The Origins & Species of Our Reclaimed Woods
We get the question, “What are the origins and types of wood species in our wood furniture?” a lot! So we decided to share with you our answer.
The materials used in our handcrafted pieces reflect the custom nature of our work—reclaimed wood. Let’s first peek at the history of reclaimed wood.
Our reclaimed woods were originally used to construct barns, warehouses and mills built in the 18th and 19thcenturies, meaning somewhere between 100 and 250 years ago. This fact, however, reveals the wood itself is actually much older.
The wood sources for buildings in the 18th and 19th centuries were taken from mature trees, or “old-growth” wood. This referred to trees that were between 100 and 200 years old.
The general practice was to use trees in close proximity to the location of the build site to save time and money. The trees would be cut down and then dragged by horses to where the building was going to be raised.
Altogether, this means your reclaimed wood furniture piece may actually be constructed, depending upon the exact source, from woods that are anywhere from 300 to 500 years old!
The 5 Main Species of Reclaimed Wood We Use From Old Barns: WHITE PINE, YELLOW PINE, DOUGLAS FIR, OAK And CHESTNUT
We’ve come up with a list and brief descriptions of the 5 main wood species of reclaimed wood we use.
Let’s take a look at each one…
Oak is regarded as heavy, dense and very grainy. It’s also the hardest of the 5 woods we use. We can further categorize our oak as being one of 2 species: red oak and white oak. Red oak has red undertones whereas white oak has brownish undertones.
Oak table top finished with MX stain and tung oil
Chestnut is considered to fall into a ‘middle range’ when it comes to hardness—it’s not really considered a hardwood or a softwood. Most of the beams that come from old barns throughout our mid-Atlantic region were constructed from mostly oak and chestnut. Reclaimed chestnut often has wormholes, a feature that is very popular because it adds so much character to the wood.
The most special part about reclaimed chestnut is the fact that chestnut furniture can only be made from reclaimed wood! Why you ask?
Because in the early 1900s all the chestnut trees died due to blight caused by a pathogenic fungus,Cryphonectria parasitica. It was thought that this fungus originated from a single Asian chestnut tree, brought into New York City in 1904. The fungus quickly spread and affected all the chestnut trees and in this area. Within 10 years all of the area’s chestnut trees died, but due to their resilient nature the trees remained standing long after they had died. The dead trees became a perfect home
for a small boring beetle, and thus was born the “wormy chestnut”. By 1920 all the chestnut trees were gone.
Douglas Fir is in the pine family of woods. It typically features knots like pine often does—although most of these knots aren’t as big as those commonly found in White or Yellow Pine. Douglas Fir is considered middle of the grade when it comes to hardness, meaning it’s not hardwood nor softwood. One distinguishing characteristic, however, is that it naturally displays red undertones. When a customer desires a more “refined” table we often recommend Douglas Fir. This ensures their piece will exhibit tons of character without lots of color variation.
Yellow Pine from our stock is actually pretty hard and heavy. Yellow pine is used frequently to make outdoor furniture. Yellow Pine naturally offers yellow undertones in appearance. This is often a great choice for lighter (meaning, more yellowish-looking) tables or other pieces of furniture. It’s hard for us to make yellow pine look dark. We actually don’t like doing it because we think it’s best to show off its natural, lighter color!
Yellow Pine X-trestle table finished in tung oil
Yellow Pine farmhouse table finished in tung oil, legs and apron milked painted beach glass milk paint
White Pine is a customer favorite! Many classic-looking farmhouse tables are made with it. White Pine generally offers lots of natural variations in color, including areas of black, often seen around its wood knots. White pine is definitely the softest wood we use. When a customer asks for a very hard wood for their table then we know they don’t want White Pine. We build lots of White Pine farm tables though because many people love their particular character. White Pine often displays a good range of color variations. (P.S. – Our own family’s kitchen farm table is White Pine). We use white pine also to build most of cabinetry, we love the way milk paint looks over white pine.
Dresser finished with white milk paint
All-in-all, the antique reclaimed wood pines we use tend to be darker in color than the pines grown and found in today’s world of mass-produced modern furniture using “new wood’. Reclaimed pine wood is much harder because it was grown apart from the pollution, pesticides and fertilizers found in the environment today. Thus, antique pine woods are generally far more durable.
Reclaimed Woods: Color Variations
Natural color– One of the unique and beautiful characteristics of reclaimed wood is the variations in color. Color variations seen in many of the antique reclaimed woods used in our pieces may depend upon years of weathering including what part of the barn or building the wood came out of such as north or south side.
Another common color variation may come from where the original piece of wood was used. One piece of wood, for example, might reveal that other pieces of wood once overlaid it.
We love to enhance the natural variation found in these woods!
Staining– Some species of wood ‘accept’ stains very well where as others are better left unstained, letting the natural beauty show through. We say this with the exception of Red Oak, most of the Oak and Chestnut wood we use in our furniture has naturally medium to brown undertones. These two species of wood also accept our stains very well due to their grainy nature.
Don’t do this– Other woods such as White Pine, Yellow Pine and Douglas Fir look better with their natural variation enhanced rather than covering them up with darker stains. In our professional opinion, darkening these woods with stains tend to give them a ‘muddy looking’ finish.
Truly one of a kind– The bottom line is that each piece of wood coming from our shop has a unique character all its own. While many of the tables we construct are similar in model, none of them ever look exactly the same. Every one of our customers receives a piece they can treasure as being absolutely unique.
Reclaimed Woods: Costs
Reclaimed wood can sometimes be more expensive. It takes time for our craftsmen to re-cut it, remove old nails, and then plane it smooth, when we build in Chestnut and Oak we need to re-saw the beams into boards so we can have dimensional lumber to build with.
This process isn’t something we’d have to do if using new wood—we even go through far more saw blades than if we only had to cut new wood from modern trees. We believe the end results, however, are definitely worth it!
And we certainly hope you do as well.