Credit: Duluth Timber Co.
SECOND GROWTH: The old timber frame mill at Silvertree Sawmill near Vancouver, B.C., contained 400,000 board-feet of old growth fir. The wood was removed from the structure by hand and crane, nails were removed, and damage was trimmed before the wood was packaged for trucking.
STOCKPILES: Reclaimed lumber comes from many sources, among them (clockwise from top left) a barn in Indiana shown before and during its dismantling; a Spiegel warehouse in Chicago; and a grain elevator in Indiana. Despite recent press reports, there's little interest in reclaiming lumber from homes built after World War II, as they usually weren't constructed with wood from old-growth forests.
In the meantime, companies make do. At Pioneer, Slusser says the company's graders follow the guidelines set forth by the Western Wood Products Association, even though that group itself does not regrade reclaimed lumber.
Even if the grading challenges can be overcome, timber framing "doesn't lend itself to the traditional LBM dealer," says Slusser. That's because big post and beam components are customized for each project, and reclaimed lumber carries more value to seller and dealer when converted into wood flooring. (Pioneer Millworks sells both reclaimed wood flooring and large timber framing components.) "For regular lumberyards, it's very hard for them to want to deal with [reclaimed timber framing], because they aren't going to be able to realize large margins, and there is a fairly long lead time," Slusser says. On the other hand, the fact that reclaimed lumber products are always custom orders means there aren't inventory problems.
Pricey, But Loved Jim Bate, lumber and building materials sales manager for Washington Supply Co. in Washington Depot, Conn., recently added Pioneer's reclaimed wood flooring to his product line. Slusser says Pioneer has 1 million board feet of flooring in stock, enough to plank 250 houses sized at 2,000 square feet.
"We are driven by our customers and what they want," Bate says, and his customers want beautiful products responsibly sourced. Bate has Pioneer's display board and brochures set up in the store, and says the flooring has sparked customer interest.
"When people see it, they love it, but then they see the prices: anywhere from $8 to $35 a square foot. Strip oak is $3 a square foot, but, of course, strip oak is 2 1/2 inches wide. This stuff goes from 4 to 12 inches wide and is really beautiful."
At those price points, reclaimed flooring might not make the cut at yards in less affluent locales, but in Bate's neck of the woods, prosperity rules. "Around here, it's all custom homes and second homes," he says.
Like most reclaimed wood dealers, Pioneer typically gets its sales as a result of architects specifying reclaimed wood for their projects or because of customers familiarity with reclaimed woods' good looks and environmental credibility.
Ryan Brand does sell reclaimed framing components as well as flooring, and got into it for a simple reason: He didn't want to lose a potentially big sale.
"When we started this process years ago, a project came to us and we decided to figure out how we could do it for them, rather than simply turn them away because we didn't have the materials they needed," Brand says. The search for reclaimed timber components eventually led him to Pioneer, but along the way, he says, "I must have dealt with a hundred companies looking for suppliers."
The ranks of companies trading in reclaimed lumber have swelled over the past five years, Slusser says. "Everybody and his brother with a pickup truck and an old barn is getting in on this," he says. "What they don't have is the same level of consistency and knowledge that comes from being in the business a long time."
Most reclaimed lumber dealers still supply directly to customers, but opportunities for setting up relationships with LBM dealers to the mutual benefit of both certainly exist. Reclaimed lumber dealer Duluth Timber's business is 90% high-end residential work, and most of its marketing is aimed at architects, according to Krieger. "When architects specify reclaimed lumber, then I get a call, sometimes from the regional lumberyards," he says.
Krieger has supplied Scherer Brothers with some small things, and also has worked with Weekes Forest Products, a regional independent lumber and building products distributor. "We have 2 million board feet on the ground in our two yards," he says. (Duluth has a second facility in Edison, Wash.) "I make some flooring products on a regular basis. ...If Scherer Brothers wanted 50,000 board feet, I could supply them."
If the stock of old-growth timber in abandoned buildings and structures is finite–experts estimate there is a 10- to 30-year supply, based on current salvage efforts–what happens when the urban forest is logged out?
No worries, says Slusser: "The wood that we are recycling today could be broken down and recycled again in 50 years."