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Repurposing Wood: From Collapsed Chicken Coops to Heritage Homes

A current trend is to use reclaimed lumber for interior finishes and minor structural portions of new construction. I grew up in the country in the Midwest where old ranch/farm buildings used to be an eyesore, a fire hazard and a dangerous problem to deal with. They were typically built with wood, mostly more than 100 years ago, and are ready to fall down. You know, the ones with a sagging ridge line and holes in the walls. Well, in today’s world, these old buildings are great to be used in a new way.

The typical reuse is exterior wood siding and decorative beams and columns. The siding usually poses a challenge for how to treat the twisted, curved and knotty wood pieces. Some of the best uses are keeping the main flat portion as natural and milling the edges to get a straight edge. We have had projects where the delivery of material had untrimmed ragged edges, which were difficult to use to achieve the desired look. The fun part of this is the material is being reused in a new way that puts the character of the wood on display.


Unique Appearance


The most desired wood is natural hand-hewn beams and weathered wood siding. Each piece is a work of art that gets its character from the wood grain weathering over time. Some old reused barn beams have mortise and tendons showing. Some beams are hand-hewn with old tool marks and even nails. We had a client who wanted something unique in his new house for his man cave. He had lived on the ranch his whole life and raised his family there. After some research, we discovered an old dead walnut tree on his ranch and decided to have it made into 1” x 6” wood boards. When the lumber was delivered to the carpenter we discovered lead bullet marks in the wood. The client remembered that as a kid he shot his .22 rifle at the tree for target practice. Today, the walls are lined with this beautiful walnut wood including the personal marks he made as a child. This is what this reclaimed use is all about.


Hard to Find


Frequently we will see wood being reclaimed that is not available today. Just recently we had delivered to a new residence sections of white oak heart cut (the center portion of the tree without any lighter sap wood). More than 100 years ago, the lumbermen would cut the old growth trees and use primarily the heart wood portion for construction. This wood is much more dimensionally stable and thus does not warp or twist. The reclaimed wood is also very stable due to the longevity of drying out. Some sizes that are available are either extremely rare or impossible to get in today’s market.


Unique Challenges


It takes a talented carpenter to be able to selectively trim and place the reclaimed lumber in a way that looks correct. To explain, the wood varies greatly with each piece, and most of the time is not as square as freshly-sawed lumber is from the lumberyard. This is extremely difficult when the pieces are to meet from several different angles. We just finished a residence where reclaimed beams are used as interior beam accents. The interior ridges, valleys and rafters all have to be custom trimmed to fit together so they look like they are structurally holding the roof. We used wood trusses to quickly get the roof dried in before weather. Then the carpenter placed the wood beams at his leisure to fit together. Some beams were red oak, Douglas fir and white oak. With the oak portions, we had to hollow out the unseen part to reduce the weight of the beams. Careful consideration has to be given to the weight of the new decorative beams.

I believe this trend will continue to grow as customers want to connect with their heritage. Several companies are establishing reclaimed divisions and pursuing barns and chicken coops. If I were to ask some of my families old timers years ago and tell them I wanted to pay them thousands of dollars for dilapidated coops, rotting machine sheds, collapsing bunkhouses and decaying barns, they would (as they would say) have my head examined. Times do change, don’t they? QCBN

By Todd Marolf


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