Yesterday I wrote about the plan I had to give a makeover to an old 80’s coffee table (that I bought for $30 on UsedRegina) into a beautiful contemporary one - something like this one from Restoration Hardware:
RH boasts of the romantic, historical background of its “reclaimed wood” furniture. And of the bajillions of reclaimed/barn-board/upcycled wood projects out there on the internet these days, I felt this one should serve as a bit of a reality check. So, no big makeover reveal today - it’s coming. First, let me tell you the story behind my coffee table’s reclaimed wood…
Coffee Table Copycat - Episode 1:
Sourcing Reclaimed Wood
It sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? “Reclaimed wood”. Ah… just picture yourself reclaiming some wood with me, please:
You walk through slender waving grass in a buttercup-dotted pasture behind a stately old red barn. And there you find it - a stack of strong, beautiful old boards that tell stories of decades gone by. As you pick one up and run your fingers over its wavy grain you see a bird land on a fence post nearby. The bird smiles at you, as if to say, “Hey. Thanks for caring about the environment.” You feel good about your choice, and you smile confidently at the trees growing overhead, knowing they get to live because you’re going to reuse. You carefully load up your bundle of character-laden, beautiful wood and set off to create. And the sun shines.
Yeah, so it’s not really like that.
To be honest - when I planned my coffee table I didn’t think much about where or how I would get the rustic wooden top. I live in the prairies - there are weathered old boards all over the place. I figured my husband could go out the farm and throw a few nice old boards in the back of the Jeep and we’d be peachy.
Until he told me they didn’t have anything. So I asked my dad for ideas (he is equal parts thrifty/creative/borderline hoarder) and he suggested getting old floorboards from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Good call, Dad! But when he went looking they said they don’t carry them anymore because they’re structurally unsound and some had lead paint on them. Party poopers. I asked my dad if he could keep an eye out for some old shipping pallets. This is when Sean realized I had not really communicated what I wanted. ”Oh, like old ugly pallets are OK?” he asked.
“Oh, we’ve got a bunch of those.”
I knew it.
So we drive out behind the barn, past the grain bins to find a great pile of pallets - silvery grey and weathered. And they’re lined with a gorgeous array of hoar frost gleaming in the bright January sun. Perfect.
My husband pulls out the hammer and the crow bar. Hmm. Oh yeah. I guess we can’t just pile the crates in the back of the Jeep, we’ll have to take the boards apart. He starts reefing on the boards, and the cranky wrenching sound of old nails being torn from old boards fills the air. The cattle begin to stare at us.
As he tries to pull them off, the old weakened boards crackle, split, and splinter. It is not going well. And yes, it’s sunny, but jeepers is it cold! My husband starts to grimace. I realize very quickly that this experience would have been exponentially more terrible in our first year of marriage:
I would have been an erratic sobbing mess, spewing between “You don’t understand/care/support my creative endeavours!” and guiltily apologizing non-stop for what a terrible task this is. Meanwhile he would become a silent, but fuming, mess of aggravation/confusion/mystification (at my spectacle) and that male-only emotion called “this girl is crying. Why is she crying. I have no idea what to do right now.”
But fast forward. We are wiley veterans with nearly seven years of marriage under our belts. And we know better. I stand back, quiet. I observe my husband and try to pick up on cues. Should I hold that board? Should I get out of the way? I hold my tongue. Meanwhile he does not let frustration get the better of him by mercilessly beating the snot out of a pile of wood with a crowbar. He persists. And he tries different approaches, all the while knowing that though he doesn’t understand why this is important to me, it is important, so he will do his best.
Sensing he needs some space, or perhaps a new approach, I take a little walk. I find a pile of boards mostly buried in several feet of crusty old snow. I try a few boards to see if they’ll come loose from the frozen, tangled mass. They do. And they’re lovely. Thick, weathered, with tons of character. Some are rough sawn, others have gorgeous woodgrain patterns, and all have the patina of age. But most importantly, they require no crowbar. I call Sean over, and after convincing him that these boards will work (and are in fact better) he tosses the hammer and crowbar and gladly helps me gather a few boards of similar thickness, and appropriate length.
The romance of “reclaimed wood” was further dispelled as we waded through the piles of old barn boards:
“Hmm, do you think this is lead paint on this one?”
“Do you think this pattern is from years of pigeon crap?”
“Hmm… do termites die when it’s this cold or do you think they’re sleeping inside this board?”
“Can you get the crowbar and chip the frozen cow poop off of this one?”
But soon we had what we thought were enough boards jammed in the trunk of the Jeep, and we were done.
So now as you peruse Pinterest BEWARE! All of those cute “look what I did with an old shipping pallet” projects are not necessarily easy. And the stories of 100-year-old barn wood, or antique factory floorboards - they sound nice. You just probably don’t want to be the one chipping off frozen cow poop, or scrubbing off lead paint.
Here are a couple tips for you, if you’re still planning on using old wood for a project:
-Look boards over carefully for signs of bugs, mold, old paint (may be toxic lead paint), or rotting.
-Make sure you try to find boards that are fairly straight, and of a similar thickness.
-Bring a measuring tape to make sure you find the right length of boards
-Take a few more boards than you think you need so that you have some options when you get around to laying them out.
-Do not attempt to “reclaim” any barn boards in the first year (or two) of marriage.
Now, tomorrow, I’ll show you what I did with these hard-earned beauties…
(All photos by me.)