One quality measure that distinguishes antique lumber is century long air drying. There was no other choice before kiln drying technology was developing 150 years ago. And when it’s said that ‘they don’t make things like they used to’ – lumber is certainly one of them, and air drying is a significant factor in the quality difference.
Reclaimed antique lumber in all it’s forms is super dry – having resided as a building joist or timber for a considerable amount of time. This natural process prevents issues that occur in kiln drying.
- Brittle – Kiln dried wood is generally more brittle and prone to chipping. Sometimes referred to as ‘case hardening’, it can lead to the wood pulverizing if the KD process, if not properly controlled. Air dried lumber is more reliable to work, especially with hand tools.
- Internal Tensions – There are no internal tensions baked into air dried wood that could make lumber twist after it has been ripped. At other times, this may not be noticeable, or any worse for general use.
- Color loss – Short-cutting the seasoning process by kiln drying results in color loss. Kiln dried wood can lose as much as 20% of it’s color, as the kiln drying process kills some of the subtle hues in the grain, which further separates the aesthetic feel of freshly sawn and antique woods.
Kiln drying is faster, kills insects and can set pitch in some resinous softwood species, but none of these benefits apply to antique lumber. Old salvaged woods have remained in long-term dry storage and this investment of time and natural science yields good air dried lumber.
It’s common, however, for moisture to be picked up once the lumber is removed from a structure and then put into yard storage, so returning the woods to a slow kiln for a relatively short period (often under a week) – is needed to bring the moisture content back to equilibrium for an interior environment. The results are worth it.
Although there may be a place for both air and kiln drying methods, like a great piece of cheese or a glass of wine or hand-crafted whiskey, time is quality. We have tens of thousands of board feet of air dried hardwoods and softwoods at Sawkill, ready for a new era of dry and in some instances, wet environments.
Old barns are a traditional source of reclaimed Oak, but supplies and quality of the wood can be uneven. Oak is the most widely used new hardwood for human use. It’s versatile, durable, easy milled, takes a stain well and has a familiar beauty that is a choice for a wide range of projects – from wine casks to the paneling of a midtown office to common strip flooring and overseas shipping pallets. The virtues of reclaimed Oak extend the appeal further for many renovation projects. Often found with clusters of small nail hole patterns, narrower widths and a second growth figure, Oak sourced from shipping pallets nonetheless provides an economy grade for a reclaimed product. And for the the ceiling application at the Tribeca eatery above, it’s no less green.
As not all chickens, cattle or goats look the same on the farm- not all reclaimed barn Oak ages to the same color and texture. Shades of grey and brown, circular or straight sawn, nail holes, stress cracks and knots – not to mention finishes – can all determine a wide range of surfaces. And since these qualities are only manufactured by time and nature, it’s hard to match a design vision right off the shelf. But often, the woods chosen can realize something different, and equally beloved.
This scripted sign that we routed, painted cherry red within the NYC bakery Birdbath is actually made of reclaimed antique White Pine. The commitment to sustainability – with the painting of salvaged wood – still reveals stress cracks and wood grain in the surface texture.
The Herringbone pattern – named for it’s resemblance to the scales of a fish – extends to ancient Egypt, so it’s refreshing to see modern updates, especially with the use of reclaimed wood. Here, a slightly bolder width and the retained character of salvaged tobacco barn Oak revitalize the pattern with warmth and sustainability within a local Passive House.
The restaurant Telepan ensconced their Tribeca eatery with a range of textured white materials – tile, marble and whitewashed reclaimed white woods – bringing a rustic elegance to the upscale Farm-to-Table spot. Design by hOmE NYC.
Freeman’s Sporting Club commissioned Friends + Family to mill antique softwoods (of Spruce, Hemlock and White Pine) for floor to ceiling applications that surround the spacious lower Manhattan barbershop. Revealing all the old glory of knots, nail holes and tight stress cracks, the millwork is as finely trimmed and styled as the hair stylist work at it’s center.
Cherry is a rare reclaimed wood. The trees are more prized for fine furniture than an agricultural related use. So when they do show up in the mix, we try to find an application where all the beauty of the hardwood grain and the rustic charm of the weathered re-sawn face is revealed. The beauty is further amplified alongside fresh fruits and vegetables, where the wood has been crafted into bins at this Union Square, NY Whole Foods.
The NYC Parks Dept. recently complete their new building on the south side of Washington Sq. Park. The structure arc gently between the parks dog run and a walking path. The stone face of the building is capped by a rim and overhang of reclaimed Redwood supplied by Sawkill Lumber.
Redwood, though a very soft conifer, has exceptional resistance to moisture and rot, and along with the warm tones of Redwood, provide natural beauty and a modern color pop to the historic park.
But the woods themselves are far older than the park, starting in the California forests a millenium or more ago, before a stopover in a mid-Century Ohio cooling Tower and ultimately arriving at Sawkill Lumber and then Washington Square Park – with hopes of many peaceful decades at the park.
Cafe Katja, a Bavarian inspired restaurant on the Lower East Side, effectively mixed a range of reclaimed woods species and textures within the space design – installing antique Pine Floors, Aged softwood paneling, Oak barn wood at the bar and table tops of reclaimed Beech. Along with the metalwork and antique lighting, the eclectic harmony is a reflection of the heritage and modern transformation that is now the Lower East Side.
These massive reclaimed Douglas Fir timbers (approx. dimensions 17 x 22 x 18′ — toddler, 35″ tall) were originally cut from the world’s second largest conifer tree (after Redwood). It’s lumber and timber began arriving from the Northwest in the early 20th c., as the Longleaf Pine forests of the Southern U.S. were reaching low levels. Today, reclaimed Doug Fir timbers yield beautiful framing members, wide plank flooring or in this instance, bound for exterior bench seating at the Highline in New York.