There is no better wood to use when repairing an old house than old-growth lumber. Though it is hard to come by (it’s not on the shelves at Home Depot), it is the most appropriate and best performing option, especially for exterior wood repairs.
In this post, I’ll explain the differences and tell you some of the main benefits of using old-growth wood. I’ll also tell you some ways to find it in your local area.
What is Old-Growth Wood?
In this picture, you can see a piece of old-growth siding on the left next to a piece of replacement new-growth siding on the right.
Old-growth wood is lumber that was grown naturally in vast virgin forests. The forests of nearly every continent have some areas that are still untouched where trees haven’t been harvested for our use yet.
These trees grew slowly due to limited light and competition from the other trees. Because of this slow growth rate, the growth rings on the trees were packed very tightly together which gives the wood some big benefits, which I’ll discuss in a just a minute.
In America, we began seriously depleting these virgin forests during the industrial revolution, and by the 1940s, most of them were gone. Lumber prices began to spike as Americans looked for substitutions for our lumber addiction. Enter second-growth and new-growth wood.
Tree farms began to produce lumber for the growing demand and the fastest growing species like Pine were selected for this reason. The trees grew in open areas with little to no competition for sun, which caused them to grow very quickly so they could be harvested in 10-20 years as opposed to old-growth wood, which may be from trees as old as 200-300 years old before being harvested.
Let’s look back at the picture above. The old-growth siding has 29 growth rings in this 3/4″ thick sample compared with the new-growth piece that has only 7 rings including the pith (the center of the tree). That’s a much faster growth rate, so let’s see why this fast growth may not be as good as the slower growth of old-growth wood.
Why It’s Better
Now that you know what it is, here is a short list of the many benefits of old-growth lumber.
- More Rot-Resistant – Sure, we have woods like Pressure Treated and Accoya (which I use often) but old-growth wood is the original rot-resistant wood. The slow growth process creates greater proportion of late wood (summer/fall growth) to early wood (spring growth). Late wood is the good stuff that adds this rot-resistance. Also, older trees develop heartwood at their center, which is not only beautiful to the eye, but it is extremely durable and resists rot in ways that other wood can’t.
- More Stable – Wood moves. It contracts when it’s dry and expands when it’s wet. This can cause joints to open up, paint and finishes to fail prematurely, and a host of other issues. But, old-growth wood (due to the tight growth rings you can see in the picture above) does not move nearly as much as new-growth. It is immensely more stable, and therefore keeps everything where it needs to be from siding and framing to windows and doors.
- Stronger – The denseness of old-growth wood makes it a much stronger wood able to carry heavier loads across longer spans. The span rating for framing lumber continues to fall each time the lumber industry revisits it. Wood is getting softer and weaker as the years go by, so old-growth is definitely a worthwhile option, especially if you already have it in your house.
- More Termite-Resistant – Termites don’t like hardwoods. Don’t get me wrong here, termite-resistant is not the same as termite proof. Termites will still eat old-growth wood, but they prefer soft, moist wood (read: easy to chew). Old-growth wood is harder and drier than new lumber and it does not make as tempting of a meal for termites.
So, that’s the deal. If you’ve got an old house, then you’ve likely got old-growth whether it’s the framing, siding, windows or some other element.
Before you think about replacing an element of your house, think about the fact that you may be replacing resilient old-growth lumber with lower quality, new-growth lumber. You may be better off keeping what you have!
If you’re looking for a place to find old-growth wood locally, try doing a search online for Architectural Salvage in your town, or try some of these other great sources.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.
20 thoughts on “Why Old-Growth Wood is Better”
I have 2 vintage snare drums both have steam bent ( solid shell) maple wood, one is from the 1940s, around ’46 I think the other is from 1962-63 . People say these old drums used old growth maple,vand it also has desirable acoustic property’s , what do you think the chances of them being old growth maple based on these years.
Oh and btw the writer of this article, wherever you are, has a responsibility to respond to these idiots saying lets go log the rest of the old growth forests out. How about you explain that you weren’t saying let’s go log the last of a protected species out and we’re only explaining that old growth is clearly superior. Tell them to use their heads and actually work for it and use reclaimed stuff. Be a man and be responsible for your article and the effects it could have.
Albany Woodworks is also a great opeion. They have been a tried and true source for reclaimed wood since 1976!
I have a 1926 English Tudor in Burbank. It has old growth Redwood framing. It is termite proof, unlike Douglas Fir. For some reason, the ants do not come into my house, unlike new construction. Needless to say, the oak floors, floor and ceiling molding are old growth too. The window frames also appear to be original old growth as well.
Interesting article! I’m curious, my house in the Pacific Northwest was built in the 1960s. What are the odds it was built with old growth lumber?
After WWII the chances of finding any virgin Forrest was pretty slim so chances are you have new or second growth wood in the 1969s
Roger-Your statement bellies ignorance of God’s creation . . . we are to be stewards of this earth. When you clear-cut the forests, you eliminate dozens of species of plants and animals that God created to work together in harmony with the old growth forests. Besides not appreciating the beauty of the whole scheme of things that God created for our appreciation and spiritual uplifting, you change the climate. Have you ever walked, biked, driven through an area that is paved, or even farmed where the trees are not present. . .and then come upon a stand of woods. On a hot day, you immediately feel the effect of many degrees of difference in the temperature in the two situations. By this simple small-scale observation, does it not follow that, given the large scale of clear-cutting of the forests of the world that has fed the gaping maws of the saws, that it would likely have an effect on the climate? I think that God meant for us to use what He said in Genesis “and it was good” in an intelligent way, that allowed for use, but not over-use. Forests that used to give life to so many species, including mankind, disappears when we clear-cut and abandon the land to erosion, loss of species, and ugliness. In the early days of white settlement, they cut as if the virgin timber would never end. . .often cutting just the treetops, burning the rest, dynamiting the redwoods, and so on. Don’t you think there might have been more old growth left if they hadn’t proceeded with the same attitude as you display? So sad, too bad. . .live with what’s available. . . look to straw-bale, clay construction, re-cycled metals for building studs, and so on.
God should have thought of that before letting such a hostile creature, (humans), survive around nature. I mean create us in the first place, or whatever. What that god of yours really needs to do, is get everything about procreation in the bibles,(Which teaches good morals. That’s it…), and change it to being okay with contraception. I’m not asking people to stop having sex. God sure as hell knows I’m not stopping. Let’s just start ONLY replacing what we got.
We are asking our planet to give more than it has, or at least to much to quick.
Also, if you go into a natural forest and leave random trees left to continue to grow, those trees more often than not, would have died shortly after. You would be taking a tree that spent it’s entire life in competition, and traded protection with former trees, to a drastic different environment. More sun, rain, wind… Saplings survive because they don’t know any better. It sounds funny, but true.
We don’t know all about this earth and It should be God we go to for answers. The temple that housed the ark was definitely built from old growth trees. It is true we hurt our surroundings with our ignorance but let’s get it right for our sons and daughters
Why is it that most of the devastating forest fires are caused by God?
Because man puts out every fire, causing a buildup of fuel, which ultimately leads to uncontrollable fires. Poor stewardship is the cause…
I think it’s time we log out the last old-growth forests. God put them there for human use. So let’s use ’em!
Bad idea. We can make almost all building materials out of metal or recycling materials. Leave what’s left of the old growth. Only cut it when it is ready to go anyway
Are u joking? Wtf is wrong with you exactly? And I’m not talking about God. And just for your information, trees aren’t there just for people to cut down asshole. Man you have issues. Time to log the last of the old growth forests? Are you that much of an asshole or what?
I don’t understand how there are actually real people out there that think like you. I really don’t. Some sad shit. Maybe it’s time you get a new hobby because I’ve got news for you, you’ll never touch those forests.
Oops, I meant salvage yards, not restoration facilities.
In addition to demolition sales, we’ve also found great old growth wood/replacement pieces at restoration facilities, ours are typically in the major cities (Chicago). it’s so hard to walk away and leave things at the store…. haha
As for where to get it, I’d add befriending local demolition contractors. Sad as it is, if they’ll give you a call when they’re bringing something worthwhile down at least something will get saved, often for very little cash. Just make sure to treat anything buggy looking with a borate solution before bringing it home…