Reclaiming wood from old barns, mills, warehouses, tobacco sheds, fences, etc. continues to be an important trend in “going green”. There are many advantages to recycling antique wood. The rich texture and beauty of hand hewn time-worn material has an authentic patina that can only be achieved from natural weathering. Interior barn boards will be a very desirable warm honey-colored brown, whereas exterior wood has a soft silver grey color.
The ‘look’ of the barn wood is very important. Character shows in the form of old nail holes, cracks, ‘checked’ grain and color. Another advantage of reclaimed wood is its strength and durability. The American spirit somehow shows through those old wood planks and beams. Hard-working hands fashioned each piece using handmade tools and many hours of labor.
Using recycled barn wood has another benefit in that expansion and contraction from humidity and temperature change has already taken place. It has been ‘hardened off’ so to speak. New green wood has yet to undergo that long process. Old floor planks are treasures in this day and age. Because the expansion-contraction amount is minimal, the material lends itself well to radiant heating system applications.
Antique lumber is prized by architects, craftsmen and builders of many types of construction projects. Long before modern building techniques took over, the land was cleared by man and horse. Barns and homes were built using hand tools and long hard hours of labor. Beams were hand-hewn with axes and then squared off using an adze. The adze was used for smoothing rough-cut lumber surfaces as well. Old tool marks can still be seen in the antique wood.
Each side of an old barn shows different characteristics. The north and west sides will be more weathered by rain, snow and winds. The east side would have been exposed to only morning sun, and shade the rest of the day, while the south side would have been washed by the light and heat of the sun.
Vintage timbers represented the wood that was growing on the land where the original building was constructed. Those trees included white, black, red, willow, pin and scarlet oak, long leaf yellow pine, elm, chestnut, cherry, walnut, hickory, maple, poplar and beech. Old chestnut wood is particularly coveted because of the 1904 chestnut blight. Long leaf yellow pine was the most abundant tree used in construction a hundred years ago. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. These woods are only obtainable in large quantities now by reclaiming antique wood buildings.
The size of the beams and planks was determined by the strength of the men and horses that had to move those boards and beams. Today old barns are for sale on the internet from an average of $300 on up, depending on the size of the building and the type of wood. Price is also determined by whether cleanup after dismantling is desired.
At the time of this writing, old barn boards on average cost $1.50 to $5.00 and up per square foot, again depending on the size of the lumber. Another factor in price is the quantity desired and the thickness. Barn wood can typically range from ½” to 1″ thick. Widths measure between 6″ to 12″ or more.
Today there are many items being made from reclaimed barn wood. They include wood flooring, wood paneling, and ceiling planks. Tables, chairs, benches, cabinets, shelves, picture frames, bird houses and bird feeders are all made from vintage barn boards.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a ‘green’ building rating system. It requires projects to earn a certain number of credits to become certified. Using reclaimed wood can earn credits towards LEED project certification.
The high demand and popularity of barn wood has made it harder and harder to find. It’s not always a simple process to identify the species of wood that was used. Given its age, determining the origin is sometimes only achieved by cutting open the piece of wood. Reclaimed wood is more expensive than new wood because of the cost of dismantling. Additionally, nails must be removed as well as embedded metal such as pieces of old cut off nails. The wood then needs to be sorted. These are all labor-intensive tasks.
There is also the question of what type of stains or paints or other compounds were used on the wood surfaces over the years. Lead paint in particular poses a problem with reclaimed wood used in interior applications.
Antique barn wood represents the hard-working history of America. Its innate warmth, beauty and durability has been achieved through natural weathering and aging. Using this wood for new projects that are environmentally friendly keeps the old barns alive. Otherwise they will fall to ruin and be eventually absorbed into the ground on which they were originally built. That seems like a terrible waste of a rich, yet humble heritage. I applaud those who are breathing life back into our vintage American barns and “going green” in the process!
Connie M. Smith is the expert author and webmaster with over 30 years of backyard birding experience. For a large selection of unique handmade reclaimed barn wood bird houses and bird feeders visit her website: http://www.rusticbarnwoodbirdhouses.com