Wouldn't you like to install 103-year-old close-grained oak pulled from a former New Hampshire school library? Imagine all of those eager little feet scuttling toward their McGuffey's Readers. Gosh, me too!
Removing tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring without splintering it is a monumental task. With care, you can selectively remove a few floorboards, while mostly preserving the tongues. Expanding this from a small repair task to a large demo task is what separates weekenders from pros.
Much, if not most, reclaimed wood flooring comes from other parts of the building--beams and framing timbers--and is turned into flooring. Sylvan Brandt, a Pennsylvania company that sells "antique flooring made from recycled materials," calls this resawn flooring.
Pete Mazzone of The Woods Company notes that their remilled flooring comes from beam stock. Mazzone explains how this works:
We grade wood by the amount of character we leave in and where the cut comes from out of the beam or board. Our distressed grade comes from the outer cuts of the beam where the wood has been exposed to light for 100+ years resulting in a darker patina. The remilled grade is lighter in color due to the fact that the wood comes from deeper within the beams and so has not been exposed to as much light over time. The remilled grade has a less rustic character than the distressed, less saw kerf, knot, nail hole and checking.
Does Any Reclaimed Flooring Come From Flooring?
Consider that much old flooring isn't in good enough shape for re-use. It's flooring, after all: it's been used and abused for decades or centuries. Organic materials don't last forever.
Mazzone of The Woods Company tells us that only a very small percentage comes from actual flooring, maple being the most species you tend to find more often.
He mentions that his company has "reclaimed a large amount of maple flooring from a local factory," and that bowling lanes and gym floors are sometimes used, as well.
Other companies mention that they may pull flooring from attics.
Where the Wood Comes From
Geographically, reclaimed wood comes from locales where you can find old, wooden buildings to tear down and recycle. Las Vegas and Phoenix are not prime places for old barns; yet New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, the South, and Pacific Northwest are.
If you live in one of those regions, you may have an actual, brick-and-mortar reclaimed wood outlet within a half day's drive. If not, a small handful of reputable online companies do. I mention them at the end of this article.
Be prepared: reclaimed wood flooring companies tend to be circumspect about prices. One company does have a price list that they will supply you upon request, giving an idea of the general range of prices (2013):
- Cheapest: Ash-Country Select (either 3/4", 5/8" or 1/2" thickness). $3.75 per square foot.
- Most Expensive: Antique Oak-Rustic (3/4" Thickness). $15.95.
Reclaimed Flooring Is Not Necessarily the Same as Distressed Flooring
Go to a big online flooring supplier like iFloor or Lumber Liquidators and you will find categories called distressed or handscraped.
These are not reclaimed wood floors. These are new floors that are distressed or handscraped--usually mechanically.
Reclaimed wood floors can be:
- Naturally distressed.
- Smooth, undistressed (usually newly sawn).
The Woods Company, for example, currently offers an antique yellow pine, either resawn or distressed.
Where To Find
One constant I've experienced in dealing with these companies is that they are friendly and have an abiding love for--and knowledge of--their product.
Even the companies that have funky ordering processes or never seem to be around--even those companies, when you finally connect with them, can provide you with a wealth of information about distressed wood flooring: its provenance; how it is treated after removal (i.e., milling, finishing, etc.); how to install in your home.
I've put together a list of reclaimed wood flooring companies that are respected within the industry and should provide you with good product, good service.