The Pros and Cons of Reclaimed Wood (Should You Use?)

Four photographs showing reclaimed wood that is aged and has different shades of staining and different colors of worn paint. In the bottom center is a "scales" icon showing a green tick and a red cross being weighed against each other. Across the top of the image are the words, "The Pros and Cons of Reclaimed Wood (Should You Use?)"

Reclaimed wood is gaining traction in sustainable construction because its unique flair and texture help create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Unlike virgin wood, the beauty of reclaimed wood is that it has been around for a while, giving it character and depth you can’t get without age. However, you may want to know the pros and cons of reclaimed wood before committing to using it.

Knowing the pros and cons of any building material is a crucial part of decision-making. It helps you know whether the material in question will help create a structure that meets your needs in terms of durability, ease of use, and cost.

In this article, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of reclaimed wood. I’ll also help you assess whether it’s the right choice for your next project. So, let’s dive in!

The Pros of Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood floorboards with marks on from a machine. In the lower center of the photograph, a "thumbs up" icon is shown with a speech bubble containing a tick.
The advantages of reclaimed wood include eco-friendliness, beauty, and character. But there’s much more besides.

The following are the main pros of reclaimed wood:

It’s Environmentally Friendly

Besides consuming more than 30 percent of global natural resources, the construction industry is responsible for 25 percent of solid waste generation.

The more we continue using virgin wood for construction, the more we increase our ecological footprint. That’s where reclaimed wood comes in.

Reclaimed wood is an excellent alternative that helps reduce the demand for virgin wood and the cutting of trees.

Moreover, using reclaimed wood reduces the amount of wood that gets into landfills from construction and demolition sites. Consequently, it promotes green building by reducing soil and air pollution.

The above points explain why the size of the reclaimed wood market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6% from 2021 to 2028.

Unique Character and Patina

A piece of reclaimed wood in closeup. It has a mottled brown appearance with a beautiful grain pattern and a series of vertical checks or cracks.
Reclaimed wood that’s been around for a while will develop an interesting patina and the grain will often become more prominent.

Reclaimed wood has a unique charm you can’t get from freshly cut lumber. Because it has been around for a while, reclaimed wood offers more character than virgin wood.

The natural patina that comes with aging of reclaimed wood adds visual interest to any space, giving more texture to its surface.

The above characteristics of reclaimed wood come in handy when you want to create one-of-a-kind furniture pieces or accent walls.

It’s Durable and Long-Lasting

Saying that reclaimed wood is durable and long-lasting may sound ironic to you, but it’s the reality.

Why do I say so?

First, reclaimed wood has already gone through the test of time – it has undergone wear and lost much moisture. Moreover, the expansion and contraction due to humidity make it more stable.

Wood from decades ago has had sufficient time to mature and become sturdy. Today, we have fast-paced commercial lumber production that doesn’t give the wood enough time to mature.

As a result, reclaimed wood is much less likely to warp or crack because it has reached the equilibrium moisture content of its environment

Increased value

Reclaimed wood floorboards with prominent grain and a silver patina. Overlain in the lower center of the photograph is a stylized graph showing an arrow going up and to the right with a dollar symbol on top of it.
Reclaimed wood is highly sought after. This helps to make it more expensive than newly cut timber but can also increase the value of your property.

Due to its unique character, reclaimed wood is highly sought after. Many businesses and homeowners are ready to pay a premium for it.

This further increases the value of reclaimed wood and can also increase the value of your home. Therefore, consider investing in reclaimed wood if you’re looking for long-term economic benefits.

It Opens Up New Possibilities

While some tree species are rare in the modern world, others have become endangered. This reality limits the availability of some wood species for building projects.

The great news is that reclaimed wood can help you find solutions to such problems. With it, you can access vintage pieces from long-gone tree species and increase the variety of your project.

The Cons of Reclaimed Wood

Stacks of old reclaimed wood beams against a blue sky. Mortice holes can clearly be seen in the wood, indicating the wood is from an older building constructed using traditional techniques. In the lower center of the photograph is an icon showing a thumb pointing down and a speech bubble with a cross in it.
Reclaimed wood suitable for carrying structural loads is often used to add character to homes with exposed beams in the ceilings. Mortice holes can be seen in these wooden beams, indicating that it is from an older building constructed using traditional techniques.

The following are the main cons of reclaimed wood:

It May Contain Toxic Substances or Metals

You can never be sure whether the reclaimed wood you’re getting contains some hidden toxins – even if it comes from a trusted source.

Since you have limited information about how the wood was preserved in the previous structure, there’s a chance that it contains some toxins like lead or creosote.

Due to the threat of these toxins, and other toxins like Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), it’s recommended to test reclaimed wood for toxins before buying it.

Besides, reclaimed wood may contain metal, such as nails and screws, which can damage your tools if not removed before use. These metals can also present a hazard, especially if they stand proud of the wood’s surface.

It’s Prone to Damage

Although reclaimed wood is usually more stable than newly cut lumber, it’s prone to damage by insects.

Insects like powderpost beetles, termites, carpenter ants, and old house borers love making their homes in antique wood. When this happens, it lowers the structural integrity of the wood.

Moreover, the aging process may have softened some areas of the wood while leaving other sections hard and brittle. Therefore, you should exercise caution when handling reclaimed wood.

A rule of thumb is to inspect the wood for signs of insect infestations before using it. Some signs to look for include the following:

  • Asymmetrical holes in the wood.
  • Wood crumbles when you touch it.
  • Presence of bugs in the wood.

It Requires More Work

A wrecking bar is used to remove a nail from a piece of reclaimed wood. The fulcrum of the bar is placed on a piece of scrap wood to avoid damaging the main piece of wood beneath. The nail is old and rusty and has bent.
One of the biggest jobs associated with reclaimed wood is ensuring all the nails, screws, and other fixings are completely removed before reusing the wood. This is a manual and labor-intensive process.

Reclaimed wood might not be the right choice if you’re looking for an easy-to-install material. It’s more labor-intensive and time-consuming than new-cut lumber.

You may have to spend extra time inspecting and preparing the wood before using it. Some of the preparations needed for reclaimed wood include:

  • Checking for nails, screws, and other fasteners and removing them.
  • Removing some surface layers to ensure a smooth, level finish.
  • Repairing any damaged parts of the wood.

All these processes can take up considerable amounts of your time and effort. Thus, reclaimed wood may not be ideal for you if you’re short on patience or lack enough resources.

It’s More Expensive Than Virgin Wood

It might come as a surprise to you that reclaimed wood is more expensive than new wood. However, this is the reality because, while the supply of reclaimed wood is limited, its demand remains high due to its unique patina and eco-friendliness.

Additionally, reclaiming wood is time-consuming, which adds to its overall cost. Some of the things you may have to pay for include:

  • Dismantling old structures.
  • Removing nails and other fasteners.
  • Preparing the wood for reuse.
  • Shipping.
  • Taxes.
  • Kiln-drying to kill pests.

Factoring these costs into the equation makes reclaimed wood more expensive than newly cut lumber.

Final Thoughts on the Pros and Cons of Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed wood has its pros and cons. Therefore, deciding if it meets your needs is up to you and the requirements of the project.

If you’re willing to pay more and put in extra effort, reclaimed wood can add a unique character to your project.

Otherwise, you can go with new lumber for something easier and cheaper to work with.

It’s also worth noting that reclaimed wood is not suitable for all construction projects. For instance, such wood may not always be ideal for structural purposes but can generally be used in decorative projects.

Finally, choosing non-toxic finishes is crucial if you decide to refinish your reclaimed wood.

Besides being safer for the environment, check out these essential benefits of non-toxic wood finishes.

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