If you can’t afford new wood, here’s how to safely reuse your old wood
For DIY enthusiasts, nothing beats the smell of new wood. But these days, this perfume can come at a pretty hefty price tag.
With lumber prices hovering about three times above pre-pandemic levels, it may make sense to use salvaged materials instead of new boards for household projects. But there are a few essential steps you can’t forget to make sure you’re working with old wood safely.
That’s something Car Archer knows a thing or two about. He has been salvaging old lumber, planks, beams and timber since dismantling an 1825 colonial house with attached barn in 1984. Today he runs Archer’s Lumber in Troy, where he specializes in lumber recycled.
Archer is all for reusing old wood, but says there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it, especially when it comes to safety.
“I’ve seen in the news recently people tearing down buildings from the bottom up and the roof has come down on their heads,” Archer said. “You always want to start from the top down.”
It’s all too common, he said, for people to try to keep the roof in place for as long as possible while they take down the inside of a structure to provide rain protection or shade. . Either way, he said it was a bad idea and it was crucial to remove it first.
That means either assembling and dismantling the roof piece by piece, according to Archer, or pulling the entire structure down with mechanical assistance.
“Don’t be afraid to hook a strap to the ball of your car or truck and pull the whole thing down,” Archer said. “You can save a lot of time and it’s extremely easy to reach the wood – plus it’s much safer – when everything is on the ground.”
Once you have a pile of wood, the next thing you need to think about are your feet.
“Go to a [store] and get a pair of stainless steel insoles and put them in your shoes,” Archer said. “I once stood on a pointe, did my version of a pirouette, and never even got a bump in that insole.”
Wearing soft-soled shoes around old wood is an imminent accident, Archer said. Old wood is often full of rusty nails or sharp splinters that can easily puncture leather and skin.
“You can get hurt very quickly,” he said. “If you’re not using solid soles, stay on clean ground on the outside edges of the pile and work your way through.”
Before reusing your old boards, you should inspect each one for old nails and remove them. Most nails can be removed using a simple hammer with a claw-like tip. Simply grab the head of the nail with the claw of the hammer and twist or rock it back and forth to remove it. If the nail is sticking out the other side, you can also hammer it to loosen it and make it easier to grab by the head.
If the nail is too deep to grab with a claw hammer, you may need to use what is called a nailer which allows you to dig into the wood and grab the head of the nail. It can be a simple gripping tool with a notched end, or you can get a more powerful version that runs on compressed air.
On very old boards, Archer said you can use a sweeping technique.
“You can hit the old nails to the left and then hit them to the right and they break right away,” he said. “But keep in mind that a piece of nail will remain embedded in the wood and you’ll have to watch for it if you’re going to run the board through a planer.”
It’s a good idea to remove all the nails you can before stacking your salvaged boards, as the sharp ends of the nails can scratch or damage other pieces. Not to mention bodily injury. Nails left in boards can also damage other tools like table saws or planers if the blades catch an invisible nail.
Once the boards are uncluttered and safely organized, you can immediately use them on your project – or you may want to clean them up first.
If you think there may be bugs in the wood, you can spray the boards with a mixture of one tablespoon of borax to eight ounces of warm water. Pour it into a spray bottle and spray down the planks. Then let the wood dry in the sun for a few days.
To remove dirt or grime from wood, simply go over it first with a wire brush to loosen the dirt, then repeat with sandpaper. Not only does this clean the boards, but you won’t lose any of the interesting patterns or patina that comes with its age.
“Just be smart and be careful about it,” Archer said. “Old wood is excellent to use.”