The New York City salvage store Olde Good Things also sells new furnishings they make from recycled wood, metal ceilings, industrial bits, reclaimed glass, and so on. Their large tabletops set on industrial-machinery iron bases are strong and handsome. (The company has also made farm tables using salvaged marble tops on reclaimed bases.) What follows is a review of the steps their artisans take to turn old-growth wood boards into functional furniture, with hints for the do-it-yourselfer.
First, choose your salvaged wood and the style of construction. Maple, beech, and walnut work well for traditional furniture; you may prefer oak, poplar, or cherry for more rustic pieces. Olde Good Things’ farm-table tops are made using salvaged, white-pine floor joists, which are full of character from old saw marks and wear. Every tabletop is one-of-a-kind.
How To Create a Reclaimed Wood Table
1. Materials & Prep
Their reclaimed lumber is always kiln dried, stacked on 1" x 1" sticks and heated to 100–130 degrees F. Heating the core for at least four hours kills insects and microorganisms. If you don’t have a kiln, stack wood and air-dry it in an area with plenty of airflow. Get the moisture content below 6 to 8%, using a moisture meter. Otherwise, the wood may shrink and even crack after construction.
A metal detector is useful for finding and extracting old nails, screws, staples, and bits of wire, to avoid damaging tools and equipment (and fingers).
2. Milling & Finishing
The lumber is then rough-milled with a horizontal band saw and sliced into approximately 2" thick boards, which are then skip planed to level, preserving texture and character. Then boards are straight-edged and joined with biscuit joints to create an even, flat tabletop with color and grain carefully matched. The finished tabletop is hand planed, then sanded with 220-grit paper.
In this job, Minwax stain was applied (popular colors are Provincial, Dark Walnut, and Golden Oak). The wood was sealed with two coats of Sherwin-Williams White Water Conversion Varnish (with V26 catalyst hardener) for clarity and resistance to yellowing; a spray gun makes application easy. The wood should be sanded between coats and wiped with a tack cloth. The two final coats were Conversion Varnish (with V21 catalyst hardener).
3. The Assembly
Finished wood tops are attached with lag bolts to a metal base or bases. These thick tabletops weigh 85 to 120 lbs., so the base must be sturdy. Consider a machinery base, or the trestle base from an old sewing machine.
Maintenance of the wood table is easy. Just use warm water and a mild detergent, and dry. You can finish with low-luster Guardsman Anytime Clean
& Polish, which doesn’t leave a film.
A biscuit joiner (or plate joiner) is a woodworking tool used to join two pieces of wood together. The joiner uses a small circular-saw blade to cut a crescent-shaped hole (called the mouth) in opposite edges of two pieces of wood or composite panels. An oval-shaped, dried and compressed wooden “biscuit” made of beech or particle wood is covered with glue, or glue applied in the slot. The biscuit is fitted into the slot and the boards clamped together.
Although the technique was not invented until 1956, and biscuits are predominantly used in joining plywood and MDF, these joints are easier to make and more forgiving than wood spline joints, and ideal for aligning boards edge-to-edge.