The New York Times profile by Vivian Yee on woods recovered from historical structures in the city. Here, old lumber at 443 Greenwich St. in lower Manhattan. Story link. photo: Sam Appleton, NY Times

Images: Michael Nagle, NY Times, Alan Solomon, Sawkill Lumber

Reclaimed wood joists, reused as joists, is surprisingly uncommon. Naily old lumber, dusty and often surface checked, can easily fail the grade on first glance. But these 3 x 10’s are sound enough – at least for sistering a row house renovation. They occupy the rare middle ground between being dumped at the landfill (or chipped) or re-milled into high end flooring or furniture.

In this video, Jim Hartin of Blueline Construction, provides an overview of the reclaimed joist stock that is lined up for reuse at the passive house project, 158 Clifton Pl. in Brooklyn.

The collection includes a range of species – antique Red Spruce, Longleaf Pine, Eastern Hemlock and Douglas Fir – sourced from a variety of 19th to late-20th c. NYC  buildings. The most recent is an 1883 Tribeca warehouse at 443 Greenwich St., once home to the Novelty Toy Co. (they introduced the first teddy bear), the American Steel Wool Co. and a book bindery. The penthouse at the new development, once framed with the antique lumber, hit the market at $51m.



At some moment in the late 1800’s, a construction worker hammered an iron nail into a flooring board, joining it to a structural joist below. For over a century, it stayed lodged there, alongside millions of other nails that held a city together.

When an old building is taken down in the 21st century, not a whole lot makes it past the landfill, save the scrap metal and antique lumber (if we’re lucky). Salvaged wood can house generations of embedded nails, and every tiny scrap of it needs to be extracted – or it’s a potential hazard for the sawmill. In the modern re-manufacturing process, de-nailing is like the slow going work of freeing up a log jam. Utilizing hand chisels, hammers, pry bars and metal detectors, the crew develops powerful arms and stamina for the task. Day in and day out, they extract the buried nails from the tight bite of old lumber.

The mark of a nails former presence, other than the tell tale hole, is the “nail bleed”, an ebonized ring of oxidized iron around it’s border. These character marks speak to qualities that do not meet the eye, and can also be a lost buildings smallest and most striking sign of material culture, and a portal to it’s history.

The Invisible Lunch Discussions
Benches were supplied by Sawkill Lumber in collaboration with Brooklyn Woods, Caliper Architecture and Ratrod Studio. They served the Ideas City installation of artist Marjetica Potrc and her students at the Hochschule für bildende Künste (HFBK) Hamburg, Germany.
Design for the Living World
People gravitated to the wood benches between the rows of folding plastic seats.
Artist Marjetica Potrc
Osha Bench by Brooklyn based Caliper Architecture. Wood seat: Eastern White Pine from a lower Manhattan building. (
Ideas City Festival | New Museum NYC
Caliper removable legs on antique Eastern Hemlock from an Edison factory c. 1896. Installation by Ratrod Studio (
Craft and Community
Scott Peltzer and Finn Bruggemann assemble bench designs for the event.
Salvaging Wood and Lives at Brooklyn Woods
Designed by Scott Peltzer of Brooklyn woods, the bench employs reclaimed water tank Ceder, scaffolding plank (951 Pacific St. Passive House and other sites) and factory flooring (Chicago), joined with counter sunk bolts. Brooklyn Woods is a non profit wood shop job training institute. (click photo for info about Brooklyn Woods)
100 ft long table on Rivington St.
Communal table assembled for the Invisible Lunch Discussion with a modest assortment of breads, cheeses, and fruits.

finishingschool_reclaimedwoodIt can take some playing around with sample blocks to get just the right balance of rustic and refined qualities in reclaimed wood. Here, a local toddler (with some parental assistance), applies a hand rubbed beeswax finish to a block of antique wood. The finish is applied after soap and water, followed by a light power sanding – bringing underlying wood figure into relief without removing weathering and texture.


When less is more, one finishing choice for salvaged wood is to just brush the surface – retaining saw marks,  weathered texture and natural brown hues – like an old farmer in his sunday best. Here, reclaimed softwoods absorb the natural light and turn the underlying character up.

reclaimedboardwalk_worldsfairThe U.S. Pavillion at the 2015 World’s Fair is designed for the experience of pleasure, but it’s also built to provoke dialogue. Focused on food production and the health of the planet, American Food 2.0: United to Feed the Planet as it’s named, is a 35,000 ft. space designed by Architect James Biber (Biber Architects).

It features a range of innovative elements; a vertical farm, transparent technology that shows the inner workings of the fair – and a deck re-purposed from the Coney Island Boardwalk. Sawkill Lumber salvaged and re-manufactured the woods; specifically, the Tropical hardwood Angelique.

When the structure’s dismantled in the fall, the fabled walkway – a symbol of the urgent need for collaboration and the struggle for environmental liberty – will hope to continue it’s journey from a Brazilian Rainforest to the Brooklyn seaside, to a place on the European continent.


Rolling lumber bin system
The bin system is constructed from salvaged conveyor rollers (U.S. government site) and reclaimed lumber (local mid-century warehouse).
'95 Clark
This Clark 5000 lb forklift was acquired from Aaron's Supreme Container in CT, a supplier of used shipping containers. Clark invented a forklift - called the Tructractor - in 1917 as a means of moving materials around their machinery warehouse in Michigan.
Bin system detail
The conveyors are bolted through, and paired for support with the adjacent bin. One of a few connection options explored.
Sven Armster
Checking the work of his experienced staff. Sven, who studied architecture and design at RISD, manages a design/build firm with his wife Vered in Sleepy Hollow, NY.
Leveling Bins
The slight slope to the warehouse floor required adjustments.
Feature wall with inserted wall sconces.
Pizza is fun - why not the environment - natural weathered grey wood tones contrast with orange accent of seating.
Application is face screwed - no problem for boardwalk decking with existing bolt holes.
Aged antique softwoods with circular saw marks. Oil and wax finish bring out the warm tones and character of the wood.
Chair backing - functional detail to help unify the space.


imageThe reclaimed boardwalk hardwoods are now installed on the newest stretch of the  NYC Highline in the W 30’s. The locally sourced Angelique from the Coney Island Boardwalk required extensive selection and milling to meet the demanding specification. Naturally oiled to a deep amber tone with some hairline stress cracks, the stunning benches will eventually take on grey tints at this exposed shoreline area.


reclaimedwoods_bklynwarehouseThe bin build out at the Brooklyn warehouse (71 Troy Ave.) is being completed. The innovative system, designed by Sven and Klaas Armster, utilizes salvaged conveyor rollers from Pennsylvania and reclaimed dimensional lumber (3 x 10’s) from the city within a conventional lumber storage grid, allowing visitors to pull stacks of wood into an open area for sorting.


oversizedtable_001Families are smaller and company boards hold remote video conferences today, but the large table, especially one from reclaimed wood, is far from a thing of the past. Making one involves the same steps as any table (with a metal base), but any difficulties are often amplified with size. This may include potential for wood movement and end splits, added production capacity, especially for clamp and glue up and building a table base that is adequately stable.

The above table for a local downtown BID includes an industrial style i-beam base with a 4′ x 10′ table top from reclaimed native softwoods. The woods have been sanded to reveal the figure without removing all of the aged patina and other characters marks.


IMG_4880It can seem as though lighter woods cold bend (as opposed to steam bending) more readily, but looking at wood properties, the correlation between wood density and modulus of elasticity is not strong. So it seems as though woods that cold bend more easily has to do with how readily the actual cell structure of the wood deforms to accommodate the bending. But density does seem to play a role here at Washington Sq. Park where woods needed to be bolted in an arcing form that followed the perimeter of the facade. Reclaimed wine tank Redwood with an Elastic Modulus of 1,220,000 lbf/in2 was used in place of reclaimed boardwalk Ipe, measuring in at 3,200,000 lbf/in2. 



Woods reclaimed from storage tanks are made from grade A lumber – often Oak, Cypress, or Redwood. Whether the water tanks that dot the city skyline  or tanks used for wines, whiskey, pickles, and in the most current instance – Worcestershire Sauce.

This rare lot of Douglas Fir was recently salvaged from the Worcestershire Sauce tanks at the Lea & Perrins facility in New Jersey. Going back to the early 1800’s, when the sauce was invented (by accident), the company has gone through a handful of owners and locations (a third of the tanks were transferred from an old facility in Manhattan) until finally being acquired by Heinz, where the special sauce will be made in the midwest – though in Stainless Steel containers. Some say you can taste the difference when the sauce is seasoned within the wood tanks.

Doug Fir, named for the British explorer who identified the tree in the Pacific Northwest, the country’s second largest, yields wood with a clear dense figure and warm brown and red hues, that sometimes break out into psychodelic grain patterns. The old tanks can now go through renewal and into a range of beautiful building and design applications, including original surface and re-surfaced paneling, doors, floors and furniture.


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.


20140724-092429.jpgAs 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.

birdbath_001This 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.

herring_001The 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.

telepan_reclaimedwhitewash_003 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.

reclaimedwood_freemans_003Freeman’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.

wholefoods_webpic_003Cherry 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.

reclaimedwoods_cafekatja 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.

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