Pine Hall Implements New Cutting Technology To Serve Growing Interest In Thinner Brick

Winston-Salem, N.C.— Pine Hall Brick Company has acquired new technology and continued a century-long tradition at the same time.

The new technology is an advanced diamond blade saw. The tradition is one of finding ways to improve how it makes clay ceramic products.

This latest technology will help Pine Hall Brick meet demand in the growing thin brick category, using the saw for two products: interior veneer brick called ThinClad™ and brick floor tiles, branded as PaverTiles™. Both are suitable for do-it-yourself projects or professional jobs, including new construction or remodeling.

ThinClad brick and PaverTiles are cut from face brick and paving brick, respectively. Pine Hall Brick rolled out the products using a conventional wet blade saw. As demand grew, it became time to ramp up production for both products.

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The saw is 16 feet long, seven feet wide and seven feet tall, with a 36-inch blade. It can be loaded with 12 pavers or 15 face brick at a time and is capable of cutting about 4,000 thinner versions of Pine Hall Brick’s products in an eight-hour shift, said Preston Steele, vice president and thin products business manager.

“It’s really a continuation of coming out with new products as markets and trends change,” said Steele. “It’s part of the evolution of Pine Hall Brick. But in order to do that, we have to have the right tools and equipment.”

One growing trend is exposed interior brick. ThinClad brick has become popular indoors as a replacement for tile as backsplashes or as feature walls and sometimes for entire walls in a room.

“ThinClad is a way to have authentic brick without the footers required for traditional masonry,” said Steele. “It’s well-documented that apartments demand a higher price if they have interior brick walls.”

Pine Hall Brick has long sold ThinClads, a ½ -inch thick version of its face brick, which has been used not only indoors, but outside as well, on chimneys, gable ends and foundation walls, while the same, identical face brick is used on the rest of the building. Much of the ThinClads line is extruded to the ½-inch thickness before it is fired in the kiln, but some of it has been made from ½-inch slices of face brick cut off by a saw.

In early 2018, Pine Hall Brick introduced PaverTiles, which used a saw to cut slices of three-eighths, one-half and three-quarters of an inch off its pavers, for use as interior floor tiles inside or overlays on exterior concrete slabs.

PaverTiles are installed like ceramic tile and allow the homeowner to bring the timeless appeal of authentic clay brick to spaces with height or weight restrictions. Kitchens, mudrooms, laundry rooms, sunrooms and wine cellars are all places where PaverTiles work well.

Outside, PaverTiles are ideal for rehabilitating outdoor spaces, where door thresholds and steps often prevent the use of full thickness pavers. Thinner PaverTiles can convert a tired old concrete slab into a clay paver porch or patio.

Steele said that the new saw was needed because the volume of PaverTiles orders is expected to triple this year.

“We knew our colors were good and there was a lot of demand for a product like this,” said Steele. “But we were in a position where if we marketed too much then we couldn’t meet demand. We got by with the old saw but had to wait before we started marketing more heavily.”

In addition to increased capacity to meet that demand, the new saw works much more efficiently. It has much greater tolerances and is self-adjusting. The operator sets the height of the cut wanted and the speed. A conveyor brings the brick to the blade. If it hits a hard place in the brick, then both belt and blade slow and adjust on the fly, which saves the blade.

For now, two new employees have been hired to run the saw in one eight-hour shift. If demand increases, more shifts will be added.

To house the new saw, Pine Hall Brick converted a storage area at its plant in Madison, NC, into a mini-manufacturing plant, with new concrete flooring, walls and electrical upgrades.

The installation includes a water recycling system which collects the fine dust, which Steele said might be useful for athletic fields.

“We didn’t have to do that, but being this close to the Dan River, we felt like recycling the water was the right thing to do,” said Steele.

As it is, the saw leaves a half-inch piece of paver in the center of the cut, which may make a PaverTile, although its surface is smooth and different from other PaverTiles. Until the decision is reached on whether, and how, to market the leftover pieces, the company is breaking them up into brick chips to sell to landscaping companies for mulch.

Steele pointed out that it the ThinClads and PaverTiles are the same products Pine Hall Brick has always been known for, but thinner.

“It’s a natural product, just like our pavers and face brick,” said Steele. “It’s authentic, not made any differently than we were making brick 90 years ago. It’s shale and water fired to 2000 degrees. Very little has changed, it’s just a different thickness.”

About the Pine Hall Brick legacy of innovation
Pine Hall Brick Company’s evolution began 130 years ago when J.C. Steele, who is an ancestor of Preston Steele, invented machines that would make brick faster and more consistently through an extrusion process. Shale and water are mixed together into a smooth consistency, then extruded out into a long column on a conveyor belt and cut into bricks, similar to the way toothpaste is squeezed from a tube.

Steele’s invention was so successful that Statesville, NC-based J.C. Steele & Sons is still in business and today, virtually all bricks manufactured across the U.S. and Australia are made on Steele machines.

J.C. Steele’s son, Flake Steele, bought the dormant Consolidated Brick Company in Pine Hall, NC, along with hundreds of acres of land that contained Triassic shale, a key ingredient in brick. In 1922, Pine Hall Brick Company began operations with J.C. Steele & Sons machinery.

The next big leap in the company’s evolution was finding a way to improve clay pavers. Pavers used to be face brick, only without holes, made at the end of the manufacturing season in December. They would be set aside in the brickyard until the following spring, when they would be picked up by landscapers to build walkways and patios.

They were fired in the kiln at the same temperature and for the same amount of time as face brick. Over time, they gained a reputation for disintegrating, because brick built for walls in buildings don’t work that well when they are placed on the ground.

In 1996, Pine Hall Brick engineered a method to make clay pavers durable enough to take the weight of buses and trucks and made them more consistent in color and size. Eliminating size variances made them easier to install. Volume was so great that the company expanded its reach to open new plants in Georgia and became the largest supplier of clay pavers in the United States.

More recently, Pine Hall Brick was among the first to introduce permeable clay pavers, which when installed using best-practices methods of installation, allows for the efficient disposal of stormwater on site, enabling developers, civil engineers and landscape architects to comply with federal Clean Water Act regulations.

In 2019, after more than a century of finding the best ways to build face bricks and pavers – and then building them - the next step was to find a way to cut both products down to produce ThinClads and PaverTiles to meet market demand.