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There’s high demand for wood that tells a story

Reclaimed woods have piqued consumer interest to a point where sellers interviewed by Woodshop News say they’re experiencing some of their busiest times dealing with salvaged products. Whatever the species may be in this broad category, buyers and designers are seeking it to add a rustic aesthetic and a little history to their projects.

“This is a pretty robust time for all the building trades right now, and also the acceptance of reclaimed lumber just continues to grow,” says Arnie Jarmak, owner of the Jarmak Corp., a reclaimed lumber supplier in Oxford, Miss., that works with demolition crews primarily throughout New England. “When I started over 25 years ago, reclaimed lumber wasn’t a household word, and today it is. We’re selling [reclaimed] wood for every type of possible use, for cabinets, walls, ceilings, countertops and accents, not only residential but also in commercial.”

White oak is his top seller, but he says customers are more interested in the history of the wood and its prominence, regardless of the species, and are willing to pay top dollar for what they get.

“The story about the wood is as important as the appearance of it. People want it in their homes because of its beauty and because it adds a certain kind of permanence that you can’t find in things that you buy new today.

“Reclaimed lumber is a lot more expensive than new lumber, and obviously the reason for that is it’s a very hands-on process. I counted once from when we picked up a piece of reclaimed lumber on a demolition site to when we sent that piece out the door, and we touched the wood 14 times. So that adds to the expense.”

But marketing reclaimed lumber can be a challenge with designers and builders who aren’t familiar with the sourcing of the material, according to Jarmak. His strategy is to elaborate on the historical and cultural significance of what he puts up for sale.

“We pulled a hardwood floor out of a warehouse in Providence [R.I.], and on the bottom of it was a manufacturer’s name in Vermont, which is still in existence but now doing hardwoods and not maple flooring. Vermont is famous for maple syrup, and they probably have some of the nicest maple trees in the world, so we advertised that as Vermont maple and it struck a chord with a number of people.”

Marion Rogers, of Rogers Lumber & Millwork in Covington, Ohio, is also busy selling reclaimed woods. He offers a mixture of hardwoods native to west-central Ohio such as red and white oak, ash, hickory, elm, beech and walnut.

“We’re busier than we’ve ever been. We’re primarily shipping around the country hand-hewn timbers for fireplace mantles and architectural accents. It’s used in many ways. We finished a barn house and the porch floor was some material that came out of a Jim Beam whisky factory. Anything that has some historical significance is used,” says Rogers.

“I think the business in general is increasing quite a bit because the price of new lumber has increased so much, and people are very interested in using a product that’s been used before. In other words, the patina. There’s a lot of interest in preservation.”

His company is primary focused on transforming barns generally built between 1850 and 1900 into dwellings with exposed framing from the original structure. Often, extra material is used for furnishings.

“One of the last barn conversions we did was a type of conference center, and all the cabinetry in the barn was made from all the white oak material that came out of the barn. We also had some beams we didn’t need, so we made a dining room table and a big bar out of live-edge walnut.” 

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue.

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