Have questions?

Call 877-372-9663

RSS Feed

Douglas Fir Flooring Blog
Douglas Fir Facts

Reclaimed Douglas Fir: Remaking vintage timbers

February 23, 2012 by | Jennifer | There have been 0 comments

The process of recycling Douglas fir beams sounds so simple. It’s just an old piece of wood, right? Find an unused structure, dismantle it, put the timbers into a new structure. Piece of cake.

Wrong. A great deal of work goes into making sure each individual beam is prepped and ready to take on its new life in your building project.

Reclaimed Douglas Fir beams

Each reclaimed beam must be examined by experienced woodworkers who can determine what kind of shape it’s in. A beam with a great deal of splitting or warping due to its years of exposure might be perfect for a weathered-looking mantelpiece, but it won't work for any use where it actually has to support a structure.

Once a beam’s structural characteristics have been considered, you can move onto other preparation work. Do you want a beam in as-is condition, with its original surface completely intact? Or is a smoother surface what you want?

Some very old timbers are hand-hewn--they still show the marks from where a long-ago craftsman squared off the logs with hand tools.

Other Douglas fir beams might have a circle-sawn finish. This lends a textured look and feel, with marks from the circle saw used to mill the wood still visible. The saw marks lend a subtle striped appearance to the beam, perfect for a rustic look.

A band-sawn beam will be cut along its length, removing the original face and revealing the wood underneath. It will have a relatively fresh-sawn look, which precedes any planing or sanding.

If you want your beam to be sawn or re-shaped in any way, professionals will use metal detectors to make sure any nails or bolts that might be hidden within the beam have been removed; for a beam that doesn’t need re-sawing, simply removing any visible metal from the wood might be sufficient.

Making sure the wood is clean is another important step. A beam that’s been living in a dusty barn or a grimy factory for 100 years is going to have a hundred years of dust and grime on it. You want that cleaned before you bring it into your home. Professionals use power washing, which is more powerful than the pressure washer you might get at your local home store for cleaning off your driveway. This is a commercial cleaning machine that will remove all dirt, debris, pollen and mold from the beam.

Another important part of preparing reclaimed Douglas fir involves removing any stowaways that might have found a home inside your beam: beetles, ants, or other little creatures that you definitely don’t want to invite home with you. Professionals can apply a borate solution to the beam, which kills any insects within it. A chemical-free option is kiln-drying; heating up the beam will also kill any unfortunate critters and their eggs. Kiln-drying also reduces the moisture content of the wood and increases its stability.

Once your beam is insect-free, there are still a few more things to consider. How do you want your Douglas fir beam to look? What color do you want to see? For instance, if the beam has been re-sawn or re-surfaced, some of the original patina it acquired during its previous life is lost. There are tricks to making sure your aged beam looks really aged. Ammonia fuming, for example, involves exposing the wood to ammonia, which reacts with the tannins in the wood, darkening it in the process. You can also brush it with a wire brush or other tool to bring back some of that distressed, aged, appearance.

Finally, once each Douglas fir beam has been inspected, de-nailed, sawn to your specifications, cleaned, and de-bugged, it’s ready for sale. That’s a lot of work for something that’s just an old piece of wood.

- Jennifer Rouse

This post was posted in All Entries, History and Interest and was tagged with reclaimed douglas fir, recycled beams, reclaimed beams

blog comments powered by Disqus