There are two general types of recycled/reclaimed wood:
- salvaged wood from an existing structure/vessel, and
- what is referred to as "blow down" wood.
Blow down wood comes from trees that have been toppled in a windstorm, flood, or fire, recovered from a lake bottom or deemed diseased by an arborist, requiring removal for public safety.
Salvaged wood is much easier to come by these days than in the past when most structures were demolished, rather than deconstructed, and carted off to the landfill.
The primary thing you want to keep in mind is that salvaged woods may have been treated or finished, at some point in their life, with petrochemical-based products and/or lead paint.
- Ask your reseller if they know the source of the wood in an effort to determine its potential exposure to such substances.
- Old barn siding is less likely to have been finished with anything compared to a warehouse floor.
If you want to keep the carbon footprint of your purchase low, select woods that have been salvaged domestically rather than shipped from Southeast Asia or South America.
Blow down wood
With blow down, you want to make sure the wood has been sufficiently dried. If the wood has not been sufficiently dried, you run the risk of it "cupping" or warping in the shelving bracket.
Additionally, you want to make sure if the tree was initially done in by bugs that the bugs are truly gone -- hate for them to crawl out and start chopping on other wood products in your home.
Low and no-VOC finishes
If you elect to finish your new shelves, select low/no-VOC finishes. Try these past Green Home Guide posts for suggestions:
- "Which wood finishes are safe to use on children's furniture?" by Piper Kujac
- "Selecting Healthy and Environmentally Sound Clear Wood Finishes"
- "Clear Finish Buyer's Guide"
Sources for reclaimed and recycled wood
The following is a list of salvaged/blow down resellers in the Southern California area.
I am personally acquainted with only two of the six companies listed below and therefore do not vouch for these companies or the source(s) of their stock:
- Tropical Exotic Hardwoods of Latin America, LLC
- ?Tule Peak Timber?
- Resource Conservation Group
- Urban Hardwoods
- The Reclaimer?
- E&K Vintage Wood
For more information:
Read "I'm interested in building kitchen cabinets out of reclaimed barn wood. Is this safe?" a Q&A answered by Ryan Flegal.
Also, read "Which species of wood are the most sustainable?" a Q&A answered by J Neufeld.