Reclaimed Wood Textures

Production Process Textures

Weathered or worn textures Textures inherent to the log Textures created in the modern day woodshop

Before reclaimed wood became popular nearly all wood sold and used in the construction industry was planed smooth. Occasionally projects called for a resawn or roughsawn face. Since reclaimed and character woods have become popular, various wood textures have also proliferated giving an entirely new dimension to the wood specification process, especially to cladding, including paneling and siding. However, beams, furniture and even wood flooring are now specified with increased consideration given to texture.

As with all reclaimed wood products, special reverence is given to authentic textures. These textures were typically created in one of two ways, either as a result of the original process of producing the lumber from the log as in sawing, or through the aging process as with barn siding. In some instances the combination of an original production process combined with time has resulted in a truly unique texture.

Production Process Textures

The textures that are the result of a production process include hand-hewn, riven, sawn and planed. These textures were all created in a brief moment in time.

Hand-hewn is the most primitive looking of the man made textures. Hand hewing was typically done when sawmills were either not available or not a practical choice. The tools involved in hand hewing wood are an adze to drive away a section of wood and a broadaxe to define the distance between each section. The result is a texture that is a bit uneven and shows diagonal axe marks every six to twelve inches. Most old barns and homes contain either hand hewn or sawn beams. Because the process of hand hewing started with a round log, most hewn beams are relatively square, regardless of their overall size. For instance, it is common to find hewn beams that are square 6x6, 7x7, 9x9, or something close to square such as 6x7, 4x5, 10x12, and extremely unusual to find hewn beams that are significantly larger in one dimension than the other, such as 3x10, 4x12 or even 4x8. Some beams are more heavily textured with deeper axe marks and this speaks to both the species being hewn as well as the skill of the person doing the hewing.

Rough Sawn
Rough sawn is perhaps the most common texture to find in reclaimed wood. Rough sawn refers to the texture of the lumber as it came off the sawmill. In time the lumber may have aged and darkened, but the texture of the original saw that cut it is often prominent even after more than a century. An experienced lumberman can look at wood cut over one hundred years ago and tell if it was cut with a dull blade or had a proud tooth that was not set correctly. In addition one can also establish if the wood was cut with a circular sawmill, a bandsaw or, as is rarely the case the wood was water sawn or pitsawn, both of which were replaced with circular sawing by about 1825. Bandsawn lumber (as well as pitsawn and watersawn lumber) is identifiable by the straight lines of the saw marks. Wood cut with a circlular sawmill shows circular saw marks. When rough sawn reclaimed lumber is specified, it is usually not specified as circular or band, just as rough sawn. However, when customers wish to replicate an old look with new lumber, circular sawn lumber is usually preferred. Although most modern sawmills utilize bandmills, there are still some circular sawmills in existence.

There are several techniques to highlight the texture of original rough sawn wood, show off the patina and/or juxtapose the original surface with the underlying grain and color beneath the original sawn face. Very often we brush the boards with either a wire or nylon brush head. Brushing wood serves to clean the wood while retaining or even enhancing the saw marks of the original board. The other technique commonly employed with reclaimed wood is to skip plane the original surface. Skip planing flattens the board removing some of the original cup that may be present. It also shows off the underlying grain. Lastly it shows the patina of the wood or darkening that is typical in the top 1/16” of an inch. For these reasons, skip planing the original surface is especially popular with reclaimed flooring.

Riven is a very uncommon texture and refers to wood that has been split, shearing the grain apart. Aside from rare examples of siding, occasional barn rafters, grape stakes, pegs in hand hewn barns and hand split roof shakes, it is very uncommon to see reclaimed wood with a riven texture. Occasionally people still use hand split shakes. Aside from that the only new riven wood we commonly see is firewood.

Original Planed
Original planed wood is also common, particularly in structures that are not as old or in old flooring boards. Old planed wood is typically not as desirable to our clients, unless it happens to be original hand planed wood with its slight imperfections. However, it is somewhat rare to find original handplaned wood in any significant quantities.

Weathered or worn textures
All of the above descriptions describe process whereby the process of turning the wood into lumber has left the wood with a distinctive texture. However, there are several textures that were created over time, often a long time. To understand some of these textures, it is helpful to understand a little of the structure wood. When looking at the end grain of wood it is usually fairly easy to see the growth rings. As most people know, each ring represents a years time. Upon closer inspection however, each ring is actually two rings, a dark ring which we count and a lighter ring. The lighter ring is the early wood, it was added very quickly in the springtime during the best growing conditions for the tree. The dark ring is the latewood and was produced by the tree late in the growing season over a longer duration. For these reasons, the latewood is typically very dense as compared to the early wood.

Barn Siding
In the case of barn siding there are several factors contributing to the texture of the wood. For one, the constant expansion and contraction associated with wetting and drying causes the wood to check creating rain grooves. Additionally, the variation between the earlywood and latewood also has a major bearing on the texture as the earlywood tends to wear away faster resulting in a textured surface where the latewood stands proud as the earlywood has eroded. The result is a heavily textured and rustic texture that, together with the weathered colors of barn siding results in a unique and widely specified texture. It is important to note that barnwood can have significant color and texture variation depending on species, as well as whether the wood was north facing or south facing.

Mushroom Boards
In terms of texture, mushroom boards are very similar to barn siding. The heavily textured surface of mushroom wood is also the result of eroded earlywood, resulting in prominent knots and latewood. The deeply grooved surface of the mushroom board takes about a decade to produce as the wood is literally used as beds to grow mushrooms. The prolonged contact with moist soils, as well as the enzymes produced by the mushrooms serves to eat away the less dense earlywood, once again leaving the latewood. Because mushroom boards are almost always hemlock or cypress and the mushroom enzymes produce a consistent chocolate brown color, the color and texture variations typical of barn siding is relatively minimal with mushroom wood. Also, mushroom board tends to have fewer of the heavy checking one sees with southern exposure barn siding.

Tank Staves
Another textured wood surface somewhat similar to barn siding and mushroom board is tank stave wood. Wooden tanks were widely used throughout the 20th century for everything from holding water on the rooftops of New York City, to producing vinegar, wine, olives, cider, beer, pickles and juice. As these tanks are replaced by stainless steel the old wooden tank staves become available. The ones that were stored outside, including pickling tanks and water tanks, are usually slightly weathered and have a unique twist on barn siding. Although not as deeply textured as barn siding or mushroom board, the addition of rusted iron oxide from the old metal bands of the tanks produces texture with a slightly more industrial or modern edge than barn siding.

Foot or Hoof Worn Boards
The other category of woods that become textured over long periods of time are foot (or hoof) worn. These include threshing floor, boardwalk decking and foot worn industrial and residential flooring.

Threshing Flooring
Threshing flooring is barn flooring and is the most rustic of the footworn textures. Typically this flooring is thicker and heavily worn. Often, the horses, cows and farm equipment have ground hay and dirt into he wood for so long that the surface wood fiber has been crushed, torn and then ground somewhat smooth. Although this is a pretty standard product form many barns it is almost never available in any significant quantity and is therefore often best utilized in smaller projects.

Foot Worn Flooring
True foot worn flooring is also usually available in smaller quantities and, like threshing flooring shows many years of being walked upon. Unlike the threshing flooring, it did not take the same kind of abuse and is typically much smoother. Even industrial flooring usually has a very smooth original surface. The major problem with the industrial flooring is that it is often soaked with machine oil. For this reason, and since it is usually only 2-3” wide and 1-8’ long, we usually stay away from foot worn industrial flooring. As for original foot worn residential flooring, this is usually only available in very small quantities so there is never much to be had. The wider planks from two hundred plus year old colonial homes do tend to be highly desirable. The key to all of these footworn products is to find unfinished product as the old finishes will probably need to be stripped before they can be reused.

Textures inherent to the log

Wormy Wood
Some wood products have texture that was in the log before the tree was ever even cut down. Wormy chestnut is the best example. Although the worms were not what killed the off the chestnut tree early in the 20th century, the worms ate the wood from the dead and dying trees and as the wood was cut for commercial or agricultural use the worminess was already there. Although worminess is not specifically what makes wormy chestnut so desirable, it is a unique and defining characteristic that tends to epitomize the destruction of this once important North American tree species. Although worminess is not unique to chestnut, it is the most highly sought after and commonly specified. The problem with most other wormy woods is that the waste stream residue from the worms or beetles is often left behind in the wormholes creating an impacted sawdust appearance that is almost always undesirable.

Pecky Wood
Another example of wood that is textured from within the log even before it is sawn is pecky cypress. Interestingly, pecky cypress has been a desirable wood for interior applications long before ‘character’ became acceptable and even desirable. Historically, people have always wanted clear wood that is free of any defects. In all high end woodwork before 1960, knots, checking, rot, holes and even color variation caused by a bit of sapwood were defected out altogether or hidden as much as possible. And then there is pecky cypress, with its deeply furrowed pockets of decay proudly displayed in the homes and boardrooms of some of the wealthiest individuals. The more decayed the better.

Live Edge Lumber
Lastly, there is live edge lumber. Beginning in the 1960s, the furniture maker George Nakashima popularized the organic aesthetic created by incorporating the natural edge of the log. After a bit of a hiatus in the 80s and early 90s, it has once again become popular as reclaimed and character in wood has become desirable. The application of live edge lumber is primarily limited to furniture although it is occasionally used as siding and paneling. Though not technically live edge, the accompanying picture shows a mantle that has been sanded down to a common annular ring, approximating the live edge of a highly figured piece of curly redwood.

Textures created in the modern day woodshop

All of the previously discussed textures were already there before the wood arrives in the woodshop. The last category of textures is created in the woodshop. We will avoid newly hand hewn, hand-scraped and newly distressed as those are merely emulative of all the authentic textures described above. Often times those attempts fall short of the authentic textures we find in older reclaimed wood and wind up looking contrived. Instead we will focus on milling and blasting techniques.

To understand newly milled textures it is very helpful to know the machines used to create them. With each description of the texture we will also look at the machine used to create them.

Historically, the most common medium used to blast wood is sand. However, nowadays everything from baking soda to walnut shells to corn husks is used to blast the wood and create a textured surface. Sandblasting is primarily used to either clean, such as blasting away paint in an industrial building or for the texture, such as by sign makers. It has the same basic effect as weathering in eroding away the earlywood and leaving more of the denser latewood and knot structures. However, unlike weathered wood it leaves the wood clean, as with resawing. It is not especially popular for several reasons. It is relatively expensive as compared to other finishing options. Also, blasting does not accomplish as much as say, resawing or moulding, in the sense that these other processes are used not only to alter the surface like blasting, but perhaps even more importantly to machine the wood into a uniform size. Sandblasting is the equivalent of aiming a hose at the wood and spraying, it just alters the surface. For this reason, a sandblasting chamber it is not a conventional woodworking machine and very few woodworking shops seem to possess one, so even though some designers may wish to have the look of blasted wood, it is not often offered or considered. Still, with a bit of creativity, blasting could offer some novel textures for a variety of applications.

Planing, moulding and blanking
Planers and moulders are primarily designed to machine wood to a precise dimension and to clean the surface to a finished or semi finished smooth surface. Before the industrial revolution planing was done by hand. Since 1900, however, furniture makers are about the only wood workers who utilize hand planers. Historically, the vast majority of visible construction related wood products have been machined with either planers or moulders. This includes wood flooring, mouldings, treads, siding, paneling, exposed beams and even most framing since the 1950s. The only common exceptions over the past hundred years might be turnings such as newel posts and columns and some siding products such shingles. Planers are primarily designed to make the wood smooth and flat on all sides. Similarly, moulders also make the wood smooth on all sides. However, unlike planers, moulders are designed to cut shapes and patterns into the wood and thus are utilized for flooring, mouldings and all other profiled shapes. Moulders and planers are designed to cut linear patterns as the wood is fed in one end and comes out the other, so the wood pieces after being planed or moulded on all four sides will look the same from one end to the other.

Historically, people have preferred smooth surfaces for most wood products, even if the shape is somewhat ornamental, such as crown moulding or beaded paneling. Even in the case of v-groove paneling, the primary function of the ‘V’ is to create a shadow at the joint, thus hiding any imperfections in the joint as the wood pieces might, over time, shrink and open up a gap. Once again, in all these instances the craftsman’s role has been to create a finished product that was as flawless and perfect as possible. Variation, outside of the narrowly defined ornament of the pattern was to be avoided. In all these instances the beauty of the wood grain or the shape of the moulding was what was sought, not the actual texture of the wood.

Roughing Planer
More recently, however, moulders and planers have been utilized to do more than form a shape. They have also been used to give the wood a unique texture, or at least the appearance of a unique texture. The most interesting recent example we have encountered is the example of blanking with a roughing planer. We had a customer who wanted a somewhat rougher texture than what a planer offers. After visiting our yard, they settled on some wood planks that had been rough planed to remove the surface grit and prepare the wood for a finish planing. As one might expect, a roughing planer is not meant to be the last step in the wood machining process. On top of this, the wood had sat outside in a covered shed for a while and had gotten some moisture on the surface, causing the grain to raise a bit. The end result was wood that felt moderately rough to the touch and looked, in their estimation, like the flooring in a French country farmhouse. Whenever I describe this product to an old school woodworker they have a hard time shedding years of woodworking practice and fail to comprehend how someone could want this ‘unfinished’ product.

Hatteras or Raked Moulding Profile
Other examples of specialty moulding are Hatteras or raked moulding profiles. In the Hatteras profile, the moulder knives are unevenly ground causing a slightly ruffled surface. Because the differences from peak to valley are so small, within an eighth inch, and irregular, the end result is that the wood looks like it has been uniquely worn, yet not rough or weathered. Similarly with raked profiles, the texture is more uniform and deeply cut, creating a deeply shadowed surface where it is clear the texture is the end goal, not the wood itself.

Resawn Surfaces
Lastly, we have resawn surfaces. Similar to rough bandsawn surfaces, resawn surfaces are produced with a bandsaw. The only difference is that resaw blades are not as massive and leave the wood with a much cleaner surface. Resawn surfaces have been popular with siding for decades where the initial value was based on economy by reducing the amount of wood fiber need to make a given thickness. Additionally, studies have shown the increased surface are of a resawn surface is better for allowing paint and finishes to adhere to it, providing a superior siding product. Aside form these manufacturing and functional benefits, however, designers have taken to the slightly muted surface that tends to draw attention away from the wood grain and towards the shape and form of the structure encased by the wood as well as the wood itself. Interior structural beams in post and beam construction have also been specified resawn for many of the same reasons. From a manufacturing standpoint it is cheaper to provide resawn beams as they do not have to be planed. Aesthetically, the muted grain is less prominent drawing attention away from the wood grain and again towards the forms, dimensions and structure itself.

Armster Reclaimed Lumber Co. 203-214-9705 Broadbrook, CT
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