Reclaimed wood is anything that has been used before and is going to be used again. Going green means more than recycling plastic and paper. Whether the carbon footprint involved in demolishing, packaging, and shipping reclaimed lumber to its final location is really green is a topic for another time. But for the most part, using old wood from someplace else is very cool. Structural lumber from old barns or factories is finding its way into buildings ranging from lofts in New York to poker rooms in Beverly Hills. Smaller grade lumber is being made into face frames, drawer fronts and cabinet doors.
Lots of clients love being able to boast to their friends, “See that wood over there? Came from Denmark! Over two hundred years old!” Obviously the style and motif of the project dictate whether wood like this can be used or not. That’s why I mentioned poker rooms earlier. The house may be super contemporary, but the man of the house may really get off on having his “poker room” or “deal room” be something completely different from the rest of the place. And if the wood has history, so much the better.
Where to Find Reclaimed Wood
If you want to find reclaimed wood, you can look anywhere – from your backyard (meaning close by) to Europe and beyond. It’s not going to be cheap, unless you find something like the load of lumber I scored that a cabinet shop going out of business wanted to unload. I picked up over 1,000 board feet for a hundred bucks. What a deal. It included all the hidden nails, lead paint, and black widows you could ever ask for! This load of wood came from an old church in England that had been torn down. The wood was over 100 years old.
Reclaimed Wood Ain’t Cheap
That wood that I picked up cost the unfortunate out-of-business cabinet shop a fortune to get it over here, and whoever was going to get it ready for cabinetry was going to have to spend another fortune preparing it for use. That’s what I want to address here. Milling old wood is no picnic. It’s old, nasty, full of holes, embedded with nails, and it clogs up the sander (don’t sand lead paint by the way). And no way can you use the planer, because it’s so twisted and warped… so what do you do?
First off, see if someone else will mill it for you… but if your wife gives you “The Look,” you are going to have to do it yourself.
Prepping Reclaimed Wood Can Be Is Hazardous
Absolutely wear a mask, safety glasses, and long sleeves whenever you are working with this kind of material. The surface of the wood can actually change composition and turn into a kind of grey matter that doesn’t sand well and dulls the crap out of joiner blades.
Start by checking the wood for nails or anything metal. You won’t catch them all, but you can get a good jump on it.
Like with any building material, you have to start with getting a flat surface to work with. Depending on how rustic the job is, there may be just a few or a hell of a lot of passes that’ll need to be run by the joiner. Once you get a semi flat side, then you can run it by the planer. Most likely it will be so warped you’ll need to take off a little at a time. Keep a lot of extra blades on hand, and keep telling yourself it’s a labor of love so you don’t go all Rory. (My buddy Rory works for the post office.)
The last step of milling will be straight lining the wood on the table saw. This is really the most dangerous step of all. I know it’s a pain in the ass, but just use a non carbide tipped blade. If a carbide tipped blade hits a buried nail, the tip can fly off and hit your eye (it will go right through most goggles), get embedded in your forearm, or worst of all hit you smack dab between the eyes and end life as you know it. Meaning – you’re dead. I’m not kidding.
Now with those words of encouragement, the look of old pine cleaned up and looking all golden, with streaks of grey in the cracks, makes for a stunning old world look. Just make sure you’re around to see it.