Here's a weekend idea that may floor you

Invention is showcased in Popular Mechanics

By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital
By Wendi Winters, For the Capital
Peter Gargano, 50, a resident of the Whitehall neighborhood on the Broadneck Peninsula, shows off the tapping bar and pull bar he develped to install new locking Lyptus flooring planks. The planks' wood veneer is a recently develped hardwood, a hybrid of two Eucalyptus species

Popular Mechanics is the well-thumbed bible for generations of people who have hunkered down, read the directions, and set about replacing a timing belt, caulking a shower, removing a car battery safely or creating a "green home" by themselves.

They can do all that, and more, after reading the March 2007 issue of the magazine. It boasts a circulation of 1.3 million and more than 6.7 million avid readers each month.

Since it was first published in 1902, getting a mention in this magazine devoted to workshop tools, cars, souped-up lawn mowers and complex electronic gadgets has been like reaching the summit of Mount Everest. But that's what happened to Peter Gargano, a resident of the Whitehall neighborhood on the Broadneck Peninsula.

A set of tools - "The Ultimate Tool" - was prominently featured in an article headlined "Flooring It: Install a floating hardwood floor in a single weekend."

Mr. Gargano, 50, is the inventor of the professional flooring tool kit touted in the story.

A first-generation Italian-American from Corning, N.Y., he has lived in the region for 31 years, and in Annapolis since 1993. He and his wife, Wendy, have three children. Giovanni, 13, and Francesca, 11, attend Severn River Middle School, and 8-year-old Alesandro goes to Windsor Farm Elementary.

Mr. Gargano is the business development manager for ILEX Construction & Woodworking, based in Baltimore. Earlier he held a similar position with LCM, and was with the company as it grew from nine employees to more than 150. After he left LCM, it was taken over by ILEX. He worked for Weyerhaeuser, purveyor of paper and building products as a market development manager for 2½ years before being lured to ILEX.

Part of his job at Weyerhaeuser was creating demand in the architects' market for flooring and other products milled from a new hardwood species - a hybrid of eucalyptus grandis and eucalyptus urophylla.

"There's 1,000 species of eucalyptus. Two were crossbred. In 15 years the hybrid grew incredibly fast," he reported. "It was 115 feet tall and 23 inches in diameter. Normal hardwoods take 60 to 100 years to grow that much. It's absolutely gorgeous and it weighs a ton. The wood is the color of cherry, with the grain of mahogany, and is harder than maple."

A renewable resource, the wood is grown on Brazilian plantations that were once clear-cut of their forests, now reforested with the special eucalyptus. The trees are grown among indigenous trees and more still are planted as buffer zones to prevent logging dust runoff from reaching streams. It's the "wood of the future," he claimed, adding ithat n an 18-month period he did lunch presentations showcasing the wood for more than 1,200 architects and builders.

One of the Lyptus products Weyerhaeuser sells is an engineered floating hardwood floor made of locking planks that are milled and pre-finished in Brazil. The 3/16-inch veneer topping the plank is Lyptus, Weyerhaeuser's brand name for the wood, glued to a ½-inch strip of rubberwood. The plank is glued on four sides; friction causes the glue to heat up and bond with other glued edges.

The first demonstration didn't go well. When a distributor tried to do a trial before installing it in a customer's home, his workers were smacking the planks to get them to lock.

"If you don't resolve this issue," warned the distributor, "we'll pull your product from our dealerships on Friday."

Mr. Gargano arrived armed with special tools suggested by the manufacturer. They didn't work well: The heavy-duty tapping block was a lightweight piece of junk and the pull bar "was wobbly, poorly designed and badly slapped together. I hit its anvil section hard with my hammer and hit my hand. Plus, you could go deaf from the noise," he said.

In a demonstration spot he set up in his basement, he showed how the recommended tools were poorly thought-out. On his own time, he created sleek, elegant heavy-duty pieces a professional installer can use for years.

The pull bar is lined with foam tape, to avoid scratching the surface of the wooden planks. The anvil portion of the pull bar has a high-density plastic cap that muffles the sound of tapping, and it's welded at an angle that reduces the chance that an installer will whack his or her hand with a hammer.

He also redid the tapping block, using heavier material, a better handle and beveled edges. Analyzing how the interlocking floors need to be laid correctly, he developed an "Ultimate Tool Kit" containing a 24-inch pull bar with a 7-inch end and one with a 2½-inch end, tapping blocks in 24-inch and 6-inch sizes and 10 heavy plastic spacer blocks. All the pieces are made with a black finish and finished off with an attractively designed logo plate.

When he began arriving at demonstration classes, installers asked to buy his prototype equipment.

"I had connections in the industry," Mr. Gargano smiled. "Within a month, I had the kit manufactured in a custom-made cardboard box. I priced the kit for $199 plus $20 shipping and set up a Web site: www.ultimatetoolinc.com . I also applied for a patent."

The Ultimate Tool Kit is also sold at Elias Wilfin in Owings Mills.

Joseph Truini has written about do-it-yourself projects for three decades. Based in Connecticut now, he was Popular Mechanics' shop and tools editor in New York for seven years, followed by 13 years as senior editor at Today's Homeowner. In 2000 he returned to Popular Mechanics as a freelance writer and contributing editor.

"I've installed several floating floors," Mr. Truini said. "I found out about the Lyptus flooring and proposed a hardwood flooring story to the magazine. When I contacted Weyerhaeuser, they mentioned Peter's tool kit. When I got a set from him I could tell it was obviously designed by a guy intimately involved with flooring.

"I've installed five floating floors in the past, and you really need good tools. Peter's tool kit absolutely works better than anything I've seen," he raved. "It's the easiest way to put down a floor. Without his tool kit, it would be twice as hard to install this type of floor.

"I've never seen a flooring kit before other than from manufacturers. Pete's kit is priced for professionals. If you're doing a whole house, it makes sense to buy it. Otherwise, people might want to rent it for one room."

Mr. Truini is shown on page 87, wrestling a plank into place, with Mr. Gargano's Ultimate Tool Kit at his feet.

"Since the magazine came out in mid-February, my Web site's been getting lots of hits," Mr. Gargano grinned. "Installers and regular people are buying the tools."

The Ultimate Tool Kit's success got him thinking about improving other areas of his life. "Wait till you see my next invention," he teased. "You'll wonder how you made a tuna sandwich without it."

- No Jumps-

Published March 12, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.
Copyright © 2007 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.