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Woodworking with Old Wood vs New Wood

A great woodworking project all begins with choosing the right wood. Just as a chef begins the recipe by finding the best ingredients or a painter begins the artwork by choosing the right paints, so must a woodworker begin the project with an eye for quality wood.

Among the lumber you can choose from, there is one major divide: old wood versus new wood. Each can be a good ooption for certain projects, but both come with their own drawbacks.

It’s important to remember that we aren’t talking about old growth wood versus new growth wood. Instead, we are talking about reclaimed wood versus newly cut lumber.

After reading through this piece, you’ll be able to select the best wood for your next project and enjoy a greater appreciation for the wooden items already in your life. And if you are interested in learning more about woodworking, make sure to check this post.

Benefits of working with old wood

Benefits of working with old wood - old wood boards

When you use reclaimed wood, you bring material back to life. For some woodworkers, this presents a fun challenge — how can you repurpose certain pieces in new and practical ways?

There are many benefits of using reclaimed wood, including:

  • Sustainability: When you source reclaimed wood in a responsible way, it is a highly sustainable material. You are reusing wood that has already been cut down, maximizing the value we get out of each and every piece.

  • Character: Old wood had a lot of character. That’s something you simply cannot manufacture, no matter how hard you try. Projects using reclaimed wood stand out thanks to this unique and indefinable quality.

  • History: New wood just can’t compete with the historic legacy of reclaimed wood. That sense of history makes your project that much more meaningful, and it builds a story into the piece before you even get started.

  • Stability: A lot of the wood you will reclaim comes from better trees than new wood. That’s because old growth trees were more common sources for wood in the past. Old growth wood is sturdier, though it can be much less sustainable to cut down. Regardless of the origin of reclaimed wood, if a piece has been treated well and lasted many decades, its quality is proven.

Reclaimed wood can be used in many ways. Cabinetry is one application that’s been popular in the last decade, as well as using reclaimed pieces for beams to add rustic heft to any room. For many do-it-yourself renovations, reusing wood flooring strips is a great way to find inexpensive material and get a beautiful result.

Benefits of working with new wood

Benefits of working with new wood - scandinavian style interior

Reclaimed wood has its place, but obviously, the majority of woodworking projects use new wood — so there have to be benefits to using it, too!

The benefits of using new wood include:

  • Availability: Most people live close to a store that will sell them new wood in a range of forms, sizes, and lengths. Many of these options will be relatively cheap, and they can be custom ordered so you get the exact pieces of wood you need for your next project.

  • Consistency: Reclaimed wood’s “character” is often derived from inconsistency — those little differences that add a level of quirk and visual interest. But while this can be great for some projects, there are many instances where the consistency of new wood is much preferred. It makes working with the material much more predictable.

  • Easy to Use: When you combine availability and consistency, you get ease of use. Woodworkers don’t have to figure out how to use their reclaimed wood in ingenious ways, they don’t have to fight against certain defects, and they don’t have to extensively work with the wood just to revive it.

The next big question is sustainability. Reclaimed wood has a lot going for it in this realm, but if you are a conscientious buyer, you can find sustainable sources of new wood. These come from certified forests and managed woodlots that make sure logging doesn’t lead to deforestation, destruction of habitat, or any of the other myriad ways that sourcing wood can hurt ecosystems.

New wood is the perfect option if you are looking for a sleek, modern appeal. If you are making furniture to go in a clean, Scandi-style dining room, you’ll want to use new wood. Also, if you are doing intricate woodturning, the consistency of new wood will be your greatest ally!

Challenges of using old wood vs new wood in woodworking

Challenges of using old wood vs new wood in woodworking - old wood floor

Challenges working with old wood

When it comes to working with reclaimed wood, planning and preparation are key to your success.

For planning, you’ll want to see what wood you have and make sure you know how it will be reassembled into your end goal. This can be a rewarding challenge, but mistakes made here can end up with you not having the material to finish your masterpiece. So be careful and go slow.

Next, you’ll need to prep your wood. Because of the effects of time, you’ll most likely need to clean, sand, and condition the wood.

You’ll also want to take special care when dealing with the treasured characteristics of your reclaimed wood. There will be knots that can be very difficult to work around. There might also be effects of weathering and patinas (the luster caused by wear, oxidation, and sun exposure). You might need to take precautions to preserve these surface-level features.

If you take the care to do it right, reclaimed wood can be the perfect material for your next renovation or in your next decorative wall art or hand-carved sculpture project. You can also enjoy repairing antique furniture, building a timber-frame structure, or turning a gnarled branch into a functional object.

Challenges working with new wood

New wood requires a lot less care up front, but it still requires close attention. This is because it will need your help to bring out its most handsome side.

Selecting the right saw blades and sandpaper grit give you the upper hand when manipulating the wood and ripping it to size.

You’ll also want to be aware of the grain, coloring, and moisture content of the material you are using. Great woodworking means working to accentuate the features of the wood while minimizing the negatives.

If you do that, you’ll have the perfect material for precision items like musical instruments and contemporary furniture, as well as projects that require everything to be level and plumb — like architectural millwork.

Pros and cons of old wood and new wood

Below, we'll summarize the pros and cons of these two wood options to make your choice as easy as possible.

Pros and cons of old wood

Pros of working with reclaimed wood include:

  • Sustainability

  • Character

  • History

  • Sustainability

Cons of working with reclaimed wood include:

  • Damage (from insects, weathering, etc.)

  • Hidden defects

  • Warping

Pros and cons of working with new wood

Pros of working with new wood include:

  • Availability

  • Consistency

  • Ease of Use

Cons of working with new wood include:

  • Sustainability concerns

  • Flattened character

  • Low quality

Comparison takeaways

Comparison takeaways - wooden boards in a stack

When it comes to comparing reclaimed wood to new wood, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. It comes down to the preference of the woodworker, the demands of the current project, and the feasibility of using the material for the job.

It can also come down to extremely practical concerns. Maybe you have a lot of wood you can reclaim, so it is just more affordable to go that route. On the other hand, not everyone has access to a lot of quality wood that they can reclaim.

There is also the environmental factor. If you are concerned with sustainability and can’t find a trustworthy source for new wood, reclaimed wood might be your only option.

Final thoughts on old wood vs new wood

Whatever your project and whatever your skill level, your choice of wood is the first step. It determines everything that comes after.

So if you are excited to begin a new journey in the art of woodworking, or want to take your next piece to the next level — make sure you are selecting the right wood!

Please write in the comments below and share your stories of using reclaimed or new wood. What did you learn?

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