There's no two ways about it, denailing reclaimed wood is not fun. The wood's usually filthy, sometime's it's loaded with nails, and those nails are almost always mangled - due to deconstruction/demolition/loading/hauling - or borderline impossible to get out easily. If the object was simply to remove the nails, it wouldn't be such an ordeal; trying to preserve the wood around the nail, and remove the nail without marring the lumber, that's what makes it a little challenging at times.
The upside to having to denail the wood is that it's an opportunity to painstakingly run one's eyes and hands across just about every square inch of the material, which sometimes leads to interesting discoveries or observations that would otherwise be missed or overlooked. In the past, during denailing, I've come across initials and dates carved into the wood, I've noticed branding marks stamped into the wood, and I've definitely learned a lot about various construction means and methods. Granted, you have to be halfway interested in good craftsmanship and/or history to really appreciate these things, but still, an unexpected find is an unexpected find, and on some level, just about everybody can find something to enjoy about those.
Today I started denailing some of the lumber I recently hauled into the shop; we tried to take care of the bulk of the denailing while still on site, but the truth is, it generally takes two or three once-overs to really find all the nails. In the July heat here in Missouri, sometimes it's pretty easy to half-ass the on-site denailing just for the sake of getting the lumber loaded and on the road. As such...there's still quite a bit of denailing to be done.
The chunk of lumber shown in the above pic, that was something I wanted to denail and get cleaned up just to show my partner in this little venture what we had on our hands in terms of the lumber's look. But it's also a good example of what one runs into when dealing: giant nails, bent nails, headless nails, and in this case, two different types of nails (common steel nails and old-school cast iron square cut nails). While some tools are better than others when it comes to denailing, no tool is off limits; anything that'll get the job done isn't inappropriate.
One of the boards I started fooling around with was one of the roof rafters, which had a bunch of cast iron hooks nailed into it on both sides as a means of hanging meat. The joinery notches on either end of the rafter were still pretty much intact, as were the hooks, so I figured I'd pop the hooks off of one side of the board so that it would sit flat against a wall, get the thing cleaned up and see if I can't market the thing as a coat (or whatever) hanger of sorts. The removed hooks will get sold separately, or used in some other fashion. Maybe the rafter and hook combination is more valuable as separate parts and pieces, but it's always difficult to disassemble a complete, original item; things can always be disassembled if need be, no sense in doing it until or unless it's necessary.
One of the things I noticed when removing hooks from one side of the rafter was that the nails used to fasten the hooks, they went through the rafter and poked out the other side. The protruding portion had been bent over and banged back into the wood, probably so hands didn't get shredded when hanging meat. The divots in the wood caused by those hammer blows...they're massive. Whoever bent those nails over was swinging something huge.
See those two slightly curved indentations in the wood just north of the head of my hammer? Those were made when somebody bent the ends of those nails over; a modern, conventional hammer, like the one in the pic, that'd leave a mark 1/3 that size.
The thing that fascinates me about noticing something that relatively mundane is simply imagining the construction of the barn, and how many times a hammer that large must have been swung to drive (or bend over) all the square cut nails that were used. Square cut nails are no joke, and to drive the hundreds that were used, with a hammer big enough to leave marks like the one in the above pic...no power tools, no air-conditioning or heater to escape to, probably no breaks in the first place...this thing was built by some hard-workin' people, and those giant scars in the wood...that's the proof.
At least it wasn't 100° yesterday like it was all of last week...it was only like 94°.
Most of that statement is sarcasm, but the truth is, those 6° make a pretty big difference.
Anyhow...yesterday I headed out to the middle of Missouri to load up the trailer and drag the reclaimed barn lumber back to the shop. You might remember the small barn (a meat-curing building, really) we took down a couple weeks ago:
It was definitely not a large structure, and while we only reclaimed maybe 35% of the wood - the rest was either too rotten or too busted up to be worthwhile to haul off site, denail, clean up, etc. - we definitely filled the trailer. Ballparking the numbers a little bit, I estimate it to be somewhere around 1,300 board feet of wood. We'll try to sell whatever we can, and whatever's left will get used in upcoming builds.
The wood we were able to reclaim consists of a wide variety of board sizes and conditions. Most of it is pine, but there's a little oak mixed in as well. Some of the lumber is newer, like 50-years-old "new". Some of the lumber is pretty old, as evidenced by the use of giant square-cut nails to hold the very perimeter framing together.
My favorite couple pieces of lumber we got from the barn are the roof rafters with the original meat-hanging hooks still attached:
Most of the time, reclaimed barn wood is sort of generic. Sure, it's got character and patina and whatnot, but what really tells the story of a barn's use or age is in the details, like the joinery methods used to fasten one chunk of wood to another, or any associated hardware like meat-hanging hooks or hay trolleys. Sometimes during deconstruction or demolition that stuff gets overlooked or destroyed, so I was pretty happy to be able to salvage a couple of rafters (I didn't know they existed until we used the loader to knock the structure over) that tell much, much more of this barn's story than the wood that came from the more generic parts of the structure do.
I needed a little design inspiration for some upcoming reclaimed wood pieces, so I made a quick visit to my favorite architectural salvage place, located at the Lemp Brewery. I sometimes get a little sidetracked when I'm there, walking around the complex and imagining how busy the place must have been during its peak years of operation as a brewery (1865-1919)...
Maybe "renovation" isn't the most accurate word to describe the current project; "repair" might be more suitable, but what it boils down to is...redoing what another contracting crew did maybe a year ago to sort of dress up a 19th century back porch. I guess maybe I'm repairing a renovation...?
If you keep up with these blog shenanigans, you'll know the house. It's in Kirkwood and was built forever ago; it's the house where I did a big barn beam mantel, a laundry room island, and most recently, custom window sills to replicate the originals. Now...the porch, and this porch is easily going to be the biggest fiasco I've dealt with yet over there. Why is that? Not because it's old, and not because it was built 120+ years ago, but because it required some work - part of the porch was demo'd to make way for an addition to the original house - to get buttoned up once the addition was built, and said work was done by an absolute hack of a GC.
Anyhow, here's the porch:
I think this pic was taken several weeks ago, during a quick visit to do some preliminary poking around to see what was what.
The big chunk of the house staring you right in the face, including the majority of the porch, that's original stuff. I don't know that anybody really knows when the porch was built, but the prevailing opinion is that it is not original to the house (built in 1858), but was definitely added sometime before 1900. In short, it's old. REAL old.
On the right hand side, that's the new addition. There had been an addition there previously, but it made more sense to demo it and rebuild, especially given that, if I remember correctly, the interior of the previous addition wasn't quite as ornate or grand as the original house.
The pics are a little tough to make out, but here's what the previous version of this house and porch (it was L-shaped) looked like:
Unfortunately, the stuff I'm working on can't really be seen in the previous pics - there's a giant bush/tree/weed in the way - but even in recent years, the porch was in relatively decent shape, all things considered.
The biggest issue I've been asked to fix...well, there are a lot of them. Basically anything the previous GC touched, it's wrong and/or ugly and/or unsafe and/or not to code and/or ridiculously bad work. Fortunately, all of it sort of revolves around, if you'll refer to first pic - the one I took a few weeks ago - the right side of the porch and the post that's there. If you look closely, the porch floor changes colors near the very right hand side; the grey colored stuff is original, and the bare wood, that and basically everything beneath it and above it are new (and has to go). The post that's there wasn't there originally and as-is, doesn't fit right (notice how the roof slopes towards that post? That's because the post is too short and nobody wanted to take the extra 30 seconds to cut some lumber to make it the right height to maintain some semblance of level across the front of the porch roof.)
Oh, and that right side post, and the corner of the porch floor, and corner of the porch roof, none of it's not really supported by anything, so the first order of business was to shore things up.
After my preliminary poking around a few weeks ago, when I tore off that ridiculous moldy lauan skirting (lauan is typically used as flooring underlayment, not exterior...anything), I realized that the corner of the porch was a cobbled-together mess and the post was supported by wood. Not concrete, wood. Somebody simply laid some boards on the ground and started slapping stuff together on top of it and as if the slopes and poor fits and sketchy construction weren't enough, all of it was sinking. Further exploration today revelaed just how janky all of it really was.
The paver you see in the above left pic, that's what's holding up the corner of the porch floor, and it's just sitting in dirt. In the same pic, where the new 2x joist roughly (and I'm being nice) meets the existing joist, that joint is supported by a 2x that was laid on the ground - a 2x from 1858 - with a random, loose brick from an old cistern or chimney wedged between it and the joists.
To the previous GC's credit (where's the sarcasm font?!), that 2x that's buried in the ground and essentially supporting that entire corner of porch, it's treated wood. And there was another 2x below it. Regardless, there is zero excuse for that not being a proper concrete pier. Or even an improper concrete pier; that'd be better than burying wood in the mud.
Then again, if this is the way a crew leaves a construction site - this is a pic from underneath the new part of the porch, which was fully opened up and accessible to the previous GC - with rags and trash and soda cans and who knows what else laying on the ground...they probably can't be expected to do real clean, decent work.
What did I do to fix this, you might be asking yourself...well...here's what I did:
I first supported everything in a relatively sufficient, temporary manner.
I needed to get weight off that post - which is a fiasco all on its own - so I could cut some of it away, and I only needed my support structure to be sufficient for 24 hours. So, I threw down some gravel and stacked fresh 2x6s and a couple douglas fir floorboards underneath not only that rim joist, but also the floor joist perpendicular to it, yielding a pretty solid wood-on-wood structure. I was able to use a long pry bar to lever the porch floor up a bit, allowing me to really get a snug wedge of sorts underneath the corner of the original porch.
Directly above that, I screwed a couple random 2xs together to form a pretty massive 4x6 or 4x8 post that I ran from the porch floor joists up to the header that supports the roof. This carried the weight of the roof down to the floor, and from the floor to the stack of 2x6s.
On the right hand side I used the paver and a couple random boards that I'd demo'd to hold up that joist, although that right hand stuff...it's really not carrying any weight, it's all cobbled together to begin with and if all of it collapsed then I'd have a really good excuse to redo it. In short...I wasn't too concerned with the right hand side stuff, it can wait for another day to get dealt with properly.
Maybe I should point out a minor detail...this porch only needs to get through another year or two before it gets replaced, but for tax credit purposes it needs to look like somebody gave a sh*t when they were redoing it. As such, the goal of this job isn't to just blindly replace everything or make everything perfect, it's to make the thing - at the very least - structurally sound, safe, and look as though somebody really tried to make it a decent structure.
Once I had everything supported properly, I cut away the bottom of the post. I needed to do that to give myself some room to dig a hole, but also because...the post...what a fiasco. In modern construction, as an example, it's pretty typical to use a solid 4x4 or 6x6 post and then, if somebody so desires, wrap it with some kind of trim. In this instance, the hollow section of the post trim wasn't big enough to accommodate a 4x4, so whoever put in that right side post, they sort of made their own stuff to fit inside and carry the weight of the roof.
In spirit, they had the right idea. In execution...they get an "F".
Why? Because they just basically haphazardly carved chunks of wood away from a 2x6 until it fit inside the post trim, and then slid what amounts to a 2x2 next to it, although the cuts were horrible and without attaching the 2x6 to the 2x2, the 2x2 is pretty worthless and the 2x6 - which got shaved down to maybe a 2x3 to fit inside the post - isn't a whole lot better. It's like supporting 1/2 of the weight of the roof weight - and roofs are stupid heavy - with a lone 2x4. Sliding a site-built 3x3 inside the post would have been exponentially better. It probably would have taken more time as well...and probably why it wasn't done that way.
With things properly supported and the post cut away, I dug a hole about as wide and as deep as I could. It's every bit of 12-14" across and pretty close to 24" deep. In that hole went concrete. Given the situation and the constraints I had - trying to dig a hole with an entire porch in the way - it's pretty decent, and immeasurably better than just laying a couple boards on the ground.
Tomorrow remove the temporary supports, install a proper galvanized post base, and a 4x4 to carry the roof weight. Once that's done, I can start trying to dress things up. I don't have a real solid plan for that yet, simply because so much of what was done previously is so sketchy it's really difficult to tell what's doing what, and what needs to be replaced in what order. But...it'll get figured out. Maybe not quickly, but it'll get figured out. :)
On Wednesday, I went 2 hours west and helped deconstruct a small barn in hopes of salvaging some of the lumber. Today, Saturday, I started putting the finishing touches on a figured hard maple countertop that'll sit on top of a kitchen island (that also needs some finishing touches). It's happened before - it's rare - but the weeks where I spend some chunk of time dealing with reclaimed wood, and another chunk of time dealing with brand new fresh stuff...always a little mentally challenging. The skill sets each require are pretty much the same, as are the tools typically used, but the thought process and how each lumber type gets attacked is a little different.
That said, oiling the butcher block style countertop was pretty satisfying, in spite of the fact that after standing back to admire the figure in the wood that jumped out with a little oil, I found a small tear-out divot in the middle of the countertop that I missed, somehow, after about 18 rounds of sanding. So...I'll have to go back and do it all over again - sand the top, apply oil, etc. - but I was going to apply more oil anyways, and some light spot sanding...not enough to rain on my parade.
I finally got the video put together; it's not real long and it's definitely not real complicated subject matter...but it was kind of a tricky thing to film, between the wind blowing the camera around and the sky being crazy bright...editing all the footage down into usable stuff took a little work.
Anyhow...what a fun project the barn deconstruction was. I don't know that I'd want to do it every day, but every now and then...pretty enjoyable work.
I don't know much about the structure's history, nor do I have any idea how old the thing was, but it appeared to be like a lot of farm buildings: put together with whatever materials were close by, and added on to or reconfigured over the years as needs changed. I was told it was, at least at some point, a meat-curing building, and that was pretty evident from how many giant nails were half-driven into everything possible and, presumably, used to hang meat from. Once we got the roof on the ground, we found a lot of old-school hangers, like coat hangers, nailed into the rafters, which was kind of a neat discovery.
The wood that came out of the thing was, at first glance, pine and oak. All of it was nailed together - indicating that the structure probably wasn't crazy old - and while the vast majority of the fasteners were relatively modern nails, I found a couple square-cut nails as well, and there's nothing modern about those. Some of the wood had been milled on a bandsaw, and some of it had been milled by something with a giant circular blade. The roof had a number of layers, the top being corrugated metal, then asphalt shingles, then wooden shingles
Once I get the lumber somewhere suitable for closer inspection (and denailing...man, I do NOT enjoy denailing), I'll be able to figure out what can be used for what; some of the thinner, more fragile lumber will be limited to decorative stuff, while the bulkier pieces, I bet I can squeeze a table or two out of them. I'd really like to salvage some of the roof sheathing (naily board), but given how many layers of roofing were on this thing, the wood might be a little **too** naily.
Regardless, if you've ever wanted to see what deconstructing (and demo'ing, although we only demo'd things that were too far gone or unsafe to be salvageable) a little barn in the middle of Missouri looks like on a windy 100-degree day...here's an example.
It wasn't a big structure, but that's OK; the smaller ones are usually a lot more manageable and way less daunting or unsafe.
It wasn't in especially good condition, but that's OK; the stuff I typically want the most (the framing) was decently solid.
It didn't come down easily, but that's OK; if they come down too easily it means the wood might not be worth salvaging.
I filmed just about all the deconstruction and I'm getting that video put together currently...here are some pics from the job:
Like I said, not a huge structure, but I'll still be able to get plenty of reclaimed wood outta the deal...once we go back to sort through what's on the ground and clean up the site.
Today has been an eventful day.
I started my morning by heading up to the DeBaliviere Place neighborhood to meet with a couple clients to go over an upcoming build, a custom steel & wood coffee table. Normally, a quick site visit and get-together with clients isn't all that big of a deal...but not all site visits take place in houses on private streets with insanely ornate gates, or on land that was surveyed by the lead engineer for Forest Park, or in neighborhoods designated as city landmarks.
It's the kind of place where, if it's not something you're entirely used to, you drive past the gates a few times to 1, make sure you're even allowed to go through them and 2, that your car will actually fit.
Those gates (and houses), they still very much exist. And while they were certainly not designed with 21st century vehicles in mind, I was able to squeeze mine through.
The desired coffee table, it's going to be fairly comparable to some that I've built in the past: steel frame, wood top, wood lower shelf. The design consideration driving the wood choice is color; the room the coffee table will go in is relatively formal, and the idea - I think - is to warm it up a bit with some pieces that have a little character. The desired wood color is one that is typically only found in lumber that Mother Nature has beaten on for a little while, and given my experience with reclaimed wood, I think we'll be able to come up with a suitable material.
Following the site visit, because I was so close to my favorite steel yard, I went ahead and picked up the necessary steel, 1.25" square steel tube, for the build.
If I remember correctly, my phone said it'd be a 9-minute drive from the client's house to the steel yard, pretty much a straight shot north on Union Blvd, a street that dates back to the Civil War. It was an interesting 9-minute drive; one of the common sayings about St. Louis is that you can go a handful of blocks from any point in the city and experience the best of the best, while going a handful of blocks the other direction will take you to the worst of the worst. Sometimes that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not when driving north from DeBaliviere Place: 9 minutes is more than enough time for the scenery to change from private streets and mansions to blight and despair. Given that - a long time ago - I spent a few years in the city planning field, those scenery changes always sort of fascinate me.
Anyhow, I wound up at Shapiro Metal Supply, and I'm still enough of a novice when it comes to metalwork that I get pretty excited to go look through all the metal they sell, and dream up stuff that could be built with it.
With the steel picked up, I headed back to the shop so I could send some wood sample pics over to the coffee table client. I have a handful of various species of wood laying around the shop, and rather than guess as to what the client wants...it's best just to present some options and go from there.
This is when I made a bit of an unexpected discovery.
I figured I'd send over a few sample oak pics: weathered grey, unweathered brown/tan, something in-between. When digging around for the "something in-between", I cut off a chunk of what I thought was a 2x8, reclaimed oak barn joist and started dressing it up a bit (sanding, poly, etc.).
A while back, I came across a guy selling barn lumber really, really close to the shop. I bought as much as I could afford - with no purpose for any of it at that point - just because it was good stuff and, in the rarest of rare situations, only a couple miles away. The wood was pretty dirty so it was tough to identify it, but it looked like oak, the guy said it was oak, and more times than not, around St. Louis, barns were made with oak. So I assumed it was oak.
The piece of wood was definitely a 2x8, and it most likely came from an old barn (if the guy I bought it from is to be believed), and there are pretty good odds that it was a joist of some type. But oak? Not at all.
I'm still not 100% sure that I know what it is, but the more I research the subject, the more I think that it's chestnut, a species of tree that's borderline extinct (there was some kind of chestnut blight in the early 1900s that wiped out the chestnut tree population). American Chestnut, to be exact, otherwise known as Wormy Chestnut. If it is in fact Wormy Chestnut...I stumbled upon some REALLY cool lumber. Makes me wish I'd have bought more of it.
So...the day included mansions, beaux-arts gates, blight, steel and what I think/hope is Wormy Chestnut. Normally, I'd say that a Monday this unusual and adventurous just means that the rest of the week will pale in comparison...except that today I was also able to finalize plans to deconstruct and salvage, later this week, the lumber from this little meat curing building...
...should be a pretty fun week.