Finding Reclaimed Materials for Bar Tables – by Sara Badiali
The larger picture of building material reuse encompasses policy, education, and awareness. In my practice, I can spend months not even looking at actual materials. This week I’ve been overjoyed to get my hands dirty in the local marketplace for reclaimed materials.
My friends are updating the interior design of a Portland bar called the Basement Pub. When they mentioned that the tables are going to be constructed of reclaimed wood I immediately offered my services. My love of reclaimed materials is matched only by my passion for research (and possibly spreadsheets). This is my approach to finding reclaimed materials for a large project with a limited budget.
Scouting reuse centers or salvage businesses is my first step. I spend time online looking at the type of business that sell salvaged materials to get a feel of their prices. More and more business who deal in reclaimed materials are popping up these days. The reclaimed building material market ranges from one-offs on Craigslist to boutique style specialty stores. The prices for materials vary wildly in range. My approach is to match the client’s style and budget, allotted time for the project, the resources available, to available materials in the marketplace. In this case, we have a month to scout materials and people available with skills to turn raw materials into tables. Our budget is small and the tables are only one part of a large remodel project.
Time is a key factor in using reclaimed materials. The more time to plan a project and scout for materials, the better the outcome and the more enjoyable the experience. For the Basement Pub’s tables, we want to fall between semi raw and processed materials. We don’t want to harvest our own because we are not a licensed and bonded company. Anyone can harvest materials, but the property owner is liable for any accidents or issues that may occur. As a property owner, it is good practice to allow only insured companies deconstruct or remove materials. We also don’t want to spend time and labor on denailing lumber. We do have craftspeople who can build, but not to mill. This project falls square in the middle of perfect for the available skill set and allotted amount of time.
Organizing Resources I
The first tab of my resources spreadsheet is organized by local type of business, inventory and cost. Since we are on a limited budget, I start with the reuse centers. There are over 850 Habitat for Humanity Restores in the country (last time I checked) so this is an easy source along with local nonprofit reuse centers. Then I start looking at the small architectural salvage businesses. I check for independent contractors that have a website with both reclaimed materials and urban tree removal. Tree and stump removal business often overlap in milling street trees and reclaimed wood. Larger and more expensive reclaimed material operations typically have a solid web presence with an extensive list of inventory. I add these business to my list and give them to the client as a reference point. They tend to be pricey, along price lines of the upper echelon of the design goods stores. I put off checking in with demolition companies because that usually means I have to make phone calls, but sometimes they have great leads. Then of course there are deconstruction companies, if they sell their own salvage then they go on the resource list.
Good communication with the client is important to shake out expectations in a project. For example, it took me three conversations about the tables to learn that they don’t want them created out of Douglas Fir. In the Pacific North West, Doug Fir is the most prolific reclaimed wood. There are entire old growth forests captured in the structures of Portland so it’s the easiest to find. With this information, I am less likely to look for salvage from the interior of buildings.
Organizing Resources II
The second tab of my spreadsheet is the materials themselves. Armed with the knowledge that I am not going for salvaged interiors, I am looking for unique supplies. My first thought is reclaimed cedar fencing. On occasion the reuse center I where I used to work would get a load of cedar fencing. Tables made from cedar would be dazzling (but I would have to hurdle the milling issue). For items like these, the only local resource is Craigslist. In Portland we are lucky enough to have an online reclaimed materials website called Boneyard Northwest, but it is not yet the materials juggernaut that is craigslist.
On Craigslist I find many items that would make good tables. Although I am looking under the “Materials” section of craigslist, the “Farm and Garden” section also has reclaimed items. My finds range from: Reclaimed hardwood bleachers, and tropical wood reclaimed from truck beds, to rough table tops already made from reclaimed wood (Doug Fir of course). I email these places to check if the inventory is still available. I list pictures of the materials along with dates and prices. I find the top seven to ten items that I think would fit the project, wait for the sellers to confirm the inventory and send my list off to the client.
The next step is to go see the reclaimed materials. I will do this with the primary craftsperson. Who, in this case, is the architect who will be designing and building the tables. My feeling is she will also be managing those of us who show up as volunteer labor (the perks of volunteering for a pub are delicious).
To be Continued
These are the first steps in finding and working with reclaimed materials. If none of the Craigslist items are suitable then I will widen my search by making phone calls and contacting my friends in the field. If all goes well we will start making the tables in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for more adventures in finding and working with reclaimed building materials for the Basement Pub in Portland, Oregon!