What Is Reclaimed Wood?

picture of an old plank of wood being worked on.

Reclaimed lumber can be a tricky thing to buy, but we’re here to help change that! We created this guide so you’ll know what the heck reclaimed wood is. As well as some tips for buying recycled lumber.

We’ll take a quick look at how salvaged wood is sourced, priced and sprinkle in a little bit of history on the origins of American lumber. Our hope is that you’ll be ready to make an informed decision on the materials you need and avoid any costly pitfalls.

Why Use Reclaimed Wood?

There’s three core benefits to using recycled materials, those being:

  • Sustainability
  • Character
  • Strength

Let’s take a look at what makes old lumber such a hot seller in today’s market.

It’s green

I know, eco-friendly wood sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true!

In fact, the U.S. creates over 20 million tons of lumber waste every year. Using recycled wood can help drastically reduce the amount of construction waste we dump in our landfills.

Reclamation companies are leading the charge for sustainability as studies have shown that using reclaimed wood is 11 to 13 times more efficient than mass-market lumber. With the rise of environmentally conscious building (green method of building) now is the perfect time to use reclaimed lumber!

Bonus Points: Building a home or business? You can receiving some handy tax incentives by choosing recycled material. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a point-based system for green building. These points can add up to a sizable tax break for you or your company. Check it out!

Character and Quality

The most common reason for buying reclaimed lumber lies in the unique beauty that can only be had from many years of natural aging. These items bare the rich history ingrained in them from decades of use.

Some examples of one-of-a-kind lumber include:

Threshing Floor – This highly desired wood is commonly found in 19th century barns. The rough flooring often has hundreds of years of abuse from farm animals, workers and flails that were used to separate grain from the chaff of crops

Whiskey Barrels – Typically made from White Oak, these casks have a beautiful rich golden color and slashed with black charred lines. Fire roasted barrels have a unique pattern that is sought after by architects, artists and furniture makers. You’ll often find these pieces in tap houses and breweries, paying homage to the golden whiskey they once held.

Structure

Looking for wood that’s strong and durable that will last for hundreds of years? Look no further than reclaimed lumber.

Most older buildings that we salvage were built using old growth timbers. These forests were harvested to near extinction during the American industrial age and are now protected under federal law. The only way to acquire this incredibly valuable resource is from reclaimed old buildings!

Old growth lumber warps less, holds its shape tighter in all weather conditions and is extremely resistant to bug infestations. Furthermore, old-growth is up to 10 times more dense than virgin (modern) lumber.

Where Does Reclaimed Lumber Come From?

barn being deconstructed

Reclaimed wood is typically sourced from dismantling abandoned buildings cited for demolition. This process – known as deconstruction – carefully takes apart structures piece by piece with the goal of recycling as much usable material as possible.

While there is no definitive or “best” source for salvaged wood, the most common buildings we deconstruct are:

  • Old barns
  • Warehouses
  • Sawmills

  • Abandon houses
  • Historic buildings
  • Schools

What Makes This Wood Special?

Whether its flooring and joists, or beams and timbers, every batch of lumber we ship is unique in its own right. This is due to the wide variety of industries, locations and work done at the buildings we salvage.

Here’s a small sample of what our lumber may have gone through to develop its own characteristics:

  • Summer heat & freezing winters
  • Rain, snow wind & hail damage.
  • Physical abuse

  • Pressure changes
  • Aging (wine barrels)
  • Fire charring (whiskey barrels)

Typically the bulk of our product comes from hardwood flooring, rafters, barn siding, joiner beams and structural timbers. Though we often come across specialty items like wine casks and pickling barrels. Lumber from historically rich areas, as well as rare species of wood are the most sought after treasures.

To learn more about deconstruction, check out our guide!

How Old Is Reclaimed Lumber?

very old picture of lumberjacks

I know what you’re thinking, Lumber history? Interesting?! We certainly think so!

The Short Story

We typically deconstruct buildings from the early 1900’s to late 1800’s. Rich history, time and location all play into the value of the wood.

The Long Story

America’s lumber industry is built into the very founding of the Country, filled with pirates and treason, treachery and war. The story began at the infamous Jamestown, yup, that Jamestown. During the late 1500’s England began to realize their forests were dwindling and would become an unsustainable crisis in the near future.

Thus the Plymouth and London company expeditions were born. The fleet of ships set off to the great land we now know as America, hitting land along the coast of (what we now know as) Virginia.  Their mission was to establish a grand lumber industry to save England from a slow, cold death.

The Age of the Lumberjack

Thus began the largest lumber movement the world has ever known. The following years lead to an explosion across the Midwest into the 1700’s as lumber became America’s single most important resource. During the 1800’s, unchecked deforestation lead to trillions of board-feet of lumber being used for construction, export and fuel.

The massive expansion across the pacific northwest into Idaho created the plentiful source of reclaimed lumber that we now have today. Unlike Europe, the vast majority of America’s structures were built from (what was thought to be) a near limitless supply of old-growth trees. Through the late 1900’s this trend continued as massive barns were constructed to support our booming agriculture and milling industries.

Hundreds of thousands of decaying barns, warehouses and industrial mills are now spread across America waiting to be saved. We do our part to reclaim these iconic pieces of American history and bring a bit of vintage beauty to the modern world.

How Is Reclaimed Wood Priced?

milled reclaimed wood two by fours

Reclaimed lumber’s value comes in (literally) many shapes and sizes. Though many different things play into the cost of wood, the main categories we focus on are:

  • History
  • Species
  • Quality

The price of reclaimed lumber can range anywhere from $1.00 to $4.00 per bf (board foot) for un-milled rough lumber. Milled lumber can raise from $5.00, up to $30.00 (or more!) per bf for exotic species of wood.

History

The most important part to us is the stories that can be found within our lumber. While it’s a challenge to put a price on “story” – with each passing day, our histories become more and more valuable to us.

We don’t think of reclaimed lumber as just a piece of wood. Rather, it’s a statement and work of art. Every item we sell at American Relics is steeped in rich history, just waiting to be shared.

Species

The strength and density of lumber varies greatly depending on the species it comes, as well as the age of the tree. Though hardwoods are typically more costly than softwoods, stronger doesn’t always mean better (or more expensive). An elegant piece of soft Redwood will fetch a far greater price than typical hard Oak.

We recommend asking the experts (like us!) before deciding on what species of lumber to use for your next project. As can be seen from the Janka Hardness Test – using a hardy Live Oak (2,680 lbf) for that workbench you’re building is going to last much longer than some cheap Douglas Fir (660 lbf).

Here’s a small sample of the most common wood we’re pulling from salvage projects:

Hardwoods

Softwoods

  • Oak
  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Walnut
  • Chestnut
  • Pine
  • Fir
  • Cedar
  • Cypress
  • Hemlock

Did you know? The classic red barn we all love wasn’t just for show! Before the age of paints and sealants, farmers would use a combination of flax oil, lime, milk and iron oxides (rust) as a protective coating.

This odd mixture helped prevent the barn wood from warping and reduce the spread of mold and mildew. When dried it became that rustic reddish brown we all know and love today.

Quality

Finding unmilled lumber that is consistent in size, shape and color can be difficult, but the character and durability is unmatched. Reclaimed lumber has had the time necessary to expand and shift to its natural state. Because of this you’ll find less warping over time and significantly less expansion and contraction from temperature changes.

Old Growth Lumber

As mentioned previously, old-growth hardwoods were used in most construction during the late 1800’s and 1900’s. Old-growth lumber came from ancient forests that grew untouched for hundreds of years which created an extremely dense and reliable wood, particularly for industrial use.

Most old-growth hardwoods have been curing for decades, giving them unmatched strength and density. This rare wood is nearly extinct and in high demand for its resistance to weather, bugs and physical damage. Because of over deforestation, deconstruction is the only way to acquire old-growth lumber.

The quality of reclaimed lumber plays an important role in pricing. We thoroughly examine every board we salvage through quality assurance tests; looking for rot, termites, harmful chemicals and other oddities. If the wood passes our QA, we itemize on-site, prioritizing the quality of the wood first and foremost and separating them into these categories.

  • Size
  • Species
  • Width
  • Damage (nails, fractures, etc.)
  • Color consistency
  • Type (flooring, beams, etc.)

Who’s Using Reclaimed Wood?

close up of round wooden table sitting on reclaimed wood flooring

Everyone! (OK, maybe that’s just our wishful thinking)

Reclaimed lumber has exploded in popularity in recent years due to the rise of government sanctions, modern architectural styles and environmental awareness.

New regulations in 2015 require construction companies to significantly increase their use of sustainable materials, paving the way for the reclaim industry. Elegant accent walls and flooring built from vintage lumber is popular in everything from modern restaurants to offices and homes. Furthermore, salvaged wood is a completely green and sustainable building material that is stronger than any modern lumber.

Conclusion

Finding high quality reclaimed wood used to be a difficult and time consuming task, often only available to select buyers. But that’s all changed with the power of the internet.

Drop us a line if you’re interested in building your next project with reclaimed lumber!

Don’t Forget to Share!

We love to hear about all the creative new ways people are using our products. Send us an email or share your ideas with us on Facebook and Instagram!

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