Old wood, new purpose [St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.]By Shea Conner, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Nov. 15--Malachi Milbourn founded his nationally recognized business on a simple notion.
"Most old wood is worth saving," he says.
In Portland, Ore., the thrifty woodworker finds and salvages pieces of wood from demolished buildings throughout the state. He turns those lifeless scraps into vibrant coffee tables, chairs, side tables, dinner tables and other pieces of furniture. From there, he sells them through his studio, Against the Grain Furniture and Design, which he created in 2009 after juggling furniture-making with a full-time job at Whole Foods for two years.
Working with reclaimed woods not only suppressed his appetite to create new furniture but also gives him the opportunity to make an environmental impact.
"Hopefully, more people can figure that out as a renewable resource," Mr. Milbourn laments. "... My huge passion right now is making sure it doesn't get thrown away. I don't want to see it go to waste."
Decommissioned historical structures are Mr. Milbourn's favorite resource for salvaged wood. Over the past three years, he has made furniture with wood from a Corvallis hops mill built in 1910, a Molalla barn built in 1900 and parts of the Oregon State Hospital's original building in Salem, which was partially torn down in 2010.
However, reclaimed wood can be found in St. Joseph or any other urban area, he says, often in the most obvious places. Old fence boards and pallet wood that had been trashed were the first items to pique his interest. The patina of these old woods were defined by their imperfections, which were the result of many years of wear and tear. But those blemishes formed a visual history that was absolutely appealing.
"I love the look of old nail holes and the patina of eroded wood," Mr. Milbourn says. "There are some great finds going to the dump every day."
From the Oregon forests to the plains of the Midwest, what was once old and decaying is becoming new and stylish in the hands of woodworkers, artisans, craftspeople and do-it-yourself designers. Anyone with a vision can give salvaged wood a second chance.
But you don't have to go Dumpster diving like Mr. Milbourn to find your piece of inspiration. Experts say your best move is to first check with a local lumber company. This is usually a better option than buying from online reclaimed wood sellers who often ramp up the shipping charges. These old scraps can come from just about anywhere -- destroyed buildings, old barns, old telephone poles or railroad ties.
Cabinet shops, construction companies and furniture manufacturers are also potential gold mines of wood, says Anita Lang, founder of Arizona's Interior Motives Inc., which has won awards for its designs of salvaged wood furniture. Those businesses produce a lot of scraps, and most of them are quite pleased to have someone take those scraps off their hands.
"If you know there's construction going on around your neighborhood, you can ask for the leftovers instead of it going to the landfill," Ms. Lang says.
She says the species of scraps that most woodworkers usually seek out are oak, walnut, wormwood and mesquite because they are all durable hardwoods. Oak and walnut, which are native to Missouri and Kansas, will be much easier to get a hold of here in St. Joseph.
But before you take home an old barn door that you'd like to turn into a coffee table, make sure you find out a little bit about the wood. Confirm whether it has been properly fumigated. Otherwise, termites and woodboring beetles could infest your home or workshop. A little research also will let you know if the wood was exposed to chemicals. For example, many old barns were coated with the preservative creosote, which is highly flammable. The barn paint might not be too good for you either.
"Avoid using old wood with old paint because, as nice as it may look, it may contain lead," Mr. Milbourn says.
He also suggests checking the wood for cracks, breaks, holes, nails, metal shards or anything else that may affect the stability and quality of the piece you plan to create.
Mr. Milbourn recommends first-timers make something simple for their initial reclaimed wood project. He started with a picture frame made of old fence board before he moved on to a coffee table. Whatever type of wood you choose, he says, use sandpaper to get rid of the dirt and splinters. Then, put some oil on it to get an idea of the wood's aesthetic.
"If you like what you see, you should roll with your idea," Mr. Milbourn says.
Once you're more confident in your abilities, make the most of your reclaimed wood's patina by using it in pieces that flaunt its appearance. Ms. Lang prefers creating large, attention-grabbing pieces like kitchen tables that really showcase the wear of the wood. But she also thinks outside the box. She has worked gnarled branches into chandeliers, used a root ball as the base for a table and used scraps from a construction site to panel a guest room wall.
"I love the juxtaposition of old, recycled elements with new, modern lines," she says.
Need some more ideas for your wood scraps? We've got you covered.
Many companies salvage antique oak, heart pine, chestnut, hickory and ash from old houses, barns and factories to fashion beautiful flooring, trim and beams. Many houses and subdivisions today have that "same old, same old" look about them. Reclaimed beams from antique barns and mills can set your home apart from the rest, adding style and architectural significance.
Old wood can add an extra dimension to your lawn or garden. Some homeowners buy Lincoln-style logs to frame their garden beds. Others go with stacked sides and more. Still others add wooden wheelbarrows, stumps, windmills and vintage signs to make their home and gardens stand out.
Tables and chairs aren't the only interior pieces made from reclaimed wood. Salvaged wood wine racks will make a great conversation piece at your next wine tasting. Framing a mirror with old wood is such a logical second life for oak, cherry or poplar. Some salvage outfits also mill and fashion old doors and windows into intricate headboards.
Shea Conner can be reached
at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.
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