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What is Reclaimed Timber and Where Does It Come From?

what is reclaimed wood title

Timber is a fantastic, beautiful and versatile material. Reclaimed timber is all of that too, plus being a more eco-friendly choice with a story to tell.

If you’re anything like me, I love timber because of its organic nature, lovely tones and texture. The major and obvious issue with using timber is that it requires cutting down trees.

There are sustainable ways to manage woodlands for timber that limit environmental damage and make it possible to use this wonderful material ethically. This should always be encouraged. Any timber certified by the FSC should give you confidence.

During this post I’ll discuss:

  • What reclaimed timber is
  • Popular types of reclaimed wood
  • Where reclaimed timber comes from
  • How to protect reclaimed wood
  • See if it’s cheaper than new timber
reclaimed wood fence

What is reclaimed timber?

Reclaimed timber often has a history in construction and building use. After years of playing a structure role, reclaimed timber is taken away and given a second lease of life.

Differing to an upcycled piece of wooden furniture, reclaimed timber can be used again for a similar purpose within a building or structure or can be used in a different context. With reclaimed timber, it doesn’t have to go through much processing for it to be reused, whereas recycled wood is generally processed and changed into a completely different item.

Reclaimed timber can be used in a number of different places, both indoor and outdoor. Because of its sturdiness and hard-wearing nature, reclaimed wood is often used in high traffic areas.

Common reuses include for solid wood flooring, decking, wall panelling, dining table or large sturdy kitchen furniture.

It can also be used during smaller, high end projects, such as in a shepherd’s hut as flooring or even exterior cladding.

Not only can reclaimed timber be used for many more decades, it also has a rich history, is characterful and has a beautiful appearance.

Types of reclaimed timber

In the UK, the most common type of wood that gets repurposed as reclaimed timber include:

  • Oak
  • Pine
  • Chestnut
  • Mahogany

Oak and pine are the most common types of reclaimed wood. The timber generally is sourced in the UK, Western Europe and the USA.

Where does reclaimed wood come from?

reclaimed timber roof beams

Years ago, timber was the main material used to provide a solid structure for buildings.

It can still be used for this purpose today, but other materials such as steel and concrete are commonly used.

Reclaimed wood can come from a number of different buildings and places, including:

  • Old timber framed houses
  • Long standing barns and farmhouses
  • Churches
  • Forest cabins
  • Factories
  • Warehouses
  • Bridges
  • Coal mines
  • Train stations
  • Plus other timber-based structures. 

Depending on the conditions the timber has been in, depends what it can be good for next. If it’s been in the weather elements and has started to rot, it might be no good. If it’s still structurally sound, then it’s ready to provide a new use.

As you’d expect, reclaimed timbers that have previously been used in an old building are large, chunky pieces of heavy wood and will need to be carefully removed and then reclaimed.

It’s a great way to reuse an existing resource rather than harvesting a new tree for fresh timber. It’s also more sustainable than plywood and some other wood products.

The reuse of an existing product is the cornerstone of eco-friendly, sustainable living.

Difference between wood and timber?

In case you were wondering, reclaimed timber is the same as reclaimed wood.

Wood is generally the name given to the living material that makes up a tree, whereas timber is what it’s called once the tree has been chopped down.

However, more often than not, timber and wood are interchangeable terms.

How to protect reclaimed timber?

Varnishes, oils and waxes are used to protect wood, keep it in good condition and seal it from moisture.

As the reclaimed wood is likely to have been around for many decades, it will have naturally cured and dried out. This means there might not be a specific need to treat and protect the wood and it will do fine on its own. However, this may depend on where you want to use the reclaimed timber.

In order to preserve strength and integrity over the long term, particularly if your reclaimed timber is to be used in a high traffic area our outdoors, protecting the wood is always a good idea.

characterful dent reclaimed timber

In essence you can use any type of wood protector for your reclaimed timber. A timber sealant will do the same job on new wood as it does on old wood. However, something you really need to consider is how the wood protector will change the appearance of your vintage timber.

With reclaimed timber being a sustainable, environmentally friendly choice, it makes sense to choose an eco-friendly wood protector that won’t diminish from the character and natural patina.

Natural wax is also a good choice to bring out the best of your reclaimed timber. Avoid silicone-based sprays that may leave unwanted marks. If you’re using your reclaimed timber for a table or kitchen island, do not put hot drinks and plates directly onto the surface, always use a mat.

If you’re planning on using your reclaimed timber outdoors, you’ll want to use a sealant that will protect the wood from harsh weather.

Is reclaimed wood cheaper than new?

Despite being old and imperfect, reclaimed wood is often more expensive that new wood.

In fact, it’s precisely because it’s old and imperfect that it does cost more!

From an aesthetic perspective, many people crave the vintage look with its unique characteristic, dents, scrapes and story to tell.

However, reclaimed timber offers more than this. It’s strong too.

Because it’s had plenty of time to cure, the timber has a very low moisture content, which means it won’t shrink and move once it’s in place. Reclaimed wood offers good structural stability.

It also has to undergo a more complicated process than new, fresh timber.

Reclaimed timber needs to be safely dismantled and carefully collected using specialist equipment. It then needs to be prepared and reclaimed, often by hand, to remove nails and make sure it’s safe for the buyer. This labour-intensive works adds cost to the product and altogether it may work out more expensive than new wood.

I hope you’ve now got a good understanding of what reclaimed wood is and where it comes from.

Using reclaimed timber is a sustainable and environmentally friendly choice of acquiring wood. It not only helps preserve more trees, but it’s often very strong and of high quality, as well as being a very versatile material with plenty of characterful interest.

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Ben & Murphy Peaks Mam Tor

Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.

Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.