At Lake Wood Designs, we produce millwork and furnishings from reclaimed wood. Right here in Duluth, we process old growth reclaimed lumber that came from old warehouses and manufacturing facilities that made up the backbone of the American industrial revolution. Timber sawn from old-growth trees 100 years ago is quite different from the new lumber purchased in your local lumber stores nowadays. It is a unique wood from a different time and a different kind of forest.
“When you go into an old-growth forest, it is a whole different ecosystem,” said Lake Wood Designs Co-Owner Devin Garrett. “After old-growth forests are cut, the variety of birds, insects, and different funguses drops and never recovers. Today’s managed forests are very sterile in a certain sense.”
Today we rightly protect the old-growth forests we have left. Here in Minnesota, you can visit a great example of an old-growth forest at Itasca County’s Lost 40 SNA. While newer wood is affordable and works for most members of the general public, people who want truly high-quality woods must look to the past. Back then, wood actually grew differently, the end of the last “mini-ice age” and far higher rates of CO2 in our atmosphere lend to faster rates of growth in modern lumber.
As we all learned in grade school, trees add a ring every year they are alive. As a result, old-growth woods have much closer rings than new wood harvested today. This makes the old-growth wood much denser and stronger. The difference between modern wood and densely-ringed old-growth wood is kind of like the difference between a high-quality and common plywood. High-quality plywood has nine layers per half inch,while common plywood has only three per half inch.
“The one that has nine layers is way more rigid and heavier. It is more stable. It’s not going to move as much,” said Devin. “But, the one that has three layers, you can break that pretty easy. It is very light. It is going to warp very fast.”
Old-growth wood, especially old-growth Douglas fir, cypress, and redwood, is rot and bug resistant. If put outside, these woods will stand up to weather. Devin saw proof of this rot resistance in his own basement. Here a piece of redwood had been in contact with concrete for 40 to 60 years. After this long period of time there was zero rot on the old-growth redwood. Newer chemically-treated wood next to the redwood did not fare as well.
Reclaimed old-growth wood is great because nature took its time forming the tree the wood came from. It is also great because it has been lumber for years.
“The other thing with reclaimed lumber, in general, is this wood has been sitting around in timber form for a long time,” said Devin. “So, it has moved and done its thing largely. It has had 50 to 150 years to move around.”
When comparing the old growth to the new wood, Old Growth is far more bug, rot and fire-resistant. The Minnesota building code allows for non-treated, rot-resistant woods like old-growth Douglas fir, cypress and redwood in deck and other outdoor building projects.
At Lake Wood Designs we have often seen our old growth reclaimed wood thrive where other woods have failed. We saw one example when we built a family table with our reclaimed lumber for a local restaurant. The original restaurant in this space built tables using typical 2x4s. Although the tables looked nice at first, within two years the tables had all warped dramatically and have begun to crack clean thru. Our table featuring old-growth lumber still looks as good as the day we installed it.
We see these issues time and time again with new growth timber, for example a new construction lake home required Douglas fir for an exposed ridge beam, the builders opted for less expensive new timber. In a matter of 4 months that ridge beam was replaced 3 times because of how much it twisted. They eventually upgraded to old-growth and there it hangs, strong and true. That’s the power of reclaimed wood. It’s the way they used to make it—and it’s proven itself over and over.