Is Reclaimed Wood Good?

Reclaimed wood seems to be everywhere. And it sounds ideal - wood from old barns, train carriages, or pallets, at their end of its working life transformed into charmingly rustic furniture and adopted by a loving family to be part of the home.

How wonderful! Well... not quite. It might look nice at first, but we wouldn't have reclaimed wood in our homes, for a couple of reasons:

Reason #1 - Reclaimed wood won't last for furniture

Reclaimed wood has usually never been dried properly. It’s spent its working life absorbing moisture from outdoors where it’s been used and then when you take it indoors it’ll dry out which causes it to shrink, crack, and warp. (All of our wood has been kiln dried – it’s been put in big ovens for weeks to dry it out to specific moisture contents which match with that in a standard home).

Reason #2 - Reclaimed wood can be toxic

We think reclaimed wood is a health hazard, and simply wouldn’t want it in our homes. As well as absorbing moisture, wood absorbs whatever else it’s been exposed to. It may sound romantic (‘railway carriage wood’ or ‘barn wood’) but it’s pretty industrial stuff. That railway carriage wood will have absorbed lots of fumes, and who knows what’s been stored in that barn. When it comes into your home it’ll gradually re-emit whatever it’s absorbed, potentially fouling the air of your home with who knows what.

Where does reclaimed wood come from?

Ever wonder wonder how there is so much 'barn wood' available? Where were all these barns? Or old wooden railway carriages for that matter?

You'll find that reclaimed wood from Western countries is mostly retired scaffolding from industrial installations - power stations, big factories, which are almost permanently scaffolded.

Sometimes reclaimed wood is made out of old pallets. We use pallets in our workshop, and have used them at previous jobs in industrial businesses in the past. Pallets often stink. They are often soaked with spillages from a thousand past industrial users, and the fumes from a million miles aboard trucks and shipping containers.

Pallets need to be broken apart and processed to remove the nails before turning into furniture. This is a horrible job, and labour intensive - it's often performed abroad where work conditions aren't monitored.

Not quite so idyllic.

So what alternative is there to reclaimed wood?

Look for furniture made from certified sustainable wood (it will say FSC or PEFC certified), which has been kiln dried. This is wood that's grown in managed forests (in remote areas, usually far away from any sort of fumes). It's been dried properly in big ovens for months (the ovens are heated by the offcuts from processing the wood). It's fresh, it's properly processed - there'll be no surprises. And no one will get hurt.