Step 1 - You Have To Find Some Wood.....Where to find it?
The process of building a reclaimed wood table actually begins with a barn. In order to use reclaimed wood, you have to be able to reclaim the wood from some type of structure. We typically work with Michigan barn wood.
If you’re driving through the country and paying attention to the variety of barns that are out there, you will see that there are a number of barns that are falling into disrepair like this one below.
While that’s sad to see, we never really like having to take down a barn because of all the hard work and integrity that went into building that barn. But this is where the process starts.
Step 2 - Determine What To Salvage
When we’re working with a barn, we’re looking to salvage all of the material that we can out of the barn.
In order to have material to build a table, we need to have a minimum of 2-inch stock, which is 2 inches thick by a variety of widths. There are a couple of ways that we can actually get that.
Sometimes the floor trusses might be made out of 2x12s or 2x10s. Or we might get that out of the beams which might be 8x8 inches, 8x10 inches, 7x7 inches, 6x6 inches, or even larger.
In order to get the wood out of the beams, that beam would have to be sawn into 2-inch chunks. Some floors are 2" thick and you can use that material without having to re-saw a beam.
In the acquisition process, we take down the barn, haul the wood back to our location, and sort the lumber.
Step 3 - Time To Get Dirty....or Clean
The next step is to clean the wood. These barns have been around for anywhere from 100 to 130 years. They’ve got an awful lot of dirt and dust accumulated, and sometimes that can even be old manure, straw, hay, and lots of nasty stuff. This is a barn site, so you have to expect that.
In order to get rid of all that dirt, we have to power wash most of the wood before we cut the wood. Sometimes we can just use a wire brush to clean it off to remove most of the dirt if they’re not that dirty. We clean all the material that we get from the barn.
Step 4 - How To Get Rid Of All The Nails
The next step is to pull the nails. One of our least favorite things to do is to pull nails, but that is just a reality of working with reclaimed wood. These old barns have literally thousands of nails embedded in the wood. De-nailing is actually one of the most important jobs in our shop.
The only way to get those nails out is to go over each and every square inch of board with a metal detector. When we find a nail, we have to pull it out. Sometimes the nails are very visible, and other times we might find the nail a quarter inch below the surface.
The metal detector will tell us where it is and then we have to go in and dig it out.
Step 5 - Cut, Remove Waste
Next, you have to evaluate each board. Determine what is salvageable and what isn't. There are very few of these boards that have straight ends and alot of ends are sometimes damaged or split.
It's best to determine the best chunk of material, and cut off the rest. Just keep the useable part for your projects and use the rest to heat your home in the winter!
Step 6 - Re-saw The Material
This is one of the most fun steps of all of them. For some reason I really enjoy working with the horizontal band saw. One of the best parts about the job is seeing what the inside of these ugly (on the outside) old beams look like on the inside.
I compare it to Christmas...you never really know what you have until you open the box. In order to open up a beam, you have to cut it into the dimensions you need for your projects.
Step 7 - Kiln Dry
When I first started out in this business, I wasn't too worried about drying the wood. Thinking like most folks, I figured if this stuff had been around for 100+ years that it must be dry, right?
Well I found out the hard way after I sold some 2" material to a regular customer. The batch was a little wetter than usual and he had some problems. He let me know that and I immediately came up with a solution; It was time to get a kiln.
We didn't really do anything fancy, we just set up our own home made version and we can dry about 500 bd/ft at a time.
Even though this old wood has been around, the moisture in the wood can still be around 15-18%. In order to eliminate problems with the wood, you are best to have the material down to 6-8%, especially if you are building a table.
It takes about 1 week to 10 days to dry a load of material. Once it's dry, we haul it back to our shop, sort the sizes out and start to prepare for our tables.
Step 8 - Straight Line Edges
In order to do a glue up, you need to have straight line edges. In our shop, we have a straight line rip saw. This is a big professional machine that makes perfectly straight edges on the boards so that we can get a good tight fit when we are doing the glue up.
You likely won't have one of these sitting around the garage, so there are a few options you can do to get your boards lined up nice and straight.
- Find a millwork shop and have them do it for you
- Purchase a glue line ready sawblade for your tablesaw...your saw needs to be stout, some of this 2" material gives a 5 hp motor a good workout.
- Purchase a glue line blade for your skill saw and use with a straight edge. Festool has a really nice setup for doing this, but honestly I have used a big, straight piece of angle iron and it works just fine for a straight edge.
Now that you have all your boards straight, it's time to lay them out for your table top.
Seem like a bit much to tackle?
Maybe this all sounds too complicated or just something you don't want to deal with. That's alright...that's why we are in business. We can do it for you.