Whenever I talk to people who are just getting into old home renovations, we almost always have the same conversation about reclaimed wood. It seems like such a huge waste to throw out all of the old wood materials from an old home, but salvaging and using any wood that isn’t dry-rotted, molded, or infested with insects can be a little trickier than you might think. In fact, even working with reclaimed wood from someone else’s project to add an air of antique class to a home renovation can be harder than you imagine.
So how can you work with reclaimed wood (your own or purchased) without losing your mind? There are a few things you need to know first.
Reclaimed Boards Are Almost Never Square
When you buy a two-by-four from a home supply store, you expect it to have a uniform width, length, and breadth from one end to the other. Well, that’s not necessarily going to be the case when you buy reclaimed wood. Because it’s older and has been used for one purpose or another, it might not have consistent dimensions, which can be pretty challenging if you’re trying to use it for flooring, cabinets, or fixtures that require some regularity.
Look Out for Nails and Screws Embedded in the Wood
Whenever Candis and I decide to use reclaimed wood for a renovation project, I’m always really careful about inspecting it before I start cutting it. The lumberyards we deal with are really good about removing nails, screws, and other metal from the wood they sell, but sometimes embedded pieces of metal can go unnoticed. That’s why I always do at least a once-over on any reclaimed wood I work with. A single piece of metal could completely ruin a saw blade, and it could be dangerous to you, as well. So be careful!
Reclaimed Wood Often Comes with Lead Paint
I never trust any paint I see on a piece of reclaimed wood. If you’re dealing with old wood, you’re probably dealing with old paint, and that means you have a high likelihood of running into lead-based paint. If you see any paint on a piece of reclaimed wood that you’re working with, it should be cut off and thrown away.
If it looks really great as it is, and you hate the idea of cutting it up, you can also seal it in with a coating of clear polyurethane. That way, you’ll have a safe barrier between you (or your buyers) and any lead paint on the wood. In fact, this is a good idea for any reclaimed wood you bring into a home renovation. If you’re at all concerned about the toxicity of a piece of wood’s original finish or treatment, there’s nothing wrong with adding a layer of protection.
Pay Attention to Where You Cut for the “Old Wood” Look
Finally, if you’re going with reclaimed wood because you want the space to look more antique and lived in, then pay attention to where and how you cut it. The surfaces that have been exposed to light and air over the years will have the look you want, but the inside of the wood will look a lot newer and less worn. So plan your cuts carefully to get the right look.
I love working with reclaimed wood. It gives me a really cool material that can add a lot of character to a house, and it’s more eco-friendly than buying new wood, too. If you’re going to go this route, though, keep these things in mind.