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All About Reclaimed Wood

A Guest Post By David Morrison – David is an avid DIY enthusiast, renovator and restorer. He has worked on a variety of self-build projects, and claims to have helped out every neighbor for ten blocks! The kind of neighbor we’d all like to have. He currently works for UK Tool Centre.

Reclaimed WoodReclaimed wood has become quite popular in homes today. Its patina and age brings a sense of warmth to an otherwise cold house. Learn as David talks about this fantastic material, how to locate it and how to turn it into something truly unique for your own home.

“Reclaimed” wood simply means it has been taken from a previous use and salvaged to be used again. Through reclamation, woods are often available in larger sizes than today. There are many types of reclaimed wood including American Chestnut (a deciduous tree), Longleaf Pine (a native pinewood) and many others like Cedar, Redwood and Douglas Fir.

That Rustic Feel

Whether it’s antique wood floors, farm tables, countertops or fireplace mantels, antique and reclaimed wood can give any part of the home that old rustic look. Timber framed housing has the strength and sturdiness to ensure that whatever structure is built is technically sound. Wood will contract as it gets older, and that forms stronger bonds between the joints. Wood is also an insulating material, soundproof and more quickly assembled and built. With construction surrounded by a timber-frame, weight is distributed across the whole frame, giving plenty of flexibility.

A Wooden Revival

Wood countertops are a returning trend today. Out of the reclaimed wood can come detailed textures, flowing edges and unique colours, which look far better than the solid wood countertops seen in some homes. Other types of tables including farm tables, trestle tables and harvest tables can be made extremely smooth to the touch with refinishing. Reclaimed wood used to make fireplace mantels can be made from logs, old bar beams or hewn timbers. Reclaimed wood is also used for antique wood flooring. The hardwood planks and grooves in the wood flooring gives the home an authentic and warm look.


When getting the reclaimed wood prepared, it should be washed and then left to dry out. Many times, only a light brushing can clean up the surfaces while letting the original character of the reclaimed wood remain. It is typically more popular in older restored homes. Next, sand the wood and remove dirt and debris off of the surface of the wood. A joiner can then be used to square up any edges if needed.

Hunting It Down

Reclaimed wood can be found from many sources;

• Online specialist wood dealers
• Architectural Salvage Yards
• Demolition sites
• Hardware stores

In the UK you might consider: Wood Recycling Org
In the US you can look to: Altru Wood and Mountain Lumber

If you live in area where forestry is a key industry, consider talking to the local workers. People who work with wood often know where to find it. You’d be surprised at the bargains and quality you can pick up!

Some of these dealers could be getting their wood from old power poles, railway sleepers, and factories. Before purchasing recycled wood from dealers, all the embedded pieces of metal, nails and bolts need to be removed. Because these can be buried in the wood, it is important to try and get the wood as close in dimensions as possible to the requirements. Then the wood can be surface planed to size.

Different Types of Wood

If you’re taking second hand wood, be sure to verify what kind of wood it is. Using the right wood for the job can be the difference between a period home and a period pile of bricks and mortar!

  1. Oak – Oak is a hardwood, it is heavy and strong. Coarse texture and grain.
  2. Maple – Maple is hard and very resistant to impact. You’ll find maple on bowling alleys; you can find some very attractive grain veneers.
  3. Mahogany – Caribbean Mahogany is one of the strongest and hardest woods. African is of a lesser quality. Hard to shape and cut, but a high tensile strength.
  4. Walnut – One of the best woods to work with. Takes finishing well and is easy to shape, without sacrificing on durability and strength. Consider using this for non-load bearing beams.

However you decide to use it reclaimed wood will add a warmth and age you won’t get with any other product. Hopefully, this has given you enough of a primer on the what and how of reclaimed wood to try your own product.

What projects have you done with reclaimed wood?

Image credit: wuttichok / 123RF Stock Photo

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23 thoughts on “All About Reclaimed Wood

  1. My husband and I are looking to use reclaimed wood to build a play shed in our yard for our son and dogs to mess around in, and your description of how to prepare reclaimed wood is very helpful. We want to be environmentally conscious, so the extra time for washing and drying the wood is worth it if it saves trees. We also found your list of wood types very helpful; now we know that Walnut takes finishing well, is easy to work with, and is probably the wood we’ll be aiming to get when we look at reclaimed wood sources.

  2. I have hand hewn beams that I am using in my home. What type of a clear finish to can I apply to the logs to give them a finished look for the inside and help them repel dust and be able to wipe town. Any suggestions.

    1. I use Minwax Polycrylic matte finish. This give the lumber a great natural look while making it easy to clean . It is only sold in quarts at Lowe’s and Walmart. It dries quickly and doesn’t have an odor.

  3. Hi. I have an American Chestnut 5 leg, dining table. The wood is not wormy – only has a few holes. It was a mess so I sanded it down to bare wood.
    I am looking for suggestions on finishing it. To stain or not, what color if I do stain. If I don’t stain how to preserve and protect it? It finishes bare with a glassy look. The wood is just beautiful.

    1. Maria, try this post for a homemade finish I love using for things like this. I don’t know that I would stain it at all because the Chestnut can really turn out gorgeous.

  4. Hi! I have a reclaimed wood table and I recently tried to fix a water ring by using petruleom jelly, which I read online wouldfix. Instead it left a darker ring. Is there any why I can fix the damage?! I am desperate

  5. Good evening. So I have some beautiful white white oak, and I’m wanting to make a few shelves and a couple of end ta tables. However, I’ve never worked with reclaimed wood before, it’s a little over 100 yeasts old, I just want to know if someone can tell me how to clean it and prepare it for a varnish? I’d appreciate any help. Im also wondering if I need to worry about any “bugs” I live in Michigan, and this is also where I got my wood.

    1. Traci, you can prepare reclaimed wood just the same as new wood. Be aware that you may have some nails or other fasteners hiding in the wood if it wasn’t cleaned of all the old hardware first. I use a little soap and water clean off the dirt and athen a light sanding to prepare the surface for whatever finish you decide to use. As far as bugs, unless you see evidence of any like termite galleries or beetle droppings then you should be good to go. Good luck with the project!

      1. Thanks a lot Scott, I appreciate your help. I’ve just got done cleaning the large piece that has so much character I just AM in love with this piece of wood I remember when I went out to my resource and bought this 30 foot long piece of barnwood white oak it was freezing outside I just got it Monday and then I cut it into the sections I wanted to for my furniture anyways it was freezing outside and it was like two degrees – to you that is and as soon as I saw this piece I got really warm and excited this is going to be a great piece of furniture patience it’s going to pay off in the long run 🙂

  6. How about a column on how to *DO* the salvage? I’ve found that dissassembing sheds and such to be very difficult. Often I only get about 20% of the wood to be in usable lengths due to shattering.

    I’m sure there are tricks.

  7. My husband and I are having our trees trimmed next month, and we were thinking about using some of the wood as decoration and furniture. What’s the best way to cure wood? The trees we’re going to be trimming are oak and pine. Any tips would be great!

    Sara Welsh | http://shadywoodtreeexperts.com

  8. Hey Scott,
    I live in a 1930 farm house in Marion, TX. Over the years it has had the interior walls done up with all sorts of things. I’m on my fourth room of removing all the years and getting back to the original wood. Two have recycled wood from old house and what not, various colors ad aging. Very cool looking. The other two have bare tongue and groove. This particular room has had sheet rock over it and has some dry or damaged spots.
    I’m looking for suggestions to clean, stain, revitalize the wood. I don’t know what kind it is. Very hard and red.
    Maybe i’m wondering if a light stain, oil or wash would look good. Of course, lots of nails from the years of paneling, wall papering, etc. Other than the nails, the walls are pretty clean and in great condition.

  9. I’ve decided to try my hand at building a kitchen table with reclaimed wood. I’ve read a lot of articles and watched video tutorials so hopefully it won’t be awful. I have access to a bunch of free fir flooring. 8 ft long and 4 1/2″ x 3/4″. I asked someone i thought would know if I could use that kind of wood and they said too soft, too thin, etc. Then I stumbled across this site and thought I’d ask. I think it may be that they don’t like a rustic blemished piece of furniture though.

    1. That fir flooring should work fine as long as it has a support under it. 3/4″ is fairly thin to span any length more than about 12″ without bowing. Use a base layer to support it and you’ll be fine.

  10. I have found an old 100 year old oak barn. The exterior is weathered 1×8 boards. I was going to use the wood to build a few indoor furniture pieces and maybe even on an interior wall. I want to keep the character and color of the wood but I am thinking I need to treat it for bugs and mites.
    So, what showed I do to clean up the wood for critters and is there anything else I can look at applying to the wood to enhance it?

    1. If you’re worried about bugs then a borate treatment like BoraCare should work for you. Otherwise using a stiff bristle brush, soap and water you can clean up the boards pretty well. Then you can apply a few coats of Boiled Linseed Oil to really enhance the appearance of the wood and protect it a bit.

  11. Bought a salvaged wood beam from outdoor salvage yard, it is grey, dirty and damp. Clean with soap and water using a bristle brush? Does it need to be kiln dried? Or can it dry in the home? Plan to use it for a mantel.

    1. Ruth, I would clean it with a stiff bristle brush and soap & water. It doesn’t need to be kiln dried. Just give it a few days to dry after the cleaning. Good luck with the fun project!

      1. I to have an old beam – How do I remove iron staining? The beam is from the 1840’s so its got a lot of deep stains.

  12. We found old wood exterior siding on an interior wall (yep, we understand it was once an exterior wall) We love the look. HOw can we best clean it? No paint, no stain on surface, just gray with wear and dirt.

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