If you’re a fan of character and history, using reclaimed wood when building your home or properties may be right for you. Reclaimed wood can come from wine casts, warehouses, stock farms, retired ships, old barns, factories, and many others. Although they are upcycled wood from these sources, a lot of people want to use them as they are durable and high-quality.

Some wood flooring companies even use and recycled virgin wood from demolished or removed structures. This is one of the most sought-after types of reclaimed wood as they have a unique and beautifully-aged appearance.

image - Different Ways on How to Finish Reclaimed Wood

Different Ways on How to Finish Reclaimed Wood

Reasons to Use Reclaimed Wood

If you’re still doubtful whether to use reclaimed wood, read about the following reasons why you should use it for your next project or house:

  • Durable – Reclaimed wood comes from old generations of trees in old forests. These trees are a lot stronger and more durable compared to the trees of today. Therefore, reclaimed wood doesn’t easily warp or shrink.
  • Eco-Friendly – If you’re the eco-friendly type, reclaimed wood can help save the environment. Since these are recycled, you won’t need to cut down new trees in the forest. As a result, deforestation slows down.
  • Unique – Unlike ordinary and new wood, reclaimed wood has its own story to tell. Thus, you can choose what reclaimed lumber to use as wood planking companies offer various reclaimed wood with different stories. Some may come from Asian shipping crates, while others may be from wrecked old ships like the Titanic.
  • Valuable – Since pieces of reclaimed wood are hard to find and are expensive, using such for your furniture or the interiors of your home can increase the value of your property. If you want to dispose of them in the future, you can also sell reclaimed wood at a higher price.

Things to Know About Reclaimed Wood

Keep in mind that not all reclaimed wood have equal dimensions or the same styles. Thus, you must know these things before deciding whether or not to use reclaimed wood:

  • Reclaimed wood has become so popular that the supply is not enough to meet the demand.
  • Due to its popularity, the cost also became more expensive. Just like an antique that is more expensive than newer objects, new wood is also cheaper than reclaimed wood.
  • Another reason for the high price of reclaimed wood is due to its impossibility to be replicated. Manufacturers cannot imitate the age and character of reclaimed wood. Thus, having it around your house is like owning unique pieces of art.
  • Some reclaimed wood has embedded nails or other metal pieces used for its attachment.
  • If you want to identify the origins of a particular piece of reclaimed wood, you may find an expert to do it. Since the exact source cannot be identified unless the wood itself is cut, thus ruining its appearance, hiring the services of an expert to discover its origins is a wiser move.

This is why a lot of reclaimed wood needs finishing, especially when they are cut. However, if you want to finish reclaimed wood, you have to learn how to do it properly. A mistake can ruin not only its appearance but also the history it carries.

Steps to Finish Reclaimed Wood

When it comes to finishing reclaimed wood, you should do the following steps:

  • Prepare the Surface – This is where you want to preserve the character and saw marks of the wood. Here, you must remove the grime and dirt from the wood. You can use an air hose for particles that are not visible, or high-pressure water or a nylon bristle.
  • Double Check for Metals or Bugs – Before cutting the wood, you must also remove metals and bugs. Since reclaimed may come from beams and other sidings, nails or bolts may be still left on the wood.
  • Sand the Reclaimed Wood Down – Smoothen the reclaimed wood by removing splinters or unwanted imperfections. You can make circular motions with the sandpaper pressed against the wood’s surface.
  • Choose Your Finish – after brushing off the small particles from sanding, select your finish of choice.

Ways to Finish Reclaimed Wood

Not only will finishing make the reclaimed wood beautiful, but it also does many things. Finishing can stop the wood from getting accidental stains, blisters, and scratches. It also keeps the wood from contracting and bulging because of weather changes. Most importantly, finishing helps the wood from splitting, cracking, dehydrating, and drying.

When finishing your reclaimed wood, you must consider the following so you’ll choose the right finish:

  • Easy application
  • Appearance after finishing
  • Length of time the finish will hold up
  • The extent of protecting the surface

Here are the types of finishes, so you’ll know what to use and how to finish reclaimed wood:

  1. Evaporative Finishes

This uses nitrocellulose lacquer thinners, alcohol, and acetone as thinners and solvents. After the application of the solution, they’re going to lock in a solid mass after their solvent evaporates.

When applying successive layers, they share a common border so that a contiguous whole will form from the burning of these layers. For instance, cured lacquer will soften when you apply lacquer thinners, while cured shellac softens with the use of alcohol. This means re-softening the film through specific types of solvents.

Evaporative finishes dry quickly because of evaporation. They have various sheens that sit on top of the wood because of their film-building nature. Although they lack supreme toughness, they protect better than oil-varnish blends. Also, this type of finish is best for reclaimed wood that will not be used regularly, such as interior projects.

It’s also great for reclaimed wood that you’d want to look glossy while preserving its ornate figure. This also works for reclaimed wood that’s colorful.

Here are the two types of evaporative finishes:

  • Lacquer – Apply this on reclaimed wood by brushing or spraying. Since it turns yellow as time passes by, it’s not recommended on light-colored reclaimed wood. However, you can buy a special kind of non-yellowing resin or cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB) lacquer if you still want to use it.
  • Shellac – This can be used for various topcoats and surfaces of reclaimed wood. Moreover, everything sticks to shellac and vice versa, so most surfaces can use shellac.
  1. Reactive Finishes

While curing the reclaimed wood, this type of finish will change chemically. When the thinner dries up, the molecules bind together, thus it will not disintegrate when you apply another coat of thinner. Polymerization is the term used for this process.

White spirits and naphtha are solvents used in reactive finishes. These finishes are durable and protective because the solvents crosslink or join up. This makes it one of the best ways to finish your reclaimed wood.

If you want your reclaimed wood to possess a defined character while also being protected, these types of finishes can be the right choice. Here’s how reactive finishes are durable and protective:

  • It’s hard to separate the finish from the wood as it needs alkalis or acid, strong solvents, and intense heat to do this job.
  • Intense pressure or coarse objects are required to scratch or tear apart the chemical bonds or reactive finishes.
  • Humidity or water can’t quickly get through the cured film due to its tight network of molecules. There is little space for this on the cured film, so it’s an excellent way to protect your reclaimed wood from being scratched or damaged.

Here are the two types of reactive finishes:

  • Varnishes

These contain urethane, alkyd, phenolic, and other synthetic resins, and they are considered oil-based. You can choose from glossy to satin sheens.

For your reclaimed wood, you can use it to make it appear like plastic. It’s also easy to apply as you’ll only need to brush in coats of varnish depending on your preference.

If you plan to use your reclaimed wood outdoors such as in your deck, use long-oil varnishes. These contain fewer resins and more oil, making it perfect for areas with a lot of moisture or outdoor applications.

For floors and table applications of your reclaimed wood, short-oil and medium varnishes are the best choices. It’s because they have a harder finish and more resin. On the other hand, water-based varnishes are more appropriate for preserving light-colored reclaimed wood.

  • Tung Oil

Hailing from China and other Asian countries, tung tree seeds produce tung oil. When used, it gives your reclaimed wood a water-resistant feature. So if you plan to use your reclaimed wood for your kitchen countertops or tables, a tung oil finish can help protect it.

In addition, tung oil is environment-friendly, easy to use, and versatile. It’s also food safe and durable. Although it’s waterproof, it doesn’t go rancid, dark, or moldy.

When it comes to its appearance, you can make your reclaimed wood appear like an antique for more character with the use of tung oil. Moreover, it only takes a while to dry up after its application. You only need a lint-free and soft rag, sponge brush, or bristle brush to apply the oil.

However, tung oil saturates the wood cells, so you need to let the first coat be absorbed before applying another coat. You’ll know if the wood cells have been saturated when 80% of the wood surface is glossy.

  1. Coalescing Finishes

The solvents for these finishes are most likely glycol ether, while thinners are water or slow evaporating thinners. Thus, coalescing finishes are a mixture of reactive and evaporative finishes. These finishes dry up both through solvent evaporation and through chemical reactions.

Water and solvent disperse reactively cured resins in forms of tiny droplets. The droplets stick together after being softened by the slow evaporating solvents. They come together or coalesce when the water evaporates.

Water-based wood finishes are also the right choice for reclaimed wood because of the following reasons:

  • Eco-Friendly – Aside from having a minimal odor, the waste expelled by these finishes are only water. Moreover, you don’t emit dangerous fumes, which is tantamount to zero Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). So, when finishing your reclaimed wood, you have to worry about neither its smell nor its fumes.
  • Quick-Dry – If you live in a dry and hotter area, water-based finishes dry faster.
  • Colors – This doesn’t turn yellowish quickly, so you can expect your reclaimed wood to have better color retention. Also, you can choose limitless colors according to the original color of your reclaimed wood, though it takes more time to reach the tone of real deep colors. On the other hand, it’s easier to achieve the desired tone for mid and light colors.

To achieve the desired color tone of water-based wood finishes, you must do the following steps:

  • You need to apply the finish in a well-ventilated area.
  • Throughout the application process, you must stir the finish. Do this reaching the lowest part of the can so the solids will be reincorporated.
  • In dry climates, extenders increase open time and improve the leveling and flow. To reach the desired consistency, add 5% distilled water on each.
  • To reach a darker color, use a darker finish.
  • Make your work manageable by organizing it from top to bottom.
  • The last is to apply the finish using a spray or by hand.


image - How to Finish Reclaimed Wood

How to Finish Reclaimed Wood

Whatever type of wood is used, finishing is essential. Applying a finish on your reclaimed wood can help save your furniture or ornament from easily being stained, scratched, blistered, bulged, cracked, split, or dehydrated. Moreover, your reclaimed wood will also look elegant and classy, or even like an antique.

Not only will wood finishes preserve the character of your reclaimed wood, but they also add beauty and a certain kind of effect. Although there are a lot of wood finishes out there, you need to choose the one that will protect your wood. The finish may also vary considering the motif of the room in which you’ll put your reclaimed wood, making the right finish essential if you want a particular piece of furniture to blend in or stand out.

Although you can finish your reclaimed wood on your own by following blogs or watching YouTube videos, hiring the services of an expert is a better choice. This is because you’d want your reclaimed wood to be in its best condition while still preserving its character. One mistake will destroy the appearance of the wood. Especially when inexperienced, you might commit mistakes that will not only ruin the reclaimed wood but will also waste your time and money.