Reclaimed Wood Flooring: What to Know Before You Buy

Reclaimed Wood Flooring

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Imagine installing in your home 103-year-old close-grained oak pulled from a former New Hampshire school library. This backstory and others are part of the enduring and heartfelt allure of reclaimed wood flooring. This is flooring that doesn't just come from the forests of Indonesia or the Pacific Northwest; this is flooring with true provenance. Homeowners and commercial builders alike often find that it's worth paying higher prices for the unique beauty of reclaimed wood flooring. But what exactly is reclaimed wood flooring and where is it from?

Sources of Reclaimed Wood Flooring

Removing tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring without splintering it is a monumental task. With care, workers can selectively remove a few floorboards, while mostly preserving the tongues. Expanding this from a small repair task to a large demolition task is what separates amateurs from pros.

Surprisingly, though, most reclaimed wood flooring comes from other parts of the building than the floor. Beams and framing timbers are often turned into flooring. Sylvan Brandt, a Pennsylvania company that sells antique flooring made from recycled materials accurately uses the term resawn flooring as another way of referring to reclaimed wood flooring. Pete Mazzone of The Woods Company, too, notes that their remilled flooring comes from beam stock. According to Mazzone,

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.

Another important point to consider is that much old flooring is often not in good enough shape for re-use. This is flooring, after all, and it has been used and abused for decades or centuries. As a final point, wood is organic, and organic materials do not last forever.

Mazzone of The Woods Company says that only a very small percentage comes from actual flooring, maple being the most prevalent species found in reclaimed wood floors. Mazzone 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. Attics are another source of reclaimed wood flooring.

Geographic Sources for Reclaimed Wood Flooring

Geographically, reclaimed wood comes from locales where you can find old, wooden buildings to tear down and recycle. New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, the Rust Belt, the Southern United States, and Pacific Northwest are prime areas for old barns, factories, warehouses, and farmhouses.

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 have some outlets. Enterprising do-it-yourselfers can even hunt down their own reclaimed wood flooring by driving around country roads or in older post-industrial urban areas.

Reclaimed Wood Flooring Price Fluidity

Reclaimed wood flooring companies tend to be circumspect about prices. Few companies post full price lists on their websites, making it difficult to budget for your next flooring installation. What's going on?

These companies are not being evasive or coy. Simply put, the reclaimed wood market is highly fluid, changing from day to day. Companies might have a large supply one week, then that supply may be suddenly bought up by a large commercial client. When a supply is gone, it is gone. True reclaimed wood flooring is a commodity of opportunity, and it pays to speak with company representatives to stay current with the ebb and flow of the product.

Reclaimed Wood Flooring vs. Distressed Wood Flooring

Large online flooring suppliers like BuildDirect or Lumber Liquidators will have flooring categories that go under names such as distressed or handscraped. In most cases, these are not true reclaimed wood floors. Instead, these are new floors that are distressed or sometimes handscraped, but usually mechanically scraped.

True reclaimed wood floors can be naturally distressed or smooth and undistressed (usually newly sawn).