Reclaimed wood, also known as repurposed wood, is a popular type of wood for tables and other custom furniture projects. These magnificent and antique construction materials are salvaged from barns and old houses—think large beams, posts, and the “bones” of major structures. Much of the reclaimed wood sold in New England came from right here in Massachusetts, though some makes its way here from the Midwest and Canada.
Varieties Available In Reclaimed Wood
The two most common types of wood used in reclaimed wood tables are oak and conifer trees. The conifer family includes pine, fir, hemlock, and spruce, all of which are common in New England. These varieties of trees are popular in farmhouse style furniture, because most old construction used studs and joists 2” thick or more, a common construction dimension. The thickness means that when the boards are milled flat and sanded smooth by furniture makers, they are still an inch and a half thick and suitable for household use.
If you like the look of shiplap, old barn siding, or old flooring as your reclaimed wood table, there are still options available. The problem with these materials is that they’re too thin to build table tops without using a hardwood or plywood to help with structural integrity. This is because most old barn siding and floor boards are only 5/8” to 3/4” thick. To make this wood sturdy enough for household use, we can build your piece out of hardwood like ash or poplar and clad it with reclaimed wood to give it your desired finish while still maintaining structural integrity.
Oak Trees VS. Conifer Trees: Differences To Consider
Both oak and conifer trees make beautiful finished reclaimed wood furniture. Oak is a dense and heavy wood, meaning it’s more durable and may be better suited for furniture that’s going to be written on. Oak is also less porous, meaning it is less affected by changes in humidity. Additionally, Cannon Hill uses a plant-based finish on our reclaimed wood pieces, meaning the wood is less likely to stain while still remaining food safe. We have other finishing options as well, depending on the level of protection required for the wood.
Due to the fact that oak trees take such a long time to grow, the wood is dense and the furniture is hefty. While it’s one of the best materials to use in furniture construction, reclaimed oak furniture is heavier than other wood varieties, which may make larger pieces difficult to move and transport easily.
Pine and other conifer trees grow quicker than oak, so the wood will not be as heavy. Because conifers grow faster, the material also tends to be cheaper than reclaimed oak. Pine and other conifers can range from pale tan to dark brown, but most of the color variation that gives pine tables character is only 1/8th of an inch deep. We call it the “fur” of the aged wood, but it’s basically just the discolored outer layer of the wood that’s been exposed to the elements for a long period of time. If you get down below that layer, pine or spruce wood is usually lighter colored and less interesting than oak. Oak boasts a wider variety of tans and browns, even if planed down toward a flatter, smoother surface. If you have your heart set on dark brown pine furniture, that’s no problem of course. We can use a wood stain to darken the wood.
No matter which reclaimed wood you select, keep in mind that each tree has its own unique grain pattern, meaning no custom piece will be exactly the same as another.
Character You May Find In Reclaimed Wood
You’ll often see circular marks from old saw mills still left in the boards. Saw marks are some of the most common and most desirable variations in reclaimed wood. Nowadays, saw mills use chain saw type blades to cut wood, but traditionally large circular saws would be used to cut directly on top of boards, leaving behind round striations. We leave a portion of these rough circular cuts to preserve the history of the wood. While the wood is smoothed out and tabletops are level, old saw marks will remain a little rough and bumpy to the touch. This is an element of the table’s design and can be altered to your specific desires.
There will also likely be nail holes in the wood. We fill these holes with epoxy so any spills won’t fall through the table and onto your floor, but you’ll still be able to see the original character of the wood.
Beware Of “Distressed” Wood or Fake Reclaimed Wood
Real reclaimed wood is expensive. From carefully deconstructing old structures, to de-nailing, to transporting, reclaimed wood passes through many hands before we can begin making a custom piece. On top of this, reclaimed wood is popular, and there’s only so many old barns and factories with suitable wood available across the country. Some manufactures take newer wood and call it reclaimed even though it may only be fifteen or twenty years old. Reclaimed wood should be old—our wood is 120-200+ years old.
You’ll also find many furniture makers selling “distressed” wood for a lower cost. Don’t be fooled by what sounds like a bargain—distressed wood is simply fake reclaimed wood. Manufacturers purchase cheap wood and use machines to give it a distressed look and rough feel. Common techniques to distress wood include using sanders to make divots in the slab, shooting nails into the wood, putting “fake” cut marks in the wood, and using ammonia to grey the wood and make it appear as if it’s been sitting outside for hundreds of years.
Considering Purchasing Reclaimed Wood Furniture?
Cannon Hill Woodworking only works with locally-sourced reclaimed wood and never attempts to artificially distress or alter our wood. Oak is one of the most popular options for our clients, but we have dozens of options for you to choose from to create your dream custom furniture. If you’d like to discuss a custom reclaimed wood piece for your home, please give us a call at 857-576-2089 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org