Question

Where do you begin when flooring your home with old barn wood? We literally have the barn torn down and now are ready to start reclaiming!

Asked by Mellissa Lane
Russellville, AL

Flooring with reclaimed barnwood.

Answer

Cynthia Phakos

Answered by Cynthia Phakos

Los Angeles, CA

Koffka Phakos Design

March 19, 2013

This is a timely question, as reclaiming wood is becoming commonplace whether it be a barn in a rural area or older buildings that have reached the end of their life in an urban area.

Reclaimed wood is typically old growth timber which is harder, denser and more stable than the wood from “green” trees, which is much of what is available today.

  • Barns built before the 19th century, in some cases, are the only source for some species of woods for example Chestnut, as the Chestnut blight of 1904 in the US killed billions of trees.
  • Uses for reclaimed woods range from flooring, to beams, furniture, cabinetry, siding and paneling.
  • The wood used was either sawn or hand hewn using an ax squared with an adze, with the hand hewn the most desirable.

Reclaimed wood in LA

Here in Los Angeles, where I live, there is a growing market of furniture makers buying reclaimed lumber as well as manufacturers that repurpose the old doug fir framing which they mill for flooring or furniture. We've work with a deconstruction organization where it costs more for the demolition, but there are tax benefits for the property owner offset that cost.

I called a mill in the Los Angeles area, wondering if they would mill a 3rd parties’ lumber and the answer was no. They do buy reclaimed lumber if it is neatly stacked, with all surface nails removed. Once it is at their mill they send it through a metal detector for removal of hidden nails. It is then ready for milling.

They typically get their wood from companies that do demolition, or I should say deconstruction. What was described to me at this mill was a new breed of deconstruction contractor, one who sells all of the reusable material scrap:

  • wood to mills,
  • metal to metal recyclers,
  • and so on.

Items that can not be reused locally (ie. plumbing fixtures) are brought to Mexico, where codes are less stringent.  

This work they do for the materials alone, with no cost to the property owner. Recycling, Reuse and Repurposing in the construction industry in this case is actually becoming a viable business.

Wyoming’s Snowfence

A source for reclaimed wood that we have used, is Centennial Woods which is reclaimed wood from Wyoming’s Snowfence.

Wyoming has millions of square feet of 9’ – 13’ high fence structures along highways and roads to block the blowing snow from spreading and obstructing the vision of the fast moving traffic.

This wind-weathered wood is now being repurposed for flooring or siding. The siding is not planed or milled. Their roughness is unsuitable for an interior floor finish.

Milling floor boards

Understanding Centennial's process will help you in determining what makes sense for you.

For plank flooring, Centennial Woods planes the boards to an even thickness (3/4”); either 50% skip planed (meaning 50% of the original surface remains) or 100% planed revealing the grain patterns.

  • The boards are then squared off to a 5” width and milled into tongue and groove planks.
  • This process creates a level tight fitting floor, with the surface free of splinters.
  • The 50% skip finish is relatively free of splinters though a rougher texture. The samples that I have are finished with Bees wax which gives a soft finish.

A smooth, level floor is something that is feasible only in a mill.

On our sites we have had contractor’s plane wood for reuse as trellises for example, where roughness is okay. And this is time consuming and noisy not to mention that they hate doing this as the hidden nails will ruin the planer’s blades. One accommodating contractor has a blade that he uses for the rough planing and one for the finish, but I don’t think that this is something that a novice should take on.

A salesperson that I spoke to mentioned that though he did not recommend it, he has seen the rough boards used as flooring that were glued and screwed to a subfloor, without any milling.  

Mills in Alabama

I looked into your area and saw that there is an Old Barn Reclaimed Wood Co. in Huntsville, Alabama not far from Russelville, which sounded perfect for you but they are now located only in Virgina.

Another Mill that I called, T.R. Miller Mill Co. Inc. located in Brewton Alabama was very helpful. The gentlemen that I spoke to, TJ Scarborough (listed on their website) said that he would try to find someone that could help you. I just got a call from a Paul McCardle (251-363-1052) from Brewton, Alabama – who is interested in helping out with the reclaimed wood.

I suggest that you speak with the various mills in your area and see if there is one that you can work with. They may be interested in using some of the other lumber from your barn.

Good luck and let us know what you come up with!

Tagged In: reuse

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