The Ultimate Guide to Reclaimed Wood

a reclaimed wood floor with a couch

Reclaimed wood has something brand-new items just don't have—character. Every piece has its own unique look, setting it apart from fresh lumber that hasn't had time to age or mature. Many people also appreciate reclaimed wood for its environmental appeal. It's a great recycling material, since using it doesn't require consuming new energy or creating any new waste.

Buying Reclaimed Wood

Be careful about where you source your wood. Look for a retailer that guarantees their reclaimed products have been tested and treated for termites. Always check pieces for nails and other metal—those things might be fine, but you need to know where not to cut. Also, make sure the wood has been kiln-dried. This critical step prevents the reclaimed wood from warping and twisting. It also fights termite and insect infestations by killing any bugs and eggs that may be deep inside the wood.

a lodge room decorated with reclaimed wood

Working with Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood is older than normal lumber, and that means it may not look so amazing at first. To clean reclaimed wood, use a stiff nylon brush to rub down the entire piece on all sides. Next, spray the wood piece thoroughly with water. Take care with your water pressure. If the pressure is too high, you may damage your wood. Remove all tacks, nails, screws, and metal pieces from the wood, especially if you'll be using it as any kind of flooring.

After cleaning, leave the wood out in the sunlight for about five hours to thoroughly dry. Keep an eye on this process—wood can warp or bend if you leave it in the sunlight for too long.

Next, sand lightly and carefully with heavy-grit sandpaper. This will smooth the surface without sacrificing the patina that makes reclaimed wood so desirable.

The only way to be certain wood is free of a bug infestation is to treat it in a kiln. Unless you have your own kiln or there is a kiln available for your use, consider purchasing all of your reclaimed wood rather than attempt to do the reclaiming on your own. You don't want to run the risk of bringing termites into your home.

Work carefully, particularly if you're cutting, or adding nails or screws. Reclaimed wood tends to be very dry, so go slowly and use proper tools to avoid damaging it.

Staining Old Wood

Staining reclaimed wood is no different than staining any other type of wood. First, lightly sand the wood to smooth it out and preserve the natural grain. Brush on the stain the same way you would apply paint—using long, even strokes. Let the stain dry for at least 24 hours before you decide whether you want to apply another coat. Unless you get a stain with polyurethane, you'll need to apply a layer of polyurethane once your stain has been applied and set.

Sometimes, you may choose to leave reclaimed wood just the way it is and apply no new stain. This allows the age of the wood to shine through, along with any experiences it might have had in its former roles.

reclaimed wood with blue tones

Where to Use Reclaimed Wood

Antique wood can look great in everything from flooring to furniture to cabinets, either as an accent or as a whole piece. Some people use reclaimed wood panels to create statement walls. Others like large, exposed beams, or ancient-feeling floors. Shelving is a great starter project if you haven’t worked with reclaimed wood before and you want to practice using this material.

Claim Your Home Style

Use reclaimed wood anywhere to add distinct design to any space. Reclaimed wood has a one-of-a-kind look that simply can’t be reproduced. No matter how you use it, you’ll end up with something that’s uniquely yours. You’ll also have a new home addition that’s green-friendly and good for the planet, not to mention a visual reminder of your amazing DIY skills.