History of Reclaimed Lumber

Recycling wood is not a new idea. It was common practice in 1940’s Germany to reuse wood of dismantled towers to build new ones. The old growth wood from these towers stood the test of time. A prime example of this is the roughly 330ft tall tower of Golm transmitter near Potsdam Germany built in 1948 by reclaimed wood from old radio towers and remained intact for 31 years.

In the United States, industry pioneers on the East Coast began selling of recycled lumber as early as the 1970’s. Lumber reclamation gained momentum in the early 1980’s when the West Coast opted to reuse softwoods to address mounting concerns regarding the negative impact the lumber industry was having on the environment. This coupled with a decline in the quality of available new wood drove further demand for reclaimed wood.

Although, it was not until the 1990’s focus on waste and waste management that recycling and upcycling exploded into the industry it is today.

Barns are one of the most common sources of reclaimed wood in the US. Early 19th-century farm structures were built using trees growing on or near the property. Generally, consisting of a mix of species (oak, poplar, hickory, chestnut, and pine timber).  Prior to industrialization, settlers used only man and horse to move hand-hewn boards and beams, limiting their size.

Wood was once the primary building material in the United States due to its strength, abundance, and low-cost. Now wood is only available in large quantities today through reclamation. Longleaf pine, one of the common reclaimed woods, was used during the Industrial Revolution to build factories and warehouses. Longleaf trees were slow-growth trees taking 200 – 400 years to mature, growing in thick forests that spanned over 140,000 square miles. The trees stood tall, straight and had possessed the ability to resist mold and insects.

Other common woods previously used for building barns and other structures are The West Coast Redwood (Sequoia Sempervirens) and The East Coast American Chestnut. A chestnut blight spread across the US beginning in 1904, killing billions of American Chestnuts. Dismantled structures became a welcome source for this desirable but rare wood. Pre-blight American Chestnut wood can be identified by its lack of worm tracks in the sawn timber. Timber with the presence of worm tracks indicates post-blight lumber and suggest they were felled as dead standing timber.

Reclaiming brick and lumber from old mill buildings throughout the Southeast gave this wood new purpose. This plentiful source of reclaimed wood can produce three to five times the amount of board feet of flooring. This is thanks to more than a million square feet of wood covered by these old structures. Reclaiming this abundance of antique lumber saves it from disposal in landfills, as many of these buildings require environmental clean-up, can be fire hazards, and have no economic or reuse potential. In fact, wood products including coast redwood, hard maple, Douglas Fir, walnuts, hickories, red and White Oak, and Eastern white pine woods are made through the recycling and reprocessing of old woods.

Ancient Tree Image
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