A question came our way the other day via our Facebook page asking where we had found our barn wood and why it was so difficult to find. I hadn’t given it much thought until then but I reckon it is a bit tough to find. It seems the market for what was once considered “scrap wood” or “barn junk” has been saturated by designers, pickers, and artists inspired by the unique look, texture, and (oft-time) availability of such. We have managed to incorporate two different sets of reclaimed lumber and one load of discarded lumber into parts of our tiny house; the subfloor, a couple of actual walls, and now our ceiling! So how did we find this wood and how can you find similar for your build? If you know where to look you can find salvaged timbers that are free for the taking or a minimal price. Here are a few ways to get the free recycled wood you are looking for.
Old Barns and Buildings
Old barns and mills are a great source for high quality virgin timber (read: no off-gassing). So how do you get a barn owner to give you their barn? It is really quite easy. Most barn owners will happily give you there old dilapidated barn just to get it out of the way and cleaned up. This was the case for my brother-in-law back in March 2011. A friend of the families had an old barn he wanted removed so he could make way for a newer, larger outbuilding/barn. The wood was beautiful and we wanted it. We struck a deal. If we took the barn down and removed the debris we could have all the wood and the metal. It took a couple of long days in the cold but we did so and got a nice haul of yellow pine as well as a pile of metal we were able to scrap and sell for pocket money.
Start by placing an ad in your local newspaper or on Craigslist. It might read:
Wanted Old Barns to Recycle
We will remove your barn and
clean up the site in exchange for
the lumber. Call 555-555-5555
We did this on multiple occasions. We got some calls that weren’t worth the time to listen to and some were quite fruitful. Some folks wanted money and some just wanted us to get rid of their junk. Whatever the case, it worked to our benefit. You do need to remember though that you will be lucky to get useable material out of 35% of the barn. Most of it will be beyond repair and either warped or bowed. Once a roof goes the rest of the building is quick to follow. Before you agree to anything know what follow up work will need to be done to make it worth your while.
Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do to get free reclaimed lumber is drop off a trailer wait a few days and pick it up full of reclaimed wood? It’s been done and it is done far more than you even realize.
Get in contact with some remodeling contractors in your area. Let them know that you will haul away any wood that they tear out of a house. Contractors will be happy to give the antique building materials to you, it will save them a bunch of money on disposal costs. This works best if you are in an area where there are a lot of old houses. In other words, the more urban you are the more possibilities you have for this sort of reclamation.
Make sure to let the contractor know that you are recycling the wood, and you take wood only. No drywall, insulation or other debris, only wood, nails are okay if they are in the wood. If it becomes a problem and you are finding a lot of debris, you can start charging a disposal fee or just remove your trailer and part ways (amicably, of course) with the contractor.
You will get some junk wood and possibly some lumber scraps, It is okay if you do. You can sell the scraps in bundles of campfire wood, or burn it for heat in the wood stove in your shop. I know we have burnt off our fair share of scraps and junk wood!
Don’t be afraid to just ask. Get the word out. Place classified ads in your local newspaper. Post on your Facebook page. Tell everyone you know and everyone you meet that you recycle wood of all types. People will be happy to help you in any way they can. You may very well end up with more lumber than you know what to do with!
Very few free things come easy. In the case of reclaimed wood and barnwood you often have more work to do to prepare the wood to reuse as you do to get the wood. In our case we have spent literally days pulling nails, planing, ripping, cutting, sanding, scraping, and planing some more, just to get the wood in a useable condition. Be careful not to plane and rip the character off though. Part of the allure of reclaimed wood is the story behind it and character it has become!