Reclaimed timber gives a classic feel to a range of building projects, but if you want to use old wood, there are a few safety precautions to keep in mind. Take a look at these tips. They will help ensure that your reclaimed timber is safe to work with and likely to last as long as possible.
1. Check for soft rot.
Before using your reclaimed timber, look it over carefully for rot. Visually inspect the outside. If you see any black rotten parts, press on them with a screw driver. If the wood crumbles in front of your eyes, the wood is partially rotten. Also look for unexplained sawdust on the wood -- it can indicate that an insect has bored their way into the wood.
Depending on the location of the rot, you may be able to cut it out, but if you cannot, do not use that piece of wood. In most cases, if the outside of the wood doesn't appear to be rotten or bug infested, the inside is fine.
2. Test old paint for lead.
If you are reclaiming timber from a structure that has been painted, make sure to check the paint for lead. Lead was used in building projects until the 1970s. You can buy lead testing kits at most hardware stores -- they feature strips that you rub against the paint, and they change colour to indicate whether or not the paint has lead.
If it has lead, you may want to hire a lead abatement professional to do your sanding for you. If you opt to do your own sanding, make sure you are in a well ventilated area and that you wear a HEPA filter mask to prevent yourself from breathing in lead particulates. Alternatively, paint over the lead-based paint to seal it in and skip the sanding.
3. Beware of hidden metal.
Because of its past life, reclaimed wood often has nails or other hardware in it. If you are used to working with new timber, you will need to make a mental adjustment and prepare to work with wood that may be riddled with old hardware.
For your safety, look over the wood for visible nails or screws. Use a hammer claw or a drill to remove this hardware. Also, remember that there may be old hardware buried in the wood. If you are trying to cut your timber, and your saw hits one of these old pieces of metal, the saw may be damaged. In addition, your arm may be uncomfortably jarred when you hit the hidden metal, or you may even lose your stability if you are sawing and standing.
4. Let the timber acclimate to your space.
In addition to ensuring the timber is safe for you to use, you also have to ensure that your environment is safe for your timber. Reclaimed timber may react to the temperature and moisture in your space by shrinking or expanding, and if the timber shrinks or expands after it has been installed, that could ruin the integrity of the project.
To prevent this effect, put your reclaimed timber in the room or outdoor area where you will be using it and let it acclimate to the climate in that space.
5. Work with a distributor.
If you've opted to use reclaimed timber on a project, you can get it directly from someone who is tearing down an old barn or demolishing an old house, but then, you risk having issues with the wood including rot, lead paint and others.
If you want to sidestep those issues, consider working with a reclaimed timber dealer. These professionals find the wood for you, and they make sure that it is ready and safe to use. For more information, contact a local timber supply company like Hayter's Timber & Paving.