Reclaimed Beams were the backbones in factories that fueled the Industrial Revolution over 100 years ago. Now they support Design in new undertakings.
Before modern woodworking equipment standardized the process, reclaimed beams were often rough sawn or hand hewn with simple tools that left imperfect cuts, that constitute a large part of their appeal.
Today reclaimed beams & timbers are no longer used for actual structural support (building codes wouldn’t allow it), but instead supply super structural accents in homes & commercial spaces.
It Starts with Velvet Deconstruction
Reclaimed wood beams are carefully salvaged from old buildings and large barns in long lengths upwards of 25 linear ft. Their dimensions may range from 4”x 4” up to 12”x 16” and even larger.
Salvaging them, or velvet deconstruction as we call it, consists of somewhat delicate processes that maintain the integrity of reclaimed beams while transforming them into sophisticated pieces that reflect on warm atmospheres from high places.
Moving them, as well as removing them, from place to place can become a project in itself. Consider a reclaimed beam that’s 10″ x 10″ x 15’0″ long. It’s weight will tip in at roughly 500 lbs. Just rolling it over a few times to remove large nails & sometimes larger bolts can require several heavy hefty turns just for metal detection.
Another important aspect of the beam reclaiming is kiln drying.
Though reclaimed beams have cured for decades (or centuries) and become stable and so less likely to warp or shrink, it’s important to kiln dry old wood to high enough temperatures to kill powder post beetles or other bugs that may have been over wintering there for many years.
Overall, we’ve found that before we actually do the bugs in, they’ve often generated some really special effects on the beam surface that lots of folks love, love, love.
Reclaimed Beams of Many Species
During the U.S. Industrial Revolution beginning in the 1890’s, and even before, builders didn’t always find it necessary to discriminate and use just one wood species of wood for a specific project.
They’d use whatever was readily available.
And while they may have held quantities of oak or pine in their timber supplies, these were likely supplemented with elm or ash or chestnut or another hardwood species.
If you examine several reclaimed beams that have been deconstructed from the same location, they may look very similar. That happens, even when they’re originally from different tree species because they all came of age in a nearby place and have similar saw marks or ax marks that were made at the same time.
If the outer surface gets sheared away in search of ancient grains, ( and also obtain a smooth surface texture, as shown above ) you may find a superior variety of grains and inner color even as you learn you’ve got a variety of species as well.
A quick and easy way to identify the species of a beam and get ahead of this, is to cut off the end beam and check the end grain. This is usually helpful & accurate but isn’t always totally reliable. That’s part of the mystery within reclaimed wood.
The exact species of reclaimed wood beams gains importance when your intention is to shear away the rustic or original patina texture and get down to the grain for a smooth surface texture. This is when you want all your beams to be exactly the same species and particularly when customer preference is focused on heart pine or oak.