Tips for Finding and Using Reclaimed Wood in Your Home
Call it a “vibe” or the energy, but there’s just something about using reclaimed wood in a home or office that makes the final project richer, and more luxurious. Reclaimed wood is far superior than anything you can buy from any big box home center, say designers and home owners who swear by reclaimed lumber.
“A lot of what makes old wood so much better is its age,” said designer and architect Mackey Smith of Reclaimed Space in Austin, Texas. Smith is one of a small team of design professionals, ranchers, environmentalists, and architects at the eight-year-old company. “Wood in homes before 1920 was cut from old growth lumber. There are fewer knotholes; the grain is tighter,” he said. Not only does it look better, but it’s also more stable, more rot resistant, stronger and more termite resistant too. “It’s just better wood,” he said.
Smith and Reclaimed Space founder Tracen Gardner create a variety of projects, homes and living/working spaces across the Lone Star State and beyond. Their client spaces are built with one hundred-year-old barn wood, longleaf pine, and corrugated metal that they meticulously reclaim from historic barns and homes across Texas. But another 40 percent of their wood comes from tobacco barns in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia as well as homes across the country.
“We don’t pay for wood we reclaim,” he said. “The cost of recovering it, transporting, de-nailing and storing it makes it almost as expensive as new wood. A lot of people give us the wood if we’ll just reclaim it,” he said. “They either don’t want a condemned building on their property, or they need to have it removed so they can sell the property. There are a lot of reasons people are just happy to have you take the wood away.” The company also buys reclaimed lumber from companies who do reclamations across the country. They don’t see wood on a retail basis, but work with clients on 100-square foot projects and up. Many of their clients are tiny house owners who don’t need hundreds of square feet of wood, but who want the unique look it offers for their tiny homes. And while many of the company’s clients come to them for their wood, it’s possible for anyone with a strong back, a lot of patience and a willingness to work hard to reclaim lumber from sheds, barns, and homes in their area, said Smith. You need to own the property or have permission to reclaim the wood of course, but from there all you need are a few tools and these tips:
What Kind of Structures to Reclaim
- “Look for homes built between 1910 and 1920 for the best wood,” Smith said. “That’s really the sweet spot in terms of desirable woods because of the harvesting of old growth forests. “Old-growth wood is trees/lumber that was grown naturally in vast virgin forests in the 1800’s. By 1940, however, most of this lumber was depleted. “After 1920,” Smith said, “the wood is less desirable.”
- Look for homes and sheds rather than barns. Barns are great for an intensely rustic look, but “Barn wood typically was a cheaper wood. It tends to be more uneven, and is better suited for exteriors, or interiors where the owner wants a heavy rustic feel.”
- Look for structures that are still intact, or mostly intact. “What is the condition of the roof?” Smith said. “If a structure is falling down, or the roof is gone, most of the wood inside is more likely to be rotten. An old farmhouse with an intact, pristine tin roof is an excellent find. “
“If you’re one of those people with a lot of time and patience and not much money, it’s possible to get the wood for your project for little or no money,” Smith said.
Things You’ll Need to Harvest Old Lumber
You don’t need a lot of tools or technology to harvest lumber and galvanized metal from old structures. “There are a few tools that will pay for themselves before you’ve even finished the job,” Smith said. “You can spend about $100 and get all the tools you need.”:
- Nail Kicker. A nail kicker is a pneumatic tool that looks a lot like a nail gun. Rather than shooting nails, it shoots compressed air at the head of a nail, forcing it through the lumber. That way your saws, drills and other tools won’t hit a buried nail and destroy your saw blade or cause serious damage to you or your tools.
- Crowbars. An assortment of crowbars, from small to large, will help you get into tight spots and get the leverage you need to remove even the most stubborn planks.
- Hammer. Most folks have a good hammer, and even if you don’t, it’s not a huge financial investment, but it will help you free both tin roofs and wooden boards from their foundation.
- Metal detector for wood workers. These metal detectors sell for under $100 and can pinpoint a nail, piece of metal, bullet, barbed wire or other metal debris in the wood to the exact location. “Don’t bother with the wand style detectors like TSA uses,” Smith said. “They work, but they give you a general area where the metal is. They don’t pinpoint it.”
Using reclaimed wood, and galvanized metal, is easier and more cost effective than most homeowners realize. Besides the more luxurious look and feel of the wood, there’s just the fact that you’re living with a piece of history – whether it’s a tobacco barn, an old mill, part of a southern plantation or mountain cabin.
“Anytime you’re living with an artifact from another time it carries with it part of that history. We can sense it, even if we don’t know who lived in those houses, or what happened there, we recognize it as ancestral,” Smith said. “It’s just a vibe a lot of people appreciate and want.”
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