By Kris Young
The definition of reclaim is “to obtain from a waste product or by-product.” Wikipedia also says that reclaimed lumber is “processed wood retrieved from its original application for purposes of subsequent use.”
While these descriptions are factual statements, they leave a lot of room for assumptions to be created and used to the originator’s advantage. Authentic antique reclaimed wood is so much more than this simple definition.
Barns (Built before the 1920s)
Technology in this period consisted of pulleys and horses. Massive old-growth trees were cut down with hand saws. Massive beams that created the foundation and supports were made using a special tool and again cut by hand, creating what we call hand-hewn timbers. These timbers were put in place using actual horsepower, pullies, and in many cases hundreds of people. A community coming together to lift each other up. The effort, sweat, and passion that went into these structures cannot go without being noticed. The simple, but effective way of securing each piece of wood is nothing short of magnificent. The unique natural aging process from a century or more of wind, rain, snow, hot, cold, and farming truly makes every piece of wood a natural artifact.
In the late 1700s, the first factory was built in America: a cotton spinning mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Thus beginning the Industrial Revolution in America, and with this boom came the need for building materials. Rivers, railroads, and canals were used to haul millions of feet of timber from the south to build these massive structures.
New sawing methods were born, and larger timbers were produced with better accuracy. Each structure has a story, and each story continues to be told because of the reclamation of the wood that was used.
Real authentic antique reclaimed wood isn’t just a look, color, or characteristic. If each plank, timber, or joist could talk, it would tell us a unique story. Imagine a farmer who raised their family and taught their children how to carry on the family business. Visualize a factory worker who spent years working to provide for their family and the stories told to make the day go by a little quicker. This is the passion and love carried in each piece of authentic reclaimed wood.
During the last 15 years, the word “reclaimed” has been misunderstood by the consumer, who may not know the difference between actual authentic antique reclaimed wood and something that was just made to look distressed or aged.
Authentic, antique reclaimed wood must be inspected by experts who know what is acceptable. As with any reclaimed structure, there is the potential for contaminates. Lead paint and other chemicals are unavoidable obstacles, and many allow these to be part of their reclaimed products simply because they are not knowledgeable on how to test or what to look for when inspecting the wood. Responsible manufactures of authentic reclaimed wood products should know and cull out these types of contaminants as part of their quality-control process.
The words “antique,” “distressed,” and “aged” often are lumped together into the same category, and in the process, perhaps devalued what real, authentic antique reclaimed wood is. The process of taking 2-common new lumber, putting remanufactured saw marks on the planks, dropping chains on them, and then applying a special finish is not what antique reclaimed is.
Here’s another example: If someone pulls lumber from a used pallet, that wood technically does classify under “reclaimed.” Pallet wood, in most cases, is a low grade of wood that normally is not suitable for flooring, cabinetry, or higher-grade lumber. This wood is not antique reclaimed material; however, it still is marketed as “reclaimed” with a much lower cost. While this type of product does have a place in the market, it does not compare in value or quality to a product that originates from hundreds of years of history.
Real, authentic, antique reclaimed wood has a very involved process to turn the wood into a flooring product. The wood first has to be pulled from the structure. In some cases, this can take weeks to months to complete. Special machines are used to carefully extract each piece. In many cases, flooring boards, barn siding, and interior planks are pried and carried out by hand to preserve the wood. Each plank, joist, rafter, and beam must be inspected for quality, species, width, and thickness. Once it reaches the mill, every piece is hand-inspected. Each piece is checked manually for metal, and when found, it is removed.
All of this is done before the normal wood milling process is started. From the raw plank to the finished floor, there can be anywhere from 40-65 percent waste depending on the quality tolerances of the manufacturer.
Be sure that whomever you are buying your wood from is able to explain their process. If they don’t know, you should avoid doing business with them. Real, authentic, antique reclaimed wood is still wood and must be kiln dried to proper moisture levels like any other flooring product.
As the reclaimed flooring industry continues to grow, so will the need to interpret, classify, and value products based on their actual worth and origin. Real, authentic, antique reclaimed wood is a finite resource. Agricultural structures, homes, and factories are not being built the same as they were 200 years ago. As demand increases, the supply will continue to decrease and create a higher value. And that is why authentic antique reclaimed wood is in a class by itself.
Kris Young is the Vice President of Olde Wood Limited in Magnolia, Ohio. He can be reached at 866.208.9663 or firstname.lastname@example.org.