A Guide to Reclaimed Wood Furniture, Recycled and Upcycled
Reclaimed wood is wood that comes from almost any source except a newly felled tree. This timber usually comes from old buildings being demolished. It may come from the joists, floors and support beams of old buildings. Let’s look at what counts as reclaimed wood, the types of wood regularly available as reclaimed wood, and the benefits of using reclaimed wood. We’ll also discuss the proper care of reclaimed wood furniture if you already own it or are considering getting it.
What Is – and Isn’t – Reclaimed Wood Furniture
Reclaimed furniture is furniture made from old timber. Many prized pieces come from buildings being torn down since you’re able to walk away with large beams, floorboards, and planksthat perfect for use in other applications. Some artisans are using wood from shipping pallets to create furniture or damaged old furniture to make new items. These reclaimed wood pallets are contemporary but are still “reclaimed” wood. Reclaimed wood is also used to create that vintage and retro furniture feel and look.
Upcycling refers to recycling something into an item of much higher value than the original. Turning discarded and originally cheap wood pallets into tables and bookcases is certainly a case of upcycling. Bookcases made from pallets is another case of upcycling and reclaimed furniture. However, turning an old table into chairs counts as creating reclaimed wood furniture but it isn’t upcycled. Using old wood floor board son a new floor is only recycling the material. Using old wood beams in your new roof is recycling reclaimed wood.
Most reclaimed wood furniture that we sell is both upcycled and recycled since the building materials are turned into mid-market and luxury furniture. For instance, many of our coffee tables, dining sets, and bedside tables are made from reclaimed wood, which allows us to sell items at a fraction of the price you would pay from other manufacturers, with the same level of quality.
The Most Common Types of Reclaimed Wood
Old pine, oak, beech, and cedar are common types of reclaimed wood. Redwood and firs take on a grey colour that some see as authentic. Maple, walnut, and beech are more contemporary “reclaimed” woods. Longleaf pine is strong and durable, so good that it was once used to build ships. This is why long beams of it were salvaged from ships to build many floors, roofs and walls … and why many reclaimed wood pieces have a very rich history behind them. Imagine a dining chair that was once part of a bar, and before that, it was part of a ship that some of the patrons once sailed on.
South pine is far more common than northern pine. Mahogany’s strength and ease of carving are why it was used for everything from intricately carved mantles to furniture. It is regularly reused, and some artisans try to keep the old carvings in the new final work. Teak wood is very resilient, resistant to moisture and rot. This is why it was so often used in outdoor furniture.
If someone wants to get rid of a 1920 Arts and Craft era deck chair, many artisans will turn it into a bench, indoor chair or another type of furniture. Or, the material is used in another outdoor project since unlike other wood, teak doesn’t fade on exposure to sunlight. Walnut is regularly reused, especially if it has developed a deep near-purple shade that is difficult to replicate via artificial methods.
The Benefits of Reclaimed Wood Furniture
The first and foremost benefit of buying reclaimed furniture is the fact it is eco-friendly. By reusing the wood in various ways, you’re saving trees from being cut down. If you reuse the furniture with only some reprocessing or treatment, you’re using far fewer resources than if the wood was taken from a torn down building and processed like new lumber.
The wood is already aged, weathered and dried. It doesn’t need to be finished, so it doesn’t shrink or bend. Reclaimed wood has a unique look on its own that makes it stand out in any home. You can further increase the value of your piece by adding a marble top for example. This is very common with reclaimed wood sideboards.
It is very hard to find the tight grain and rich colour of old pine; new pine wood is more yellow and typically has a broader grain. Sometimes the reclaimed wood is whitewashed, especially if light coloured, to make it look new. Unfortunately, some furniture buildings strip off the colour and grain that makes reclaimed wood look so good, resulting in a product that looks like everything else in the store. There are times when treatments are necessary.
For example, waterproofing is a requirement for tables to protect either the new or historic look of the wood. It also lets you use wood without having to worry about the chemicals used in reprocessed materials made from wood chips. Some people enjoy using reclaimed wood because it lets them keep an emotional connection with an old place. For example, taking wood from Grandpa’s barn and turning it into furniture used in your new home lets you literally take it with you. If you already have an antique headboard, you could find the same species of wood as reclaimed wood and have a bed made from it.
Or, commission a chair from the same wood of similar condition as that old desk sitting in the corner of your living room. Items made from reclaimed wood like benches and chairs look like antiques if made in the historic style, and they’re certainly cheaper than looking for an antique that matches your particular taste. Then there is the fact that you can save money by using reclaimed wood. New mahogany, mango light wood and teak wood furniture are expensive. If you find reclaimed wood to make into custom furniture, it is typically going to be cheaper than commissioning new pieces.
If a craftsperson is selling the furniture made from reclaimed wood, their material costs are far lower and you’ll either pay a lower price mostly based on their craftsmanship or be able to afford much higher quality work because the material was cheaper. Reclaimed wood is prized for its strength and durability. After all, the weaker pieces were tossed in the trash or hauled off to the landfill. Reclaimed barn doors are popular because they are a sturdy protective entry door or bedroom door that someone else cannot just kick in.
Care and Maintenance of Reclaimed Wood Furniture
The worn character of most reclaimed wood furniture means that little stains, scratches, and dents can be ignored, just as no one freaks out about a small scratch on an old car. It is also very low maintenance in general. Older wood is hard to damage since the damageable material wouldn’t have been recycled. Then again, salvaged wood is usually harder than fresh wood of the same species because it has already dried out and warped if it was going to do so. This makes pieces made from reclaimed wood often more durable than items made from newly harvested wood.
Industrial style interior design is very much in vogue now. If you’re happy with its natural colour and the wood is unfinished, just dust it once in a while. If it has been finished, such as treated with a coating to prevent water stains, apply polyurethane wax once a year. If it is unfinished and you don’t mind it darkening over time, you can rub it down with wood rubs. These treatments will help it resist stains. You don’t have to worry about reclaimed wood not lasting very long. Any piece that was too worn to last very long was probably discarded before you ever saw it.
Don’t just haul off wood you find at a construction site for use in your own project since it could have termites or other insects in it. That is aside from the risk of it containing rot. We’ve already addressed the concern about old wood having lead-based paint on it and the need to handle such materials safely. Something many amateur enthusiasts don’t consider is the number of nails and screws in raw salvaged wood. If they just start cutting and shaping it, they could get injured when their blade hits a bent old nail.
Several passes with a metal detector before you make the first cut is a good first step. One solution to this is to only buy finished reclaimed pieces, such as the ones we sell here. The other is to only buy reclaimed wood from vendors who’ve already screened it for infestations, checked for health hazards, and made it ready for craftsmen to work with.
Reclaimed wood furniture is an eco-friendly way to commission furniture and find items that look like or match existing antiques. It requires relatively little care, lasts ages, and may be made from woods that are hard to acquire today. There are many types of wood available as “reclaimed” wood, though there are regional differences in availability, all depending on what people generations ago had available to build their homes and make furniture themselves. It is safer to only buy reclaimed wood that has been checked by the professionals or finished furniture made from reclaimed wood.