A new life for old wood

By Greg McLeod

Photo by Greg McLeod

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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.

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