Working with reclaimed Lumber

I was recently commissioned by a hotel that was looking for a 7 large bar height tables made with reclaimed lumber for a burger bar they were opening. I personally love working with reclaimed lumber for a couple reasons; first of all it's great when you can create a beautiful piece of furniture without cutting down any new trees (because I love trees just about as much as I love furniture). In addition to the environmental benefits, reclaimed lumber has an enormous amount of character. Between old nail holes, 100+ year old mill marks, and often tighter grain patterns due to the age and slower growth (I believe) reclaimed lumber gives you a strong connection to the wood's history while providing a beautiful unique look. 

In the past when I've made pieces from reclaimed lumber, after I was lucky enough to find someone with a small amount, I would need to design a piece around the amount of available materials I had found (since it was unlikely I'd be able to find more of the same type of wood that had been through similar conditions). So before I could even give a proper quote for the tables, I needed to find a supplier that could supply me with 750 board feet of similar reclaimed lumber. This proved to be fairly difficult, but after many emails and phone calls I found a place in Saybrook, CT that specializes in reclaimed lumber that had just received all the usable floor and wall beams salvaged from two homes in Westchester County, NY. I just so happened to call the day before they were getting it delivered to their warehouse, so I cleaned out the truck and made my way to the Long Island sound the next morning.

For those of you who hear "reclaimed furniture" and think of a small end table that's made out of an old pallet that you shouldn't have to pay more than $50 for, this was not that type of "reclaimed" project. Don't get me wrong, I think making things out of free lumber like salvage pallet wood is great, but those boards are usually made of thinner pieces of lumber that probably aren't as dry as you would like. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that reclaimed lumber is often more labor intensive. You can spend hours pulling old nails out, not to mention all the time spent repairing splits or holes, and the fact that it's often more expensive (unless you have the time to help a farmer tear down an old barn or you get lucky and find something for free, but those scenarios don't come around too often).

I want to finish this post talking a little about how I made these tables though. The interior designer and I thought that the more natural mill marks showing on the top the better, but too many could spell a problem for keeping the tables clean because of the uneven surface. Given that people would be eating off of these tables, functionality was key. So I planed the more interesting side of the table tops first, almost all the way flat, leaving edges where you could see the mill marks, and then I flattened the backs until they were all the same thickness.

Once the pieces were milled and glued into panels there was a lot of repair work to be done.  I installed over 60 dutchmen (bow tie shaped inlays to prevent splitting,) on the group of 7 tables, and then filled countless holes with epoxy. This could have been the point where I sanded and finished, but I wanted a little more contrast on the mill marks, so I used a gel stain on all the spots with original mill marks. Once sanded, the tops of those mill marks knocked down to the lighter wood color, really drawing the eye to those very old saw lines. The tables for the restaurant were fitted with steel "H" Frame legs, but I made another top for another project with the same reclaimed lumber, and I'm still toying with a few ideas for a suitable base.