Q: I’m considering building a wood mantel for my fireplace and a few matching furniture pieces to go with it. I’ve been very impressed with photos of salvaged wood in remodel projects, but I don’t know much about it. Is it worth hunting down? Or can I get the same effect with new wood?
A: If you open any magazine, watch any DIY design show or spend 15 minutes on Pinterest, you will see that salvaged, or reclaimed, wood is a hot design feature. Naturally, being inundated with pictures of beautiful reclaimed lumber walls, furniture, beams and floors can inspire anyone to spice up their space. However, terms like salvaged lumber, reclaimed materials and barnwood can be overwhelming to newcomers. So let’s take a brief introductory tour of reclaimed wood.
What is reclaimed lumber? It’s high-quality wood removed from structures such as barns, warehouses and homes for repurposing. This material typically comes from old-growth forests rather than forests planted with genetically selected fast-growing seeds. If you compared an end cut of a 2×4 sold at a modern lumber yard to a reclaimed 2×4 end cut, you would easily notice a big difference: growth rings. The growth a tree experiences in a year is measured by rings per inch. A newly harvested fast-growth tree will have just a few growth rings per inch versus up to 200 growth rings in a single inch of old-growth. The tighter the growth rings, the stronger and harder the wood.
Farmed trees are harvested at an average age of 65 years, while old-growth trees can be several hundred years old and air-dried for more than 60 years. Since the lumber has dried slowly, it has had time to warp, crack or check. This means that the material is incredibly stable, and you can depend on reclaimed lumber’s strength and durability for any project you pursue.
Reclaimed lumber has the beautiful wear and patina of its previous life, which may include discoloration due to oxidation, nail staining from its original application, or original saw blade patterns. These “blemishes” add rich, lived-in character.
And reclaimed lumber is sustainable and eco-friendly because it’s recycled, and newer trees are not being harvested for your project.
When using reclaimed lumber in a project, it is important to note that it is typically considered a furniture grade material, meaning it’s perfect for furniture, wood accent walls, cladding (wrapping an item with a material), fireplace mantels, shelving, countertops and more.
Timber framers, craftsmen and furniture makers love using old-growth beams and lumber in projects due to the structural stability of the wood. You can even use it as a main support beam in your home or building. Just make sure to check code requirements first.
Lacy Kabrich is marketing and sales director of Earthwise Architectural Salvage, a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling, or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s nearly 2,800 members, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.