Journal 16 | What Is Reclaimed Wood Furniture? A Complete Guide

March 11, 2022

Journal 16 | What Is Reclaimed Wood Furniture? A Complete Guide

Written by: Tim C

What is reclaimed wood furniture? 

Reclaimed wood furniture is simply furniture created with recycled timber. Reclaimed furniture reuses wood that has had a previous life of its own and ‘reclaims’ that wood to make beautiful items of furniture that are one of a kind. Repurposing timber and giving it a new lease of life by upcycling it into something new has many benefits and makes for a popular type of furniture that has dominated the interior design world for a couple of years now. 

Any piece of furniture that can be made out of wood can be made from reclaimed wood meaning there are plenty of options for every room in the house. Bookcases, desks and, our personal favourite, dining tables are just some of the items frequently made from reclaimed wood and loved by their owners. The quality of reclaimed timber along with the history and uniqueness of each piece of wood creates solid and characterful pieces of furniture. Keep reading to find out more about reclaimed wood and where it comes from. 

What is reclaimed wood?   

Reclaimed wood comes from timber that has been used for something previously and is being reused for something new. Although any wood aside from wood chopped from a virgin tree can be reclaimed, reclaimed wood usually comes straight from old structures that have had one prior use. Whilst reusing old wood is obviously a good sustainable practice, the timber will also be of better quality as it comes from more historic ‘old growth’ trees which have denser properties than newer wood. 

Where does reclaimed wood come from? 

Reclaimed wood is salvaged from structures when they are no longer fit for use or are being demolished, in order to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. There are many types of structures that reclaimed wood is commonly taken from and some which might surprise you! No matter when your wood is reclaimed from you are connected to history and an interesting past via the wood. 

Old industrial buildings

Large buildings like warehouses and factories are full of wooden floorboards, support beams and structural joists that can be easily reused. Hemming & Wills’  Bespoke Collection of reclaimed furniture  mainly comes from the pine joists of old buildings in the United Kingdom. 

Farm structures 

Barns are almost entirely made out of wood and often fall into disrepair or need removing, and when that occurs there is plenty of wood to be salvaged for new purposes. Old water tanks can also make for a good source of reclaimed wood - just make sure to empty the water first! 

Shipping related structures

Old ships are another good source of reclaimed wood, especially the vast amount of wooden ship decking that would otherwise go to waste. Other shipping related items such as shipping crates and pallets are vital to marine logistics but are often discarded after use. Recycling marine wood means that you end up with a product that has potentially been around the world!  

Other sources

You would be surprised by what can be reclaimed once it has served its purpose and is no longer needed. Wood from railway sleepers, wine barrels, gymnasium flooring and coal mine shafts is saved from landfills and reclaimed for new purposes, meaning there is an interesting story behind every piece of reclaimed wood. Only the best types and cuts of wood are reclaimed meaning you can always be assured of a high-quality product and can be certain the wood is of better quality than that of new timber. 

How does reclaimed wood turn into furniture?

There are numerous processes that reclaimed wood goes through in order to ensure that it is of the highest quality and can be worked into a solid piece of furniture effectively. 

Quality inspection 

All reclaimed timber is first inspected thoroughly for any features that undermine the quality of the wood, for example, irreparable damage or extensive rotting. However, most imperfections of reclaimed wood don’t reduce the quality of the product and can be worked around or removed. Also, surface-level imperfections and blemishes actually add buckets of character to a piece of furniture and make it unique. 

Metal and paint removed

A metal detector is used to locate any old metal within the timber so it can be safely removed. Nails, screws and bolts are often found in reclaimed wood especially if it has been used in construction. Any metal elements left in reclaimed timber are not only dangerous to consumers but are also a hazard when using machines to cut and shape the wood. Paint is stripped from the wood to help with quality inspections and reveal the natural colour of the material.

Kiln drying

Wood that has had a previous life will have been exposed to the elements and faced a certain level of deterioration, for example absorbing moisture. Moisture needs removing before it is worked into furniture and this is done by drying it out in a kiln. Depending on moisture content and type of timber, reclaimed wood is sometimes kiln dried to remove the unwanted moisture and to stabilise it further from cracking or warping. The drying process is also vital as it kills and removes any fungi or insects that might have been in the wood.

Milling

The fully inspected and prepared wood then goes through the milling process. When the reclaimed wood is milled it gets stripped and cut to remove the roughly cut edges and standardise the thickness and length. Basically, milling turns the wood into uniform planks that can be worked into furniture like any other newly processed timber from a virgin tree would be. After the milling process, the reclaimed timber is used to create stunning furniture the same way you would with normal wood, except this furniture ends up being unique and full of character. 

What makes reclaimed wood furniture special and unique?

Despite the milling process standardising the timber for use, reclaimed wood is still far more special than virgin wood timber in many ways. Each plank of reclaimed wood has been previously used in different ways and lived a different life, reacting to its surroundings and being impacted by its initial purpose profoundly. Knots, marks and small holes appear differently on each piece of reclaimed wood meaning none of the timber is the same. These imperfections in the wood add to the character of every piece of furniture and ensure no two pieces are identical. When you purchase reclaimed wood furniture you possess a one in a million item that visually tells a story of the wood's past life. You can see and touch details and intricacies that allude to a history that the timber experienced, be it joists of an old industrial warehouse or a wine barrel imported from France, the visual and kinetic history of a reclaimed piece of furniture makes it second to none.

What types of reclaimed furniture are there? 

Any wooden type of furniture can be made by reusing old wood, but there are definitely certain pieces that look particularly stunning when made with reclaimed timber. Listed below are some of our favourite reclaimed wood items that we think deserve a spot in any home.  

Tables

Our personal favourite option for reclaimed furniture is reclaimed dining tables (they are also our best-sellers!). A dining table is a place to bring the whole family together and you want nothing less than the best for such a central part of the home. Reclaimed wood is strong and durable and will withstand the many Christmas dinners and birthday parties that family life throws at it.  Due to the size of dining tables, a plain and basic one has the potential to suck the life out of any room. However, reclaimed tables can become statement pieces of furniture, instantly injecting some character into a space. 

Hemming & Wills have a wide selection of reclaimed tables and dining sets to suit a variety of tastes, including our Williamsburg and Oslo Collection. Want something even more unique? Our best-selling Bespoke Collection allows you to choose from a variety of bases, colours and sizes, so you can create your own dream dining space.

Check the Bespoke Collection here.

Benches

The perfect item to complement your reclaimed table is a reclaimed wood bench. Don’t be constrained by only having chairs, make your seating arrangements flexible with a bench that you can squeeze as many people as you like on. You can even mix and match your bench with chairs to create your own unique look. Reclaimed wood benches really get the most out of the material as their simple structure allows the wood to do all the talking. Benches are also versatile and can be used in porches or hallways to add a bit of character to smaller spaces that can’t fit large pieces of furniture in. 

Take a look at our stunning reclaimed benches here.

 

Coffee Tables

Providing a vital place to put your drinks and giving a home to random family bits and bobs, a coffee table is a stylish and functional central point of any living room. However, as they are much smaller than most other items of furniture, they can sometimes get lost amongst everything else in a room.  A reclaimed wood coffee table holds its own in any living room adding character and making a statement but not overwhelming the space.  Whether as a centrepiece that everyone will be using and looking at, or tucked away to the side, a reclaimed wood coffee table just works. Sturdy, characterful and a conversation starter! 

Why not check out our Bespoke Collection - Reclaimed Coffee Table?

Benefits of reclaimed wood furniture

Reclaimed wood furniture adds bucketfuls of character into any room it is in, however, there are plenty of other reasons that make reclaimed wood furniture great. Although you can get characterful pieces of furniture with virgin wood, what you cannot get is the history and story of reclaimed wood. Each piece of timber tells a story and has provided use in its previous life, the textures, marks and slight imperfections all connect you to the past. 

Also, reclaimed timber was cut from older wood which is stronger and denser than wood from new trees today that have had less time to grow. Old-growth wood cannot be bought ‘new’ anymore as historic forests are protected, meaning the only way you can own furniture made with sturdier wood is by buying reclaimed. Additionally, timber that is being reused has already been exposed to the elements, has warped and expanded and as a result is much more resilient after it has acclimated to its new space.

Most obviously, reclaimed wood furniture is also much more environmentally friendly and has a two-fold impact with its sustainability credentials. Firstly, reusing old wood prevents more waste from going to landfills and secondly making furniture with reclaimed timber reduces the number of virgin trees being felled. Of course, buying wooden furniture is sustainable anyway as wood is a regenerative product, but buying reclaimed has double the benefits!  

How to care for reclaimed wood furniture 

As reclaimed wood is a natural and living material it is vital to care for your pieces of furniture correctly to keep them in the best possible shape. Here are some of our tips on how to look after your reclaimed piece of furniture. 

Ensure your reclaimed furniture is not placed in direct sunlight or next to a hot radiator, as excessive heat can cause the wood to split, crack or warp, and sunlight can stain the colour over time. 

To protect your furniture from moisture stains you should always use placemats and coasters under plates, cups and glasses. Accidents happen! Make sure to wipe up any spills quickly with a soft dry cloth to prevent staining.

Dust regularly and clean your furniture with a damp cloth from time to time to protect it from any stains forming.  An old cotton T-shirt or lint-free dishtowel works well for removing any dirt or crumbs. 

When moving your furniture it is always recommended to lift the item, instead of dragging, in order to avoid straining the legs or joints. This will also protect your floors from any scratches or scuff marks.  

For more information on reclaimed furniture aftercare, including how to help your furniture acclimatise, cleaning and caring for your furniture, please see our FAQ page. 


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