As connoisseurs of the best reclaimed wood products on the market today, we have put together this list of 6 amazing products that we choose to focus the majority of our energy on.
1. Barn Wood Siding
When most people think of reclaimed barn wood, the first images that come to mind are weathered barn siding boards. Chances are you have seen these reused in a number of applications, from the walls of your favorite coffee shop or restaurant to your neighbors exterior siding. The popular uses are endless and people are always coming up with creative new ideas to use barn siding boards for, whether reclaimed from their own aging barn or purchased from a retailer. See our Pinterest page for a collection of our favorite reclaimed barn siding ideas.
These are the boards that originally formed the interior and exterior walls, interior of the roof, and the floors of hay lofts or extra stories of barns. The main floors usually used thicker threshing boards that could support the weight of livestock and heavy machinery (we will get to threshing boards later in the article). So, while the sides of the boards exposed to the elements are indeed weathered to achieve that rustic look that we love, many of the boards have never seen the sun, wind, or rain. This natural degree of acquiring patina leads to a number of different barn siding board products based on the original location in a barn's architecture as well as which side of the board you choose to use for a project:
- Never Painted Weathered Grey Siding Boards: These are the boards whose reclaimed applications use their original weathered surface texture as the exterior face.
- Originally Painted Weathered Boards: The weathered faces of barn siding boards that were originally painted create all sorts of unique patinas ranging from very faded paint with dominant greys to only slight color variances and cracked paint, depending on the age of the boards and when they were last painted.
- Naily Roof Boards: These are the barn roof sheathing boards that were originally installed under metal roofs. As such, they were not directly exposed to the elements. They are called naily roof boards because they have usually acquired nail holes from periodic roof repairs.
- Brown Smooth Pine: Brown smooth pine boards are especially popular for interior paneling applications, just as the smooth faces used for reclaimed projects originally composed the interior of historic barns. They were planed smooth before their first installation and retain that smooth texture in addition to the acquired patina of years of agrarian life.
- Brown Mixed Hardwoods: When used in a project, the unweathered sides of weathered grey hardwood boards are used as the face. They were rough sawn and not planed, so the faces will show the original saw marks from an historic mill.
Milling and Kiln Drying
All barn siding board products can be milled to custom specifications. A few of the most requested milled profiles and surface textures include:
- Tongue and groove
- Wire brush
- Straight-line rip
Boards that are milled are generally kiln dried first to roughly 6%-8% moisture content. This ensures that the boards will not shrink after installation in order to stay tight against one another. Kiln drying also serves the dual purpose of making wood much easier for modern milling machines to handle, as excess moisture in sawdust will gum up the working parts. Aside from kiln drying, all reclaimed wood that is freshly milled must have the metal artifacts from prior installations, such as nails or bolts, removed to avoid damaging the machines.
Many prefer to leave the original barn board sides as is to create a more rustic barn look. Since barns were used for agrarian purposes, it was standard practice to leave cracks between the boards so that harvested crops had proper ventilation. When the boards were installed with their straight line ripped edges, the slow air drying process gradually allowed for these cracks to open up between boards. When barn boards with natural edges are reclaimed and installed in new applications, a similar drying and shrinking process will usually happen unless the boards are first kiln dried. This phenomenon gives those who prefer natural edges the choice of tighter fitting kiln dried boards versus the slightly opened boards that have not been kiln dried. Either way, it is recommended to place black felt paper behind the boards to provide shadowing for any slight openings in the installation.
For more information on barn siding uses, installation tips, and procurement, including how they were originally made, see our reclaimed barn wood siding page.
2. Barn Wood Flooring
Barn wood flooring begins as barn siding before the boards are given custom fresh surface finishes and milled joinery profiles. The end result is beautiful, functional flooring that showcases the old growth characteristics of the trees used to build historic agrarian structures. Modern day lumber simply cannot match the tight growth rings, durability, and aesthetics found in wood reclaimed from a time when large, mature trees were in abundance. It can also be extremely difficult to find freshly harvested old growth flooring at a reasonable price point. Reclaimed flooring allows for a sustainable, cost-effective way to give homes and businesses amazing looking old growth wood floors with the added character and charm of authentic barn wood.
The main difference between the finished products of barn wood flooring versus barn wood siding is the surface finish. While siding is usually left with a 100% original face, flooring is skip-planed to a customers desired specifications. Skip-planing is a light pass over the highest points in the boards, leaving original patina and character marks, such as saw markings. This offers home and business owners the opportunity to customize their floors to achieve a more or less rustic look and feel. Generally, the surface finishes available for flooring are 100% original, 50% original, 25% original, and 100% clean (100% clean means that all of the original patina is planed down to a completely fresh, smooth finish). Other surface finish variations are possible, but experience has taught us that 0%, 25%, 50%, and 100% are the most feasible when it comes to cooperation with milling machines and the best overall results.
Just as there is a wide variety of barn siding available, so is there a wide variety of barn wood flooring choices based on species, dimensions, surface finishes, and joinery profiles:
- Species – The most common species found in reclaimed barn boards suitable for flooring are oak, mixed hardwoods (maple, elm, ash, beach), and Douglas fir. Other specialty options include chestnut, hickory, and heart pine.
- Surface finishes – Custom skip-planed surface finishes are available, with 0%, 25%, 50%, and 100% original among the most common and cooperative with milling machines for accurate and quality results.
- Joinery profiles – Tongue and groove milled profiles are available in a variety of options, including square end, end match, microbevel, microbevel with end match, or milled to custom specifications.
- Dimensions – Barn boards are commonly available in widths from 3" to 12" and lengths up to 16', so there are many possibilities for desired dimensions. It is possible to request boards with identical widths or lengths, although the more popular choice is to request random widths and lengths. Random widths and lengths are generally more cost effective, since the boards do not need to be as tediously hand picked for specific dimensions.
Once the flooring boards are selected, de-metaled, kiln dried, and milled, they are ready to be installed. While we do recommend finding an installer experienced in the subtleties of reclaimed flooring, the process is the same as installing any tongue and groove flooring.
For more detailed information on reclaimed barn wood flooring, see our flooring page or our What is Reclaimed Flooring page.
3. Hand Hewn Timbers
Hand hewn timbers are arguably the rarest and most sought after reclaimed barn wood product. Found in historic timber-framed barns across North America, hand hewn timbers are known for their deep hew marks left by the painstaking task of squaring them with hand tools and a broad adze. Every stroke of the adze can be seen in hand crafted detail. Since they were used in traditional timber-framed barns, hand hewn timbers are often marked with hand carved joinery pockets. Like the adze marks, the joinery pockets are seen as a desirable characteristic of these fine examples of North America's agrarian architectural history.
Timbers were usually crafted from trees found locally as settlers moved west, so they generally represent the geographical species present, or once present, at a barn's location. Common species include oak, ash, elm, beech, and poplar hardwoods. Douglas fir, heart pine, yellow pine, northern white pine, cedar, and tamarack softwood timbers also exist, but they are more rare. Depending on the area, other specialty woods such as chestnut, black walnut, and cherry can also be found.
They come in an abundance of dimensions, generally ranging from squared 7” X 7” to 14” X 14” pieces. There are also rectangular timbers such as, for example, a 4” X 12” piece. Lengths can vary greatly, ranging form 6’ to 40’ or more.
Hand Hewn Slab Siding
For those who love the look of an authentic hand hewn log cabin but also wish for the modern efficiencies offered by sealed and insulated walls, hand hewn slab siding is a great solution. To create this amazing look, the best faces of hand hewn timbers are carefully slabbed to roughly 2" thick. The slabs are then stacked horizontally and chinked with enough space between each piece to place daubing, finalizing the traditional hand hewn log home look and texture. This leaves homeowners the option to use the slab siding on either the interior or exterior walls, or both. Many prefer to install the slab siding on both sides of walls in order to complete the log cabin appearance.
4. Douglas fir Timbers
As early settlers moved further west into what are now the western coastal states, they began using the massive Douglas fir trees they found there to build a wide variety of timber-framed structures, including warehouses, schools, barns, factories, stadiums, etc. Once rail lines stretched to the mills established to transform abundant stands of old growth Douglas fir into lumber, the wood was shipped throughout the country due to its desirable characteristics:
- High strength to weight ratio
- Large dimensions that could be cut free of heart center (FOHC)
- Low price
- Handsome coloration and grain patterns
- Usability in a wide variety of projects
Today, timber-framers prefer to use reclaimed Douglas fir because it has had decades or even a century to slowly air dry. This drying process makes for extremely stable timbers that are much less prone to cracking or checking when compared to newly cut, kiln dried Douglas fir timbers. In addition, timber framers and customers alike appreciate the old growth characteristics of reclaimed Douglas fir timbers from a time when old growth specimens were abundantly available on the lumber market. These characteristics include massive dimensions that can be cut free of heart center (FOHC) and tight growth rings that make for wood that is harder, denser, stronger, and of course more eye catching.
For more on these prized timbers, see our Reclaimed Douglas Fir Timbers page.
5. Complete Hand Hewn Log Cabins
Do you love the look of authentic hand hewn log cabins? Are you thinking of incorporating that look into a new architectural project? If so, purchasing a complete cabin may be your best option. It has become increasingly popular to use historic reclaimed hand hewn log cabins in innovative architecture. Incorporations range from using single cabins to create an entire home's living space to using one or more cabins to create wings or rooms that complement the main home. Other creative uses include examples such as two complete 19th cabins placed inside Twitter's San Francisco headquarters to break up the space and create two new rooms.
Generally, when reclaiming a hand hewn log cabin, the main focus is on the logs with their traditional carved corner joinery. The logs hold the most value by far and have often times been covered up with more modern additions such as clapboard or paneling. If other valuable pieces of the original structure are present, such as door jambs, trim, and dimensional framing lumber then those will be reclaimed to be kept as part of the complete cabin. Great care must be taken to carefully dismantle the structures. This includes detailing exactly how the cabins were originally put together. Historic corner joinery used what is known as the scribe rule, a system in which each hand carved log was custom mated to other specific logs. If a cabin is not reconstructed following the scribe markings and order of its original state, then it will not sit level or be as stable. For this reason it is important to hire professionals who know what they are doing.
Yin-Yang West by architect Jonathan Foote is a beautiful example of the creative and functional potential that can be found in incorporating these pieces of American history into a project. The home flows between the rustic hand crafted adze marks of the hewed cabin and the more finished look of smooth wood and stone. This achieves the intended vision of a residence that is timeless, functional, and beautiful.
Another great example is the Ridge Ranch House by Allen Guerra Architects. This luxury residence incorporates two 19th century hand hewn cabins into the second floor of the home, where they blend seamlessly with the design.
For a look at an unusually rare, large, and high quality hand hewn cabin, along with more detailed information on the process of reclaiming these works of amazing craftsmanship, see our reclaimed log cabins page.
6. Complete Barns
For those who love the look and feel of historic barn wood and barn architecture, reclaiming entire barns and making them into homes, guest homes, or businesses has become a popular choice. This process could mean remodeling a barn that is already on your property, or dismantling, moving, reassembling a barn in a new location, and adding the finishing touches.
Just as when working with reclaimed hand hewn log cabins, the timbers in historic barns are often numbered and mated to other specific timbers. When reassembled the same order must be used to ensure level, stable construction. While the heavy timbers are placed in the exact same order, the additional pieces can be reassembled in their original positions or in creative new configurations. Often times there may also be multiple reclaimed barns used in one project. If a barn is in good condition it is possible to reclaim and reassemble all of its parts, including timbers, boards (siding, roof, interior), dimensional lumber, and threshing flooring.
Reassembling a reclaimed barn gives architects an excellent starting point and canvas to add their creative design touches. We love what Douglas VanderHorn architects did with an reclaimed 1860s barn originally from near Albany, New York. VanderHorn's clients wanted a barn to serve as a guest house for their early 1800s colonial home in Vermont. The barn that had formerly occupied their property had been sold as part of a subdivision and transformed into a house. When VanderHorn found the barn in New York, he had it carefully dismantled, fumigated, and then reassembled in Vermont. All of the original interior pieces were reused, including the heavy timbers, barn boards, dimensional lumber, and threshing flooring. Much of the exterior barn siding was used for ceiling paneling and reclaimed fir was taken from a different barn that was in better condition to complete the exterior siding. New additions were designed to complement the authentic look of the original barn and include a conservatory, chimney, cupola, loft, reclaimed chestnut cabinets, simple windows, etc. This guesthouse serves as a great example of the possibilities present in reclaiming an entire barn for use in a amazing new projects.