Over a hundred years ago we ripped through virgin forests with raw steel saw blades. Those ancient trees dropped into nearby rivers that slowly made their way downstream to the water powered mill.
For days, even months these giants floated about as they made their final journey to the conveyer. But every so often a giant would get pushed under another giant forcing it to absorb water under pressure. Soon, these logs would become waterlogged and sink into the murky waters. This is where the journey of the ancient pine tree begins.
Water is a funny thing. It can destroy a floor within a few hours of contact, but it can also preserve a tree for a century. It’s not the water alone that rots wood. It’s both water and air.
When you take air out of the picture, wood is preserved for hundreds of years. A great example is barn wood, the other major source of reclaimed wood.
Reclaiming Old River Logs
The process for reclaiming these river logs is complex. It requires river permits, scuba divers, boats and of course the mill. Rivers are chosen by their accessibility to roads and numbers of logs per square mile.
Up here in Canada there are many rivers once used as log runs, but not accessible by road any more. Once the river permit has been approved the operation begins with a diver team and float bags. The divers will find the sunken logs and attach chains with inflatable balloons. The balloons are inflated from an air hose and pump on the boat. Slowly and carefully, the logs start to become buoyant and begin to float to the surface. A few logs will be collected in this manner then towed back on the boat to the mill or truck.
Benefits To Using Reclaimed Wood
You may be wondering; what’s so great about old sunken logs? Why not just harvest new trees? These logs are substantially heavier than an everyday tree for two reasons.
The first reason is their outer layer is saturated with water.
The second reason also plays into why they are desirable for wood floors or furniture. Their sheer density. In a modern pine you can expect two to three rings per inch, whereas one of these ancient 200 year old pines will have anywhere from six to thirty rings per inch. Old pine is harder and more intricate than any pine grown today. It has beautiful, huge knots in it. You can see its knots in an old pine floor.
The benefit of the river reclaimed wood method is that the logs are untouched. There are logs of all shapes and sizes so you can cut whole tabletops from a single piece of wood. This is a great bonus for wide plank flooring. Yet another technique that I’ve seen done with larger logs is cross-section cuts to make large square tiles. There are so many applications to using these old logs. Their timeless beauty will live on forever.
Reclaiming Wood From Old Barns
The other type of reclaiming wood is a bit less complicated and this is reclaiming barn wood. With the old farming methods becoming obsolete and the need for larger steel barns became possible, the old humble wood barn found it hard to compete.
Many of these barns were built over a hundred years ago and contain the same high quality wood you’ll find in the rivers. The only difference is you have to work with what you get. The wood on the siding for example is usually cut into one by eight inch boards varying in length. Because of the natural wear of age and time you’ll be hard pressed to turn these into floorboards, unless you get lucky. Most of the usable wood will be inside the barn itself. The beams and struts holding it all together will be a gold mine for recycled eco wood.
The Look Achieved From Reclaimed Wood
The benefit of using this type of wood is the rustic look you will get from the old hand planed timbers.
The drawback to this type of wood when used for flooring is that the shape of the wood is already predetermined. By this I mean, the notches and grooves that exist to hold the barn together are cut out of these timber beams. The floor has to work around these notches and grooves and unfortunately there are lots of scrap pieces left over that can’t be used for anything. However, you can get creative with these pieces and make a spectacular floor out of it. There’s no reason why these pieces cannot look beautiful on their own.
The fantastic part of using this type of wood is that there are hundreds of thousands of barns across North America that are falling apart and will eventually just rot on the ground and be used for nothing.
Using any reclaimed wood will be beneficial to the environment. There are no trees being cut down or forests being destroyed. It’s just recycling what we already have. There is so much wood leftover from our past that it is silly not to make the best use of it. Not to mention this wood has so much history to show us. Why not make a floor out of it?