Reclaim Barn Wood Buying Guide – Everything to Know!

Barn wood has become extremely popular over the past decade or so. You can find just about anything made from it. Everything from furniture, lighting and home decor that hangs on your walls can be created from barn wood. Barn wood is appealing for numerous reasons. The weathered look of the old growth wood provides a look that can not be replicated using any other methods.

In addition to the unique look, the use of barn wood is eco-friendly! Many times, you may see construction sites bulldozing an old barn and then burning the wood to get rid of it. Re-using the wood for home decor gives it a new life rather than just turning it into ashes to make way for a new shopping mall. Below we will look at how to go about finding and buying barn wood. We will also cover some of the things you need to watch for to protect yourself from using toxic woods.

Reclaimed wood vs Salvaged wood

Before we go too far, it’s necessary to understand the difference in the terms used to describe this old growth wood. Many people use these words interchangeably, but you need a basic understanding of the definitions so you know what to look for when purchasing your wood.

Salvaged wood is defined as wood, lumber or logs which have never been used. Any board or piece of wood that you find that has been sitting but never been used for anything is defined as salvaged wood. You may be wondering how a board or piece of wood can be “unused” especially when its decades old. One such example is beams or boards that have been stored in a barn loft. Many older farmers in the United States grew up during or shortly after the Great Depression. Their generation made an effort to save anything they felt might have a use for later. It’s not uncommon to find wood, tools or even a car in some rare cases that have been sitting in the back of a barn for decades completely untouched.

Another fascinating example of salvaged materials being used is log recovery. Prior to trains and trucks, loggers used the nation’s waterways to transport massive amounts of logs from their forest to saw mills. Mules and Oxen were used to drag the logs across land to the closet river.

From there, the logs were pushed into the water and then floated down the river to the mill. Most logs would float. However, on occasion, a log would sink during the trip to the mill. These logs sat on the bottom of these rivers for decades. In many cases, the water ended up protecting them from decay.

Now, there are actually companies that dive to the bottom of these rivers to recover the untouched logs. The logs are then milled and sold to companies or individuals. These woods are considerably more expensive than regular salvaged wood. These preserved logs are used to make some of the most expensive violins on the market today. For additional details on this process, check out this article by the New York Times from 1997.

Reclaimed wood is any wood that has been recovered and used in the past. Barn wood falls into this category because it’s been recovered from a barn. Reclaimed wood can be recovered from a number of sources. Some of these include old homes, schools, factories, churches and even railroad cars.

Old Growth vs New Growth

Many people don’t realize it, but there is a significant difference in old wood versus new wood that is available at hardwood stores. The difference isn’t just the age, but rather the actual structure and look of the wood. This is commonly referred to as old growth lumber and new growth lumber.

Odds are when you purchase your reclaimed lumber it is several decades old. It’s very likely that the barn it was used on was 50-100 years old. That means the lumber is 100 years old, but the tree may have been another 50-100 years old before it was cut down. Therefore, it’s very possible the reclaimed lumber you purchased came from a tree that was planted when Thomas Jefferson or Andrew Jackson was President! During that time, there were millions of acres of virgin forest.

Wood created from logs that grew in a virgin forest look much different than the wood we see at hardware stores today. The most obvious visual difference is apparent when you compare the end grains of the new and old pieces. You’ll see the rings of the old wood is much tighter and closer together. This also makes it much stronger and less likely to crack or split.

Today, when a forest has it’s lumber harvested, the logging companies replant the land as a means to replace the trees that were cut. Additional steps are also taken to make the trees grow faster and more condensed so they can be harvested again in a few decades. These additional steps are unnatural such as using man made fertilizers and over populating the land with pine trees which grow more quickly. These small changes can be significant differences for the trees as they grow.

Where to buy it?

Commercial development is never ending in the United States. There’s always a new shopping mall, skyscraper or subdivision being built. Many times, in order for one of these buildings to be constructed, an existing building must be demolished which is why we are able to use reclaimed or salvaged wood. Finding this type of wood should not be a problem, especially with so many online options available. Here is a list of a few options available to you:
Local Salvage Companies
Since there is money to be made in the process of selling reclaimed products, many new businesses have been created with this as their primary focus. These companies operate by purchasing the rights to a structure for a set period of time. During this time, they take the building apart as quickly but carefully as possible to preserve as much of the contents as possible.

Once the structure has been deconstructed, they sort the wood and transport to their shop. From there a number of things can happen. They can mill it into different shapes, remove nails or simply organize it at their business and sell as is. These businesses will generally have the best options to choose from, especially if you are looking for something specific.

Most major cities should have at least a couple of these companies in operation in their area. In my experience, these shops tend to be a bit more expensive than some of the other options we will look at. However, the companies tend to also have the best wood when it comes to structural integrity. They also tend to do a better job at ensure the boards are free of bugs. A simple search in your area should provide suitable results.

Like most things on Craigslist, this option can be hit or miss. I have purchased reclaimed barn wood several times using this option. The quality of the wood has been all over the place, though I’ve been able to use everything I’ve purchased. I’ve purchased everything from 80 year old boards from a pig farm that were in terrible shape to beautiful thick and wide oak boards that were on a barn loft in near perfect shape. For me, this option is the cheapest that I’ve found. It just may take more work to find the wood and get it prepped for use.
Local Owners
I’ve only tried this method once, but was successful when I only needed a few boards. In all likelihood, you can travel just a short distance into the country before you find an old barn that is falling down and not being used. Many farmers don’t realize there is a demand for the wood on these barns. One option is to stop and talk to the land owner to see if they will sell you a few boards or maybe the whole barn if you need it.

A farmer may be less willing to sell their barn to an individual if the structure is large or has serious structural issues due to liability. They also may be hesitant for fear that you will only remove the high quality boards and not everything which leaves them with a mess to clean up afterwards. If you are going to approach a landowner about removing a large structure, I highly suggest drawing up a small contract that clearly defines these details.

eBay & Etsy
It’s also possible to purchase reclaimed wood from these two buying communities. You will find large boards and beams available with shipping options. Many times, the shipping charges make the purchase of these cost prohibitive. Using these sites to purchase your wood may be better for small bulk orders. Small boards that are typically used to make signs are much cheaper to ship and are typically sold in packages.
Facebook Marketplace
This is another option similar to Craigslist. I have not had as much success finding barn wood on this platform. Many times, portable mills and reclaim companies are family owned operations. Sometimes, its an individual that may not have the most experience using computers and other technology. Facebook does not seem to be as popular of an advertising method for these companies in my experience.
Local Businesses (Pallet Wood)
Many people elect to use pallet wood as their source for reclaimed wood. It’s typically much easier to find because just about all businesses receive pallets on a weekly basis. Another reason it’s desired is the fact that pallets are made of oak and develop a weathered look over time.

What many people don’t realize, is that pallet wood can be toxic for your home. Fortunately, there are ways to determine if a pallet you are looking at is toxic before grabbing it to use for your project.

The next time you are around several pallets, take time to notice if any a burned stamps on them from the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). Pallets with their logo burned onto them indicate the pallet was used for international shipping.

It’s important to learn the what these markings are telling you about the wood before using it. The most important symbol that you want to watch for is “MB.” The “MB” symbol stands for Methyl Bromide.

This chemical is used to kill any bugs or bacteria that may be present in the wood before sending it across international waters. IT EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO NOT USE PALLETS MARKED WITH “MB.” The cutting or burning of this wood can cause serious lung problems if inhaled.

If you come across a pallet that has no burned stamps, this indicates that it has only traveled within your specific country. Caution should still be used as there is a possibility it was treated with dangerous chemicals. My advice would be to only use pallets with stamps on them to be absolutely certain.

Gray wood vs Brown wood

One of the first questions a seller is likely to ask you is if you are looking for gray or brown boards. Unpainted wood will take on one of these colors when it has not been painted. Several things factor into which color it will take on. The species of wood and the type of elements that it was exposes to will have the largest impact on which color it will take on.

Before visiting a buyer of wood decide if you have a preference on color. The first time I went to buy some reclaimed wood, I was caught off guard by this question because I didn’t know it could vary. I assumed everything was brown. It’s good to know before arriving if you need all of one particular color or a mix of both.

Things to Watch For

Buying reclaimed lumber is different that picking up some boards at your local hardware store. There are some things that you need to be aware of when buying to ensure your purchase doesn’t cause bigger problems down the road. Don’t let the potential problems prevent you from purchasing reclaimed lumber. Millions of people buy this type of wood every year. You just need to be aware of the precautions and things to look for before buying.
Lead Paint
The United States banned the use of lead paints in 1978. It was determined that these paints were the primary reason for lead poisoning cases in children. Many homes and barns built before 1978 were painted with lead paint.

Even though it has been more than 40 years since the law was passed that banned the paint, there are still an estimated 37 million homes in the United States that have it. The danger of lead paint comes when it begins to break down over time. Therefore, if you purchase any reclaimed lumber that has paint on it, you should treat it as if it contains lead. A respirator is required when sanding the wood in order to remove it.
Bugs and Insects
Another thing to look for when purchasing reclaimed wood is insect infestation. When looking for places that sell wood, be sure to ask if they kiln dry their wood. Some sellers use a kiln to heat their wood to 140 degrees Fahrenheit in order to dry the wood, but also to kill any bugs and larvae that may be within it. If their wood is not kiln dried, take a close look at it before purchasing to see if there are any signs of insects on it.
Even if you see no signs of insects on the wood you purchase, it is still a good idea to treat the wood with an insect killer before bringing the wood into your home. Here’s an excellent treatment that you can put on your reclaimed wood that will kill any bugs. I use this on all of my reclaimed wood and have been very satisfied with the results. The other good news, is you can pick it up for under $15.
This is something that you need to be mindful of no matter what type of wood you are working with. However, reclaimed wood brings additional risks. Not only is there lead paint concerns, but many times this wood has mold and fungus spores within it as well from being in the elements for so long. When sanding this wood, it’s important to do so outside and while wearing a respirator to protect your lungs.
If building a piece of furniture from reclaimed wood, it’s important to ensure the wood is strong enough to support your piece. Many times, these boards will develop internal cracks which reduce their strength. Before building your project, carefully look over the wood to ensure it will work for your needs.
Nails or metal
Most reclaim wood comes with nails. Unfortunately, many times they are not visible. Before running your boards through a saw, make sure you check for any hidden nails. I often find nails where the heads have broken off and due to the rust the blend in with the wood. Taking a couple minutes and running a metal detector over your boards can saw you a saw blade which can be ruined by a small nail. If you don’t have a metal detector available, I’ve used large magnets before. I use this one that I picked up on Amazon for about 8 bucks.
Even if you want to keep the weather look of the wood that you pick up, I highly suggest running sandpaper over it to remove some of the larger splinters. This is not intense sanding. You’ll want to get a sheet of 60 or 80 grit paper and run over it very lightly. Your hands will appreciate you taking the time to do so!

Milling (might) be Required

Depending on your project, you may need to mill the wood that you purchase. Milling is the process of converting wood to straight and square pieces of lumber. If you are using the barn wood to create furniture you will need access to a table saw, joiner and planer.
A joiner is used to create a straight line on a piece of wood. This line is created by repeatedly running the edge of your board over the joiner bed and blades. One you have a solid straight line, you can run the board through your table saw. Simply put the straight edge against the table saw’s fence and cut your piece to width. This will give you two perfectly straight edges.

Next, in order to get the thickness that you desire, you’ll need to use a thickness planer. You’ll send the board through the planer repeatedly and slowly lower the blades on each pass. You should alternate each pass through the planer with each face passing over the blade. Once you have reached your desired thickness, you should have 4 perfectly square sides to you board.


Just to recap so you are prepared when you go to pick up a batch of reclaimed wood, below are a few of the most common questions you are likely to be asked. Prepare ahead of time so you are able to get exactly what your project requires!

1) Are you looking for gray or brown wood?
2) How much do you need?
3) What size boards?
4) What are you using them for? (Furniture vs signs, etc)