How to Safely Repurpose Wood

Old wood from pallets

While repurposing wood for DIY projects is a trendy thing to do, it’s something that should be done with caution. It’s popular and stylish with great reason: it’s cost effective, environmentally sound, it brings a natural and rustic look to your projects, and it’s fun! However, those who are new to the reclaiming game may not understand the risks associated with the process, and it’s important to take the appropriate safety measures before you begin your crafting journey. Before your start repurposing, read these safety tips to ensure that you’re taking every necessary caution with all of your wood projects.

The Risks

Whether it’s a surprise to you or not, there are a range of risks associated with the wood that you are repurposing. First, you’ll want to think about the types of things that could be on the surface of the wood that you can’t necessarily see such as bacteria, adhesives, pesticides, and even lead. Keep in mind that insects may have made a home in that piece you’re looking to reclaim, which means droppings and other organic material could be present.

Additionally, wood can easily harbor mold or mildew, which can cause respiratory issues for people in your home, particularly for children or those who suffer from asthma.

Be sure to check the strength of the wood, older pieces may have lost some of its structural integrity. If you’re going to be using it for a table or bench, you’ll want to ensure it’s sturdy enough to avoid any major accidents or mishaps.

Woman checking wood plank in store

Know the Source

You’ll want to curate your wood palette or pieces from somewhere that guarantees they haven’t been exposed to anything that could be hurt the health of the lumber. For instance, a palette that comes from a grocery store or any food source could be dangerous, as its previous contact with food could attract bacteria. If the wood comes from an area prone to wetness and moisture, it’s likely to have mold or mildew lurking. Working with a reclaimed wood dealer who has credible references and reviews is the safe way to go. Make sure you verify the source of the wood you are attaining with them.

Learn How It’s Been Treated

Before you start repurposing a piece of wood, you’ll want to verify how it’s been treated in the past. Heat-treated or “kiln-dried” wood is generally better for your health than wood that has been chemically treated. This is because heat-treated wood avoids chemicals that can be harmful to your health and heat is a good way to kill off bugs living on a piece. Heat-treated wood is usually marked with an “HT”, so look for that symbol in your hunt for materials.

Test Your Wood for Lead

Exposing your household to lead is a danger that should not be overlooked. It could cause serious conditions such as kidney failure, hearing loss, or could even put people into a coma. This is particularly a concern if you have children in the house. Wood with paint applied to it prior to 1978 is at a heightened risk, as that was the year that it became illegal for lead to be added to household paint. Luckily, you can easily test your wood for levels of lead before you put it to use. Do so by either having a certified inspector come to check it with an x-ray fluorescence machine or by buy an at-home lead test swab to ensure that the wood is completely free of the toxin.

Wood with a bug that has burrowed a hole

Watch Out for Bugs

You’ll want to ensure that your wood is bug-free to avoid a spread of unwanted visitors around your home. Termites are especially important to look out for, and although they aren’t harmful to humans, they can do quite a bit of damage around your house and are tricky to get rid of! Before you commit to a piece of wood for your project, you’ll want to carefully inspect it for signs of bugs. If you notice a crumbly texture to the wood, it’s a tell-tale sign of termites. Woodworms are another bug to watch for. With these, you will notice fresh exit holes that are round or oval in shape with sharp edges.

Check Your Wood’s Strength

The grain of a piece of wood can tell you about its strength, so pay close attention. Long, continuous parallel strands in the grain of any given piece of wood are indication that it is strong. Additionally, the overall density of a piece of wood indicates its strength. The higher the ratio of weight to a given volume of wood (calculated by dividing the weight of a volume of wood by the weight of the same volume of water), the stronger the wood is. Finally, there are certain types of wood that can be relied on as stronger types than others. These include maple, birch, and hickory.

Repurposing wood for a DIY project centering around furniture or home decor is a fun way to adorn your home. Be sure to follow these tips before you’re working on your project to keep your household and family safe.