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Is Reclaimed Wood Safe?

Environmental movements in the 1980s and 1990s gave rise to the popularity of reclaimed wood.


With people becoming more conscious of eco-friendly materials and saving resources, each saw the wisdom in making additions to their homes with qualitative and weathered old-growth wood.


Initially, people were absolutely in love with the rustic charm this wood brought into their homes in the form of the floorings, accent walls, furniture pieces, etc. However, people are questioning the safety elements of bringing in reclaimed wood into their homes with more awareness now. For the most part, one cannot doubt the safety of reclaimed wood for home purposes, but precautions are always in order, just like everything else. You can test how safe the reclaimed wood is for your project in several ways. In case you are dissatisfied with the safety of your wood material, you can follow several measures to reduce the risks involved.


Before we discuss what measures are available to decrease the risks of using reclaimed wood for your home, let us discuss the finer details of reclaimed wood.


Reclaimed Wood


reclaimed wood planks

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Before you can determine whether reclaimed wood is safe for your home, you must understand what all entails in this vast category. The simplest definition, which most of us consider synonymous with reclaimed wood, is a wood source that one repurposes for another project. If we work with merely this definition, we can say that extracting wood out of an old barn, fence, deck, bowling alley, mines, wine barrels, old homes, etc., and preparing it for another purpose is reclaimed wood. Reclaimed wood can be as old as centuries and decades, while others may also be recent


How Safe and Environmentally Friendly Is Reclaimed Wood?



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Since we extract a product that was on its way to the landfill, reclaimed wood is exceptionally environmentally friendly. It saves us from the need to cruelly tearing down living trees to derive materials for our consumption and reduce environmental damage. Before builders repurpose reclaimed wood, they run it through a refinement process to ensure each piece they create for the project will be safe for the homes. It is, however, imperative to take precautionary measures on your behalf too. Owing to the variety of sources from where reclaimed wood comes, distributors find it difficult to precisely determine which source each piece belongs to, let alone the wood’s finish or paint coating.

Interior design has left no shortage of options for using reclaimed wood. From walls, furniture, shelves, cabinet, wall paneling, hardwood flooring to much more, you can adorn your home with reclaimed wood in endless ways.’

Often people are fortunate enough to find huge pieces of reclaimed wood that are robust, without defects, and mostly intact. You must note that we cannot consider sawdust wood as reclaimed wood. Sawdust wood is ground to fine particles then put together with large portions of glue. It also contains chemicals, including formaldehyde, as you may see in particleboard or MDF.

Reclaimed wood gives you several benefits over the modernly harvested ones. These also include the old lumber from the pre World War II era to calculate how many years it has had to mature. Mature wood is a more reliable, stronger, and denser material than most others.


So what are the critical details of reclaimed wood?


Here is a rundown:
• The wood saves us from tearing down living trees for construction homes and furniture. It is environmentally friendly and safe once you protect it with precautionary measures.

• Reclaimed wood repurposes post-consumer products and thus extends the life of our natural resources.

• It is noticeably different in its appearances, owing to the soft textures, weathered look, knots, and unique patinas resulting from maturity.

• Reclaimed wood becomes a source of acquiring exotic aged wood for your home, which would otherwise be very expensive.

• In comparison to virgin wood, reclaimed wood is forty points harder. It consists of a higher density and is stronger because of its extended maturing period.


Let us get back to how you can secure this sustainable and eco-friendly material for your home.


1. Investigate For Lead Poisoning


Lead poisoning is a significant reason why people may have concerns regarding the safety of reclaimed wood. Lead poisoning came to light during the 90s, and it can create neurobehavioral deficits at even low doses. The National Academy of Sciences verifies this fact. Thus people now pay more attention to the risk. Therefore, once a builder decides to use a reclaimed piece of wood, he/she first has to run some background processes:

  • The lumber runs beneath a metal detector. This will alert you to the presence of metal debris or small nails existing due to previous applications.
  • Debris and lead dust are the leading causes of lead poisoning. Thus, several government agencies, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission, make it mandatory to test wood for toxic chemicals and lead that finishes and paint may contain. In fact, since 1978, it became a rule to omit lead in paint.

Now that you realize the potential danger of lead poisoning, you can test your reclaimed lumber for safety against lead:

  • Purchase a lead paint tip from your local hardware store. Most hardware stores testing kits with liquids. The test is simple to conduct, and the changing colors determine the presence of lead in the wood


2. Bugs


insect or bugs in reclaimed wood

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Insects or bugs present in the reclaimed wood you want to buy are another concern. Even if you can be sure about the sure from where your reclaimed wood is coming, you can still not ignore the fact that the wood sat is a single location for a long time, vulnerable to elements. It may have become the habitat for insects such as spiders, beetles, and termites.

Luckily, you can handle this little problem quite easily too. To ensure you do not bring a big infested reclaimed piece of lumber into your home, you only need to ensure you get the wood from a source that sends it to a heated kiln. Many providers often neglect this step because they are short of funds, interest, and space to run the reclaimed wood through a kiln.

The kiln is hot enough to kill all the bugs and their eggs inside the wood. Genuine distributors will never ignore the importance of this safety procedure, and you must aim to only get your reclaimed lumber through them.

For added protection, we also recommend using chemicals to protect your wood further and eliminate any chances of remaining bugs inside the wood, once you possess it. The chemical treatment method is inexpensive and straightforward, but it will put your mind completely at ease.


3. Chemicals


Reclaimed wood may also contain chemicals inside. This is slightly trickier to detect because reclaimed lumber is often decades and even centuries-old, and one cannot be too sure of chemical presence inside. This is mainly in the case of pallet wood.

Pallet wood is a popular choice in reclaimed construction projects because it is comparatively cheaper, oak made hardwood and carries a weathered look. However, the problem with pallet wood is that builders may use chemicals in treating it for bugs.

The surest way of verifying if your pallet is safe for use is to look for markings on the wood. The standard procedure dictates that if one treats wood, they will burn certain letters or numbers to mark the treatment type.

For example, if you discover an HT marking on your pallet, the previous holders treated it with heat and did not use any chemicals. If you cannot find a marking for verification, we do not recommend buying that particular piece of wood, since you would have no idea of its treatment in the past.


4. Nails and Alternative Materials


Nails and Alternative Materials in reclaimed wood

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The purpose for which you plan to use reclaimed wood is quite crucial in this regard. If you merely intend to make signs with the lumber with no cutting involved, you need not be overly concerned with nails and other materials present inside.

However, if you plan to cut the wood with a saw, you need to determine that no stray pieces of metals or nails remain inside the wood. If you are bringing in professionals to tackle your project, they will have means of locating stray materials inside and getting rid of them somehow.

However, if yours is a DIY reclaimed wood project, you can use a magnet to detect the stray materials camouflaged in lumber. You would save yourself and your saw from unpleasant surprises. You might even be shocked to discover how many tray metals and nails a wood piece can hide without giving them away.


Final Thoughts


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There can never be any doubt about the magnificence and charm of using reclaimed wood for your home projects. No other material can bring the sort of enigma, mystery, and weathered rustic charm that reclaimed wood provides. It is also widely popular for its attractive features, including being environmentally friendly, sustainable, and safe. You only need to look out for a few things when out shopping for your reclaimed lumber. Bugs, lead poisoning, stray materials are only slight threats, but you can easily tackle them with the right measures.

Rest assured, you would never regret adorning your home with trustworthy old-growth wood.