Reclaiming Some Inspiration!

As woodworkers, we are not only posed with the challenge of engineering structures that are strong enough to support their intended purpose, we are also expected to make them attractive. Thankfully, the wood itself does much of the heavy lifting with the many colors and grain patterns offered up by Mother Nature. If you’re like me, you generally only think about fresh-cut material. If that’s the case, you might want to broaden your horizons by seeking out reclaimed stock. While fresh-cut wood can be beautiful, there’s something magical about wood that has experienced the natural aging process that occurs from long exposure to sunlight, air, weather, micro-organisms, plants, and bugs. An already magnificent piece of timber will evolve into something all-together different with a patina that is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate with new stock.

Yesterday, I visited Porter Barn Wood in Phoenix, AZ to see what they had on hand. To be honest, I had no idea this resource existed until last year when the company decided to open their business to the general public. Having no reasonable source for reclaimed wood is exactly why I never considered it before. We don’t have many barns in Phoenix so much of the material comes from Northern Arizona and other areas of the country where old barns are plentiful.

truckload-barnwoodThomas Porter greeted me at his lumber yard and gave me a nice little tour. I’ll admit that in many cases, you really have to use your imagination to see the beauty that lies just below the worn and aged surface. After taking a look at a few finished pieces, I was sold. While I don’t expect to use this stuff a lot in my work, I do intend to make a few special projects that feature this amazing material. Thomas set me up with a nice little truck load and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you.

First up is something called “mushroom wood.” I can’t recall the species but apparently this is wood that is used on the bottom of mushroom-growing containers. The mushrooms are in constant contact with the surface and as you can imagine the wood is heavily worn. The end result is a surface that looks, oddly enough, like the underside of a mushroom cap. So even if this wood wasn’t created by mushrooms, I can see why someone might decided to give it that monicker. Below are examples of boards that have been brushed aggressively to clean out the gunk.

brushed-mushroom-wood-2 brushed-mushroom-wood-1 brushed-mushroom-wood-3

sandblasted-mushroom-woodThis is another example of mushroom wood, only this board has been sandblasted. As you can see, the end result is a much more soft and dull appearance when compared to the brushed version.

I have a number of other boards including some cool Hemolock pieces that have some serious potential, but they aren’t much to look at in their current state. So let’s skip to some of the live edge boards I picked up.

live-edge-walnutThis is a thick live edge walnut board. As you can see, it’s mostly sapwood. Most times we see walnut consisting primarily of heartwood with a few sapwood streaks. But this board represents something of a reversal of that typical pattern and it was intriguing to me. We’ll see what we can do with it.

Below you’ll see an example of Alligator Juniper. Look closely at the bark and you’ll see how this wood received its name. This particular slab is massive and features some prominent knots and grain changes. Can you imagine this thing as a table top or even a desk top? AWESOME!

aligator-juniper-2 aligator-juniper-1

I am seriously intrigued by the things Porter Barn Wood is doing out in Phoenix and this won’t be my last visit. I can’t wait to bring the video camera and give you folks a proper tour. Perhaps we’ll even get some helpful tips and tricks for working with this special material from Thomas and his crew. I’d like to thank Porter Barn Wood for their hospitality and excellent work in providing this much-needed service.

Category: Wood


  1. I’ve seen many barnwood tables, etc. that use a thicker resin coating that floods the cracks, allowing for the detail but making it practical by making it easy to clean and maintain. Have you done a surface like that before? The work done by has some excellent examples, but I haven’t seen a good video detailing how it’s done before… hint hint… :)

  2. Mushroom wood has become wildly popular as a flooring product lately. It takes a lot of resin to stabilize it and make for a durable and stable floor, but it cool looking stuff when in place. We had a load come in a while back and the yard guys almost sent it back thinking it was a defect until someone stopped them and told them it was supposed to look like that.

  3. Jonas July 17, 2013

    Like Jeremy would like to see a video!!!!

  4. That Alligator Juniper is some sweet stuff. I like to get local species because it’s something you don’t see a lot of people working with and it adds character to the piece. I’ve got an uncle in the Phoenix area that is a tree trimmer and he hooks me up with all kinds of stuff that you don’t find even at the local lumber yards. It needs to be dried, but it’s free wood so I don’t complain.

  5. Eric R July 17, 2013

    That’s pretty much all I use. Reclaimed has a lot of merit.

  6. Mike July 17, 2013

    I love using this kind of stuff, especially some of the reclaimed softwoods. While most of the current softwood we see totally sucks, doug fir construction lumber from the early 1900’s is often hard and clear with a beautiful tight, straight grain and amber color. That alligator juniper is beautiful. I agree with Greg, using very local species is awesome.

  7. frank m July 18, 2013

    I have some old oak fence that looks like mushroom wood and want to use them inside on a wall . How would you suggest i finish them. I thought about linseed oil but after seeing your web sight im thinking differently

  8. Paul Straka July 18, 2013

    If you are in south east Michigan please checkout John’s Urban Timber
    John can come to you and mill your tree into some great lumber. I had a large Ash tree killed by the Emerald Ash borer and ended up with some fantasitic 6/4 lumber for my shop floor and other projects.

  9. Doug July 19, 2013

    Reclaimed barn wood is great, we have hundreds of old barns to admire and harvest woo from.

  10. Tracy Ross July 26, 2013

    I live in Vegas, and like Phoenix, we don’t have a lot of barns up here. What are the prices like per board foot? Is it worth hauling a trailer load back?

  11. Charlotte September 4, 2013

    I love posts like this! Thanks for the inspiration :-)

  12. Hi all from the mid north coast of Australia

    To Marc,

    love the website, my students are constantly told to use your videos and articles for inspiration and advice. I personally enjoy the website and all you have to offer..

    Here in the town I work in (Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia) we are surrounded by farms and properties that have old outbuildings, Sheds (which i presume you guys call barns). I am a fan of using freshly cut timber as well, however, my main passion is reclaiming and recycling timber. There is nothing like seeing something in a piece of timber that was once designed or built for another purpose. Most of the time the timber used here is extremely hard in nature eg ironbark and some of our mahogany species, which can make it difficult to work at times but sometimes you can find some hidden away Cedar or maybe even some highly figured QLD maple. I have found that Oregan which was widely used as window framing here in Australia is readily available and can be used effectively.

    recycling timber and building products is huge over here with most towns/cities having at least one recycled timber merchant.

    keep up the great work, and continue to use reclaimed timber…


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