Wood Reclamation – A Dangerous Job

Blog entry by ReubenD posted 09-30-2014 10:47 AM 10913 reads 0 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I love the look of authentic wood crafted many years in the past. Roughhewn timbers, old barn boards, inch thick hardwood flooring, and the exquisite carved mantle places and cabinetry all hand crafted many decades before. Some of the most beautiful wood I have ever seen was reclaimed wood from a farmhouse built in the 1850’s. It is not just the dimensions and sturdiness of this wood which would be easy to mimic. There is no way to truly replicate the color and perfect imperfections from being aged and waxed and weathered for 100 years or more. Every process used to try to replicate turns into repetitive patterns that make it lose all authenticity and can be seen as imitation by a complete novice.

To get either raw wood to craft your projects flooring, or to purchase the beautiful cabinets and ornamental hand carved pieces, you need to have both excellent sources and deep pockets. It is hard to explain to the wife why you want to pay on the order of 10x -20x as much for old used wood as for brand new, but if you make it out of new she would be the first to notice it is nice but not as nice as what she had seen in the picture on such and such a place.

A friend of mine mentioned that the house near his, a turn of the century (20th century to be more specific) old house with multiple fireplaces and ornate staircases on top of hardwood floors was going to be torn down. Thinking of all the beautiful wood that might be just sitting there for the taking I spent a couple hours researching until I found the current owner of the property that lived in another state and was selling the house and lot to the town so they could put in an additional parking lot for the post office across the street.

I was so excited about that call. The sale was all arranged, it was for the lot and to have anything they wanted from the property removed by a specific date, nearly a month away, at which time the closing would take place and the house demolished. Most importantly, yes, I was welcome to go in and take anything I wanted including ripping wood from floors and walls and cabinets for an access fee of $500 (the copper pipes had already been promised though to another party for salvage so get with them for keys and access).

I mailed off the check for $500 and went in for the first time to look around and make a list of what I thought was most salvageable, and to prioritize the list of what I might take with dreams of a reclaimed floor in some room of the house, pipe dreams of selling some of it to pay the cost of finishing the projects I might use it for and all sorts of absurd joy at my good fortune.

I was met at the door by the people that were going to pull out the copper plumbing and metal for salvage and my heart sank. Respirators and white suits and heavy plastic curtains over the door told their own story. The ceilings, attic, and all the pipes had asbestos insulation and the walls under the more recent coats were lead paint. I could take whatever I wanted, but needed to show the required certificates to work with asbestos.

After returning home with dreams firmly replaced by reality I began some research on how working with asbestos was done in a salvage operation. It took little time to realize that the cost of hiring somebody to do it was not feasible, and doing it myself was both illegal and purely reckless. The cost of this century old wood suddenly began to make more sense to me as building of this age had asbestos and lead as common use items. Interestingly, the asbestos was an upgrade added in the mid-20th century most often.

While I will still hope to someday have the chance to put down my own reclaimed hardwood floor, or find a one piece hand carved curved 30 ft. banister or handrail for a staircase, the next time I see a potential source for it the first question will be about asbestos. My salvage fee was graciously returned without question, so no real loss came about from my mini adventure, but I must say fortune was smiling on me that I was met by people that knew what they were doing unlike me, as I would likely have simply started taking things apart none the wiser of what was in the dust in the air I was breathing.

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16 comments so far

View dbray45's profile


157 posts in 2275 days

posted 09-30-2014 01:29 PM

There are a bunch of things you need to note. I know this guy that spent about $4 bdf for some reclaimed barn lumber. The person selling the lumber had re-milled it and checked the MC before selling it. The wood looked pretty nice and had the desired character to make a nice looking table. It turned out that once the table was made and sitting in the kitchen, with the moisture, steam, and other aspects of a normal kitchen, the table developed a smell.

It turns out that this lumber were the floor boards of one of the stalls for who knows what animals, probably horses. After 60 years of active horse use – well, using them for a kitchen table may not have been my best choice.

Reclaimed is good but if the buyer or seller does not know from where it comes or will not warranty that it is safe – don’t use it for internal use.

-- Love woodworking and fixing most anything

View greatfloorsanding's profile


2 posts in 2100 days

posted 10-09-2014 08:40 AM

Buying reclaimed wood is always a risk. You never know what’s the condition of the wood material. However, if you search for information before the purchase, you might be able to recognize high-quality reclaimed wood when you see it. It’s nice you’ve got your money back at the end. This time you got lucky!

-- Great Floor Sanding, London - http://greatfloorsanding.co.uk

View PoppyJones's profile


1 post in 2064 days

posted 11-14-2014 11:14 AM

I’m an artist and currently I got me into wood carving. One of the first things I understood was that finding the right wood (quality-good money) could be pain in the a**.....

-- I'm a freelance writer, currently working for http://www.curtain-cleaning.co.uk/

View katty_kat's profile


1 post in 1982 days

posted 02-04-2015 10:26 AM

Wood is so important. I have two oak tables and they are literally forever lasting.

-- http://www.1stcarpetcleaning.co.uk/

View artflooringltd's profile


1 post in 1975 days

posted 02-11-2015 06:17 AM

Hey Reuben,

nice story. There is nothing better to learn from experience. It would have been really good if there were no asbestos or lead but hey at least you know now. Reclaimed wooden flooring its an amazing find, and I would say you had a good “mini adventure”, good luck next time man!

-- Art Flooring Ltd http://www.artflooringltd.co.uk

View Tony Preston's profile

Tony Preston

5 posts in 1933 days

posted 04-21-2015 07:13 AM

I agree with @debray45 on this! I really can’t imagine something like that happening! We use reclaimed materials sometimes to give a customer a certain feel to their wood fences but like you said, do you research and find out where the stuff really came from before you go ahead!

-- Tony Preston @ http://www.gardenfencinglondon.com

View dbray45's profile


157 posts in 2275 days

posted 04-22-2015 03:31 PM

I was speaking with someone a while back and they were telling me that they got some tree trunks that were split in half and looked really old and some rot on the bottom (round part). They were from an old abandoned cabin or something, he wasn’t sure. I told him to get someone that could run a light test the wood to see if it has any remnants of blood in it. During the Civil War and Revolutionary War, there were a lot of little skirmishes around the east and south. Many houses of that period split the trees and used them as floor boards. There were many other issues from accidents, Indians, there were a lot of things going on for a hundred or more years.

I don’t know if he did or not. For outside stuff, I have no problems using reclaimed wood – inside, a whole different issue.

-- Love woodworking and fixing most anything

View EriPadmore's profile


3 posts in 1840 days

posted 06-26-2015 12:44 PM

I have an unquenchable desire to cover my walls with chippy reclaimed wood that has been torn out of old houses that were built during my Papa’s lifetime. The pretty vintage pieces that I bring into my home are unique, but they carry a risk that needs to be addressed.

View JaninaMcCullough's profile


3 posts in 1840 days

posted 06-26-2015 01:46 PM

As a woman i prefere to hire someone to do this job, would appriciate if you give me some contacts :)

-- http://www.cleancarpetsharrow.co.uk/

View EriPadmore's profile


3 posts in 1840 days

posted 07-07-2015 11:29 AM

Hi Janina, maybe try with this.

View rheajonesy's profile


5 posts in 1449 days

posted 08-20-2016 10:08 AM

Authentic wood fittings and furniture are just beautiful and like you said the older the better. It is beautiful in its imperfections and nothing you do will get you such beautiful modern day wood fittings and furniture. Outsource receivables

View asimseo's profile


12 posts in 328 days

posted 06-24-2020 12:48 PM

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88 posts in 12 days

posted 06-27-2020 06:09 AM

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88 posts in 12 days

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88 posts in 12 days

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88 posts in 12 days

posted 07-04-2020 11:05 AM

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