One of the most common questions we get is "Where do you get your materials?" The answer is incredibly simple: the dumpster. In fact, 90% of our reclaimed materials come from residential or industrial worksite dumpsters. In residential areas, people often do not take the time to break-down, disassemble, or power-cling their furniture into the dumpster, leaving a vast graveyard of materials - a picker's dream. Industrial areas, though different in both quantity and accessibility, yield new product on a daily basis.
What materials are actually worth reclaiming? That is all dependent on the design intent/requirements for each project, but for general reclaimed materials, here are some considerations:
Dimensional Lumber // Found more in town-home or single family housing areas where DIY projects happen regularly, dimensional lumber (e.g. 2x4, 2x6, etc) is great for both structural applications as well as painted, finished surfaces. Dimensional lumber is easy to find, incredibly machinable, and durable; but there are several aspects to consider when analyzing dimensional lumber for projects:
- Avoid nails, screws, attached metal. The more you have to remove from a board, the longer it takes; plus nails and screws ruin planer blades and saw blade teeth.
- Avoid waterlogged or rotting lumber. As unique as it may look, lumber that has had high exposure to water is very unstable in both dimension and stability. Waterlogged or rotting lumber will become more and more structurally unstable.
- Consider the bow/twist/crook/crown of the lumber. Be careful that you sight your lumber (meaning you observe the straightness of a board). Any warp will complicate fabrication and assembly.
Solid Wood vs Engineered Wood // One of the most difficult tasks when scouring for materials is identifying the difference between solid wood and engineered wood. Why does this matter? When you are fabricating reclaimed or recycled projects, you want durable, beautiful materials that are renewable; you don't want brittle, generic, mass-production materials. MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard) and Particleboard are great materials for RTA (ready-to-assemble) furniture as a single-use material, but are not meant for reuse due to their fragility and susceptibility to water damage. Identifying the difference can be difficult, so here are some tips:
- If it looks like it's from IKEA, it probably is. We love IKEA, but their furniture is made out of inexpensive engineered wood materials for short-term cycles. Unless your design intent is to use engineered wood, stick with hardwoods.
- If it has bubbles or swelling, it's engineered wood. One of the most common issues with wood is water damage. Solid hardwood is incredibly resistant to absorption, while engineered woods will swell and bubble.
- If it has edge banding, it's engineered wood. The best way to tell the difference between solid and engineered wood is the edge. If you see edge grain, it's solid hardwood. If you see edge banding, it's engineered wood.
Pallets + Spools // Pallets and spools are our favorite design mediums, as they provide both material and a story. Every pallet has held weight, every spool, wire. And each has it's own history. Pallets are great for any project from simple, art-style furnishings to complex fabrications that require pallet disassembly - many of which yield Poplar, Red/White Oak, Sycamore, Pine, and the occasional Walnut runners from the top or bottom deck (more on disassembly later). Spools make great tables and desks, capitalizing on either the nautical or industrial feel of the design space. Make sure you consider the following when you shop around:
- If it has more than three nails per attachment point, avoid it. This consideration is specifically for pallets. When pallets are being disassembled for the runners, remember to check for excessive attachment points (nails) connecting the runner to the stringers. Try to stay away from anything with more than three nails per attachment point (see picture for illustration).
- Thickness is incredibly important. This consideration is again specifically for pallets. Often, runners (the boards that lay flat) will be cupped/warped and will require significant planing before they are project-worthy. Thinner boards may not have enough material to accommodate the planing required to achieve a truly flat board - in that case, the runner cannot be used as "cleaned" material. Look for pallets with flat, thick runners.
- Recovery conditions dictate value. Often, recovery of materials will happen from clean, well-drained areas, but sometimes you may find a spool or pallet on the side of the road or in a burn pile. Remember that conditions dictate value - if your material has spent too long in the mud or water, it will likely have significant structural degradation.
- Patina vs Refinishing. Patina refers to the the grey color of wood after extensive periods of time in the sun. Some people prefer patina while others prefer to sand and refinish. If you are the later, remember that to remove a heavy or significant patina requires an extensive amount of sanding.
Craigslist // Craigslist is a great resource for finding materials. Anything from old furniture that needs disassembled to small piles of materials that need cleared off of someone's yard are on craigslist regularly. We usually look search for key terms such as "lumber", "repair", "rid", and "reclaim" (when we are looking for more refined materials). The primary thought for Craigslist shopping is:
- Free vs For Sale. Free materials can be a great find, but will be found mostly by your own scouring. Unless you get really lucky, most of the materials you will find in the "Free" section of Craigslist will be sub-par. Instead, take the bartering approach and look for great deals that will cost a few dollars.