Reclaimed Wood: Where to Find It and How to Use It
Reclaimed wood—salvaged wood from barns, pallets, buildings, and other projects—has a lot of uses in DIY woodworking projects and home decor.
Aside from adding a rustic look to your home, you may save a little money, and you’ll be recycling wood that would otherwise be wasted.
However, you might be wondering where you can find reclaimed wood and how exactly you can use it for woodworking. Does it need anything done to it? We’ll cover all those things in this article, including:
- What reclaimed wood is
- Why use reclaimed wood
- Where to find reclaimed wood
- What to consider when choosing reclaimed wood
- How to use reclaimed wood
Let’s start with a brief review of what reclaimed wood is.
What is reclaimed wood?
Reclaimed wood is wood that’s been recycled from other construction and prepared again for use in another project. It often comes from old buildings, barns, fences, barrels, railroad tracks, and, really, anything else built with wood.
Any type of wood can be considered reclaimed. However, there are a few common types used in the structures listed above:
- Douglas fir
If it’s the same as any other wood, except older and weathered, why use reclaimed wood?
Why should you use reclaimed wood?
People chase after reclaimed wood for a number of reasons.
First, reclaimed wood has a unique design and style to it. New lumber doesn’t usually have the seasoned, worn, and even distressed look to it like reclaimed does. It adds a rustic charm to your home that regular oak or maple just doesn’t.
That being said, reclaimed wood doesn’t require all the fussy finishes that normal wood does. It’s supposed to look old and worn. Just a basic finish will do—something we’ll get into more in a bit.
Another reason reclaimed lumber might be preferred is its strength.
Yes, some of it isn’t the sturdiest and may have rotted, suffered insect infestation, or warped with time. But a lot can be high-quality, even more than recently cut wood.
Ever wonder how your great-grandmother’s old chest of drawers made it 150 years without a scratch, while that new bookcase you bought is already falling apart? It’s all in the wood.
Back then, especially before World War I, people built their houses out of oak and other tough wood (not pine, like is common today). They built their barns with big, old trees from the back forty. These trees are generally stronger because the wood is denser, giving you a better quality wood.
Wood was cheaper then, and people thought nothing of using quarter-sawn wood for everyday projects. Quarter-sawn wood is cut at a different angle of the log, thus making it stronger. Today, those qualities make it really expensive by comparison…
Unless you find it in the form of old wood!
Where to find reclaimed wood
Finding reclaimed wood can be a little like a treasure hunt—you might search Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Or find some at a local demolition or construction site. But if you don’t want the hassle of having to prepare the wood for use again, you can find wood that’s already been prepared for you. Home Depot sells a limited variety of reclaimed wood.
You can also search online for dealers in your area, if you want to stay local. Check places like Craigslist, Etsy, Marketplace, or even Amazon.
And according to Family Handyman, you can even shop on Instagram.1 Just search the hashtag #reclaimedwood.
Even though pre-prepared wood might be nice, it can be quite expensive. If you’re willing to do the work for more economical lumber, search for local demolition projects in your area and see if you can get some of the wood. You can also check out construction sites or go to websites like The Freecycle Network or Gumtree Ads.
As you search for reclaimed wood, there are some other things you’ll want to think about before taking it home with you. More on that next.
What to consider when choosing reclaimed wood
Whether you’re collecting lumber from a barn razing or scrolling down digital aisles, you’ll want to check a few things before choosing reclaimed wood:
Wood that has been exposed to the elements is not always suitable for use. It may have:
- Been excavated by insects
Sometimes, bad sections can be cut out, but if the whole board looks questionable, it’s best to avoid it.
Type of wood
If you’re looking for a certain type of reclaimed wood, keep in mind what certain buildings and objects are generally made of.
Pallets, for example, are typically constructed from pine, while old barns are made from hardwoods like oak. Douglas fir goes into a lot of modern framing, while high-quality furniture is typically made of hardwood (like maple, cherry, or walnut).
Reclaimed wood may have been treated at some point in its past life. For example, former railroad ties will probably have creosote on them.
If you know or suspect that the wood has been treated, avoid using it for indoor projects because the wood can release toxins into the air. Pallet wood, especially, has a tendency for this and should not be used inside.
As we said, wood that’s been prepared again before you buy it can be pretty costly. If you’re looking for a more cost-effective route, try using wood that hasn’t been prepared and do the work yourself.
Do you need a lot of one kind of wood? Does the reclaimed lumber site you’re considering have plenty available? Remember, because it’s recycled, there will only be as much as the original structure it came from.
So you’ve picked your wood. Now, here’s some tips to help you when you’re using it.
Using reclaimed wood
Reclaimed wood can be used in a number of projects like any other wood. Its eye-catching style makes it a great accompaniment to a lot of home decor and outdoor furniture.
If you bought reclaimed wood fresh off a collapsing barn, you’ll need to do a few things before you can use it:
- Search the wood for nails, screws, and other bits of metal. This is important, as one single nail can ruin a saw blade.
- Get rid of grime and other things with a wire brush or a grinder.
- Sand it to get rid of splinters. You can use a hand sander or a machine sander, but use a big grit sandpaper and sand very lightly. This way, you won’t sand off the character of the board.
- Remove old stains or finish and any other discolorations. You can do this with soapy water (or a bit of bleach in it) and a scrub brush.
- Check the moisture content with a moisture meter. Reclaimed wood can be either too wet or too dry and might require a bit of time to sit before using. Otherwise, you could potentially ruin your project! If the wood will be used inside, aim for a moisture content of 6–8%. Outdoor projects should be between 9% and 14%.
- Finish the wood. You may want to apply some sort of wood finish to protect the wood. A simple polyurethane usually suffices.
Now, it’s time to make something! Here are a few project ideas to highlight that reclaimed wood.
Here are some great DIY projects to make when working with reclaimed wood:
- Wooden mirror frame: Add some rustic style to your bathroom with this simple woodworking project. All it takes is a few pieces of wood and some measurements.
- Farmhouse wood beam ceiling: Those thick, supporting beams in old barns make great planks for the classic farmhouse living room ceiling.
- Farmhouse table: Reclaimed wood gives your table top a stylish appearance and adds unique character to the room.
- Reclaimed wood shelving: This shelving shows off the wood’s structure and works well for storage. It could even be converted into a mantel.
Protect your reclaimed wood projects
Reclaimed wood offers a distinguished alternative to regular wood. While it can take some effort to prepare it yourself, the finished result is stunning.
Before using any prepared reclaimed wood or preparing it yourself, one of the most important things to check is the moisture content. An accurate reading will tell you if the wood is at an appropriate moisture content or not.
Bessemeter’s moisture meters fit all your needs for your reclaimed wood projects.