Reclaimed solid wood, or recycled solid wood; call it what you will and you're still talking about the same thing. Use reclaimed wood for your floors, countertops, paneling, beams, even furniture, and you turn your home into an attractive, distinctive recycling showcase. How about a mantelpiece fashioned from a 90-year-old, hand-hewn, pine beam rescued from a Klamath Falls potato shed scheduled for demolition? Or maybe your kitchen floor could be constructed of 2-inch thick planks from an early 1900s threshing room floor. As you consider the possibilities, however, be aware: Limited supply confronts growing demand.
Mark Stella, of Talent's Green Mountain Woodworks, cautions, "Reclaimed is a great use of resources; you're not wasting any material. But its supply is oftentimes inconsistent. Customers fall in love with materials we have on hand. Six months later when they're ready to build, all the wood they liked is gone to another buyer."
It stands for "Forest Stewardship Council" and its logo assures consumers they're purchasing wood products harvested with sustainable forestry in mind. When reclaimed wood isn't available, or won't fit the job, FSC-certified lumber is the next best thing in terms of green building materials.
In 1993, an international consortium of concerned loggers, foresters, environmentalists, and sociologists gathered in Toronto, Canada for what would be the first General Assembly of FSC. Now headquartered in Bonn, Germany, the organization counts over 40 national chapters in its fold.
Founded as a non-profit corporation headquartered in Washington D.C, the United States chapter has spent the past 12 years promoting sustainable forestry practices with thousands of companies and independent contractors. They've established dozens of certification offices across the country with more locations planned.
Look for the FSC logo, or ask your lumber supplier about it. Then you'll know you're buying wood harvested in the most earth-friendly methods known today.
While "old barns" equal reclaimed wood in the minds of many, craftsmen like Stella and others rely on multiple sources like fallen or dead-standing trees, fire-damaged forests, and orchard trees cut and replaced. The list goes on.
When asked why customers come to him even from timber-rich states like Washington and Montana, Stella describes a remarkable treasure in our own backyard. Ecologically, Southern Oregon and Northern California offer some of the most diverse forests in North America. That's because of our soil types and our climate. Display panels of madrone, myrtle wood, white oak, California chestnut, big leaf maple, Douglas fir, and west coast orchard walnut, among others, await customer viewing in his shop.
Switching from a career in industrial design to woodworking with reclaimed lumber and sustainable forestry-harvested timber, Stella takes pride in producing something that will outlive him, then ultimately return to the earth from which it first sprouted. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," as the English Burial Service puts it.
Ryan Olson, from Forest Willing Furniture also located in Talent, whose woodworking heritage harks back three generations to Norway, even finds useful pieces from discarded hardwood pallets, the sort of wood that often winds up tossed down a gully or into a landfill. Frequently, he'll walk stretches of timberland seeking just the right shape or species of our numerous native trees that he can reclaim for his artisan creations.
"I take an environmental preservation approach," says Olson, who also mentions Morrow's Used Building Materials of Medford as a recommended supplier for contractors and amateurs alike.
A less common, but uniquely beautiful source of reclaimed wood can be found in the deeper waters of regional rivers and abandoned millponds. Rogue River cabinet-maker, Russ Harrop, tells of the spectacular burls and grain patterns emerging from such logs lying neglected for decades.
Stella explains how these densely grained logs sometimes sank rather than floated downstream to waiting mills in the early days of Oregon logging operations. Beyond a certain depth, a lack of oxygen and natural light creates ideal conditions for near-perfect, mold-free log preservation. In more recent times, entrepreneurs are raising these sunken logs and milling them for custom applications. Old growth grains and finishes without disturbing today's remaining forest giants ... what's not to like?
Despite the multiple sources, however, industry insiders report a near-doubling of prices over the last five years or so. Given the many variables of singular custom applications, accurate cost figures for reclaimed wood products are hard to come by. Labor costs alone account for much of the pricing variations between reclaimed lumber and the selections available at your local lumberyard. From often painstaking disassembly, on to nail pulling, cutting, sanding, assembly and finishing efforts, reclaimed wood demands a premium price.
But if it's within your budget and if you find a given supply before it goes elsewhere, you can turn your home into a conversation piece and a showplace of recycled artistry. Mother Earth will love you for it.