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Reclaimed wood is a “feel good” industry with patina to spare

The reclaimed wood industry is a classic niche, dominated by small yet industrious entrepreneurs. I’d characterize some of the better ones as outdoorsy artisans. A unique breed who regard their occupation as a “feel good” business. They care about the environment, are stubborn about sustainability, and generally seem to love a good adventure. To play in this rugged category requires a passion for discovery, a fervent disregard for waste and very thick skin. Numerous hassles are inherent to a process of sourcing, securing, excavating, cleaning, organizing, classifying and cataloging what appears to a rather abundant natural resource.

Purveyors of reclaimed wood and wood products consider sustainable timber right along side reclaimed/repurposed material. Both support responsible forestry. Yet in actuality, they’re often sourcing sustainable timber as lumber from larger, more traditional processors, and distributors like Weyerhaeuser. You can order, for example, wormy chestnut in about any standard dimension in virtually any quantity. To add to the confusion, Weyerhaeuser is now an exclusive distributor of Barnwood Industries reclaimed wood—so they’re having it both ways, an idea that could trend. Materials offered include reclaimed beams, timbers, wood flooring, doors, cabinets and millwork from aged barns and other wood structures. So far available only in northern California, but they anticipate expanding distribution to other markets.

Two videos offer a vivid story

This first one is about one of those industrious entrepreneur types I talk about in the opening. Two guys who started their reclaimed wood business in 2004 after discovering just how much antique wood was winding up in landfills.

The second video is about a custom builder who scales his business (up) purely on his passion and appreciation for the unique qualities and benefits of reclaimed wood.

Reclaimed wood has its advantages

  • Reclaimed wood survived for generations thus it possesses a character, age and patina that cannot be mimicked easily by new growth wood
  • Unmatched aesthetic and uniqueness
  • Stock is generally large or oversized by today’s standards
  • Inherently strong and durable. A characteristic of old growth wood that likely grew in a natural environment and had to fight for sun and nutrients
  • Associated with the notion of sustainability and responsible forestry
  • Offers a range of sustainability and carbon neutral advantages over new wood (possesses much lower emissions when you consider the logging, transportation and processing of new wood)
  • Reclaimed wood is considered recycled content, so it meets the Materials & Resources criteria for LEED* certification
  • Some reclaimed lumber products can also be FSC certified, qualifing for LEED credits under the category “certified wood”
  • “Reclaimed wood” is a trending and marketable term
  • Through reclamation, several varieties of wood once plentiful (such longleaf pine and American chestnut) are available once again in large quantity

Reclaimed wood has its disadvantages

  • Increasing popularity and high demand make it more difficult to source
  • Tends to be reserved for indigenous reuse (purists believe it is counter product to ship reclaimed timber long distances)
  • Sizing is non-standard, varied and inconsistent
  • Sometimes it is difficult to identify (or is misidentified) • Offered “as is” (the imperfections and hatchet marks are supposed to add value)
  • Reclaimed lumber will often have metal embedded, such as bullets and nails. Milling the material can ruin saw blades, planer knives, and moulder knives
  • Difficult to verify what the wood might have been treated with over its lifetime, therefore,
  • There’s fear of off gassing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from previous coatings of lead paint, various stains, fire retardants and other treatments that may have been applied
  • And, there’s the unscrupulous sellers who try to pass newer wood as antique


Where else but “reclaimed” will you find beautiful wood such as Curly Maple, English Brown Oak, Heart Pine, Longleaf Pine, Pecky Cypress, Pippy Oak, Salty Fir, Sinker Cypress, Southern Pecan, Texas Mesquite and Wormy Chestnut.

I welcome your comments, questions or more discussion.

*  The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) (http://new.usgbc.org) benchmark for designing, building and operating green buildings. To become certified, projects must first meet the prerequisites designated by the USGBC then earn a certain number of credits within the six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials & resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation & design process.

Image courtesy of http://viridianwood.com