Reclaimed wood has been growing in popularity for decades. Woodworking projects, interior design, and construction go through different trends over time. Some are short-lived, and others are timeless. When it comes to timeless trends, you can’t get much better than reclaimed or distressed wood. When you use recycled lumber for projects, you create a look of age and antiquity. For example, an antique barn door from the early 1900s can make an incredible partition in your home. That partition will lend itself to a classic, rustic look.
However, if you’ve been in the market for reclaimed or antique wood, you’ve likely noticed something peculiar; recycled lumber is incredibly expensive. Why should essentially scrap boards cost so much? Answer: Because of high demand and because it takes effort to secure sources of wood. That means that if you could find your own salvaged lumber, you would be able to create beautiful pieces at an affordable rate. Thus the true question: where can you find reclaimed wood?
Blighted homes or massive home renovations are a great source of reclaimed lumber. In general, people don’t reuse wood they rip out; therefore, if someone is doing a massive renovation of their home, they’ll likely be throwing out a lot of useful wood. The simplest thing to do is to keep your eyes open as you drive around. If you see piles of wood sitting on the curb or in portable dumpsters on someone’s driveway, it is worth it to inquire. Knock on the door and ask them about the things they’re thrown away. Many people are more than willing to let you take it.
Why This Source is Great
If you can find wood from renovated homes, you might have a source of aged wood that is free. Free wood could bring the cost of your project way down and make it worthwhile to renovate parts of your own home.
What to Look For
Q: Which projects result in great secondhand lumber?
A: There are some common renovations that occur. Wood floors, interior/exterior doors, joist beams, and garage doors are great sources of reclaimed wood. Furthermore, anything that has been exposed to the outside elements will give that weathered look. To get poetic you are looking for things that show the weight of years. The aging process tarnishes the paint, deepens the color of the wood, and enriches the finish. These elements are difficult to replicate with anything but time.
- Look for
- Oak – Some of the hardest wood for flooring. Should be one of the more popular species so you’re more likely to find
- Maple – Beautiful guitars made from Maple flooring are very popular
- American Cherry – Rare. If you find some make sure to snap it up
- Birch –
- Walnut – Rare. If you find some make sure to snap it up
- Yellow Pine – A softer wood but still beautiful for projects
One of the richest sources of heirloom wood is rural areas. From abandoned buildings to barns to fences, they have just about everything. Barn wood is an entire category of reclaimed lumber on its own. It is, as the name suggests, wood that has been used in siding, flooring, and roofing barns. In some cases, it could be more than a hundred years old.
The sun bleaches and dries the wood, draining the natural colors and oils. The wind and rain help to strip away the oils and deepen the grain. Barn wood that has been unpainted tends to range in color from silver or gray all the way to a deep brown. The wood species is often difficult to determine as well. In the past, barns and rural structures were made from whatever was readily available at the time. However, they’re commonly old growth lumber. In the context of lumber, wood becomes old growth when the tree reaches 60 years old. Most barns and rural buildings built before 1945 were built with old growth.
Why Barns are Awesome
This wood is desirable for many reasons; chief among them, old growth wood has a larger proportion of heartwood. Heartwood is defined as, “the dense inner part of a tree trunk, yielding the hardest timber.” That’s why barn wood can be in any shape even after seventy years or more.
If you are looking for large amounts of barn wood, you should contact a supplier. There is likely one in your area. However, this wood will be retail priced. If you want to get it for as little money as possible, you need to keep an eye on classifieds online as well as exploring rural areas yourself. Owners are oftentimes looking to tear down their old barns to make room or clean up their land. That means that they’ll be selling, or more likely burning, their old wood. Don’t let them do it! If you have access to a truck, they’ll likely let you carry it away for free.
What to Look For
Typically you should be looking for hardwoods. Oftentimes, red or white oak. These are very hardwoods that make great flooring or just about any type of furniture. White oak is slightly more decay resistant than red oak, but they’re both a great choice.
Train depots are another great source of heirloom wood. When trains crisscrossed the United States, hundreds of thousands of miles of track were built. With them train stations and supporting infrastructure. Because of the times, a lot of this was made of wood. Wood even extending to the tracks, using heavy wooden beams to hold the metal rails together. Called railroad ties; they lie perpendicular to the track.
The actual buildings will likely be a rare find if you are ever able to come across one. Railroad ties are much more common. These can be used for many things but you want to be careful since it is likely that they were treated to prevent rot and insect damage. After some googling, you don’t want to use them for things you will come into direct contact with a lot. Which includes using them for raised vegetable gardens.
What to Look for
A neat day trip could be to travel up along old train beds looking for abandoned buildings and cast offs. Make sure you aren’t stealing from others properties!
Why This Source is Unique
If you’re looking for weathered wood, you should consider train depots where they keep old railroad ties and trestles. Railroad stations and trestles are a great source of used wood because a railroad tie can weigh between 145 and 200 pounds. That’s an incredible amount of raw wood from a single source.
Wine and Whiskey Barrels
Wine and whiskey barrels are a great source for project lumber. In the United States, Bourbon is one of the most common and popular types of whiskey. One of the requirements to make bourbon is that the liquor is aged in new oak barrels. That means a bourbon barrel can only be used once. That means that bourbon companies are routinely trying to sell the used barrels for different purposes. The barrels are, by law, made from white oak. They’re also aged with a patina of bourbon that makes their color deep and rich. The bourbon soaked barrels are often waterproof as well.
Between the color and the material, bourbon barrels offers some unique and interesting projects. Here is an article about straightening warped wood which should help if you want to flatten the staves. However, incredible chairs and tables could be made directly from bourbon barrels. Just use a little ingenuity. This could likely even be a selling point. Wine barrels are popular as well.
What to Look For
There are fewer regulations about wine barrels. Sometimes, wine is aged in old bourbon barrels. Wine barrels can often be reused to make wine, but eventually, the barrel will be sold. The same is true of beer barrels. If you’re looking for thin slats of wood, alcohol barrels are a great choice.
Look for whiskey barrels if you want consistency; they’ll be made from oak. If you want barrels that are not charred, look for Tennessee whiskey barrels.
What Makes This Source Unique
Whiskey and wine barrels are unique sources because they come in thin slats that are uniform in size. It’s not common to find recycled lumber in uniform sizes. Also, bourbon barrels specifically are charred, which can give them a depth of color and unique texture. Whether you choose whiskey or wine, the alcohol will have soaked into the wood to deepen the color and provide innate decay resistance.
In the 1800s, many lumber logs were sent throughout the country along waterways. Inevitably, some of the logs would be lost. The cost of these lost logs was factored into the final cost of the wood. That means that thousands of logs were left at the bottom of rivers. Lucky for us, they were deprived of oxygen that would normally result in decay. While they will need to be dried and cut, sinkers are a great source of very old lumber.
Furthermore, exposure to tannins and acids from the natural state of the water and blend of rotting vegetation in each river will give a wide variety of finished products. This may be a hindrance if you need a large amount similar lumber.
Why They Are Unique
The sinker logs are some of the most valuable types of project wood that you can find. They’re also some of the most versatile types of wood because they’re typically preserved as full logs. You can machine them or cut them into different shapes. They can be used for just about any purpose.
What to Look For
Depending on your part of the world, you’ll be able to find many different types of sinker logs. Typically, large amounts of cypress and pine can be found near paper mills. They had no real value for the paper process but were often dumped into rivers or sold off when the woods were cleared to make space for the mill. Softwood is common also because pine is prevalent across many parts of the United States and was cleared for the industry. If you get lucky enough to find hardwood sinkers make sure to look up the proper way to take advantage of your find.
Old mills are a prime source of antique lumber. These mills were largely built to be outside. A sugar mill, for example, is mostly just a barn with a covered area for processing the sugar. Furthermore, many of them have been replaced by large industrial facilities. Therefore, they stand unused. If you are looking for unique lumber, processing mills are a great source. Specifically, sugar mills are very popular sources for heavy beams in the deep South. Grain mills are more prevalent in the northern United States.
If you have these mills near your house, it could be worth it to contact them and ask about their policy for taking their unused wood. Make sure to follow directions. Jail/fines are not worth old lumber.
Types of Wood
As with many old structures, sugar and grain mills were made from available lumber. However, hickory is one of the most desired of the sugarcane mill lumbers. Hickory was widely available in many parts of the country, naturally, decay resistant, and very hard. For large wood beams to support milling equipment as well as heavy bags of refined sugar, hickory was the best choice.
In the Southeastern United States, slavery was the preeminent industry until 1865. Those who owned large plantations had incredible amounts of money and needed a lot of space. They built mansions on their plantations called plantation homes. They also built slave quarters, storage sheds, and many other outbuildings. While many of these houses are well preserved, some have fallen into disrepair. Always make sure to contact the owners of any area before looking for lumber.
What to Look For
For those that fell into disrepair, the wood left behind is useful for many different purposes. From wooden floors and ceilings to wooden furniture, you should be able to find all different sizes and species. From my research, oak, chestnut, and pecan were very popular. Having built with old growth hardwoods, you’re likely to find tight grains and deep colors that can’t be recreated.
If you’re looking for planks, especially wood flooring, old warehouses are an incredible source. Before concrete was so prevalent, old warehouses were built with utilitarian wooden floors.
What Makes It Unique
The wooden planks will often mismatch in size and species, and unfinished/unsealed. They were exposed to the weather, oils, damage, and dozens of different kinds of stress in the course of warehousing. All of that stress will likely have created interesting and dynamic wood. These boards can easily be refinished for a floor. Alternately, you can use it for tables, counters, shelves, and much more.
What to Look For
It is difficult to say exactly what to look for from warehouse in terms of lumber species. If you’re looking for something, look for quality and character. Likely you will find pine. It’s ubiquitous and inexpensive.
A lodge is a great source for flooring and wall lumber. Lodges from the 1800s and into the early 1900s frequently had wooden walls, wooden floors, and wooden mantels. If you’re lucky, your wood mantle will be made from several heavy beams of wood that are similar to roofing beams.
What to Look For
These beams can then be used for many different purposes. Exposure to fire, ash, and soot adds to their character. They can be cut down for many projects but I would probably save them for ones you intend to show off. These beams were chosen originally for a reason and you may find them just too beautiful to cut to pieces. In lodges with inexpensive wood mantels, you can typically find pine or other softwoods. For more expensive mantels, cherry and oak were common.
Why They’re Unique
Old lodges are unique sources of lumber because of the weight of the wood. Mantel beams and structural beams can easily weigh over 100 pounds. A few of those could be sufficient for even a large project.
Reclaimed Wood Suppliers
Finally, if you have not had much luck with all of these other sources or you need recycled timber as quickly as possible, you should consider a reclaimed wood supplier. Typically, these suppliers are companies that go looking through the sources listed above. They have a large number of contacts and are doing the legwork for you. With these contacts, they can track down sources of wood from all over the country. Finally, they aggregate these types of wood, categorize them as best they can, and sell them to customers.
Why Choose a Supplier
If you want to have your wood delivered to you as quickly as possible or if you can’t find as much heirloom wood as you would like, a reclaimed wood supplier is a great choice. The supplier will likely charge you more than many of the primary sources would because you are paying for the lumber plus their time and effort. However, you’ll have the most reliable source of wood possible.
What to Look For
You should make sure to shop around when choosing a supplier. Once you’ve figured out what you are looking for, compare prices. You should be wary of anything that seems too expensive or too cheap. There’s a commodity rate for recycled wood; anything too far outside of the mean is suspect.
There are many different places that you can find reclaimed wood. When possible find old growth. Before 1945 most wooden construction was old growth. If you are looking for great, old wood, you should look for structures built before 1945.
If you can’t find the wood you’re looking for, you could ask a reclaimed wood supplier to look for you. Check out these sources if you want to make something classic and timeless for your own home or business.