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Looking at examples of homes built with 'reclaimed' materials, I notice that much of the old wood utilized in new construction appears to be unfinished. (for examples, see July issue, pages 24 through 31, the 850SF 'entertainment cabin') Does wood reach a point where it has 'settled' or aged such that it does not need to be finished, even when used in an exterior application? My only guess is that old wood achieves some sort of weathered 'finish' that allows it to protect itself. sort of the same way that unfinished steel develops a coating of rust that can serve as a protective 'finish.' Or am I misssing something, and all of the wood on that old barn is actually finished with some type of product? Please expain - does old, weathered wood somehow not require a finish coating? (please cover both interior and exterior applications, because the article in the July issue makes it appear that old wood can be used anywhere without any need for even a basic oil coat.

Thanks.

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The purpose of a finish is to beautify and protect the surface from weathering. I suspect much of the barnwood did at one time have a finish on it and it has been completely worn away. I would think that any material left unfinished on the exterior is going to be subject to accelerated weathering and wear compared to putting a finish on it. If you look closely at barnwood you will probably see that the wood is wearing away leaving a non smooth surface. The real barnwood I have seen is usually pretty think, like 7/8" or more, so it has a good amount of wood to wear away. If new claboard siding was left unfinished it would probably suffer from a lot of cracks and splits, and being so thin, would wear away to nothing eventually. Take a look at an old cedar shake or shingle roof. What causes them to fail is that the sun and weather wear it away until there are holes in it. On the interior I wouldn't think aged wood requires a finish as it has done it drying and checking. On the other hand my current thinking on a green timberframe is that is should have some sort of finish applied as that may help reduce the checking for appearance, at least. I am undecided whether is should be applied before errecting, as soon as possible after erection, or say after a year.

I don't know much about finishing reclaimed wood, but I think this is the house you mentioned. Your best bet would probably be to contact a builder or a place that sells finishes. I wouldn't trust reclaimed wood without a finish; it would probably retain moisture and start to rot, just like any other unfinished wood.
What a great question! I think this is a question other homeowners might have as well, so I'm going to use this for the Q&A section in the June 2011 issue of Timber Home Living. Thanks for posting this, and keep an eye out for that issue, which should come out on newsstands in late April.

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