Reclaimed Wood: Everything You Need To Know (Ultimate Guide)

Stacks of reclaimed wood planks in a lumber yard. Across the bottom of the photograph are the words, "Reclaimed Wood: Everything You Need To Know (Ultimate Guide)," written in white letters on a semi-transparent brown background. In the top right of the image are yellow and red "Q&A" speech bubbles.

Have you been drawn to the unique texture and character of reclaimed wood but need help figuring out where to start?

Or maybe you’re already a fan but looking for more information about this celebrated eco-friendly building material. Either way, our ultimate guide about reclaimed wood has got you covered.

Reclaimed wood has become increasingly popular over the past few years as more people get about sustainable building. However, if you’re new to reclaimed wood, you’re in for a real treat — prepare to be inspired by this unique material.

In this article, I’ll discuss everything you need to know about reclaimed wood. I’ve got everything covered, from what it is and its history to what to look for when buying reclaimed wood.

So get ready to embark on a journey of discovery with our ultimate guide to reclaimed wood!

What Is Reclaimed Wood?

An accent wall made from reclaimed wood of different colors. At the bottom are the words, "What is?" written in red.
Reclaimed wood has been “pre-loved” by the owners of a previous building. It has been reclaimed at the end of its life and repurposed for use elsewhere.

Reclaimed wood is wood that has been salvaged from its original application and repurposed for subsequent use. The wood is salvaged from old barns, warehouses, factories, buildings, furniture, and other structures.

Reclaimed wood is carefully dismantled, cleaned, and reprocessed to remove nails, screws, and other metal fasteners.

After preparing the wood, it’s reused for projects such as flooring, furniture, decorative accents, and wall paneling.

Reclaimed wood is of higher quality than most materials used in new constructions. In addition, it offers the following sustainable advantages over new wood:

  • It lowers the demand for new wood, thereby reducing the devastating impact of deforestation.
  • It helps manage waste by taking wood away from landfills.
  • It repurposes wood that would otherwise go to waste, keeping value cycling in the economy.

The History of Reclaimed Wood

An old, derelict barn made of wood. The roof has partially collapsed. The barn is in a plowed field and there is a wooden fence in the foreground.
You don’t need to wait for the building to collapse before reclaiming the wood it’s made from. However, some of the oldest wood might well be salvaged from dilapidated historic buildings.

The history of reclaimed wood dates back centuries.

In ancient times, people used any available material for construction. Some common materials included stone, wood, clay, and animal hides.

Wood emerged as the best building material as human societies became more organized and settled. It was used for houses, furniture, tools, and weapons.

In the 1900s, the demand for wood increased due to the growth of civilizations worldwide. Unfortunately, this increased demand contributed to deforestation and the depletion of natural resources. This is when the need to reclaim wood, instead of disposing of it, intensified.

Evidence of reclaimed wood being used in the United States dates back to 1904. After the outbreak of chestnut blight in the U.S. in 1904, billions of American Chestnuts were killed. As a result, Americans relied on dismantled structures for Chestnut wood – a highly desirable wood species.

In the 1940s, reclaiming wood was common in Germany. For example, wood from dismantled towers was used to build new ones.

The Tower of Golm Transmitter in Germany was an excellent example of using reclaimed wood. The tower was built in 1948 with wood reclaimed from the demolition of the radio tower of the Wiederau transmitter.

Due to its poor structural state, the Tower of Golm Transmitter was demolished in 1979 after 31 years.

In the U.S., selling reclaimed lumber emerged as a business in the 1970s on the East Coast.

However, it was not until the 1980s that wood reclamation boomed. Then, due to the negative impacts of the wood industry on the environment, the West Coast started using reclaimed softwood to conserve forests.

Most lumber used in older construction was derived from hardwood trees like longleaf pine which took approximately 200 to 400 years to mature. Due to this longer maturity period, reclaiming these woods for other projects became necessary.

The 1990s was the period that shaped the reclaimed wood industry into what we know today. This was when the industry benefited from the heightened drive for waste management, upcycling, and recycling.

Since then, techniques and markets for reclaiming wood have evolved and become an accepted business in many countries.

Today, reclaimed wood has become a popular sustainable building material. It’s widely used for flooring, furniture, accent walls, and other decorative elements.

Besides adding character to a space, reclaimed wood helps reduce the environmental impact of new construction.

What Can Reclaimed Wood Be Used For?

Reclaimed wood can be used for the following:

Wooden Floors

A closeup of old wooden floorboards of carious shades of brown that appear to be reclaimed wood.
The character of wood that has been in use for decades is hard to beat.

Reclaimed lumber is sourced from trees that grew naturally and had to compete for resources like sunlight and water. The conditions under which these trees grew made them durable and strong.

The high durability of reclaimed wood makes it suitable for wooden flooring.

Wooden flooring from reclaimed wood makes an incredible addition to any contemporary home. Besides this, it offers a unique character to any space due to its rustic patina.


Reclaimed wood is suitable for making furniture due to its strength and durability. This type of wood is also resistant to moisture and other environmental elements.

Moreover, it gives furniture a classic, rustic look, adding an interesting vibe to any room in a home or office.

Wooden Mantel

A feature wooden mantel above a fireplace made from reclaimed wood. There is a wooden clock above it and various wire ornaments on top of it.
Reclaimed wood is ideal for use in fireplaces. A wooden mantel made from reclaimed wood adds character and interest to the room.

Have you ever thought of using wood for a fireplace? If not, reclaimed wood comes in handy.

Reclaimed wood is ideal for a fireplace, thanks to its whimsical and nostalgic appearance.

Making a knotty beam from reclaimed oak or pine wood creates an amazing and welcoming atmosphere for any fireplace.

Accent Walls

We all know the function of accent walls; to act as a focal point in a room and draw visual attention.

Reclaimed wood is suitable for this purpose due to its rustic patina that adds character and depth to a space.

Whether you prefer installing your accent wall behind the sofa or at the back of your bed, reclaimed wood is perfect for creating an eye-catching feature in any room.


A wooden ceiling made from reclaimed wood. It has eight radial members formed into an octagonal hip roof.
Reclaimed wood looks great on ceilings with exposed beams and sheathing.

You can easily add texture and character to a ceiling using reclaimed wood.

Imagine a ceiling with wooden planks, palettes, and other wood elements; this will instantly give your room an amazing focal point.

Adding a reclaimed wood ceiling is one of the best ways to make a statement in any room.

This type of accent piece creates contrast with walls painted in different hues. It also helps create a visual interest that can make a room appear larger.


If you’re looking for a way to create an inviting entryway or wall exterior, cladding with reclaimed wood is a great way to go.

Reclaimed wood provides amazing character and durability for exterior elements since it has already been exposed to environmental conditions.

Besides, this type of wood lends a unique and rustic look to any outdoor space.

Reclaimed softwood is ideal for interior and exterior projects because it offers an eco-friendly solution while creating aesthetic appeal.


A reclaimed wood countertop in a kitchen. A rustic stone wall with shelving above is slightly blurred in the background.
Reclaimed wood countertops look amazing in the kitchen, especially in an old or converted cottage.

Countertops are crucial items of furniture, especially in a kitchen environment. They provide a utilitarian function as well as aesthetic value.

Reclaimed wood is suitable for countertops due to its strength and natural beauty.

Moreover, it creates visual contrast when paired with other materials like stainless steel and quartz.

Due to the interesting texture of reclaimed lumber, it helps create a perfect balance between form and function when used as a countertop in the kitchen.


Nothing beats the natural beauty of reclaimed wood for outdoor decking applications.

The patina and character of this wood make it ideal for decks and other exterior elements like fences, gazebos, and pergolas.

It adds a stunning rustic look that can instantly improve the overall ambiance of any garden or backyard.

What to Look for When Buying Reclaimed Wood

An essential point to remember when looking for reclaimed wood is that the lumber has already been used in other projects. How will this help you?

It helps you internalize the important things to look for in the wood. These things include:

Bugs and Insects

A piece of reclaimed wood in closeup. The dark brown wood is covered with asymmetrical holes left by woodworm larvae.
Woodworm can cause severe structural damage to wood, so avoiding any wood you think might be infested is extremely important. The woodworm larvae leave evidence of their presence, but this is not always obvious.

Naturally, bugs and insects like powderpost beetles, termites, roundhead wood borers, and flat-head wood borers make their homes in wood. Unfortunately, when this happens, it affects the wood’s structural integrity.

Buying reclaimed wood infested with bugs and insects is risky. Such wood won’t last long.

Thus, you should inspect the wood for signs of a pest infestation before buying. Some signs to look for include the following:

  • Asymmetrical holes.
  • Sawdust-like powder.
  • Exiting tunnels.
  • Frass.

To be on the safe side, ensure the wood is kiln-dried.

Toxic Chemicals

Old, painted, and stained wood may contain volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and toxic heavy metals like arsenic and lead.

To be safe from any health hazards associated with these compounds, look for wood that is certified as reclaimed or recycled.

You can also contact a professional to inspect the wood before buying it.

Reclaimed wood containing VOCs is unsafe for indoor use and should be reserved for outdoors. A component like formaldehyde is a known carcinogen; thus, using it indoors exposes your family to a higher risk of cancer.

Nails and Metals

A photograph of a large, rusty nail sticking out of a structural piece of reclaimed wood.
Nails, screws, and other fixings must be completely removed from reclaimed wood before it can safely be reused. Otherwise, you could damage your tools or suffer an injury.

Having been used on other structures, reclaimed wood is likely to have rusty nails and other metal fasteners.

It’s worth noting that although nails and screws in wood are fairly obvious, it can be hard to spot them when they fuse into the wood.

As a result, you should inspect the wood thoroughly to ensure there are no nails or other metal fasteners that can cause injuries.

You can use a metal detector or a large magnet for inspection.

Alternatively, go for reclaimed lumber certified as “clean.”

The Wood’s Condition

The condition of the wood you buy is crucial in determining its value.

You should check for the warping or cupping of the pieces before purchasing.

The wood’s surface should also be free from stains or mold.

Select pieces with a weathered patina and character marks to match the look you’re going for once the project is completed. This way, you can be sure of getting the desired results without disappointment.

Is It Cheaper to Build With Reclaimed Wood?

Contrary to popular belief, building with reclaimed wood is not cheaper than new wood. Ironically, antique wood can cost up to 50 percent more than virgin lumber.

Building with reclaimed wood is expensive because of the extra processes like sorting, grading, cleaning, and drying.

Moreover, it requires specialized tools and equipment to remove the nails or screws.

Where to Buy Reclaimed Wood

An old, derelict, wooden farmhouse in a field of grass in the mountains. There are no windows left intact and the front door is missing.
You can ask around in your local area to see whether there are any old wrecks that you could salvage wood from. If they are scheduled for demolition, even better because some of the work will be done for you.

There are many places to buy reclaimed wood, both online and offline. Some popular options include:

  • Home Depot: Home Depot is a popular home improvement store. Luckily, it also stocks reclaimed wood. Check out these reclaimed wood selections from Home Depot.
  • eBay: It’s an online store with a variety of reclaimed wood for different purposes. Check out these reclaimed wood options from eBay.
  • Etsy: From reclaimed wood furniture and decor, Etsy is a great place to find the perfect piece of reclaimed wood for your project. Check out these reclaimed wood options from Etsy.
  • Salvage Yards: Reclaimed wood can also be found in local salvage yards. Some popular options include Vermont Salvage in White River Junction, Vermont, and Architectural Salvage in Waxahachie, Texas.
  • Demolition sites: These sites are a great source of reclaimed wood. However, you should proceed with caution since they have freshly dismantled wood. Such wood may contain toxins, nails, screws, and other fasteners.
  • Craigslist: This is the best option if you want to shop locally. It’s easy to find used wood at an affordable price from your area’s Craigslist page.

What Are the Disadvantages of Reclaimed Wood?

The disadvantages of reclaimed wood include the following:

  • Limited availability: Reclaimed wood is a finite resource. Its availability depends on what can be salvaged from old structures. Moreover, there are only so many wooden structures that can be dismantled for lumber.
  • It’s expensive: Reclaimed wood is costly due to its limited availability and the effort required to salvage and repurpose it. Such a high cost can be prohibitive, especially if you factor in installation expenses.
  • Quality: Reclaimed lumber may have hidden defects like splits, knots, and insect damage. Such defects weaken the wood, affecting its durability. This is why it’s vital to inspect reclaimed wood carefully before purchasing.
  • Inconsistent sizing: Reclaimed lumber is often obtained from old structures. Unfortunately, these structures were not built to modern standards. Therefore, the wood may not be uniform in size and shape with regard to modern construction.
  • Possibility of toxins: It’s possible that the wood used in old structures was treated with harmful chemicals like lead and chromated arsenicals. Thus, you may unwittingly buy toxic wood when shopping for reclaimed lumber.

What Are the Benefits of Reclaimed Wood?

An accent wall made from reclaimed wood of different colors. The wall comprises wood painted red, blue, and natural brown of various shades. In the bottom left of the photograph is a yellow 3D speech bubble with the word "benefits" written on it.
As well as being environmentally friendly, reclaimed wood comes with the color and texture of its previous life. This can add interest to an accent wall, for example.

The benefits of reclaimed wood include the following:

  • Environmental friendliness: Building with reclaimed wood lowers the pressure to cut trees for timber. Besides, conserving trees reduces soil erosion and habitat destruction. Moreover, reclaimed timber contributes to sustainable construction by reducing the amount of waste lumber that gets into landfills.
  • Unique texture and patina: Reclaimed wood has a unique texture and patina that can give any space a rustic, classic look. Such elegance is difficult to replicate with new lumber.
  • Durability: Old wood has sufficient time to mature. Over this period, it developed tightly packed growth rings, making it denser and more physically durable with excellent rot resistance. Furthermore, it can withstand the elements without much maintenance since it’s exposed to different temperature extremes and moisture over time.
  • Excellent strength: Reclaimed lumber is often from old-growth forests. These forests grew slowly; hence their timbers feature dense grain and strong fibers. Such lumber is highly resistant and scores up to 40 points harder than new wood on the Janka hardness scale. Thus, it withstands warping, shrinking, cracking, twisting, or bowing.
  • High versatility: Reclaimed wood is highly versatile; from furniture to wall cladding and flooring, the options of what you can make with reclaimed wood are endless. Its versatility adds a unique flavor and timeless elegance. Consequently, it’s perfect for renovation projects or adding character to new construction.

How Long Does Reclaimed Wood Last?

Reclaimed wood can last more than 100 years, depending on its source and its duration of use. With proper maintenance, you can expect reclaimed lumber to last through many decades.

The key is ensuring the wood is sealed and protected from moisture. You should also incorporate regular inspections to identify any structural issues.

To ensure longevity, prioritize reclaimed lumber for indoor projects since outdoor installations are susceptible to severe weather conditions.

Should I Sand Reclaimed Wood?

A man sanding reclaimed wood floorboards with a hand-held sander.
If you must sand reclaimed wood, do so carefully to not spoil its aesthetically pleasing patina.

It’s not advisable to sand reclaimed wood as this can eliminate the rustic, gray patina that makes it aesthetically appealing.

However, if you want to soften the wood, it’s recommended to sand it lightly using 100-grit sandpaper. Softening the wood makes it easier to work with and prevents splintering.

Remember to apply wax immediately after sanding. Otherwise, the wood will start developing stains, becoming more difficult to clean later.

Does Reclaimed Wood Need to Be Sealed?

Reclaimed wood doesn’t need to be sealed because it has been exposed to environmental conditions for a long time. However, there is no harm in sealing your reclaimed wood if you would like.

If you must seal your reclaimed wood, it’s recommended to use a water-based sealant or finish. These finishes don’t affect the wood’s texture and color as much as oil-based products.

Is Reclaimed Wood Toxic?

The toxicity of reclaimed wood depends on whether and how it has been preserved. Reclaimed wood preserved with harsh chemicals and paints may contain toxins that can harm your health.

Other reclaimed wood may contain VOCs like formaldehyde that are prone to off-gassing. Using such woods indoors can further expose you to health risks.

A good way to ensure the wood is safe is by opting for FSC-certified or LEED-approved lumber from reliable sources. Doing so guarantees the wood is free of toxic preservatives and other contaminants.

How Do I Make Sure Reclaimed Wood Doesn’t Have Termites?

An exposed baseboard that has been removed to reveal rotten wood and termites that have caused damage to the wood. In the top right of the photograph is a "banned" symbol comprising a red circle with a diagonal red line through it.
Termites are the last thing you want in your home. They can cause incredible damage to wood and must be avoided. Fortunately, some pest treatments can save you from this nightmare.

You can make sure reclaimed wood doesn’t have termites by kiln-drying it. During the kiln-drying process, reclaimed wood is subjected to temperatures between 120 and 190℉ (48.89 and 87.78℃). These temperatures kill most of the pests, their eggs, and their larvae.

How Do You Clean and Sanitize Reclaimed Wood?

You can clean and sanitize reclaimed wood using a hose, a brush, and soapy water. Simply rinse the wood with a hose, then scrub it with soapy water. Finally, rinse the wood and let it air dry for one to two days.

You can also add olive oil and white vinegar to the water for sanitization.

Final Thoughts

Reclaimed wood is not just a sustainable building material – it’s also a piece of history that adds charm and character to any space.

By using reclaimed wood, you’re playing your part in reducing waste and contributing to preserving natural resources.

From flooring and furniture to accent walls and decorative elements, the possibilities are endless with reclaimed wood.

I hope this ultimate guide to reclaimed wood has all the information you need to make an informed decision.

If you enjoyed reading this guide, you might also be interested to learn about recycled house materials. If so, here is a guide about recycled house materials, including relevant examples.

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