A new life for old wood
Over the past few years, reclaimed lumber has soared in popularity. Decor magazines and upscale stores showcase furniture and flooring made from salvaged, reclaimed and upcycled lumber.
There are a lot of reasons to incorporate reclaimed lumber into your own woodworking projects:
- It is recycling in its purest form.
- Century-old lumber was sawn from old-growth trees, resulting in a tighter grain.
- The wood can be significantly harder than the stuff available at your usual yard.
- It has had decades to stabilize.
Reclaimed lumber is not without its pitfalls:
- This wood was milled with antiquated equipment. The resulting lumber can vary in thickness and width, and commonly has out-of-square edges.
- Even the most diligent salvager can miss nails or debris. Invest in a metal detector before running reclaimed lumber through your jointer or planer.
This simple coffee table project took only basic power tools and carpentry skills to complete.
For the tabletop, I used a floorboard salvaged from a barn built in the 1890s: a 13′ plank of 2″ x 16″ pine. Cut the board into three pieces and fasten them together with 2 1/2″-long, pocket-hole screws. Next, trim the laminated tabletop with a circular saw to square the ends, forming a 48″ square slab. The apronless design gives the table a contemporary look, but hidden 1×6 braces are needed to firm up the tabletop.
For the legs, I cut four 15″ lengths from a 6×6 rafter beam taken from a later addition to the aforementioned barn. These were fastened directly to the underside of the tabletop with 3/8″-diameter x 3″-long dowel screws.
With reclaimed lumber, I recommend using a wire brush to remove remnant crud from the surfaces of the boards. Continue smoothing the wood with a belt sander, starting with 60-grit sandpaper and through progressively finer grades. My final pass was with a quarter-sheet sander with 180-grit sandpaper. This process created a smooth surface that still shows a lot of character marks.
To highlight the original saw marks and dents, apply a dark stain, and then re-sand so that only the dings hold the stain. Apply a second coat of slightly lighter stain to even things out. Finally, add three coats of polyurethane.