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For The Home

Reclaimed Hardwood Flooring

Author: Susan Regan
Issue: August, 2012, Page 28
Photos by David B. Moore

The assortment of reclaimed hardwood flooring available is diverse. The sampling shown here with old tools and nails ranges from brown parquet (rear), to gray-toned oak (bottom), to solid plank flooring with threshing marks (bottom left).



History, Highlights
and Helpful Hints


When colonists came to North America, they likely discovered densely packed forests as far as the eye could see. Government findings speculate that nearly a billion acres of forested land covered the U.S. prior to the 1600s.

As the country was settled, however, pioneers cut down trees to make room for and build barns, homes and other structures. Today, this weathered wood is being salvaged and repurposed into hardwood flooring.

Matt Stanton is owner of Copper Plank Custom Mill, Arizona’s only hardwood flooring manufacturer. He explains that pioneers would look for flat land on which to settle. They would then set up large portable mills on the forest floor and cut trees into planks to construct buildings. Common species included oak, long-leaf yellow heart pine, hickory, walnut and chestnut; the latter is threatened with extinction  and very difficult to find in old structures.

“Forests were so densely populated that trees grew really close together and fought for nutrients, which resulted in slow growth,” he relates. According to Stanton, slow-growth wood—like that used to make reclaimed flooring—is stronger than many woods of today. “Reclaimed wood is appealing because of its structure, its character and, for some people, its history,” he observes.

Reclaimed wood flooring is available in two styles. Engineered planks are noticeably thinner than their counterpart, making them an ideal choice for floors that transition to another material, such as tile or carpeting.
Salvaging old wood is a time-consuming process. Stanton says that his company’s procedures include scouting abandoned barns and buildings, most of which are east of the Mississippi River; dismantling and removing nails from suitable structures by hand to maintain the integrity of the planks; kiln-drying the wood to stabilize it and remove moisture and insects; and milling planks to order based on a customer’s needs.

Paul Newman, owner of Phoenix-based Premiere Wood Floors Inc.—which specializes in the installation of hardwood flooring—agrees that the distinguishing features and one-of-a-kind look of reclaimed wood are two of its most appealing qualities. He explains that reclaimed wood may be confused with wood from old-growth trees. While the former was cut long ago to construct buildings—therefore exposing it to many years of weather—old-growth wood generally is harvested from fallen or dead standing trees whose interior wood lacks a weathered patina. “Wind, rain, snow and sun create an unobtainable look that you can’t get in old growth or new timbers,” he notes.

Newman comments that the direction in which a structure was positioned and the area of the country in which it was found are just two of the factors that can affect the look of a reclaimed plank. “It’s only nature and time that can create that character and appearance.”

The thicker solid plank flooring, which measures three-fourths of an inch thick, is shown with a plywood subfloor that also measures three-fourths of an inch thick.
THINGS TO CONSIDER
Solid plank vs. engineered. Two types of reclaimed wood flooring are available: solid plank and engineered. Matt Stanton’s company mills both kinds—Vintage Hardwoods is his firm’s solid plank flooring and Revival is its engineered reclaimed flooring. Solid plank utilizes the entire plank and is typically three-fourths of an inch thick. It requires a subfloor to stabilize it and, therefore, may not be suitable for remodeled homes in which reclaimed flooring is replacing tiling or carpeting that was adhered directly to the slab, explains Stanton. Solid plank flooring is finished on-site by an installer.

Engineered reclaimed flooring is produced by gluing the top layer, or wear layer, of an old plank to plywood backing. “It is really, really strong and really stable,” Stanton notes. “It’s prefinished, so you know what it will look like before you purchase it.” He says that because engineered flooring comes affixed to a backing, it can be adhered directly to the slab and is significantly thinner than solid plank flooring and its subfloor, making it ideal for remodels. “While the overall engineered plank is thinner, the wear layer remains nearly as thick as that of a solid plank,” Stanton explains.

This solid-hickory floor shows the visual contrasts found in reclaimed woods.
Appearance. “The options are so diverse,” says Paul Newman of the choices for distress level, stains and finishes. Reclaimed hardwood is available in three distress levels—heavy, medium and light—indicating how much wear and tear are visible. Wood can be stained in a range of shades, from reds, yellows and grays to browns, tans and black. Although several finish options are available, Newman says oil wax and polyurethane are two choices. While the latter is easy-care and comes in several sheens, a higher-maintenance oil wax finish produces a flat, natural look.

When deciding on these elements, “Think about the areas where you want to install the reclaimed floor and how you live,” advises Newman. To determine which distress level meets your needs, he suggests walking on a sample floor barefoot—particularly if you are considering using reclaimed wood in a private area such as a bedroom, where shoes typically are not worn.

Plank width. Regardless of age, wood will try to revert to its original round tree shape, tutors Stanton. For this reason, he recommends using engineered planks that offer stability if a width greater than 7 to 8 inches is desired. Newman says varying widths create an authentic appearance, as pioneers used whichever width plank was available. He suggests uniform widths for homeowners desiring an organized look.

Distinguishing characteristics. According to Stanton, a few of the features that can distinguish reclaimed wood flooring are threshing marks left by a farmer who separated grain on the wood; nail holes and their blackened edges that are formed from iron deposits; kerf marks generated from the vibration of the saw pioneers used to mill the tree in the forest; and wormholes made by burrowing insects.

Installation. Both Newman and Stanton stress the importance of hiring an installer who has had plenty of experience working with reclaimed hardwood flooring. Selecting a seasoned installer is particularly important if working with a solid plank floor because it will need to be affixed to the subfloor and finished on-site, says Stanton. He adds that qualified installers will know to leave nail holes, knots, wormholes and other features intact that enhance the appearance of the old wood. He also advises ordering 10 percent more wood than is needed to allow for waste that will be lost during installation.

Acclimation. Keep in mind that although wood may have been cut down hundreds of years ago and recently kiln-dried, it still needs time to adjust to a new environment once installed, explains Stanton. This process is called acclimation, and when done properly can accommodate for wood shrinking, curving or otherwise changing shape as a result of the surrounding humidity and air temperature. Proper acclimation in a home typically takes a minimum of a week, depending on the type of wood and whether it is solid plank or engineered. A qualified installer should take these factors, which are unique to each setting, under consideration.

Much of the appeal of reclaimed hardwood comes from its aged and textured appearance. These characteristics can include threshing marks created when wheat was separated from the chaff atop the wood
holes and surrounding blackened iron deposits left by old nails
and saw—or kerf—marks made by the blades originally used to mill the lumber


WHERE TO FIND IT
Phoenix area. Several hardwood flooring companies carry (and some may install) reclaimed wood. These include Blackhawk Floors Inc., Copper Plank Custom Mill, Enmar Hardwood Flooring Inc., Premiere Wood Floors Inc., and Sierra Hardwood Floors. Online, try agedwoods.com.
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