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Reclaimed Antique Lumber: Beautiful, Green, and a Story to Tell

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Green Renovations, Old House History

I had a few people contact me about my last blog post where I mentioned reclaimed wood, wanting to know more about it and where it comes from. I sometimes forget that not everyone who visits OldHouseWeb has experience with old houses. Some people are just beginning what will hopefully become an enjoyable journey. So, I thought today I would elaborate a little more on antique reclaimed wood and how it can tie into old houses.

Reclaimed Wood Comes With Its Own History

Reclaimed wood can come from many different places. Some comes from old barns that are starting to collapse; other types come from old industrial building that were constructed many years ago in our cities. When the buildings have sat empty for years and someone decides to build a new structure on the site, the old building is slated to be torn down. If the building has material in it worth saving, a de-construction crew usually takes it down. A de-construction crew takes the building down piece by piece, and they salvage the lumber. These buildings might be old tractor factories or breweries; they are can be in our country or Europe, but they are usually large and often full of antique lumber. The salvage crew or the lumber company involved often takes pictures of the building before it comes down. It’s possible in many cases to go back through history books and public records to learn the entire history of the building.

Reclaimed Wood Has a Chance to Shine Once Again

The reclaimed wood is taken back to the mills of the companies that specialize in antique reclaimed lumber, and a team removes all of the nails and anything else that might damage saw blades. Some of this reclaimed wood is in the form of huge beams; some other might be two-by-six flooring boards or posts. Depending on the size and how it can be cut, the mill is able cut several grades of most of the lumber.

The list of available species seems almost endless: maple, oak, heart pine, hickory, elm, cherry–just about anything you can think of. Some reclaimed wood companies even specialize in retrieving the timbers which fell off of the river barges while being moved many years ago.

Reclaimed Wood Can Help An Old House Look Old

Reclaimed wood is often used for flooring, but it can also be used for beams, paneling, cabinet stock, doors and trim, or any other wood decor for your old house restoration. There are reclaimed lumber companies all over the country, just like the one I mentioned on Greenovation.TV. They often provide reclaimed wood products for historic restorations of famous buildings, and they can provide reclaimed wood for your old house restoration, too. But don’t just look at the pictures on the Web sites–to really appreciate the beauty of this wood, you have to see it in front of you. Then you can sense its history.

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  1. 2 Responses  to “Reclaimed Antique Lumber: Beautiful, Green, and a Story to Tell”

  2. Ricky
    Aug 29, 2011
    I'd have to imagine that reclaiming wood is a huge deal in places like England, seeing as they've cut down all of their trees already. Probably a pretty big business there. Should be a requirement in the US to try and salvage instead of just taking TNT to houses and buildings.
  3. Jon
    Aug 29, 2011
    I have done several projects with reclaimed wood and it is a pleasure to work with. In one project we had dozens of 12" x 12" doug fir beams that came from an old Champion lumber mill in Libby, Montana. The wood was straight grain and beautiful. The other project, we made 1 x 12" pine flooring boards from old beams that had supported a train tressel in Salt Lake. The salt had added a yellowish patina that was unique and unreproduceable. I love reclaimed lumber, unfortunately so does everybody else so it is expensive!