Virgin-Growth, Old-Growth, Original-Growth, Antique or Aged

By Carol M Goodwin

What exactly does that mean in the wood world? And more importantly, how can the consumer – whether homeowner, design professional or builder – be assured they are receiving the “real deal”?

The Reclaimed Wood Council was formed to educate buyers and set standards for reputable manufacturers of these amazing woods. Because most old woods provide exceptional quality and beauty, they are well worth recovering and milling into flooring, stair parts, beams, paneling and other products.

Although the Reclaimed Wood Council is no longer in existence due to increased numbers of smaller providers who may not always follow standard practices, these Reclaimed Wood Council definitions may assist you in your search for the perfect reclaimed wood.

American Chestnut Wood Genus: Castenea Dentata
Age: 50 + years at harvest from structures 50 – 200 + years of age
Brief historical information: Nearly extinct
Heartwood content: 90-100%
Grain pattern: linear to arching (vertical to flat)
Knot content: few to 3″
Growth rings: 4 to 12 or more
Color: blond to rich deep brown
Nail holes: few to frequent
Widths available: 2 ½” to 15″ +
Other characteristics: Generally wormy with larger knots and character markings.
Comments: Often the most expensive reclaimed wood.

Antique Heart Cypress Wood species: Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Age: 500 years and older
Brief historical information: Original-growth Bald Cypress trees are one of the last prehistoric species still standing and are known for their distinctive “knees”, the over-growths from the root system. The Bald Cypress tree commonly lived more 1000 years and towered over 100 feet to produce 100 percent heart wood. Millions of acres of these magnificent trees once covered the coastal Southeast, but were essentially cleared by hand in the 18th and 19th centuries to help build America. Because the wood is resistant to insects, water and decay, it was often used for boats, houses, dock pilings, flooring and outside furniture. The wood was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright and is usually the healthiest wood found when his homes are restored.
Heartwood content: 100 percent
Grain pattern: A combination of subtle swirls and delicate straight grains
Knot content: rare, usually not over 1 ¼”
Growth rings: At least 8 per inch; up to 80
Color: typically honey cinnamon to tans to warm chocolates
Nail holes: almost of the available heart cypress is river reclaimed with no nail holes
Widths available: typically up to 10″ in flooring and up to 14″ in lumber and even up to 40+”
Other characteristics: 690 on the Janka scale, comparable to Douglas Fir
Comments: Because of environmental conditions, second growth cypress wood lacks the decay resistance of original growth trees and is substantially less valuable.

Antique Heart Pine Wood species: Longleaf Heart Pine (Pinus palustris)
Age: 200 to 500 years and older
Brief historical information: About 90 million acres of longleaf heart pine once covered the coastal Southeast, but was clear cut by hand in the 18th and 19th centuries to build Industrial America. It is often seen in old factories, wharves, Victorian palaces, bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge, and homes including Mount Vernon and Monticello. The few remaining stands of longleaf are protected today, thus it is only available from old buildings or river reclaimed logs. The wood was highly prized for it strength, durability and beauty.
Heartwood content: 100 percent
Grain pattern: Pin striped or arching grains
Knot content: infrequent in river recovered, some more in building reclaimed, can be order clear with only a few pin knots up to ½”
Growth rings: At least 6 per inch in building reclaimed and 8 per inch in river reclaimed on average; up to 30
Color: typically rich red
Nail holes: some in building reclaimed; none in river reclaimed
Widths available: typically up to 10″ in flooring and up to 12″ in lumber
Other characteristics: Very strong, stable and hard. 1225 on the Janka scale. Comparable to red oak but 29% more stable
Comments: The longleaf grows only one inch in diameter every thirty years, but a tree less than 200 years old is considered “new heart pine.” A 75-year-old tree will average only 30% heart, and even a 130-year-old tree yields wood that is not as hard or rich in color as antique heart pine. “Old-growth” does not mean it is antique. The term is used loosely and often refers to new heart pine.

Douglas Fir Wood species: Pinaceae (not a true fir)
Age: 50-200 years +
Brief historical information: Primarily a western US Species. Douglas Fir, due to its structural qualities, has been used extensively in the manufacture of timbers for framing, and in building and mining. It also nails well and can found in interior joinery for doors, flooring, and mouldings.
Heartwood content:
Grain pattern: Both quarter and flat sawn.
Knot content: Can be graded for both clear and knotty grades.
Growth rings: Six to twenty or more per inch.
Color: Reddish brown shades in heartwood to near white sapwood layer.
Nail holes: Can possess, depending upon original use, nail and/or bolt holes. Frequency will range from occasional to heavy.
Widths available: 3″ – 18″+
Other characteristics: Wide plank flooring is readlity available and less costly than most other reclaimed wood species.
Comments: The wood is relatively soft and care must be taken to protect the finish.

Eastern While Pine Wood Genus: Pinus Strobus
Age: 50 + years at harvest from structures 50 – 200 + years of age
Brief historical information:
Heartwood content: 90 – 100%
Grain pattern: Linear to arching (quarter to flat)
Knot content: Few to frequent, up to 3″ in diameter
Growth rings: 4 to 12 or more
Color: Cream to medium brown
Nail holes: Few to frequent
Widths available: 2 ½ ” to 16″ +
Other characteristics: Soft and considered an inexpensive wood.
Comments: Commonly used in 18th and 19th century homes in the NE.

Oak Wood species: Quequs
Age: 75 + years at harvest. From structures 50-200 + years of age
Brief historical information:
Heartwood content: 90-100%
Grain pattern: Linear to arching grains (vertical to flat). Not available as all vertical grain.
Knot content: Few to frequent, up to 3″
Growth rings: 6 to 20
Color: Blush to medium brown in red oak. Light brown to rich, deep brown in white oak
Nail holes: Few to frequent. Grading standards are much less clear for Oak than Heart Pine.
Widths available: 2 ½” to 16″+
Other characteristics:
Comments: Most of what is sold today as ‘European Oak’ flooring is actually #2 Common American Oak.

Carol Goodwin, CR, MCR, is President of Goodwin Heart Pine and holds Craftsman and Master Craftsman degrees from the National Wood Floor Association. She is also a Certified Hardwood Flooring Inspector, and an accredited CEU Provider. She is a frequent blogger and can be found giving lots of good advice on green building, and using reclaimed wood at http://www.heartpine.com/blog

Submerged Logs Into Antique Pine Floors

Most of the River Recovered® pine used to produce heart pine flooring has been underwater for a century or more. Questions about this antique wood cover the entire spectrum from concerns that the wood will shrink extra after it is installed to the thought that long exposure to water might keep the wood from moving at all. Actually the answer lies in the middle of this range.

To start with, living trees have a high water content. Wood in its natural condition performs well when it is surrounded with water. The basic structure of the heart wood with high resin content changes very little during the long stay at the river bottom. The resin helps protect the heartwood underwater just as it protects the wood in a living tree.

The desirable properties of this antique wood come from the slow growing conditions. Original growth forests produced long leaf pine of a high density with high resin content. These characteristics are not changed while the wood is submerged.

Carefully kiln dried and matched in moisture content at the job site, this antique wood will give excellent performance as antique pine floors.

Antique Heart Pine flooring from Reclaimed boards

Inlay of log end

Occasionally we get calls from people who have some salvaged lumber and they want make their own flooring.  Here are a few details to consider.

The fit of the tong and groove is critical if the wood floor is going to perform well.  A loose fit can lead to squeaks while a fit that is too tight will make the floor hard to install.  If you put two short straight boards together and then hold them in the air by one of them the other should not fall off.  A quick shake should cause the boards to disengage.  A difference of a few thousandths of an inch can make a significant difference.

Almost all wood flooring is made with the top face slightly wider than the bottom. As the floor is installed the top touches first leaving a slight gap between the boards on the bottom. The difference in width between the top and bottom avoids cracks showing between the boards in areas of slight sub floor irregularity.

A groove on the top inside corner of the tong allows a space for the nail heads as an addition aid to a tight fitting floor.

Some individuals with good skill levels have been able to produce serviceable flooring from antique wood, but most high quality reclaimed flooring is made by experienced craftspeople.

Natural Color Changes

The rich color of old heart pine is one of the main benefits of an antique wood floor. A discussion of heart pine may help you to get the look you want. Several species of wood change color significantly as they age. Lumber from freshly sawn antique heart pine logs change from light yellows to deep orange-red browns as time passes. The color change is especially noticeable in longleaf heart pine of high resin content. Other species such as American black cherry, Jatoba (sold as Brazilian cherry) and purple heart also show a significant color transformation. Oxidation of components of the wood drives the change in color and it is accelerated by ultraviolet light. Covering part of a board with aluminum foil and leaving it in strong sun light for a day or two can cause enough darkening to be seen. For a new wood floor much of the change in color takes place in the first few weeks. However the richer tones continue to emerge for several months. Area rugs placed on the floor before this time will keep the areas under the rugs from darkening. Heart wood typically changes color significantly more than sap wood. The color of freshly sawn longleaf pine River recovered® logs is lighter while heart pine reclaimed from buildings is usually darker. Reclaimed heart pine can also contain some yellow portions that are associated with high resin concentrations. The color deepens to the same range in wood from either source. The degree of color change in a new floor is strongly affected by finish that is applied. The type of finish should be considered as a part of the decision to determine the final color of the floor.

Knowing what to expect can help you flooring installation go more smoothly, and heart pine will make your heart sing.

Heartwood vs. Sapwood

Words can have a variety of meanings when used by different people.  Wood science textbooks tend to agree on the definition of the words heartwood and sapwood.  Trees transform sapwood into heartwood by depositing additional chemicals in the wood.  The color and durability of heartwood make it preferred for many products.

In informal speech ‘heart pine’ (or sometimes ‘heart of pine’) is often used to describe wood products containing the heartwood of southern yellow pine trees. Traditional heart pine floors were all heartwood. Now many products labeled heart pine actually contain a mixture of heartwood and sapwood.   As the color of the wood matures the heartwood develops a much deeper color whereas the sapwood remains yellow.  The contrast increases between the heartwood and sapwood as the wood ages.  According to the Southern Forest Products Association  website ” there is no set ratio of heartwood vs. sapwood in the grading rules that defines heart pine lumber.”   The site goes on    “Of the 10 Southern Pine species, longleaf pine is most commonly referred to in the trade as “heart pine”. It is generally characterized by tighter growth rings, higher density and greater proportion of heartwood. Longleaf lumber is so prized it merits a special quality classification within the grading rules.”

The superior qualities of longleaf pine heartwood enhance both the appearance and durability of products made from this wood.

Hello Wood Floors… Goodbye respirators and meds!

Hopefully…   When our grandson was born his bedroom had new carpet and fresh paint. I gave my wonderful daughter the Lung Association’s Healthy House book and thought we were doing better.

Two weeks before our granddaughter was born her room suddenly had to be painted pink. And the paint store didn’t offer my daughter the low VOC paint!

This spring the family replaced the carpet with Precision Engineered River Recovered Antique Heart Pine wood floors in both grandkids rooms.

We are all breathing easier… literally. So far, so good. I’ll keep you posted.

Love wood floors and grandkids!

Antique Wood Flooring Myths

Download "Kiln Drying 101" by by Andrew St. James ARS PhD, COO Goodwin Heart Pine and Director of the company dry kiln.1) Some people think that antique wood does not shrink and swell anymore so it does not need to be brought to the proper moisture content on the jobsite.  On the contrary wood science and field experience both indicate antique wood shrinks or swells when the moisture content changes.  You need to install the wood at a moisture content that is close to the value that will be maintained while the building is in use.

2) We often hear the remark that old wood does not need to be kiln dried.  There are two issues here.  First, most air dried wood has a moisture content too high for interior use.  The second is the possible presence of living organisms such as powder post beetles, termites, or mold.  Kiln drying to 140 F for several hours eliminates live insect pests in the wood.  Proper kiln drying also eliminates living mold and brings the moisture content down to a level that wood will not support mold growth.  Click on the link to read more information about kiln drying in our article in WoodSource KilnDrying101 or click the thumbnail above.

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WoodSource Magazine Explores the Durability of Cypress

The most recent issue of WoodSource magazine includes “The Long Term Benefits of Building with Cypress”  featuring cabins on the shores of Lake Michigan built for the 1933 World’s Fair.  In the article on page 14 Todd Zeiger, director of the Northern Region Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, describes the good performance of cypress compared to other woods which “had rotted away”.

Pilings from Savannah First Dock Continue To Serve As Beautiful Flooring in Homes Across the Nation

Savannah’s port has always played a significant role in the city’s history, serving as a leading shipping avenue for New World products bound for Europe. Now the wharf pilings that launched those ships 250 years ago is continuing to live on, as reclaimed wood for new flooring in Savannah and across the country.

All of a sudden—perhaps with a remembered sense of patriotism or new nesting instinct—modern designers and homeowners are rediscovering antique wood floors. One company that specializes in recovering antique woods recognized the inherent benefits of the Savannah River dock pilings and purchased them to remill into luxury flooring, millwork and stairparts.

The pilings are made of heart pine and heart cypress older than any previously recovered antique pine and cypress, according to George Goodwin, president of Goodwin Heart Pine Company, located outside Gainesville, Fla.,

“We have been recovering heart pine and heart cypress for more than 25 years and this wood is older than any antique wood I’ve seen,” Goodwin said. “These pilings were constructed about the time General James Oglethorpe was creating Savannah and were hundreds of years old when they were cut down. And just as Savannah is rich in architectural and natural beauty, so too is the wood from it’s first dock.”

The pilings were made from original-growth Longleaf Pine and Bald Cypress. The cypress is a survivor from prehistoric times, commonly living more than 1000 years and towering over 100 feet. These giants of the southeastern swamps helped build America along with heart pine from Longleaf pine trees, which grew slowly and are hard and extremely durable. Both of these antique woods are in limited supply and available only from specialists who reclaim them.

The indigenous woods withstood the elements and became the principal building materials through the entire area. The dock was made up of logs and beams, many of which still show the ax marks where they hand hewn.

Tim Wellford, who owns a restaurant on the pier at St. Simons, installed Goodwin’s Midnight Heart Pine™ flooring in his contemporary home and loves both the look and the romantic history of the historic wood. Next he plans to build an entertainment center from the Midnight Heart Cypress™.

“I didn’t even know about this wood until I start researching wood,” Wellford said. “It’s so much better than any ordinary wood because it’s a better product, it’s good looking and it has historical value. I just never knew I could have wood this nice.”

Heart Pine is hard, nearly indestructible and has a rich red patina. The Savannah River pilings offer antique heart pine with chocolate tones.
Heart Cypress, also called antique tidewater cypress, is fine grained and finishes to a warm, honeyed brown. It is often used for paneling, trim, fireplace surrounds, mantles, whole slab table tops and exterior projects. The heart cypress from the Savannah wharf piling are a bit darker.

“Throughout its eons of adaptation, original-growth cypress developed natural oils that resist insect and water damage, which you just don’t find in other woods,” Goodwin said. “It was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright’s and, with its blend of vertical straight grain and arching swirls, it’s easy to see why.”

Goodwin said the dock functioned through the 1800s and pilings could still be seen intact from River Street in downtown Savannah looking toward Hutchinson Island until the summer of 1997. The decision to build a theme park and raceway created the need to remove the pilings.

Known for his passion for conserving original-growth wood without cutting trees, Goodwin finally secured the rights to buy the pilings after more than 18 months of researching the issue. The homeowners fortunate enough to install this rare treasure appreciate his diligence.

“My wife is born and raised in this area,” Wellford added. “The fact that we have a floor from a local landmark just adds to the benefits we receive. If we ever sell this house, I know the historical value will be a great selling point.”