How to source reclaimed timber

Furniture, shelving or flooring can be made with salvaged wood – here’s how to get the best from it

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What to look for

Before visiting a salvage yard, have a clear idea of what you want to make or how you want to use it in your home. ‘There aren’t really any set rules as long as the reclaimed wood isn’t rotten,’ says Matthew Flint, founder of The Reclamation Shop. Common uses are for flooring, feature beams and doors. ‘Look for something bigger than you need,’ adds Matthew. ‘You can always cut a piece to size, but you can’t make it bigger. Bends or bows in wood can make stunning centrepieces as a mantelpiece, or a shapely table or worktops, so don’t be put off by these. Above all, have an open mind about how to use the material in a different way.’

What to avoid

‘Hard woods such as oak, elm, teak, mahogany and walnut are best, as the quality lasts. If it looks as if it has an off-white or yellow film, or some sort of fungus on it, it’s got dry rot. If it is very dark-looking wood and is almost spongy to touch, it has wet rot. Both are very difficult to fix; however, wet rot in a very small area can be cut away and treated,’ Matthew explains.

Woodworm is another problem, so if the wood has lots of little holes in it, it’s best avoided – however, a small sign of historic woodworm in beams can also be treated before the wood is used in the home. Try to look for wood that has been stored indoors, as any reclaimed wood that has been exposed to weather runs the risk of warping once in situ due to moisture content.

‘Avoid floorboards with adhesive and nails, as these take a lot of preparation time if using them for anything other than flooring,’ advises Peter Watson, director of Cox’s Architectural Salvage. ‘Also avoid boards that appear to have oil on them, as it will leach out, especially in a warm room.’

Be inventive

Salvaged wood can add character and is also eco-friendly. ‘Slightly worn flooring from schools can make a fantastic feature, while aged timber beams make for good chunky mantelpieces. Old wooden doors, gates and window frames can be crafted into pieces of furniture, headboards, flooring or sculpted pieces. ‘Resawn boards, cut from reclaimed joists, are a great source for flooring,’ says Peter. ‘These will have a clean top surface with few nail holes and no dirt. Old joists have a nice colour, uniform thickness and width, and are ready to install.’

Know the costs

If you are prepared to finish the wood, you can save a lot of money. Some places have a ‘sold as seen’ policy, in which case you will need to be sure that it is for you. Bob Lovell, owner of the Antique Oak Flooring Company, says that the most common flooring, such as pine boards, wood block and hard wood strip flooring, cost around £35 to £45*, unusual period woods, such as Georgian pine, retail from £65*, and reclaimed wide oak and elm boards start at £95*. Be prepared to pay more for cleaned, planed and sanded flooring, and you can save money by accepting random floorboard lengths and widths.

* All prices per square metre

Photograph: National Community Wood Recycling Project