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Toothpaste, pound cake and football

April 30, 2014

PHB Paver Days 2

It’s spring in the Southeast, which means the days are longer, it’s gotten warmer, the flowers are blooming and Pine Hall Brick Company is in the middle of Paver Days. Customers can come in, purchase pavers at deep discounts and view a demonstration of how to install their own patios and walkways.

The annual series began in mid-April and continues in May. This year marked an inaugural Paver Day at the original paver plant in Madison, NC. The event marked a change, as Paver Day had been held at Pine Hall Brick Company’s Patio Store in Greensboro for the past 18 years. Moving the event to Madison this year also meant visitors could tour the plant and learn how pavers are made.Paver Day is scheduled for May 3 in Charlotte, May 17 in Winston-Salem and May 31 at the Pine Hall Brick Company plant in Fairmount, Georgia. As in past years, Paver Day demonstrations are led by Ted Corvey, vice president of sales and marketing and Harold Beaty, customer service and retail sales manager.

The first thing that visitors to a Paver Day event see is pavers. Thousands of pavers, tens of thousands of pavers, stacked up neatly in cubes, which are on sale for as little as 15 cents each. All of the pavers are factory seconds or mismatched.

But what they don’t see is the story behind them. Pine Hall Brick Company makes more than 40 million pavers each year. What’s sold during Paver Days – between 450,000 and 600,000 pavers in total across all four locations  –  amounts to between 1 percent and 1 ½ percent of its total production.

How do pavers become factory seconds?  Take the example of a red clay paver. (Pine Hall Brick Company makes and sells 27 different varieties of red clay pavers.) During production, if the brick plant switches from one red brick color to another,  the resulting pavers during the switch may not be exactly the color that was ordered, or there will be small variances in size. Those pavers, which are otherwise of high quality, are set aside to be sold during  Paver Days. Those that are not usable are ground up into brick chips that are sold to landscapers as mulch.

PHB Paver Days 3

Visitors to the brick plants are also learning what making pavers has in common with toothpaste, pound cake and football.

Clay pavers are made through an extrusion process. The clay is mixed to the consistency of putty and then forced into and through a mold, which is similar to squeezing toothpaste from a tube. The clay is then sliced into paver-shaped clay pieces  and drops onto a conveyor on its way to the kiln car. The kiln car with pavers stacked atop heat-resistant ceramic beams rides on a railway into and through the kiln, before ending up in the packaging area.

Just as a pound cake requires fresh, well-measured ingredients, so does clay for pavers. The clay is dried  to a precise level of moisture before it goes into production.  Both pound cakes and pavers require baking in an oven, although at 2,000 degrees or thereabouts, pavers are baked at roughly four times higher than a household oven. And just as a baker checks on a pound cake, brickmakers keep a close eye on how the pavers are being fired. The durability, size and even the color of the pavers depends on it.

Football? The kiln at Pine Hall Brick Company’s Madison plant, currently running 24 hours a day and seven days a week, is the length of a football field. Brickmakers there will tell you that every paver that’s inside the building is assumed to be hot – and protective gloves are on hand if a paver needs to be picked up for closer inspection.  The football metaphor is extended if you pick up a hot paver with an ungloved hand. Chances are, you’ll fumble it.

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