Reclaimed and salvaged are terms that are often used interchangeably when referring to reusing wood. The truth is they are not the same thing but they do serve a similar purpose. Reclaimed wood is wood that has been used previously in the construction of buildings. Old barns are a common source of reclaimed wood as are old warehouses, docks, homes and municipal buildings. These structures must be carefully dismantled when intended for reuse. The wood is then cut up or re-shaped to be used in a new way. Old flooring becomes a coffee table. An old support beam becomes a fireplace mantel. The simple act of re-using the wood is what defines it as ‘reclaimed. There are several reasons for choosing reclaimed wood as a building material. Often hundreds of years old and exposed to the elements, reclaimed wood has a beautiful unique weathered patina. It is an extremely stable wood having been air-dried for many years. People also often like the stories behind reclaimed wood. Knowing it came from a family barn or a historic building only makes it more interesting.
Unlike reclaimed wood, salvaged wood has not been previously cut into lumber or used for construction. The wood is typically found in its natural state. It could be from trees that are dead, have fallen or need to be removed for some reason. Trees are often removed to build a highway or new housing. Like reclaimed wood, salvaged wood has a lot of character. The color is often much deeper. It may have intricate grain patterns, knots and worm tracks. Centuries of aging causes a wide range of beautiful qualities that just cannot be found in younger tree growth.
In both cases, reclaimed and salvaged wood is ‘old growth’. Since the wood came from old growth forests it is harder, denser and has more character than new growth wood. They also share the same benefits. Both are extremely durable and will can last for generations. The wood can be re-finished, converted and re-used in many different ways. Best of all, both prevent new trees from being cut down.
Today there is much interest in using reclaimed and salvaged wood in home renovations and decor. It is being used as hardwood floors, to make furniture, create feature walls and art. The costs for each varies considerably. Reclaimed wood is often less expensive traditional lumber. Salvaged wood, however can be more expensive. It must be collected, transported, milled, and is often re-finished before it’s re-sold. There is also a lot of waste that doesn’t happen with younger woods. Up to 75% of a tree that was fallen or salvaged is often unusable.
Although different, it really doesn’t matter whether you use reclaimed or salvaged wood. Each offers a one-of-a-kind building material. Both benefit the environment and reduce what goes in a landfill. The next time you shop for furniture or plan a woodworking project, consider using reclaimed or salvaged wood. Reusing and recycling are trends that are here to stay.