How to Salvage Wood from an Old Structure

douglas-fir-beam2-300x150Reclaimed wood producers can transform old, gray, weathered wood from rural buildings into lustrous timber that is difficult to differentiate from virgin lumber. Modern up-cycling procedures can strip away the outer gray layer of weathering, revealing the warm, strong heart of the reclaimed lumber, which is still perfectly usable.

In fact, when the pioneers originally built the structures dotting the American frontier, they used old-growth timber. Therefore, salvaged wood from barns and other outbuildings is often of a higher quality than virgin wood available today.

Of course, in order to harvest old barn wood, you need to know a few things. Read on to discover how professionals turn salvaged wood from barns and other outbuildings into breathtaking new products.

1. Getting Ready: Preparation for Salvaging Wood

Salvaged wood can come from many sources, some of them easier to excavate than others. The most common and prolific sources include old barns and other abandoned structures. Whatever your source of reclaimed wood, it’s important to make sure you understand the proper techniques and have the appropriate tools to recover the wood safely.

Review safety procedures. If you are taking down an entire barn or other structure, you will definitely need to understand how it’s built. Imagine how you will take down the building. Typically, a dismantling crew begins with removing the roof, and then works their way down to the ground, removing the support beams last. Be sure to review safety rules and dismantling procedures with your entire crew.

Gather tools. You will need certain specialized tools to remove the wood from the structure without damaging it. For instance, you’ll require a pin knocker to knock out the pins holding the beams together. You’ll also want to create a crowbar-ish tool for prying up wood siding. (If welding is not among your talents, call a local blacksmith to have this tool made.)

Finally, you’ll need several woodworking tools, such as a joiner, a planer and a table saw if you want to your reclaimed wood completely ready for a new project. (Alternatively, you can contract with a local mill to have them prepare your salvaged wood for you.)

Talk to property owners. Most property owners are happy to work with someone who offers to take down their old unused buildings. Dismantling old barns for salvaged wood products is wise from a tax perspective, since fewer buildings generally means lower property taxes. Furthermore, a rotting old barn can be a real liability issue. Mice and rats love to live in old buildings, for example, and their droppings can carry the deadly Hanta Virus. For these reasons, turning an old barn into reclaimed lumber just makes sense for most farmers – especially if they are offered a cut of the proceeds.

2. Spotting Reusable Timbers

Wood with tighter grain patterns is strong enough for reclaimed wood beams, flooring and furniture. Tighter grain patterns indicate higher density, meaning that the salvaged wood is less likely to warp during the up-cycling process.

It is best to avoid water-damaged timber when producing reclaimed wood products. When water migrates through timber, it compromises the wood’s strength. Moreover, water opens up spaces where beetles can infest and weaken old beams.

3. Up-cycling Procedures for Reclaiming Wood

Once you’ve acquired your reclaimed lumber, it may require some work to coax its beauty out from beneath its weathered surface.

Clean the wood. Using a wire brush, scrape off any dirt, mud and debris from the reclaimed wood. As you work each piece of wood, remove anything that could get caught in a saw or other piece of machinery. Protruding nails or screws would definitely fall into this category.

Next, pressure-wash the wood to remove paint and other exterior debris. Call a contractor if you find you must remove lead paint. Because lead paint is highly toxic for both humans and the environment, only certified contractors should remove it. If you decide to keep some old paint on the finished project, you should seal it with polyurethane sealant at this point.

Apply insecticide, if desired. An wise step is to apply an insecticide treatment to the wood after it’s been cleaned. Most professionals use borate, sprayed directly on the wood, to eliminate any insects that could be living in the reclaimed lumber.

Dry the wood. Once it’s clean, the wood must be cured in the hot sun. This removes moisture and decreases the chances that the wood will warp once placed in a home or business. You can either expose the wood to hot sunshine over a period of several days, flipping it often to discourage mildew growth, or have it cured in a kiln, which quickly dries the wood and removes all mildew growth.  Kiln drying the reclaimed wood can speed this process as well as eliminate any insects without the use of chemicals.

From flooring to paneling, furniture to storage, salvaged wood from old barns and buildings can create a multitude of products. Those who choose to purchase reclaimed wood beams, flooring and other reclaimed wood products can feel good knowing they helped reduce the amount of deforestation on our planet. If you’re considering salvaging that old eyesore barn or outbuilding, follow the tips above to safely, efficiently produce valuable reclaimed lumber.

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