How to Work Safely with Reclaimed Wood

I love to build things with reclaimed wood. Old barns, houses, fences and pallets have provided the lumber for many of my favorite projects. It wasn’t until around ten years ago that I learned from the news about arsenic being used to treat lumber.

Today, I still use reclaimed wood, but I use it differently. I’ll explain that later. There are things you should know about reclaimed wood.

Here are marks you could see on wooden pallets:

  • · MB- this is an insecticide called methyl bromide. It is still present in older pallets, although it is being phased out because it is toxic.
  • · HT- this means the wood has been heat treated.
  • · ISPM-15 – this stamp is used for pallets that were utilized for international shipping. The wood has been treated with pesticides and fungicides to prevent the spread of plant diseases.

You could also see stains on the pallets from anything that leaked onto the wood.

An extra-heavy pallet could mean different things. First, the type of wood could just be heavy. The pallet could contain fungicides or other chemicals absorbed from who-knows-what was shipped on it.

Wood from old barns, fences or houses could contain lead paint. There are lead testing kits available. Take a kit with you when offered this type of wood. If the wood is worth reclaiming, experts should handle it. If price is an issue, pass and try to find cleaner wood.

This does not mean you should never use reclaimed wood. Cypress and other felled trees that sank to the bottoms of riverbeds, some over a hundred years ago, are being harvested for antique lumber. This is saving live trees and forests from logging. The cost of this lumber is pricey and it is highly desirable. The wood could contain contaminants from chemicals, waste dumping and other items from the water over the years.

Here are the precautions you should take when dealing with reclaimed wood:

  • · Wear gloves when possible; some contaminants can be absorbed through the skin.
  • · Before beginning deconstruction or cutting, wash the pallet with a 10 percent solution of bleach and water. Allow to dry thoroughly. A dollar store brush works well to get into cracks and other places. This will kill bacteria, fungus, molds or other no-see-ums.
  • · Wear a mask or respirator when cutting or sanding.
  • · Use a metal detector to locate nails, staples or other bits of metal in the wood. Remove this before cutting. Holes can be left for character or patched later.
  • · Make sure you have a dust collector for your saw, sander and other tools. If you are using hand tools, lay a sheet of 6 mil plastic down. When finished, fold up the plastic and dispose of it with the sawdust inside.
  • · Stain and seal, or prime and paint the wood before using the project. This places a protective barrier between you and any remaining contaminants.

Source: The author of this article has over 40 years of experience in diverse forms of DIY, home improvement and repair, crafting, designing, and building furniture, outdoor projects, RV’ing and more.

Source: Andy (no last name given), “Building Furniture With Wood Pallets,” Andy’s website, no date given

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