Reclaiming Old Timbers
One of my clients stumbled across a large pile of old timbers from a home that was being demolished in North Georgia. Not knowing exactly what they would do with the material, but being lovers of unique wood furniture, they purchased the timbers before they were destroyed by the demolition company. Subsequent research by my clients revealed that this home was constructed in the 1860's, meaning that the timbers were almost 150 years old (and also implying that the wood in these large timbers was probably 100+ years older than that!!).
Further investigation revealed that this home was originally built by Captain Nathan Tabor, a Confederate Army officer of some distinction, as a new home for his family immediately following the Civil War. After well over 100 years, the home had fallen into utter decay and had thus been torn down with no thought to reclaiming any of the remnants. Fortuitous timing on the part of my clients prevented these unique timbers from ending up in a landfill. The timbers were initially hauled to the client's home where they began the arduous process of removing the old nails and other metal from the lumber. It was at this point that I was contacted with regards to turning these old, ugly timbers into something of lasting beauty. The photo gallery below shows some of the material that was processed and the steps that were involved.
(Click any photo below for a close-up view)
As seen above, the timbers varied widely in size, length, and condition. The material consisted of heart pine and white oak. If you look at the close-up views, you can clearly see hand-hewn marks on the timbers and pegged mortise and tenon joints, which are classical hallmarks of timber frame construction during the 1800's.
From the outside, the condition of the timbers seems extremely poor, with large cracks on the surface and abundant amounts of old square-cut nails. Luckily, the large diameter of these beams preserved much of the original lumber closer to the centers of the timbers. Their large size explains why these timbers were one of the few surviving elements of the original house after more than a century.
Initially, the timbers were cut down the center to assess the condition of each one. Heart pine and white oak species are both known for their long-term resiliency, which explains the gorgeous deep red pine lumber and golden-brown white oak revealed inside many of these timbers. Compared to sawing a freshly-felled log, cutting these timbers was extremely slow since the wood fiber was much drier. Also, cutting was continuously slowed by hitting the minor amounts of old metal still left in the timbers, no matter how much time was spent in advance with the metal detector and nail pullers.
The newly cut planks still needs to be dried, even though these timbers were more than a century old. The photos show the lumber stacked for a period of air drying before being transferred to the kiln. Once the wood comes out of the kiln, it receives a final pass with the metal detector to remove any remaining hazards before the boards are processed by my expensive woodshop machinery.
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