Reclaimed wood can be valuable and beautiful, but be careful

Old wood’s depth of beauty has made it popular in remodeling and new construction, but this type of wood presents some unique challenges that need addressing.

A group of Mississippi State University specialists would rather see the lumber reused or repurposed than sent to a landfill.

MSU Extension Service entomologist Blake Layton warns of old house borers. These are one of a variety of large, wood-boring beetles that lay their eggs in recently felled or stored lumber. “If the wood has not been properly kiln-dried before use, these beetles can emerge as adults, often years later,” Layton said. “While most species of wood-boring beetles will not reinfest exposed lumber inside a building, old house borer beetles are the exception. These beetles can
and will reinfest exposed softwood lumber, especially wood with suitable moisture content.” Other, smaller but more common wood-boring beetles that sometimes occur in both new and reclaimed lumber include powderpost beetles and false powderpost beetles.

“Fortunately, there are effective, preventive treatments for these beetles, and some people think the small wormholes left as they emerge simply add to the appeal of the aged wood product,” Layton said.

Beth Stokes, an assistant professor in the Department of Sustainable Bioproducts says, termites can be found infesting reclaimed wood.

“Termites like wood that has a bit of age on it,” Stokes said. “Consider the natural progression of a forest. You’re more likely to see termites attacking a tree that has died and fallen to the ground than a living tree.

“Termites preferentially go to the easiest avenue of attack. If the reclaimed wood has a lot of sapwood, then possibly termites would prefer it,” she said.

Fortunately for those who want to use reclaimed wood, Stokes said much of it is heartwood, which is dense and difficult for termites to process.

Reclaimed wood can cost about the same as freshly milled lumber, or it can cost more than twice as much.

The variation in price depends on species, size, the associated story, and the market. In many cases, there is no comparison. For example, lumber claimed and re-sawn from old American chestnut beams from an existing barn is rare and not easily replaceable. When that type of product becomes available, it commands a premium.

Other examples include wide, pecky-cypress, lumber reclaimed from salvaged, sunken logs,
and old growth southern pine or heart pine,” he said. “Alternatively, 1-inch-thick softwood lumber
that’s removed from an old building, denailed, planed and offered for sale may be much closer
in price to freshly milled lumber based on its relatively abundant availability.

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