As a supplier of a wide spectrum of heritage reclaimed wood products, we’re often asked, “where do you find reclaimed wood?" The short answer is, anywhere fine pieces of old growth American wood history hide, waiting to have their original patinas admired or their rich grain patterns revealed through a newly milled finish! The long answer involves a more complex network of professional procurement best practices that has taken years of hard work to establish.
Our scope of work ranges from providing barn siding, timbers, and flooring for large retail stores, such as a number of Whole Foods Market stores, to restoring 200 year-old reclaimed hand hewn cabins and barns. We have worked closely with leading architects and contractors on projects incorporating the full spectrum of heritage reclaimed wood materials:
Typical sources of reclaimed wood
We have scouts throughout the United States and Canada that are forever on the lookout for antique structures such as:
- Standing Barns
- Industrial Age Factories
- Tobacco Plantation Buildings
- Public Buildings
- Retired Mills
- Hand Hewn Log Cabins
- Timber Framed Homes
Reclaimed wood can also be found at facilities or sites that hold antique wood products such as boats, planes, or railroad ties. For example, boatyards typically have old deconstructed boats, mostly teak, which is a remarkable wood known for its durability, resistant to rot, and amiability to woodworking with tight tolerances.
The majority of reclaimed structures that we see generally range in age from from the early 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. This timeline is important because post-WWII timber harvesting saw a sharp increase from a combination of new logging and mill technology, housing needs, and economic growth. The logging boon eventually resulted in over-harvesting and cries for conservation. In the 1960s and 1970s new laws saw forests transformed into multi-use recreation or protected wilderness areas. With the tightening of conservation laws and the harvesting of most of the remaining old growth trees in unprotected areas, we have arrived in a place today that makes most old growth species either very rare or simply unavailable.
Where Reclaimed Wood Really Shines
This modern deficiency of freshly cut old growth lumber caused by over-harvesting is where reclaimed wood really shines, allowing America's first growth, ancient trees to provide what is often the only avenue to having old growth lumber's superior qualities in new architectural projects. Luckily, when this wood has been well preserved it is not only beautiful but extremely usable, with its tight growth rings and high density. Keeping in mind the post-WWII changes in forest management, siding, flooring, timbers, and logs reclaimed from pre-WWII structures are desirable since they were milled during times when it was common to use the tallest, straightest, and largest trees that were likely from virgin old growth hardwood and softwood forests, the likes of which are no longer available on today's markets.
Sustainable Building with Reclaimed Wood's Old Growth Character
Besides being a source of green, sustainable building material and preserving our existing forests, reclaimed wood provides dimensions and characteristics that are either extremely difficult or impossible to find in the modern lumber industry. Modern regrowth and plantation trees are composed of more juvenile wood which is less stable than mature wood. The process of natural air drying that reclaimed wood has gone through over the course of its life also significantly increases stability when compared to new growth, freshly cut wood from forests that are less dense, less diverse, faster growing, more exposed to environmental pollutants, and less complex in their canopies. Even properly kiln dried freshly milled wood from old growth forests will display much more movement than naturally air dried reclaimed antique wood. Here are some good reasons to choose Reclaimed Wood for your projects:
- Meeting Demand—Reclaiming wood helps to meet the demand for new construction and woodworking materials without having to harvest new trees.
- Looks Amazing—Those who come to appreciate the diverse range of aesthetic character qualities found in the varieties reclaimed wood understand why reclaiming historic buildings is not only sustainable but necessary for beautiful architecture. Its aesthetic qualities are simply irreplaceable.
- Durable with Excellent Architectural Integrity—The tight, dense old growth rings composed of higher percentages of mature wood (versus the high percentages of juvenile wood seen in regrowth trees) combined with decades or centuries of slow, natural air drying, make reclaimed wood great for projects that require durability and strength such as high traffic wood floors and structural timbers.
- Reduces Landfill Waste—Instead of the owners of an original antique building having to spend time and money dismantling and disposing of the wood they can save money by selling the structure while encouraging greener building practices.
Scientists are currently taking strides in studying and recreating the complexities present in old growth forest canopies and ecosystems in new growth areas, but it will be a long journey before existing regrowth forests can produce lumber comparable to that sawn before the mid-20th century—and an even longer journey before that wood can be naturally air dried without the need for a wood kiln. In all likelihood, the unique environmental conditions that reclaimed antique North American wood species grew under will never be seen again. Now that we are in the 21st Century, preserving our existing forests has become even more critical, as they provide vital wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, and essential carbon storage.
Pre-19th Century Structures
Reclaiming heritage wooden structures dating back earlier than the late 1700s is rare. If one is lucky enough to find a surviving 18th century building that is still standing with its roof intact, chances are that it was exceptionally well built and maintained. For a great example of a late 1700s home in excellent reclaimed condition, see The Old Hill Place.
The Roots of Reclaimed Wood in North America
Original American virgin old growth forests yielded massive sawn lumber proportions ranging from 12”-5’ thicknesses and 20’-100’ lengths. The maturity and magnitude of these forests encouraged early settlers and gave them ample opportunities to build inexpensively by harvesting locally, as importing building materials from Europe was expensive. With vast forests at their fingertips, they could choose the best of the best trees to suit their project needs.
Just as the species of wood reclaimed in antique buildings is connected to the types of trees that grow their geographic regions, the architectural heritage is connected to the cultural and ethnic history in those regions. The wood building traditions of immigrant cultures were quickly integrated into the North American landscapes with its vast forests of readily available tall, straight trees. Much of the reclaimed wood seen today is directly evolved from these early ethnic architectural styles and construction methods. This heritage can be clearly seen in the original character of reclaimed wood pieces, since they were hand crafted in a time when these unique cultural influences on architecture, wood milling, and woodworking were strong and carpentry traditions were passed on orally.
From the Reclaimed Wood Source to our Headquarters
Once historic buildings that meet our standards are found and thoroughly inspected for quality and condition, Distinguished Boards and Beams purchases them and prepares for disassembly. Our best practice disassembly process involves first bracing board by board and timber by timber. When dismantling antique buildings, one must be careful to properly brace them or collapses can break or damage the boards, timbers, or logs. Once disassembled, the pieces are sent via trucking freight to our headquarters in Carbondale, Colorado. Once at our facility, the reclaimed pieces are separated and organized by wood type and dimension. Wood types include: Red and White Oak, Pine, Long Leaf Heart Pine, Elm, Beech, Douglas Fir and Mixed Hardwood Species. These historic buildings provide gorgeous weathered gray siding, faded red siding, deep chocolate brown siding and corrugated metals as well as hand hewn timbers and Douglas Fir Timbers.
Moving an Entire Structure. Some structures are reclaimed in their entirety and dismantled and numbered in such a way that they can be reassembled in their original forms at the new site. It has become popular for architects to reassemble antique log cabins or barns at a new site, converting them into high end residential and commercial architecture. For a great example of an historic barn that was disassembled, shipped, and reassambled as part of a high end guesthouse, see this Houzz article: "A Beautiful New Life for an 1860s Barn." For a few great examples of Reclaimed Hand Hewn Log Cabins that were reclaimed and incorporated into residential and commercial architecture, see:
Learning to Identify Reclaimed Wood Sources
Although Distinguished Boards and Beams and other reputable companies specializing in reclaimed wood products have spent years developing networks of reclaimed wood experts in North America, anyone with the motivation to find and reclaim their own wood for small or large projects can do so. Many antique structures can be viewed directly from public roads or trails. You have likely seen a variety of sources of reclaimed wood on routine drives or walks through both urban and rural areas. Once you begin looking for and understanding the different varieties of reclaimed wood out there, the landscapes dotted with reclaimed opportunities will open up.
Acquiring the Wood: Please Don't Burn that Old Barn Down
Not every owner of an original location antique structure knows what they have, and if they do they may have already considered the possibility of selling. We have heard reclaimed wood horror stories of antique structure owners trying to save money by simply burning their old buildings down. Little did they know that hiding beneath the updated walls of their historic structures were highly valuable hand hewn logs from the late 18th century, or that the mortise and tenon post and beams in their barn were highly prized in modern high end homes. We have also come across many owners who understand the intrinsic value of their and who have been mulling over the possibility of selling. In either scenario it is helpful to establish strong interpersonal relationships in the local area and maintain a solid understanding of fair market value for negotiation purposes.
Will The Owners Consider Selling? If you see what appears to be an antique barn on explorations for reclaimed wood but notice upon further examination that it has been newly renovated as a guest house with all of the latest technology inside, chances are they won't be selling. More commonly, antique barns have been maintained and continually used for generations remain working parts of farms, businesses, and households. The construction techniques and heavy timbers used in these buildings was so robust that in many cases there is no structural reason to replace them. Some owners of antique structures keep them standing for historic value or because it can be expensive and time consuming to replace them. Of course, another scenario is a structure that has been left to fend for itself in the elements. This situation doesn't necessarily mean at all that there is no high quality and valuable wood inside the structure. One major identifying factor for condition is whether or not the roof is intact. An intact roof usually means that the building will contain good wood that is free from rot. However, it is still important to learn the history of each building when determining the condition of wood therein.
Navigating the Reclamation Process. Each potential reclaimed source that one comes across is a learning experience in what to look for when it comes to condition, aesthetic, structural stability and reusability, and age. For tips on what to look for when gauging quality, see: What Distinguished Boards and Beams looks for in Reclaimed Barns. Since it is impossible to know if an owner will sell part or all of an antique structure, the best thing to do is to simply ask. The worst that could happen is hearing the story about when the structure was first built and learning something about local history. If scouring local or regional landscapes doesn't yield the reclaimed would that you are looking for, try searching online classifieds such as Craigslist. Classifieds are a great place to find entire structures for sale that need to be dismantled and reclaimed wood that has already been dismantled by the owners.
Once purchased, you will need to hire a crew to dismantle the structure, which can be dangerous and costly if done incorrectly. Ask around and research crews that specialize in dismantling. You will then need to hire a trucking company to ship the wood to your destination. Following these few basic reclamation steps when purchasing antique structures for reclaimed wood will lead to a more successful purchase, disassembly, and delivery to the site:
- Find potential reclaimed wood sources and look for key identifying factors such as level of maintenance and an intact roof.
- If the owner is willing to consider a sale, ask them about the structure's history and to thoroughly examine the condition of the wood.
- If the owner doesn't realize the value that they have in their antique structure then offer them a fair price.
- If you purchase the structure consider hiring an experienced crew to professionally dismantle it and, if you will be reconstructing the building in its original form, number the pieces in detail in order to replicate the original construction.
- If you are shipping the wood, be sure to choose a reputable shipping company that will not damage the wood during transport.
- Leave the property looking better than when you found it (minus the reclaimed building of course).
The Intrinsic Value of Barns
Distinguished Boards and Beams dismantled its first barn in New Hampshire in 2000, taking down the barn wood siding piece by piece and then identifying which boards could be reused. It’s critical to leave the property in the same orderly condition, or even better, as you found it if you look forward to future referrals.
Midwest and Canada
In regions like the Midwest and Canada, people seem less attached to their old barns, and more willing to allow outside contractors to come in and dismantle them. Larger, industrial farm-owners are also generally less emotionally attached to their old buildings, and welcome the opportunity for professionals to dismantle and remove them. It’s important to recognize the value, condition and rarity of the wood in order to pay the appropriate price for it; recognizing how well land-owners have cared for their land over time is a good clue as to the worth of their barn wood. As Distinguished Boards and Beams has been seeking out only the very best reclaimed wood for over a decade, we are experts at compensating farm owners appropriately for their antique wood.
Developing key building professional contacts in metropolitan areas is critical in locating the best quality reclaimed wood. Many old city buildings, mainly factories dating from the late 1800s to the mid-1900’s, no longer serve their original purpose, yet remain standing. Scouting areas for abandoned buildings is tedious, and most times not worth your time or energy. Owners of commercial spaces typically seek out assistance when they are ready to deconstruct their buildings and will reach out to professional contractors at that time. The advantage that Reclaimed Wood specialists is that there are not many outfits that can take apart a building in an efficient and safe manner while also paying for the opportunity to do so. It is just as difficult to find a place to remove and store all the materials, especially when the inventory has been collected from a large structure.
Pitfalls to avoid
Do not buy reclaimed wood sight unseen. If you are unable to go to the site to see the wood, ask for pictures. The pictures should give you a detailed idea of what you are about to purchase. If the seller sends you only a few pictures, don’t be afraid to ask for more. You should be able to see every aspect of the wood you are purchasing. Depending on the application for the wood, you will want to inspect these pictures carefully. For example, if you are buying a timber to be used as a mantel piece, you would want to see a piece that is a straight as possible to avoid having to pay a carpenter to manipulate it later. Ask for pictures of all 4 sides of any timbers you are purchasing.
Structural Timbers. Some timbers may be deemed as “structural,” meaning they can be load bearing. If the seller deems a timber as structural, you will want to have it verified by a structural engineer or a certified timber grader before applying it in your plans. This will ensure that each timber's structural integrity meets building codes.
Advantage of Going with a Reputable Reclaimed Wood Vendor
If you have the time and resources to find and reclaim your own wood then we say more power to you. Depending on your project needs and personal resources, it may be possible to easily find what you are looking for with a little exploring and local networking or inventiveness. For medium to large projects especially, most people simply do not have the time or resources to reclaim the square footage or board footage required in the varieties desired. The dismantling process is perhaps the biggest challenge, since most antique structures contain multiple heavy timbers that require knowledgeable bracing, heavy machinery, and an experienced crew to accomplish.
Why Distinguished Boards and Beams?
Examples of our large, revolving inventory of North American Sourced Antique Reclaimed Wood Products include: