Reclaimed wood furniture is made from lumber that has been salvaged from barns, houses, or any old building that is being torn down. It is a great way to reuse a limited resource. Wood is fortunately a renewable resource, that is we can plant trees and like a crop, then can be harvested and replanted over and over again. The down side is that trees take a long period of time to grow.
Also there is a tendency to plant groves of a specific type of trees as it is commercially easier to harvest trees of the same age and type. This leads to the possibility of disease or pests wiping out a specific type of tree due to their concentration.
By using reclaimed lumber, wood workers are being eco-friendly with this resource as no new trees are harvested to make their tables and cabinets. This lumber would go to landfills or be burned if it was not salvaged. Working with this type of lumber has many pitfalls to it.
First it is labor intensive to carefully remove all the lumber in a building. Nails have to be pulled out and boards and beams removed without damaging them. The lumber needs to be sorted by both type and size.
Second the wood crafts person has to be able to pick and choose through the pile to find the wood that best suits the piece of furniture that he is making. They will need extra of the reclaimed lumber as the old wood will invariably have tear outs or holes or splits that will have to be worked around, as well as taking into account the normal loss through milling and planing.
Often modern glues and techniques will have to be used to make the wood structurally sound. Marine epoxy is commonly used to hold the splits together in the boards. The wood worker has to inspect the whole surface of each board before running it through any of his machines. One missed nail can chip a planner blade. An expensive mistake.
Building the actual wood piece of furniture is much the same as using new wood once the old wood has been cleaned and sealed. As wood ages it takes on rich tones of color. Using the reclaimed lumber, it has already developed the rich shades of color associated with cherry, maple, walnut etc. So when the craftsman builds with this material the rich colors of the wood shine through in the finishing.
Although using wood from buildings being torn down is eco-friendly it should be considered a finite non renewable resource. There are a limited number of barns and buildings that when torn down will yield good quality lumber. Buildings today are built with plywood and sheet steel which won’t be used for furniture in the future.
There are only a few artisan woodworkers that are willing to put the time in and have the skill to work with reclaimed lumber to create heirloom quality solid wood furniture.