Monday, March 9, 2015

Getting To Know Reclaimed Lumber

Blogger's Note: When you have the opportunity to meet Richard Woods, CEO of Albany Woodworks, it becomes apparent early on that he has dedicated his life to something he loves -- reclaiming a part of America's history that was nearly lost.  After 38 years in the antique lumber business, Richard offers a wealth of knowledge on the process of reclaiming 200-year-old slow-aged pine beams to craft beautiful Heart Pine flooring.  For the beauty of reclaimed lumber and the quintessential look of the South, Albany Woodworks is the one-stop-shop for fine quality craftsmanship.  Richard takes a few moments to speak with us about what makes old lumber truly exceptional.  

(Above):  Albany Woodworks CEO Richard Woods' hands are resting on a counter top he built from rustic Antique Heart Pine with the original 200-year-old saw marks still visible.   The cabinets behind him are solid birch cabinets and soft-close solid wood Antique Cypress doors.

Hello Richard, thank you for the interview.  You have some important information to pass along for homeowners looking to build new or update an existing space.  Let's get started.  What is 'old growth' lumber and how does it impact the overall longevity of a floor?
When people use the term 'old growth' they are generally referring to timber from old-growth forests that grew naturally without the aid of man.  In a virgin forest trees are close together and typically grew in high competition for sunlight and nutrients with other trees. This resulted in slow-growth timber with dense growth rings which ultimately provides more stable and durable lumber upon harvest and extends the overall life of a floor.   Very few forest like this still exist and this quality of wood is only available through the type of reclaiming process our company provides.
'New growth' is a term for lumber harvested within the last 120 years using modern forestry practices.  Closely maintained tree farms for lumber production allow spacing and thinning of the trees for faster production.  Maintained or "farm" forests give trees ample access to sunlight and nutrients so the wood produced is less dense and not as durable.  Since 'old growth' timber was allowed to mature fully before being harvested and not 'farmed' on a time-table for profit it has a greater percentage of heartwood which makes for a much stronger floor. 

I'm glad you brought that up.  You hear the term 'heartwood' thrown around a lot in the industry especially in regards to flooring.  What is 'heartwood' and how does it impact flooring stability?
'Heartwood' is essentially the 'skeleton' of a tree giving it the strength to lift its canopy towards the sun or weather a storm.  This strong inner core is surrounded by the active sapwood, the 'life blood' of a tree. A virgin-growth tree at maturity has a percentage of heartwood around 90% of its diameter and plays an important role in tree growth. As the tree ages, sapwood is converted to heartwood from the inside while sapwood continually grows outward.  Sapwood is responsible for carrying nutrients to the tree while heartwood provides a tree's strength.  This same strength is what makes products containing a large percentage of heartwood like our Heart Pine flooring durable, rot resistant and beautiful.   
It's a beautiful product, no doubt. What is the process of finding this type of quality reclaimed lumber and how difficult is it to find?

The process of finding this quality virgin-growth heartwood is a true quest for the wood enthusiast and craftsman alike, or anyone who appreciates quality products and are looking for the best materials available.  There are very few virgin forests left in the world.  So when we travel to where these materials can be found, primarily rescued from demolition sites around the country, it's pretty exciting.  When we find it, it's like unlocking a small piece of our country's history and that is just the beginning.    

The manufacturing process for reclaimed lumber is a lot more time-consuming and complicated than cutting down trees for new lumber.  Seasoned lumber like our 200-year-old beams is a lot denser than new lumber, and harder to cut.  We had to source machinery from the old Southern lumber mills to do the job.  We purchased our main saw "Big Bertha" from an old mill and had her fully restored.  She works hard and needs a lot less maintenance than some of the newer machines.

The first step is we find buildings scheduled to be demolished that contain a specific species of lumber. We find the species we are looking for by analyzing a sample of the wood under a microscope.  Once identified to be the correct type, we make arrangements to pick up the lumber once the building has been carefully disassembled.  The wood we produce in this process is known as 'reclaimed' lumber.  Some of the most successful demo rescues I have been a part of are the ones where all useable materials -- such as brick and steel -- are salvaged as well in a cooperative effort, going to market rather than ending up in the trash.   

Maintaining a steady supply of high quality reclaimed heart pine and cypress is the foundation of Albany Woodworks' success, but finding the perfect source lumber is not always that simple.  For example, a building that looks old by most appearances doesn't necessarily contain quality wood.  Our high quality lumber is based on stringent guidelines and we guarantee a level of excellence that you just cannot find anywhere else.  The feedback from craftsman when they use our product in the field is one of great satisfaction.  I feel its worth the extra time we put in as the finished product is always spectacular. 

Richard Woods is a reclaimed lumber and sustainable building expert with over 38 years' experience in the industry.  His family-owned and operated business in Southern Louisiana was one of the first in the country to realize the incredible potential of reclaimed lumber.  Visit the Albany Woodworks informative website at: