When choosing the type of wood you want to use in your home, it often comes down to personal preferences and aesthetics. The questions are usually the same though – do you want recycled timber, new timber or a mix of the two?
The common areas to use wood in a house are for the floors, stairs, decking, doors, ceiling, cladding and walls. Once that has all been decided for mostly practical reasons, the next thing to consider is the furniture.
Wooden furniture items are things like the dining table and chairs, a coffee table, a desk, shelving units, a bedside table, tallboys and cabinets, a kitchen island bench and bed frames.
If your home is a new build / renovation, or just contemporary in style, new wood might have the look you’re after. However, something made from recycled wood could provide you with a good opportunity to create a statement piece. And if your home has an old, rustic or eclectic interior design style, recycled wood is almost a must.
Read on for everything you need to know about recycled timber vs. new wood, including origins, characteristics, and pros and cons…
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and in the case of recycled timbers this is very true. However, you need to reconsider the term ‘trash’ in this context, because old wood is far from bad wood.
Saving barn roof beams from the scrapheap was once a mission by hippy architects with activist hearts, but now, turning wood waste into wares is becoming common practice.
Since discussions around deforestation and the impact of climate change gained momentum during the 1990s, the idea of reusing and recycling timber has become a widely recognised and sustainable way of doing business in construction and furniture making industries.
Wood is sourced from local landmarks and both urban and rural environments, including old houses and homesteads, barns and other outbuildings, bridges and barrels, factories and floors, wharfs and warehouses, railway stations, fence posts, piers, power poles and the list goes on. The more we reclaim, the less we put into landfill!
A demolition trumps a deconstruction, time and money wise, but it’s worth salvaging as much as you can. There’s usually still a lot of life left in old, milled timber that’s in relatively good condition (often these pieces have been well seasoned and kept dry for the past 50 – 100 years). Taking aged but still strong and sturdy pieces from one project to another involves stripping it back and at least removing nails and bolts, but not removing its character.
This form of recycling is like timber based time travel – remnants of its previous placement and purpose is still visible. Their imperfections are part of their charm, from labels and carvings, holes and pockets, to knots and grains, sap lines and markings. They can be cleaned up to look almost new, or kept rough and rustic – the choice is yours – but no two pieces are the same so they are truly one-of-a-kind. And therein lies the wow factor.
No, we’re not being biased. There really aren’t too many downsides to working with timbers that have been recycled or buying products that have been made from them.
The only real drawbacks would be that builders and furniture makers are limited to using the species that’s available to them, and colours can’t always match that of new timber. It can also be more expensive than new timber, as you’re paying for the rarity of the finished product and the preparation process is usually more labour intensive.
When you think of new wood, you think of sleek, unspoilt slats and panels with smooth, uniform textures, rich timber tones and a consistent colour.
Especially suited to modern, minimalist or Scandinavian style homes, it’s a popular choice if you’re wanting to have all the furniture in the house looking the same or similar, to create a sense of flow and symmetry.
When you work with brand new wood types, you have more control over the look and feel of the piece you are creating. You can match a client’s custom built brief and needs exactly because it is very easy to machine and set specifications.
Because a lot of timber is plantation grown, it has so far lived a protected life free from environmental damage or nutritional deficiencies. Many new Australian timbers are responsibly sourced in areas that have been pre-purposed and approved for logging, so they’re almost on a par with recycled timbers when it comes to being eco-friendly.
To ensure the highest standards have been met in relation to responsible forest management and tracking timbers from their origins to their end uses, look out for labels such as an FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) and a PEFC accreditation (the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).
Also, the Sustainable Forest Management initiative has been set up to ensure timber stocks in Australia remain plentiful for generations to come.
Despite the fact that many new timbers are milled in a socially and environmentally mindful manner, and that there are good practices being put in place in Australia, it’s very difficult to verify how imported timbers have come to be.
Unfortunately, they are often illegally chopped down from rainforests in South America and Asia. They also need to be shipped in from overseas and that comes with a big carbon footprint, as well as the potential for supply chain issues or delays.
Finally, when it comes to appearances, there’s not as much personality in a new timber piece as there is in a recycled piece. There are some exceptions, of course, such as Wormy Chestnut which is a new timber that looks a little more worn in and interesting than the usual varieties.