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Reclaimed wood has become a popular alternative to new wood and other building materials. Many homeowners prefer reclaimed wood for its unique look, its rich history, or as a sustainable material option. However, with the rise in popularity of reclaimed wood, there are many imitations that use new hardwood to replicate the reclaimed wood look. Often, these imitations are marketed openly as such, but sometimes sellers attempt to pass off new, distressed wood as genuine reclaimed wood. At Urban Legacy, we take pride in the authenticity and the deep history of the reclaimed wood used to manufacture our products. We’ll share with you how to spot authentic reclaimed wood. 

What Is Reclaimed Wood?

What is reclaimed wood?

Reclaimed wood, or reclaimed lumber, is wood that has been salvaged from its original use. It’s then re-used to create an entirely new product, such as furniture or shelving. Sometimes, this process is referred to as “upcycling.” Wood can be rescued from many different sources:

  • Old barns
  • Factories & warehouses 
  • Shipping pallets
  • Wine barrels
  • Boxcars

These are only a few common examples. Reclaimed wood has also been sourced from structures like Rocky Mountain snow fences!

Looking to add a touch of reclaimed wood to your home?
Shop our collection of handcrafted reclaimed wood shelves!

Reclaimed vs. Distressed Wood

While the terms “reclaimed” and “distressed” are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same. Authentic reclaimed wood is recovered from its original source and has not been artificially weathered or aged to change its appearance. By comparison, distressed wood is new hardwood that has been purposefully worked to look as though it’s older and weathered. There are a number of ways that new wood is distressed:

  • Wire brushes are used to create a scratched or scarred appearance
  • Adding artificial nail holes to the wood
  • Using tools to create saw cut marks which imitate older logging practices
  • Unevenly applying paint thinner 
  • Using special wood stains to create patina

A lot can be done to alter the look and feel of new wood. In fact, wood that has been carefully hand-scraped and treated can look convincingly aged. However, when distressed wood is mass produced, it’s easy to spot.

Reclaimed Wood vs. Salvage Logging

You might have heard of “salvaged lumber” or “salvage logging.” While it seems fair to refer to reclaimed wood as “salvaged,” generally reclaimed and salvaged are different. Salvage logging refers to the practice of harvesting new wood from areas where significant damage has occurred. This can be from logging forests damaged by fires, floods, or other natural disasters.Alternatively, some wood manufacturers call uncut and processed wood that has been left in storage for long periods of time salvage wood. This is wood that may have been left behind or forgotten after a business goes under, or that was simply overlooked. 

Signs of Authentic Reclaimed Wood

Identifying real reclaimed wood

There are several signs that you can look for to determine whether wood is genuinely reclaimed or not. In some cases, this is very easy.

Mass produced distressed wood often has a very uniform consistency and pattern. However, if you are having difficulty telling if a piece of reclaimed wood is authentic, look for these signs:

Check for outwards signs of damage that appear dulled, weathered, and not “fresh.” Artificial damage will often look like it just occurred, while it’s hard to fake scrapes, scratches, and gouges that are decades old. 

Inspect nail holes for depth and conformity. Nail holes in authentic reclaimed wood will have considerable variance from artificial nail holes, particularly from mass produced distressed wood. Wood that has been recovered from barns, for example, may have had many modifications made to it through the years. Nail holes in reclaimed wood often lack a uniform look.

Look for rust staining. While inspecting nail holes, keep an eye out for signs of rust. Nails that have spent years lodged into wood will often leave behind rust stains. This is almost impossible to accurately replicate in distressed wood.

Check for joint cuts and holes. Many older structures, particularly barns, used pegs and mortise and tenon joints to secure beams. Wood from older buildings may have larger round or square holes used to secure wooden pegs or tenon tongues.

Compare multiple pieces. If possible, compare multiple pieces of the wood. Reclaimed wood, even when from the same source, will vary from piece to piece. Meanwhile, distressed wood is often noticeably more uniform from piece to piece. 

Shop For Genuine Reclaimed Wood Décor & Furnishings

One of the best ways to avoid purchasing fake reclaimed wood is to work with a reputable reclaimed wood manufacturer. At Urban Legacy, we value the character and history of reclaimed wood. We believe that reclaimed wood furniture should go hand-in-hand with quality craftsmanship. That’s why we’ve partnered with local Lancaster County craftsmen to create our line of unique, handcrafted reclaimed wood shelves. Shop our online inventory of shelves and feel free to contact us with any questions about our reclaimed wood or new hardwood products.