History in Every Floor | The Makings of Reclaimed Flooring

From magnificent barns, factories, grain elevators and long ago abandoned buildings come the souvenirs of our past written in wood, reclaimed to be re-purposed as flooring in many homes today. Reflecting the battle scars of a previous life – nail holes, knots, insect borings, splits, checks and saw marks all come together in a dramatic fashion to create a truly unique wood flooring –weathered warm, aged, mellow tones speaking of the past.

If you’ve explored the countryside, you may have spotted one of the buildings that were the pillars of the pioneer communities – buildings so important in the turn of the century lifestyle.

  • Barns- essential in housing the plow horses and milk yielding cows
  • Factories- plentiful, bustling with proud American workers

Over the decades, elements and passing of time have painted and marked the lumber with fascinating aspects of weathering. At the same time sadly these decades have also taken their toll on the structural integrity of these vintage buildings. No longer repairable these proud weathered buildings are crying out for some attention and TLC to create new products for future generations to enjoy.

The Deconstruction Process of Old Buildings for Reclaimed Wood

The good thing about the deconstruction of an old building is that little goes to waste and a new life for the reclaimed wood awaits.  Careful deconstruction, mostly by hand, with the aid of some big equipment such as lifts, cranes, etc. will yield more useable wood than using just large equipment.

First step in the process is getting a tetanus shot – LOL, but not a bad idea. Generally the roofing is removed first  – if it is an old rusty tin roof, there are a lot of projects beckoning for the sheeting – interior ceilings, walls, wrapping home bars and islands.  Next on the list is the 1x barn wood sheathing boards – beautifully brown with age.  Once the boarding is removed, the joisting is revealed 2x – it is one of the most versatile of all the old building materials and can be used for just lumber accents, to make paneling, siding and of course the much sought after antique/reclaimed flooring. Visible now are your main beams and supporting beams – these reclaimed pieces beckon to be re-utilized hand hewn timbers or “As Is” beams – rough or smooth depending on the era.  Beams are used often to create open beam ceilings accents such as headers for doors, benches, and specialty furniture.

Once the ceiling/roof structure is removed the inside of the building generates a plethora of hidden gems from brown barn board that was the interior walls, additional beams, joisting and, of course, weathered barn siding which covered the exterior of the original building.  The hand dismantling takes the majority of the time to carefully remove the joisting and boarding as to not damage it excessively. The beams are where the big equipment comes in handy to gently remove the bigger pieces and set them on the ground.

Sorting the Timbers

While taking apart the structure, the lumber is sorted by size 1x or 2x, the timbers are sorted as well and separated into 2 categories:

  • Hand Hewn
  • “As Is” (rough or smooth)

Next, the reclaimed lumber is packed and ready for shipping to the reclaimed lumber manufacturing company.  The manufacturing company that receives the lumber has a labor-intensive preparation period which will prepare the lumber for use or processing which includes de-nailing, defecting, stacking and placing stickers in strategic spots. The sound material is then ready for transport to the site where it well be crafted and re-born into another useable form and begin its second life as reclaimed lumber.  Not all wood will survive the dismantling process due to lack of integrity in the weathered wood and the time spent standing in the elements.  What does survive is stunning and unique in character and an inherent link to our past.  Dismantling and reclaiming old structures is the origination of the green movement and definition of eco-friendly.

De-Nailing & Inspection Phases

The next course of prepping the material is the de-nailing phase – some boards will be riddled with nails and other boards few will be evident.  A visual inspection shows only the most obvious fasteners.  A metal detector is used to scan each piece of lumber to ensure that all nails and other fasteners are removed.  The de-nailing process is just the first of several inspections regarding the quality of the material and what it may be best suited for.  The lumber used for flooring is the best quality of all the material inspected.  At this time, an initial cutback may be performed if needed.

Although some companies will prepare the wood for the kiln to dry additionally – it is most common to stack the lumber with many stickers for air drying.  Turn of the century lumber is a very stable and dry material as it has already experienced the exposure to dramatic temperatures and climate changes and has already expanded and contracted over the decades, therefore most is properly dried.  Now, the lumber awaits to see what the future will hold and what it will ultimately become – sure to define a beautiful space.  The next breath of life for this reclaimed wood could be a multitude of items…such as rugged mantles, rustic cabinetry, inspired furniture, stunning paneling or the crown jewel of all distinct and unique flooring.

Manufacturing & Machining Phase

When the lumber is selected for manufacturing the lumber is again inspected for cleanliness before machining – some material may require a poly-brush to remove excess dirt or a more aggressive power wash.   The antique wood will now go through a number of machines to produce the newly reclaimed wood products. The 2x lumber will run through a big band saw machine to produce a 1” piece of lumber.  These 1x pieces will then be ripped into specific widths for example 3-1/2”, 4-1/2”, 5-1/2”, etc. which are called blanks.  Blanks can be further machined into many different creations. Continuing the manufacturing process means the next journey for the lumber is through the moulder.  If you are making paneling, the moulder may be set to ship lap the edges and at the same time smooth the back face of the board.  If you are making flooring, you may choose to tongue and groove the edges while the back face runs a relief on the board – as per National Wood Association standards.  The faces of these beautiful flooring options can be left old original face, or hit skip to show some underlying wood or even cleaned up completely show casing the old checks and unique patina.  The manufacturing process for reclaimed lumber is an art akin to the hands-on work of the Americans who originally built these structures – each piece of lumber is handled multiple times and inspected closely making our reclaimed wood products truly hand-crafted designs.

When the manufacturing process is complete, the material is once again inspected for defects, excessive checking or milling issues. A long-term ethical reclaimed wood flooring company will make sure the end product is 100% usable and will not pass on unnecessary waste to the end user. Finally, reclaimed flooring is moisture tested before leaving the plant to ensure the best quality flooring available.

Reclaimed Flooring for Everyone

Keep in mind that although antique and reclaimed building materials have long been favorites of high end builders and designers for new and existing homes this unique and impressive style of material need not be limited to wealthy consumers in gated communities.  For those of us who want to feel like our home is new, but simply can’t afford to build, remodeling is the next best thing.  Create a rustic charming country themed room or a blend of clean contemporary and antique materials where old meets new.

If you would like to incorporate vintage materials into your home design, contact Superior Hardwoods of Montana. Created in 1977 we are specialists in reclaimed wood materials and can provide unique looks to make any home a prized heirloom you will want to pass down to the next generation.

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