Distinct from new wood that is distressed to appear aged, antique or reclaimed wood is truly old. Antique floor boards come from several sources. You can often find flooring that’s been removed from an old building, or you can get freshly sawn floor boards cut from very old timbers. Some salvage companies dive into lakes and rivers to pull up old-growth trees that were harvested in the 19th century but sank on their way to the mill. Other wood is reclaimed when old structures are demolished — barns, boxcars, industrial buildings, even wine casks. Many dealers provide information — some very detailed — on your floor’s past life.
There’s a double benefit: You get a distinctive floor, and lumber that might have been discarded is reused, saving forests.
Reclaimed wood that originated in old-growth forests, which grew slower and straighter than most of today’s timberlands, has a straighter, tighter grain. And decades of oxidation give it deeper, richer colors. “Antique wood has a lot of character,” says architect Ted Montgomery, of GroundSwell Architects, in Charlotte, Vt., “which is another way of saying it’s not perfect.” You’ll see nail holes, stains, and even minor insect damage in the boards. And that only contributes to their beauty.
Reclaimed flooring is generally milled the same as new solid-wood flooring and is available in ½- or ¾-inch-thick planks. Most reclaimed flooring comes unfinished — on-site finishing gives it a more authentic look — but a few manufacturers have introduced prefinished antique products. Expect to pay about two times the materials cost of new wood for antique or reclaimed wood, although some manufacturers offer “blends” from several sources, whose price is a bit more economical.
Reclaimed wood flooring should be kiln-dried, which kills bugs, exposes hidden cracks, and minimizes moisture content. It should also have any structural defects trimmed out. But those who deal in reclaimed wood say the most important indicator of quality is the track record of the supplier, along with his willingness to answer questions and to put in writing all specifics regarding grade and condition. It’s up to you to request a sample — a good idea with such a one-of-a-kind product — so you know what to expect before your floor arrives.