How Do I Choose the Best Used Lumber?

B. Turner

Used lumber, also known as reclaimed or recycled wood, serves as an affordable and eco-friendly alternative to new building materials. While buying new wood can be as simple as visiting a local lumber yard, choosing the best used lumber often requires a bit of extra effort. One of the hardest parts of buying used lumber involves finding a good source for the type of lumber you wish to purchase. Once you've found the right source, inspect all lumber for quality and contamination before committing to a purchase.

Old barns are a good source of used lumber.
Old barns are a good source of used lumber.

In order to find the best used lumber, buyers must first find sources of recycled wood. If you're looking for older planks and beams, look for old barns in your area that you may be able to deconstruct if the owner no longer wants them. For newer used lumber, try local construction sites and lumber yards, who may sell lower quality or extra materials very cheaply. If you're looking for specialty hardwoods, such as woods for making cabinets, try freecycle sites and classified ads.

Good deals on used items may be listed in the local classifieds.
Good deals on used items may be listed in the local classifieds.

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The very best lumber comes in the form of wood species with natural resistance to pests and moisture. These include species like redwood, cedar, cypress and ironwood, all of which serve as excellent materials for both interior and exterior building. When evaluating these materials, look for wood that consists of dark heartwood, not lighter sapwood. Heartwood contains naturals oils that help to protect the wood from pests, moisture and other threats over time.

If you are unable to find wood with natural resistance to pests, look for lumber that has been pressure treated to enhance its resistance to moisture, decay, and pests. Pressure-treated lumber is grey or green in color, and this colors tends to deepen with age. If possible, choose used pressure-treated lumber that was produced after January 2004, when arsenic-based chemicals were phased out of United States wood manufacturing.

When both naturally resistant and pressure treated woods are unavailable, look for used composite lumber. This material is made from a blend of wood fibers and plastic, which gives it enhanced durability and strength compared to standard lumber. Choose materials with the appearance and finish you desire, as some composite products cannot be stained successfully.

If you must purchase standard used wood, inspect materials carefully before making your purchase. Avoid used lumber with moisture damage, including mildew, warping, swelling or twisting. Examine the wood for boreholes, beetles or other signs of pest infestation before bringing the materials into or around your home.

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