American Heirlooms - June 2019


JUNE 2019


Reusing lumber from barns has been all the rage recently, and from my perspective as a craftsman, I am really enjoying the beautiful products this weather-beaten wood can offer. Once considered a defective piece of lumber, barn wood provides an artistic approach to woodworking. It tells a story we all enjoy in a unique and beautiful way. Yet, if you have ever been part of the reclaiming process, you can understand why reused barn wood costs more than new lumber and can actually be more detrimental to the environment. Often, a high cost indicates the industry is not creating products efficiently and, instead, is using more energy than it would with alternatives. For reference, consider the highly anticipated Tesla, a vehicle that promises to be completely energy efficient by running on electricity. However, the cost to create the batteries for these vehicles to run so efficiently is huge, and the manpower and engineering put into creating these batteries runs high, as well. At face value, it’s a great concept. In the production stages, it needs some refining. The process of using barn wood includes cutting out the rot, killing worms and bugs by kiln-drying, risking damage to your planer and jointer blades if you don’t first use a metal detector to find and remove nails, and keeping the rustic side out so the cut or planed surfaces are not seen.

chopping a tree down, cutting it into lumber, and drying it with an efficient, high-volume processes is less costly. The teardown and rework are much more labor intensive with reclaimed barn wood. Additionally, when you rely on the U.S. lumber industry, you know you are getting a sustainably produced product.

There are places around the world where the

lumber is not sustainably harvested, but rest assured, the lumber industry in the U.S. has been planting more trees than it has been harvesting for many years. The U.S. Forest Service reports that 4 million trees are planted each day, and the growth of forests is 36 percent higher than removals. In theory, the practice of planting trees while older trees are removed makes good business sense. When you have more trees, you can harvest more trees. But this also serves as a replenishment after using up a source. Those who are staunch environmentalists may suggest giving up wood completely as a way to preserve natural habitats, yet studies show that might not be an effective alternative. In fact, according to a recent study, using wood as a building material more frequently

could save 14–21 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and 12–19 percent of current global fossil fuel consumption. The truth is when it comes to wood and lumber, you cannot go wrong with the forestry practices of the U.S. lumber industry. When you order a custom piece or set of kitchen cabinets with wood from the USA, you know it’s sustainable. Just be sure to order from a craftsperson who has quality as their main focus.

I do use barn wood occasionally; I even have a piece in my home! Yet it’s easy to see why

–Ethan Zimmerman

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