Everything You Need to Know About Reclaimed Timber Truss Design
With the “modern farmhouse” trend taking America by storm, and the increased amount of time spent at home decreased travel plans and remote work, you’ve probably seen a fair number of homes on Pinterest with rustic timber trusses and exposed reclaimed beams.
Timber trusses, spanning across the roof area of your house, give the space an impressive, custom feel. They also add a bit of drama to your home, especially in vaulted ceilings.
Although these trusses can be customized to match most shapes or lengths, there are certainly some kinds of wood better suited to timber truss design than others. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of different wood types, as well as which best suits your decorative taste.
Today, we want to explain why reclaimed wood is ideal for timber trusses – more so than virgin wood. Reclaimed wood, or vintage lumber, comes from forests that stood tall long ago and has served a number of purposes.
Although this timber has seen its fair share of use, the wood is still very strong and great for repurposing in decorative wood trusses, as well as structural timber elements within your home.
In this post, we’ll dive into the decorative elements of custom wood trusses, what makes reclaimed wood special, and other details that will help you design the perfect vintage wood look for your house.
Why Use Vintage Reclaimed Wood in Your Timber Truss Design?
First, let’s talk about why reclaimed wood is such a great option for timber trusses – and why more and more customers are opting for vintage wood in their wooden home decor, rather than freshly cut new timber.
When an old barn, factory, or other kind of building is close to being demolished, suppliers can salvage vintage timbers that would otherwise be wasted. The wood is examined for signs of rot, splitting, and insect infestation. If found to be in good shape, the beams can be given new life.
The obvious benefit of using reclaimed wood in a timber truss is its antique appearance that is impossible to replicate in new lumber. Reclaimed wood can offer an industrial, rustic, or clean finished look depending on the type of appearance desired. It also gives the space loads of character that may be lacking in many of today’s modern homes.
Why is reclaimed wood a better option than virgin timber, functionally?
Believe it or not, reclaimed wood is actually stronger than most virgin wood. It comes from trees that are anywhere from 100 to 400 years old. As the wood ages, it gains strength, making it a safer, sturdier choice than virgin wood. Customers can rest easy with the joinery in antique wood due to its unrivaled stability. New wood, with a higher moisture content than antique lumber, will shrink and warp as it dries in place. Tight joinery between beams with new lumber will open up over time as this occurs.
Advantages of Reclaimed Timber Trusses
Many homeowners are surprised by how much a few perfectly placed wooden features can transform their space. In an era where being a homebody has become more acceptable (even necessary), many are looking to revamp their houses – either with major renovations or smaller DIY projects.
Reclaimed wood, when used in timber trusses, gives your home a timeless vintage look that mimics some of today’s modern farmhouse styles. You can take a seemingly ordinary room and transform it into something you’re proud to reveal to friends, families, and colleagues.
Strength isn’t the only element to consider, though. Reclaimed wood is extremely high quality. As it was exposed to humidity and external factors for many decades, it became increasingly stable and durable.
Additionally, vintage lumber is far less likely to attract infestations, as termites prefer green, moist wood over dry.
Whether you’re purchasing beams or furniture, reclaimed wood makes an excellent choice for those looking for quality lumber with character.
Another important advantage we want to discuss is how reclaimed wood benefits the environment.
When you repurpose old wood from a building for decorative wood trusses, you decrease the demand for newly harvested virgin wood. This helps reduce the need for further deforestation, which protects wildlife and trees. Additionally, it’s estimated that the cumulative energy used to make virgin timber is 11 to 13 times more than that used to reclaim already existing timber.
As long as it is harvested responsibly, reclaimed wood is a renewable resource. Your purchase helps reduce the amount of old wood placed in landfills, which minimizes the use of environmental hazards to manufacture new lumber in the future.
A Drawback to Consider
Now, it wouldn’t be fair of us to only herald the benefits of reclaimed timber trusses. Let us point out one small con: it takes time to find the right reclaimed wood for custom wood trusses.
If you’re particular about quality, color, age, and other factors in your vintage reclaimed lumber, you may play a bit of a waiting game during your home redesign to find the perfect antique wood beams or planks. While antique beams may be in stock to make the timber trusses, it takes time to hand detail each piece and fit them together in a manner that looks like they were assembled centuries ago. Lead times to produce prefabricated trusses can be months out depending on the amount of work in the production queue and the scale of the job. Don’t wait until the last minute to place an order for one of the most prominent and custom features of your home.
Additionally, you’ll need to watch out for newer, repurposed wood that’s been falsely labeled as “reclaimed” or “vintage wood.”
As much as we hate to admit it, we won’t sugarcoat the fact that the reclaimed wood industry is filled with unsavory characters. All too often, customers end up receiving wood that is rotten, excessively warped/twisted, or prone to infestations. It’s also not uncommon for shady outfits to sell oily, lead-painted, or contaminated material.
Our recommendation to speed up the truss design process and ensure your picking great quality antique timber?
Be sure to look closely or ask about the supplier’s process to ensure they only sell wood suitable for your demands. At Vintage Timberworks, we:
– Closely inspect each piece of reclaimed wood for signs of decay, lead paint, or oils.
– We select only the straightest and most consistent beams available for each project.
– We fumigate ALL hardwoods upon arrival for preventative care and to avoid infestations.
– Customers can request us to fumigate hardwoods a second time upon request.
– At Vintage Timberworks, we only sell any lumber that we’d be proud to feature in our own homes.
In terms of our suppliers, we have proven resources and an aggressive vetting process to find and verify wood for timber trusses expediently.
What are the Best Types of Reclaimed Wood for Timber Trusses?
We’ve discussed the pros and cons of using reclaimed wood for timber trusses. Now, it’s time to discuss exactly which kinds of reclaimed timber are best suited to build trusses with. Let’s talk about the most popular kinds of timber for beautiful trusses.
Reclaimed Douglas Fir
First on our list is the Douglas fir tree. Fir beams are known for their polished appearance and are often used in residential and commercial structural wood trusses. It has a strong, beautiful grain, and is one of the most abundant wood species in North America.
Reclaimed Douglas fir beams are available in a variety of colors, from light to dark and with texture from smooth to rough. When working with vintage reclaimed Douglas fir lumber, you can rest assured that your trusses will be strong, stable, and beautiful.
Because of its strength and beauty, Douglas fir beams are popular choices for both structural and decorative purposes. At Vintage Timberworks, we offer Douglas fir beams sourced from industrial buildings around the United States. Some of our beams date back as far as the 1800s.
Douglas fir beams typically run from about $3.50 to $6.50 per board foot.
Antique Hardwood Timbers
Dating as far back as the 1700’s, vintage barn wood harkens to times of the original settlers. These barn wood truss timbers were originally hewn into square dimensions by hand utilizing the lumber found on the site the barn was originally built.
Reclaimed hardwood beams are typically available in sizes from 6×6 up to 12×12 in lengths up to 40’. You’ll find the beams in colors from browns to gray, and are typically washed for a more consistent tan color.
At Vintage Timberworks, our antique, hand-hewn barn timbers are one of our most popular products. We use them in both contemporary and rustic projects – the beauty of the wood’s texture adds such a special aesthetic to home spaces. While solid hardwood barn timbers are used for purely decorative purposes, Vintage Timberworks can fabricate box beams to wrap structural steel truss members. Hardwood antique wood beams are often featured in truss ceilings looking for lots of character where the timbers add a simple yet stunning rustic elegance to any room.
Antique hardwood timbers are typically bought and sold as “mixed hardwood” due to the fact the original barns built by the settlers were constructed from the trees sourced and fallen on the property. Being squared up by hand and “warehoused” to develop a rich patina over time, the difference in species from one beam to the next is often indistinguishable. Hardwood species can include: white oak, chestnut, ash, elm, hickory, and maple, to name a few. These timbers can be supplied “as is” or custom cut, prepped, and cleaned to fit your truss applications.
From hotel entryways to fancy dining rooms, you’ll find that antique hardwood adds a feel of timeless style to any space. Although the wood is old, it could easily serve for another century when properly prepared and installed.
Antique hardwood beams typically run from about $7 to $10 per board foot.
Reclaimed Redwood Beams
Whether you’re aiming for a contemporary look or something strikingly clean, reclaimed redwood beams can be an excellent choice for decorative or structural timber trusses. Depending on the desired look, Redwood trusses can be supplied with a hand-hewn, re-sawn, or smooth texture to give just the right tight grain, knot-free appearance.
Reclaimed old-growth Redwood is far superior to what can be found in most of today’s local lumberyards. Reclaimed Redwood was cut from some of the largest trees on the planet back at the turn of the century yielding exceptionally dense grain that is virtually free of knots and white sapwood. Freshly cut new Redwood trees are milled producing coarse grain with frequent knots ending up looking all-together different from reclaimed Redwood.
If you’re interested in using reclaimed redwood timber in your trusses, expect to pay $6 to $10 per board foot before milling.
How to Complete a Ceiling with Timber Trusses?
Live Edge barn timber trusses with purlins. Barn oak ceiling decking.
The material used between timber trusses dictates the overall feel of the room. White plaster ceilings are typically chosen to pair with timber trusses if the house is more modern or minimalistic. On the other hand, reclaimed wood ceiling decking is typically used to provide a rustic look, giving warmth to the space.
If you choose to put up wooden ceiling decking, Vintage Timberworks offers multiple options that go nicely with antique beam trusses. We are always happy to make suggestions on which materials pair well with each other and can provide samples upon request.
Reclaimed Driftwood Planking
When you think of driftwood, you most likely envision a piece of wood washed up on the beach with naturally water eroded surfaced and natural character marks gained throughout its journey to the beach. The boards offer naturally beautiful gray and tan tones. Vintage Timberworks “driftwood” product line utilizes authentic reclaimed wood processed to mimic this look by using special washing and sanding techniques – never any chemicals, or other faux finish techniques. These boards can be supplied with the original rustic edges or milled straight with square edges, shiplap or T&G profiles.
Reclaimed driftwood generally costs $8-$9 per board foot.
Weathered Gray Board
Naturally weathered gray planking is also an option to go between timber trusses and often pairs with hand-hewn barn timbers.
Most of the time, weathered gray board originates from farms in the American Midwest and the planks come in widths between 6” and 12” and lengths up to 16’. A popular material for both residential and commercial properties, weathered gray board can be milled for interior or exterior uses. These boards can be supplied with the original rustic edges or milled straight with square edges, shiplap or T&G profiles.
Weathered gray boards for truss planks typically cost $7-$9 per board foot.
Barn Oak Planking
Barn oak planking is typically supplied as mixed widths and can be milled with straight edges or a T&G or shiplap profile. Lengths in this material are often shorter than some of the other planking products from 3’-10’. The original patina and millmarks can be left fully intact or can be sanded down to leave as much character as desired.
Barn oak for truss planks typically cost $7-$9 per board foot.
Douglas Fir Planking
Douglas fir planking is available with the original mill marks and patina OR can be sanded down to remove as much of this antique and rustic look as requested. Typically more reddish brown in color these planks are available in a variety of widths and lengths. Widths over 12” or lengths greater than 20’ are not uncommon in this material. Planks can be supplied with the original edges or mill straight with either square edges or shiplap or T&G profiles.
Douglas fir for truss planks typically cost between $3-$5 per board foot.
How is Reclaimed Wood Provided for Timber Trusses?
At Vintage Timberworks, we operate a lumberyard that deals exclusively in reclaimed wood. Timbers are available in a large variety of shapes and appearances. Beams can be sold “as is,” meaning they come in their original state straight from the barn – needing to be cleaned up on site. Most of the time, Vintage Timberworks provides beams for trusses that have “processed” or ready for installation – meaning they have been distressed, milled, washed, sanded, or cut on the top side to facilitate installation. Fully assembled or “prefabricated” beam systems will arrive with the timbers all custom scribed and bolted together – ready to install. A further explanation of the difference is listed below.
At Vintage Timberworks, we offer a wide variety of products. Some of these wooden items can be customized. Others are sold “as is,” which means that the vintage wood comes to you just as we found it.
Of course, the wood is checked for damage, rot, and other concerns. However, when sold “as is”, it will arrive in the same condition it was salvaged in.. The raw wood will need to be cleaned, milled or modified on site as you see fit.
A word of caution: working with “as is” wood isn’t always a great idea if you’re an amateur lacking the right tools and space for the project. If you’re just getting into the woodworking world and would like some guidance, talk to our experts at Vintage Timberworks. We’re more than happy to help you choose the right beams and process for your decorative wood trusses.
Processed Beams to be Fit Together on Site
At Vintage Timberworks we often sell beam packages that have been milled, distressed or otherwise “processed” so they require minimal labor to install. The ends of the beams will need to be cut to fit in this scenario and any beams being used in a truss system will need to be templated and scribed to the connecting piece to match the unique shape of each beam.
Pre-Fit Beams or Prefabricated Timber Truss Systems
Now, let’s talk about what “pre-fit timber” is and how it differs from “processed” beams.
Our team believes that fitting together antique beams requires an appreciation for the end result as well as plenty of skill and patience. Fitting together antique timbers that all have a unique shape and texture is not at all like working with virgin lumber, which is straighter and would be available in perfectly uniform dimensions.
Each piece of vintage wood requires a custom-shaped notch scribed into the beam it connects to – requiring a highly trained skill set. In scenarios where a room requires a ridge and rafters, it is impractical to ship them bolted together – but these pieces would arrive on site pre-cut and labeled, making the installation a breeze once they arrive. When fabricating timber trusses that are to arrive fully assembled, Vintage Timberworks has the ability to scribe and bolt them together with either concealed or decorative hardware. Ridge beams or purlins going in between these trusses are typically precut and scribed to fit each truss.
These parts would arrive labeled and ready to fit into place with minimal labor.
To begin the pricing process, we’ll need rough drawings and estimated dimensions to get started. The more we know about the appearance you’re looking for, the more quickly we can submit an accurate quote. We often find “inspiration images” supplied by customers are a great help in figuring out the best material for the job.
Pricing for decorative timber trusses varies greatly based on shape, dimension, and the type of wood. Additionally, you’ll need to budget for the labor costs associated with installation. Whether you’re using a single handyman or a professional team, you should plan accordingly.
Some aspects that add to the cost of reclaimed wood timber trusses:
– Shape – Simple shapes with less wood will be less expensive. More parts or any arches in your timber trusses add costs to the project.
– Overall dimensions. The larger the beams = the higher the cost.
– Softwood vs. hardwood – generally speaking, hardwood will be more expensive.
– Installation method. The more open the space and easier the trusses are to place, the less labor it will require to install them.
What’s the Next Step?
So, you’re considering using reclaimed timbers to create your dream trusses. Now what do you do?
Working with reclaimed timber is generally not a DIY job for beginners. You’ll need an experienced, competent team to safely create, transport, handle, and install your decorative wood trusses. Not only does this keep things safer, but it ensures that you experience minimal roof and interior wall damage while dealing with heavy timber trusses.
Once you’ve hired a trustworthy team, they’ll help you determine approximate dimensions of your trusses with rough drawings. They’ll also design the shape of the timber trusses and their appearance, along with your input.
Hiring a reliable team will help you sleep peacefully at night, knowing that professionals have helped you pick the perfect combination of wood and structure for your particular home. Don’t skimp on costs and expertise when it comes to dramatically changing features of your house or building – it’s not worth the risk.
These drawing and inspiration photos will be the basis to begin a conversation about available materials, appearances, costs, and lead times. Once these details are ironed out, a formal quotation will be sent over to verify and sign off on before production begins.
When the material is ready to ship, you’ll be contacted to schedule a good time to have the project delivered. Vintage Timberworks will work closely with your team to facilitate this step to ensure a successful and exciting step to completing your project!
Hopefully, this comprehensive guide has given you the right details to think about as you consider designing and installing timber trusses in your home. It’s a detailed-oriented process, but as long as you’re equipped with the right information, you’ll wind up with a beautiful (and functional) addition to your home.
Keep in mind that we’re always here to help at Vintage Timberworks.
We’ve been in business for over 25 years customizing fine homes with reclaimed wood throughout North America. We’re always on the quest for the finest timber, which means we’re ready to meet your architectural style and needs.
Additionally, we have an on-site milling operation, which means we can mill, sand, surface, and distress reclaimed lumber products as needed. This helps us customize vintage timber to the highest degree to meet your exact expectations and samples are often sent out upon request.
You can also browse our large selection of other reclaimed wood products, including (but not limited to):
– Box Beams (hollow beams)
– Flooring (available solid or engineered)
– Fireplace Mantels
– Wall cladding and exterior siding
– Petrified wood
To learn more about our services at Vintage Timberworks, please call 951-695-1003. You can also reach out online via our contact page. We look forward to hearing from you soon!