Reincarnating reclaimed barn wood
by Courtney Llewellyn
If you’ve watched any HGTV in the past few years, you know a hot trend in home decoration and renovation is reclaimed barn wood. Fortunately, there is a plentiful source of this must-have material in old buildings – many often unused – wherever old farms are found.
But is it worth trying to save an old building, or is it worth more as lumber?
Reclaimed barn wood has grown in popularity over the past four decades, with the movement to use the wood beginning on the West Coast in the early 1980s and growing in popularity in the 1990s when it reached the East Coast, according to Russ Thompson of “The Saw Guy.” Today, the wood is also called distressed lumber, antique lumber, recovered lumber or upcycled lumber.
The Old Goat Wood Shop in Voorheesville, NY, is a business that sells reclaimed and rustic wood. They focus on trying to save as much old wood from disrepair as possible. Donn Luthanen of the Old Goat Wood Shop described what they look for.
“We particularly are not looking for a specific species of wood, though rare wood like chestnut has a better resale value and some other hardwoods over the common hemlock and pine we normally find in local barns,” he said. “What we are looking for is wood that looks cool.”
That cool wood includes weathered siding, particularly gray siding (preferably with no paint on it). Luthanen said his shop seeks out interior one-inch-thick boards with circular saw marks, which sell faster than the older pit-sawn or band-sawn boards. Three-foot-long boards are good; eight-foot-long boards have more value. Eight- to 13-inch-wide boards normally come out the best off the barn.
“The best boards are square edge, flat and just look good,” he said.
Hewn beams that are six-feet-long are good for mantles; those over 10 feet and longer have even more value.
The Old Goat Wood Shop has people contact them to buy their reclaimed wood. Luthanen said it’s best and has more value if it is sorted, stacked three feet by length, and can be lifted by a small forklift – about 500 square board feet per bundle.
Businesses taking the wood may have different ways of compensating those who sell it. Luthanen said in the past, most of the barn owners traded the value of the wood for the cost of the demolition of the barn. Not all barns have high-yielding returns, though. “Every barn is different,” he said. “Some barns may have six figures in end product and some may have a wholesale value of $4,000… It is a learning experience. And every market is different.” Buyers from the Boston area may have a different idea of value than those from New York City, he explained. “Boston buyers care more about the wood type and age. NYC people buy the look and the story.”
The market is really what matters. Luthanen said he started his business in reclaimed wood to be able to offer a resource without having to invest in a sawmill operation. “The issue with selling reclaimed wood is there is not a set value. It is worth what your market is willing to pay for it,” he said. “I believe that wood will always be in our houses and restaurants for a long time. So it depends on what you make with the wood … We make a lot of accent walls, which may be a trend, but there are a lot of options to change the look of the wood for almost any space.”
Those looking to repurpose their old barn wood will always find some use for it. Luthanen remains optimistic on his front: “I do think that there will always be a place for reclaimed anything. The size of the market may vary, which will make it harder or easier to sell. But someone somewhere will almost always be interested in the story behind the wood.”
Because the material has grown in popularity, there are many reclaimed lumber dealers and architectural salvage yards specializing in the sale of reclaimed barn wood, as well as websites that offer it for sale. If you’re interested in what an old barn may still do for you, find a business near you that can help you with the process.