The Three Wooden R’s: Reclaim, Re-use, Recycle

The Three Wooden R’s: Reclaim, Re-use, Recycle



Timber, lumber, wood. Call it what you will, it is pretty amazing stuff! A natural product that grows from the ground and can last pretty much indefinitely. It is quite profound if you think about it.

With this in mind, the notion of using timber once does seem rather ridiculous. The idea of reclaiming or salvaging timber and re-using it is an obvious one, and not as new as one might think. More people are seeking pieces of handmade reclaimed furniture, which is both great for the environment and gives your house some character and style.


House builders in the 1700s were re-using timbers from medieval buildings that had been demolished. In many timber framed properties the exposed beams will often have mortice holes and odd cut outs that don’t make sense. The carpenters of the time saw the value in these sturdy lengths of oak that were already several hundred years old and made use of them. This saved both trees, their existing stock of timber and, at that time, probably weeks of labour.

One of the most famous examples of salvaged timber being used in a building is the Liberty store in London. Architect Edwin Thomas Hall used timber from two ships, HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan to create the iconic Tudor revival structure.

On a much smaller scale, furniture made using reclaimed wood is a more modern phenomenon. Post War austerity gave birth to many a garden shed workshop, producing useful items from what would otherwise be burnt as firewood. Even an old table leg being used as a garden dibber is good salvage practice!

More recently, ethical and environmental concerns have led to a rise in demand for reclaimed timber furniture. Consumers are now looking more closely at how and where things are made, in terms of both materials and production.

The vernacular of the modern home consumer now includes terms such as re-purposing and upcycling. Many businesses have sprung up manufacturing furniture to incorporate salvaged materials, with timber being easily the most widespread. Tables, benches, bar stools, shelving and everything in between is now available, creating an eclectic and vibrant scene within the interiors industry.

One of the appealing aspects of these businesses is that they are on a workshop rather than a factory scale. The varied challenges posed by salvaged timber such as de-nailing and grading keep big business away. This means that everything produced has a human touch, bespoke, and custom.

Reclaimed timber is also much better quality than the stock available now. It was grown more slowly, so has tighter rings making it much stronger. Hardwoods such as mahogany and jarra used to make railways sleepers, and iroko used in laboratory worktops are simply not available to buy new and will easily outlive all of us.

Whether it is a simple daydream about how those old floorboards down the side of the shed might make some nice picture frames or it’s placing an order for a 12 foot reclaimed timber dining table this, topic will never fail to inspire.

There is an awful lot of wood out there, let’s keep it going!