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Reclaimed Wood vs. Antique Wood: Which is Right for Your Project?

by Jake Park 

When discussing the merits of antique wood and reclaimed wood, it’s essential to understand the differences between the two. Different suppliers often use the two terms interchangeably, but there are distinct differences shoppers need to grasp before buying.

Reclaimed Wood

This term generates the most confusion. Any repurposed wood is reclaimed wood, but the history of the wood dictates whether it is what shoppers seeking a specific look want. Wood from a 20-year-old building that’s being demolished is reclaimed wood, but it won’t have the characteristics most people are looking for when they ask about reclaimed wood.

Older wood, salvaged from buildings that are a couple of hundred years old, will be distinctly different from the wood used in more contemporary buildings. Newer wood products are milled differently than older woods, which means the look, and even the feel, of the wood may not resemble wood taken from far older structures.

Antique Wood

Most people define antique as meaning very old. When it comes to wood, that would probably mean just about any wood over 100 years old, but the finest examples of antique wood are often 200 or 300 years old. Some of the antique wood seen in the eastern portions of the U.S. are often even older, dating back to the early 1600s.

The processes used to harvest and prepare those woods for use are simple and uncomplicated, and the look they provide differs dramatically from the wood currently available from traditional lumberyards. But, what else makes the antique wood from the nation’s early days so valuable today?

Discover the Reasons Today’s Shoppers Want Authentic Antique Wood

When the first European settlers arrived in this country, the forests had never seen any real cutting. That meant the trees were several hundred years old. That old-growth wood had different traits than younger-growth trees.

Old-growth wood is generally denser, has tighter growth rings, and perhaps more importantly, had a wonderful grain that younger trees can’t deliver. Since those trees were so large, they also yielded much wider boards than are available today. It was common to see extremely wide boards and huge timbers used to construct the nation’s earliest buildings.

Today, virtually none of that old-growth timber exists, and areas where older trees survive are often protected. That means buyers seeking the look that old wood provided can no longer purchase new wood that equals what our ancestors enjoyed.

Reclaiming Wood Today

Of course, many older buildings survived the years and are still standing. Old barns and other farm buildings still dot the countryside, especially in the eastern portions of the nation, but some can be found in other parts of the country as well.

Numerous wood specialists now scour the countryside looking for old buildings to salvage, as they understand the value of antique wood in today’s burgeoning markets. When such a building is located, and the owner agrees to see the wood, those wood specialists dismantle the old building using techniques that preserve as much of the old wood as possible to reuse.

Newer buildings are also salvaged, but the value of newer woods is not as great. Yes, newer reclaimed wood has value, and can certainly be used for many applications, but the old-growth wood is far more desirable.

How is Antique Wood Reused?

Homeowners love the look and feel of older wood, and many property owners ask designers to explore new and innovative ways to use antique wood in newer homes or old homes being restored. In many cases, home restorers want to find wood that matches the existing wood in a home. That’s not always easy to do, but it’s frequently possible to match older woods closely.

Remember that woods like chestnut are no longer available, which means antique wood dealers are the only source for them. It’s also important to remember those old-growth trees had unique grain patterns that newer trees can’t duplicate.

Design experts often recommend antique wood for accent walls, flooring, and built-ins. Since many varieties of antique woods are available through reputable dealers, it’s possible to find specific types of wood in great condition to meet a designer’s specifications.

How is Antique Wood Prepared for Today’s Needs?

The process or strategy employed depends on the buyer’s needs. Some purchasers expect the wood to look old, have nail holes, and include other defects. Other users want the wood to be planed and ready to accept a new stain. If you’re installing a floor, for example, it makes sense to use planed wood that’s consistent so the floor will be level throughout the room.

If the property owners want an accent wall to provide a warm, earthy look, the antique wood may be left in its natural state. On the other hand, if the wood is used to construct cabinets intended to match the look of an earlier time, it will most likely be processed to meet those needs.

Can Reclaimed Wood Eliminate the Need for Antique Wood?

Again, that will depend on the intended use, the availability of antique wood, and the property owner’s budget. Newer reclaimed wood can be used for some projects, but it’s unlikely to match the look of true antique wood. In some instances, it might make sense to use reclaimed wood in less-obvious places while using antique wood where it’s highly visible. It pays to discuss the project’s needs with the designers and contractors before making any decisions.

The Cost Matters

Most property owners have cost constraints that can’t be ignored. That means using costly antique wood in a large project could create financial issues. However, even quality, newer reclaimed wood can be costly in many cases. The designer and contractor are generally able to make recommendations and discuss the various options available.

Antique wood is rare and becoming rarer by the day. That means property owners should explore their options now to prevent future disappointments. Take the time to contact your designer, contractor, and antique wood provider to determine what woods are available and how they will impact the success of your project.

Jake Park
I am a timber expert and serial woodworker dedicated to helping you get educated about the finest woods and materials in the world. Join in my journey on the Modern Timber Craft blog.

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