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Comment on an article about fixing 12 reclaimed wood problems

Posted on | By Thornton Kay
Wyoming, USA - Laura Firszt has written an enthusiastic but not too well informed (in my opinion) blog posting on Networx, which is syndicated to Care2, a popular social network for activists, entitled '12 Reclaimed Wood Problems & How to Fix Them' which points out that reclaimed wood can have a downside and offers suggestions to sort it out.

<blockquote><i>1. Dirt. Reclaimed wood often shows the signs of decades of use. Prime among them are dirt and dust.

Fix: Have the lumber cleaned by your supplier or pressure wash it yourself.</i></blockquote>
Jet washing old wood is not usually the first method of choice used by the reclaimed flooring and timber trade. Clearly the wood's natural patination and its moisture content could be affected. For old patinated flooring which is simply dusty or dirty the best method is normally using white spirit or similar with a rag or a brass wire brush if it is very grubby.

<blockquote><i>2. Mold and mildew. If wood has been exposed to excessive moisture over the years, mold and mildew may result. This can lead to serious respiratory problems, especially in children, asthmatics or frail individuals.

Fix: Wash with bleach solution, using gloves and preferably a face mask. Dry thoroughly. Do not use for food service, children's furniture or toys.</i></blockquote>
Mold (or mould in the UK) is usually found on food, and mildew is usually found on paper and books. Neither are normally found on wood. Black mold may be found on wood but this is unusual. The normal fungus affecting old wood is dry rot or wet rot, and both these, as well as black mold, are killed by air drying or kiln drying the wood, not with bleach solution. All fungii produce spores which are airborne and breathed in by us with every breath we take - even in pure air areas such as the Himalayas which is where the dreaded dry rot is believed to have originated. Fungii and mold spores land on our food and our babies every moment of every day and night. Humans have lived in symbiosis with mold spores for millenia. It is true that some spores can be toxic in large quantities, and living in a damp unventilated room with black mold is certainly unhealthy, but cleaning fungus off wood has a very low health risk. Face masks are a good idea but only if they are very well fitting. Face masks usually result in the wearer breathing more deeply, so using an ill fitting face mask could mean inhaling the spores more deeply into the lungs.

<blockquote><i>3. Nails and other metal objects. Reclaimed wood often contains old nails, metal pegs or even bullets. These are dangerous to your hands, causing scrapes and cuts, as well as putting you at risk for tetanus if they are rusty. These objects can be even more hazardous if you hit them with a power saw.

Fix: Handle reclaimed wood with work gloves. Before cutting with a power saw, go over it with a stud finder or metal detector.</i></blockquote>
Nails can be removed from floorboards, but this is usually best from the back or underside so that the removal does not cause splintered marks on the patinated face. Protruding nails or staples can also be ground off, which would be less damaging than gouging them out. Floor sanders can cope with normal flooring nails. Tetanus is an incredibly slight risk in every walk of life, and is mostly prevalent in garden soil and animal excrement, and affects one in 10,000,000 people in the USA - 30 people per year - and denailing wood is not mentioned as a cause.

<blockquote><i>6. Lead paint. Paint applied to your wood prior to 1978 may contain lead, which causes serious health problems when inhaled or ingested.

Fix: Have a sample of the paint laboratory tested or call in a certified inspector to check it with an x-ray fluorescence machine. If there is a hazardous level of lead in the paint, contact your local health department for instructions on how to deal with it.</i></blockquote>
Paint stripping is always a noxious business whether the paint is contaminated with lead, or a variety of other heavy metals, poisons and plastics. The best advice is to ask the dealer who is selling it to professionally strip it, or to take the wood to a professional stripper.

<blockquote><i>7. Serious stains. Reclaimed wood, notably pallet wood, may be badly stained or marked with oil. It may, in addition, have an unpleasant odor.

Fix: Avoid purchasing or using such wood.</i></blockquote>
I have sold oily hardwood strip from mills for reuse as garden shed or garage floors, and water stained wood for reuse when flooring lofts or other areas where cosmetic staining does not matter. Bear in mind that no wood is perfect, but old wood is generally too valuable a resource to throw away, mulch or burn. Railway ties or sleepers may be contaminated with creosote which has an active tar oil containing benzopyrene, a carcinogen, and their reuse in Europe is restricted to outdoor and out of reach of children and pets.

<blockquote><i>12. A dishonest reclaimed wood dealer. While not a problem with the lumber per se, the popularity of reclaimed wood has led to some shady dealers in the marketplace today.

Fix: Before making your purchase, verify that the dealer is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or the Rainforest Alliance. Be sure to obtain a guarantee on any materials you buy.</i></blockquote>
Try dealers who have signed up to the Salvo Code, a voluntary code running since 1995 currently with 120 mostly UK dealers who flag to their suppliers and customers their good practice in stock purchasing. While there are a few reclaimed wood dealers who are FSC certified, the reclaimed wood they supply is not. Salvo has met with FSC in the UK to discuss this issue. I am not sure that any dealers supply reclaimed wood with guarantees, but all reclaimed wood sold to private consumers in Europe is covered by consumer legislation and must perform as wood should normally be expected to. Dealers cannot disclaim this responsibility. However, sales by dealers to business customers do not have this protection.

The foregoing are the opinions of the author.

U.S. jounalist Laura Firszt writes for Networx which is syndicated to Care2, a popular California based activist social network. Care2 was set up by Randy Paynter in Redwood in 1998 and is a social network for 21m activists with a global ranking of 3,200 (Alexa) and annual revenue of $6m. Networx is a lead generation website offering resources and tools for home improvement projects and home improvement contractors.

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Networx: 12 Reclaimed Wood Problems & How to Fix Them

Story Type: Opinion