Before reclaimed wood became popular nearly all wood sold and used in the construction industry was planed smooth. Occasionally projects called for a resawn or roughsawn face. Since reclaimed and character woods have become popular, various wood textures have also proliferated giving an entirely new dimension to the wood specification process, especially to cladding, including paneling and siding. However, beams, furniture and even wood flooring are now specified with increased consideration given to texture.
As with all reclaimed wood products, special reverence is given to authentic textures. These textures were typically created in one of two ways, either as a result of the original process of producing the lumber from the log as in sawing, or through the aging process as with barn siding. In some instances the combination of an original production process combined with time has resulted in a truly unique texture.
The textures that are the result of a production process include hand-hewn, riven, sawn and planed. These textures were all created in a brief moment in time.
Hand-hewn is the most primitive looking of the man made textures. Hand hewing was typically done when sawmills were either not available or not a practical choice. The tools involved in hand hewing wood are an adze to drive away a section of wood and a broadaxe to define the distance between each section. The result is a texture that is a bit uneven and shows diagonal axe marks every six to twelve inches. Most old barns and homes contain either hand hewn or sawn beams. Because the process of hand hewing started with a round log, most hewn beams are relatively square, regardless of their overall size. For instance, it is common to find hewn beams that are square 6x6, 7x7, 9x9, or something close to square such as 6x7, 4x5, 10x12, and extremely unusual to find hewn beams that are significantly larger in one dimension than the other, such as 3x10, 4x12 or even 4x8. Some beams are more heavily textured with deeper axe marks and this speaks to both the species being hewn as well as the skill of the person doing the hewing.
Rough sawn is perhaps the most common texture to find in reclaimed wood. Rough sawn refers to the texture of the lumber as it came off the sawmill. In time the lumber may have aged and darkened, but the texture of the original saw that cut it is often prominent even after more than a century. An experienced lumberman can look at wood cut over one hundred years ago and tell if it was cut with a dull blade or had a proud tooth that was not set correctly. In addition one can also establish if the wood was cut with a circular sawmill, a bandsaw or, as is rarely the case the wood was water sawn or pitsawn, both of which were replaced with circular sawing by about 1825. Bandsawn lumber (as well as pitsawn and watersawn lumber) is identifiable by the straight lines of the saw marks. Wood cut with a circlular sawmill shows circular saw marks. When rough sawn reclaimed lumber is specified, it is usually not specified as circular or band, just as rough sawn. However, when customers wish to replicate an old look with new lumber, circular sawn lumber is usually preferred. Although most modern sawmills utilize bandmills, there are still some circular sawmills in existence.
There are several techniques to highlight the texture of original rough sawn wood, show off the patina and/or juxtapose the original surface with the underlying grain and color beneath the original sawn face. Very often we brush the boards with either a wire or nylon brush head. Brushing wood serves to clean the wood while retaining or even enhancing the saw marks of the original board. The other technique commonly employed with reclaimed wood is to skip plane the original surface. Skip planing flattens the board removing some of the original cup that may be present. It also shows off the underlying grain. Lastly it shows the patina of the wood or darkening that is typical in the top 1/16” of an inch. For these reasons, skip planing the original surface is especially popular with reclaimed flooring.
Riven is a very uncommon texture and refers to wood that has been split, shearing the grain apart. Aside from rare examples of siding, occasional barn rafters, grape stakes, pegs in hand hewn barns and hand split roof shakes, it is very uncommon to see reclaimed wood with a riven texture. Occasionally people still use hand split shakes. Aside from that the only new riven wood we commonly see is firewood.
Weathered or worn textures
All of the above descriptions describe process whereby the process of turning the wood into lumber has left the wood with a distinctive texture. However, there are several textures that were created over time, often a long time. To understand some of these textures, it is helpful to understand a little of the structure wood. When looking at the end grain of wood it is usually fairly easy to see the growth rings. As most people know, each ring represents a years time. Upon closer inspection however, each ring is actually two rings, a dark ring which we count and a lighter ring. The lighter ring is the early wood, it was added very quickly in the springtime during the best growing conditions for the tree. The dark ring is the latewood and was produced by the tree late in the growing season over a longer duration. For these reasons, the latewood is typically very dense as compared to the early wood.
In terms of texture, mushroom boards are very similar to barn siding. The heavily textured surface of mushroom wood is also the result of eroded earlywood, resulting in prominent knots and latewood. The deeply grooved surface of the mushroom board takes about a decade to produce as the wood is literally used as beds to grow mushrooms. The prolonged contact with moist soils, as well as the enzymes produced by the mushrooms serves to eat away the less dense earlywood, once again leaving the latewood. Because mushroom boards are almost always hemlock or cypress and the mushroom enzymes produce a consistent chocolate brown color, the color and texture variations typical of barn siding is relatively minimal with mushroom wood. Also, mushroom board tends to have fewer of the heavy checking one sees with southern exposure barn siding.
Another textured wood surface somewhat similar to barn siding and mushroom board is tank stave wood. Wooden tanks were widely used throughout the 20th century for everything from holding water on the rooftops of New York City, to producing vinegar, wine, olives, cider, beer, pickles and juice. As these tanks are replaced by stainless steel the old wooden tank staves become available. The ones that were stored outside, including pickling tanks and water tanks, are usually slightly weathered and have a unique twist on barn siding. Although not as deeply textured as barn siding or mushroom board, the addition of rusted iron oxide from the old metal bands of the tanks produces texture with a slightly more industrial or modern edge than barn siding.
Foot Worn Flooring
True foot worn flooring is also usually available in smaller quantities and, like threshing flooring shows many years of being walked upon. Unlike the threshing flooring, it did not take the same kind of abuse and is typically much smoother. Even industrial flooring usually has a very smooth original surface. The major problem with the industrial flooring is that it is often soaked with machine oil. For this reason, and since it is usually only 2-3” wide and 1-8’ long, we usually stay away from foot worn industrial flooring. As for original foot worn residential flooring, this is usually only available in very small quantities so there is never much to be had. The wider planks from two hundred plus year old colonial homes do tend to be highly desirable. The key to all of these footworn products is to find unfinished product as the old finishes will probably need to be stripped before they can be reused.
To understand newly milled textures it is very helpful to know the machines used to create them. With each description of the texture we will also look at the machine used to create them.
Historically, people have preferred smooth surfaces for most wood products, even if the shape is somewhat ornamental, such as crown moulding or beaded paneling. Even in the case of v-groove paneling, the primary function of the ‘V’ is to create a shadow at the joint, thus hiding any imperfections in the joint as the wood pieces might, over time, shrink and open up a gap. Once again, in all these instances the craftsman’s role has been to create a finished product that was as flawless and perfect as possible. Variation, outside of the narrowly defined ornament of the pattern was to be avoided. In all these instances the beauty of the wood grain or the shape of the moulding was what was sought, not the actual texture of the wood.