S.

I also ran into tomato farmer and breeder Fred Hempel who was a guest on episode 79 of our podcast. Like Miller, Hempel has a humility that goes along with a sincere engagement with the natural world. Like Miller he’s more than happy to discuss his craft.

A third person I met at the festival is Alice Doyle, owner of Log House Plants a wholesale nursery in Eugene Oregon. In her lecture she went alphabetically through a list of edible plants she thought were interesting. By the end of the hour, I think she reached the letter “J.” I wished we could have had a few more hours to get to “Z.” And this is another quality of the craftsperson, a selfless enthusiasm that can turn a list of vegetables into something way more interesting than what passes for entertainment in our culture. I’ll see if I can get Doyle on the podcast.

We are, I think, entering a dangerous new age of extreme narcissism fueled, in part, by Silicon Valley tech bros who have figured out a business model based on self-affirmation. We need more people like Miller, Hempel and Doyle.

Pictures from the National Heirloom Expo

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Via Root Simple in Instagram, some pics from the 7th Annual National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa. I’ll do some more in-depth posting later in the week, but a few short takeaways from my sixth trip to the expo: yes, you can grow paw paws and chestnuts in California, dahlias are amazing and we sure need more biodiversity in our supermarkets. And, to Kelly’s dismay, I came back with a cutting from one of Luther Burbank’s spineless prickly pear cactus varieties (that aren’t really spineless and caused a scandal in 1907).

#lutherburbank #pricklypear and spineless!

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Who knew that you can grow paw paws in California?

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A post shared by Erik Knutzen (@rootsimple) on

A post shared by Erik Knutzen (@rootsimple) on

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