Reclaimed wood is repurposed wood obtained from old barns, houses and other sources. Floor joists, roof rafters, and many other wooden constructions are the primary source for reclaimed wood. The reclaimed wood is then used to make different types of furniture. Reclaimed wood is both recycled and repurposed. It is treated and used as the principal raw material for a product that has a different intended use than the original utility. Reclaimed or repurposed wood is processed in many ways. Almost all methods involve cutting up and reshaping the wood to make new furniture.
In theory, any type of wood sourced from old constructions and repurposed for a different intended use can be referred to as reclaimed wood. This is not possible in practice. Not every type of wood can be effectively repurposed. One of the most common types of reclaimed wood is Oak. Oak is a native of the United States. Reclaimed Oak obtained from the tree is known for its hardness, stability and strength. It is, therefore, a fitting choice for flooring. Oak is found in abundance across Asia as well. It can grow anywhere between 60 to 100 feet in height. Its width can grow up to 4 feet.
White and Red Oak trees take a long time to grow. Reclaimed wood that is more than a hundred years old is the most reliable raw material for different types of furniture. This type of wood is referred to as old growth oak. Oak dominates much of the landscape of the south. There was a large continuous forest, the largest on the continent that stretched from the southern tip of Virginia to eastern Texas. The forest spanned around ninety million acres. The hardwoods grew for centuries. White Oak trees grow just an inch in diameter over a period of thirty years. The trees take a long time to mature, typically up to five hundred years. The hardwood used by many furniture companies these days is White Oak. This variant takes less than fifty years to mature. White Oak and Red Oak is phenomenally stronger and much more stable than pine, for example. It can also endure much more, be it weather or pressure and treatments during woodworking.
History of Old Growth White Oak or Red Oak
Hardwood obtained from White Oak or Red Oak trees has been used to make several major structures across America and around the world. Many of these constructions are still standing strong today. The hardwood was used to make bridges, trestles, wharves, posts, piles and joists. Once upon a time, Red oak was used for frames of four out of every five houses in Massachusetts, Florida and Maine. The wood was used for the flooring of Mount Vernon and Monticello. The hardwood was used to make the first ships used by the French Navy.
The history of Red Oak is enticing in many ways. It played a crucial role in economics, trade and also royal reigns. Old growth Oak plays a significant role in the development of America as a powerhouse. Much of the growth in its formative years was fuelled by Old Growth Oak trade. The hardwood was transported up along the eastern seaboard and was exported to Europe. The hardwood went on to become one of the foundational materials in homes, public buildings and factories. The wood was used for flooring, paneling, and joists. It was used for warehouses, railroad cars, and bridges. The wood featured prominently in Victorian palaces and hotels.
The expanse of Oak today has very much increased today. This is due to milling companies planting acorns in order to increase and expand the land which Oak occupies. These areas are protected now. The forest used to take up around forty-one percent of the landmass in the east. Today, the area has grown by more than ten percent of the original forest cover. White Oak is durable and beautiful. Deforestation throughout the nineteenth century has nearly wiped out a vast range of other tree types. Hence, the largest source of Oak is old wooden constructions. That is where most of the reclaimed wood is obtained from. Old homes, barns and other wooden properties that are being deconstructed or demolished are sought out to source the Oakwood. Antique furniture is also a source but on a smaller scale. Reclaiming the hardwood used in its myriad forms is the only way to build quality furniture using wood from trees that matured over five centuries.
How is Reclaimed Wood Treated?
Reclaimed wood is mostly joists and beams. These are procured from warehouses, barns, buildings and other structures along the east coast. The structures are disassembled meticulously so the hardwood is not damaged in any way. The building materials that would otherwise find their way to landfills get reused and hence repurposed, thereby being utilitarian and valuable for decades, if not centuries. While old-growth Oak trees can endure for centuries and the hardwood can easily outlast humans, the quality of wood reclaimed is not a certainty. There are White Oak woods that have been damaged so care should be taken to select the most well-maintained hardwood. Only the finest joists and beams are selected by hand to make reclaimed wood furniture. Even if they are a hundred years old or more, they are stronger, denser and more durable than the Red Oak you get from your local vendor or furniture maker.
The joists and beams are sorted after being sourced. Metal detectors are used to scan the entirety of the wood pieces to look for nails. The nails are removed using special grips and tools. Removing nails that have been firmly in place for over a century can be challenging. The task is tricky as removing any nail in an inappropriate manner could damage the wood. Only the finest experts can handle the brittle iron that is as antiquated as the wood. After the nails are removed, the hardwood is milled to make rough cut boards measuring around two to two and a half inches in thickness. These scraps are sorted and solid boards are used as stacks with sticks between them. This allows optimum drying. The stacked boards are put in a kiln for drying using warm air. The wood must have an optimum level of moisture to be stable. The boards are kept in the kiln for a fortnight with a constant circulation of warm air.
The wood is brought to the shop from the kiln. It is passed through a joiner to have two flat edges that are requisitely straight. The wood is then taken to a planer to shave the surfaces on top and bottom. All boards must have standard thickness. Then the boards are used for different types of furniture. They can be used to make tables, chairs or other fixtures. The surface with the most profound grains is used for tabletops or visible parts of furniture. The subsequent steps of making reclaimed wood furniture vary depending on what is being made and its dimensions, physical attributes, and other decorative features. The gluing, use of any other wood or material, the exact dimensions, cuts, adjustments, the rough assembling, sanding, and final finishing will depend on the furniture being made.
Both sanding and finishing are just as crucial with reclaimed wood as it is for any other hardwood. The process takes time. Woodworkers have to exercise a great deal of patience. Usually, reclaimed wood is sanded by three stages and every phase needs more than one craftsman. The three stages are usually 100 grit, 120 grit, and 150 grit. These phases are necessary to have the hardwood sport its spectacular natural beauty. Dealing with reclaimed wood and working with it is not the same as working with normal wood, be it White Oak, Red Oak, or Walnut or some other hardwood. It takes special expertise for craftsmen or woodworkers to make amazing furniture using reclaimed wood.