Whether it’s taking one man’s “trash” and turning it to treasure by breathing new life into old wood planks, or simply working with what Mother Nature has provided, reclaimed wood continues to make a bold statement in the flooring and design realms.
From steamboats to diving gear, the Joiner family has been navigating the Kentucky River for five generations. Today, William Joiner, owner of Antique River Logs, searches the river’s bottom for tree logs to make products.
“The logs that I use for our material, I crawl around on the bottom of the river and find them,” said Joiner. “I’m usually diving completely blind, and I have to feel around for the logs.”
For Joiner, the process of finding a single usable log can take several hours. It is because of this, Antique River Logs has decided to step away from making flooring, and is focusing on manufacturing smaller items such as unique pens, handcrafted furniture and architectural veneer primarily from southern Kentucky’s reclaimed oak, hickory and sycamore trees.
While there are years when it is more challenging for the folks at Goodwin Co. to locate and procure river logs, it has not discouraged it from its flooring business as the company continues to benefit from 80 to 90 million acres of Longleaf Pine trees formerly found in south Florida.
“Goodwin Co. is considered the pioneer of the river recovered process, and owns the federally registered trademark for the term river-recovered,” said Carol Goodwin, president of the company. “Prior to the mid-1880s, there were 80 to 90 million acres of virgin growth Longleaf. These logs were floated down river to port centuries ago.”
The denser logs sank, and according to Goodwin, they have been perfectly preserved in the low oxygen environment—rather than rotting, contrary to popular belief.
“A tree is at fiber saturation point when it is growing,” she said. “You can cut it down, put it in the river and it will be there for a very long time at the same moisture content. When we recover logs we often put them back into a log pond on the sawmill property. The bark and most of the sapwood outer part of the tree where the extractives have not built up is gone; however, the heart wood is perfectly preserved.
Goodwin Co. entered the flooring manufacturing world in the early 2000s. “We now manufacture engineered flooring with an antique surface or a protective wearlayer and a plywood backer, giving clients further options for their designs while preserving what is a unique and limited commodity,” she explained.
On another side of reclaimed wood, manufacturers are salvaging material from buildings on their way to demolition, and transforming the recovered wood to beautiful products, flooring included.
“Our wood comes from industrial, agricultural and residential buildings that are being demolished,” said Joseph Poirier of Longleaf Lumber. “Most of our lumber is supplied by demolition contractors who are looking to salvage as much of their waste as possible and bring their costs down. We rarely salvage lumber ourselves but when we do we do it very carefully and slowly. Reclaiming wood from buildings is skilled labor. There are special permits involved, as well as training and careful work. It is easy to damage wood during the demolition process, so boards and beams are generally removed by hand or very slowly and carefully with a machine. It takes much, much longer than the wrecking ball.”
Similar to Goodwin Co., Longleaf Lumber specializes in Heart Pine, which is old-and slow-growth wood from the Longleaf Pine tree.
“We’ve become a specialty Heart Pine mill, and produce that lumber in [over] six distinct grades,” said Poirier. “That tree was logged almost out of extinction after the Civil War to build Industrial Revolution factories and warehouses in the North, so there is no shortage of raw material today.”
Goodwin also sources the large joists and columns of antique Heart Pine from industrial revolution-era warehouses for its reclaimed Heart Pine offerings. George Goodwin, company founder, actively seeks Heart Pine beams from the deconstruction of 19th century industrial age buildings, re-saws them and mills them into what is referred to as reclaimed antique flooring.
Aside from the unique looks reclaimed wood brings to interiors, it also provides a highly durable option for flooring, according to the manufacturers.
“The quality of reclaimed floors is generally higher than anything you can get new,” said Poirier. “The lumber is older and was often slower-growing, meaning it is much denser (harder). A reclaimed Heart Pine floor can be twice as hard as a floor from a new loblolly pine, and a reclaimed hickory floor will generally be a bit harder than a new hickory floor.”
In fact, reclaimed wood, like Heart Pine and Heart Cypress, has proven to be so durable it is used in public spaces, including being put to work at national landmarks.
“Today, we are providing Heart Cypress for quite a few national landmarks such as the Portland Observatory and Beauvoir in Biloxi, Miss., that hurricane Katrina knocked down,” said Goodwin. “We [also] provided antique Heart Pine for Charnley-Norwood, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first designs, also a Katrina victim.”
Paired with its one-of-a-kind looks and durability, carrying reclaimed wood can give retailers an extra edge. Dealers can differentiate themselves in the local market by offering products their competition isn’t. Additionally, reclaimed wood, while typically a costly product, can be offered at varying price points, making it accessible for even the average consumer.
“For the most part, reclaimed wood is a high-end product,” said Poirier. “The amount of labor that goes into hand-dismantling a building, hand-loading lumber onto a truck and then hand-denailing every single piece is pretty high. We do have some more moderately priced products that are in the range of middle-income families, though.”
Old Growth Riverwood’s wood collected from rivers is the priciest in the company’s portfolio due to the product’s 300-year-old age and high quality. However, the company’s flooring produced from wood gathered from salvaged structures comes in at a price point that appeals to a wider variety of consumers.
“Reclaimed wood from a building is cheaper than the river wood,” said Terrie Metz, a manager at Old Growth Riverwood. “We’ve made it affordable for anybody.”
In an effort to broaden its customer base, Goodwin Co. is at work developing affordable pre-finished flooring options.
“A new line of pre-finished, builder-ready products is in the works, which will allow a broader range of customers to enjoy the quality river recovered and antique reclaimed wood we have been providing for over 35 years,” said Goodwin. “The company will soon offer custom color variations that work well with river recovered wood and implement various texturizing techniques to enhance design options. This new line of solid and engineered flooring and paneling will feature diverse color and texture choices using the highest quality rated reclaimed wood on the market.”
Another draw of reclaimed wood for consumers is its green aspect.
“Reclaimed wood is certainly trendy right now but that’s not just an aesthetic thing. People actually care about the green aspect of the material and that’s very meaningful,” said Poirier.
According to Goodwin, this environmentally friendly aspect is yet another characteristic that is making reclaimed wood stand out among the flooring sectors. “The reclaimed wood market is growing faster than the rest due to increased interest in environmental concerns and GenXers’ and Millennials’ desire to recycle, reuse and repurpose materials.”