Wood that is rotten, bug-infested, or has otherwise lost its structural integrity belongs on the burn pile. Look for soft, spongy areas. If you can poke a screwdriver into the board, it’s no good.
100 years of accumulated dirt will mask even the most beautiful plank. Give it a brisk dry scrub with a stiff brush and a blast with compressed air. Any piece of wood destined for indoors should also be treated for bugs, ideally by kiln drying. You can find local custom kiln drying services online. Ontario Sawmill Services, based in Orillia, Ont., can dry live edge slabs as well as boards of up to 13 feet long. Another option is to apply a borate-based wood preservative, which will act as an insecticide and fungicide.
Fasteners, such as screws, nails, and staples, will dull a saw blade. Use a pry bar and a hammer to remove the offending hardware.
While you might assume that 30-year-old lumber would be sufficiently seasoned, it may, in fact, be wet, having absorbed moisture over a lifetime outdoors. To avoid cracking or twisting, store the lumber in its ultimate location (i.e. indoors or outdoors), such that it reaches the desired moisture content before you build with it. Check the moisture level with a wood moisture meter, targeting a reading of 6–11 per cent moisture content (MC) for indoors and 12–18 per cent MC for outdoors. For storing construction-grade materials, choose a dry area, and elevate the lumber off the ground with stringers. A ventilated shed is ideal and will keep wood dry and mould-free. Air flow is key to protecting wood from warp, decay, and infestation. Stack horizontally and place 1x1-inch pieces of dry wood (called “stickers”) between each layer of lumber. Space the stickers evenly every 12–16 inches, and line them up vertically to prevent the boards from sagging.
If your cottage guests don’t share your enthusiasm for cleaning dirty boards on the weekend, you can easily shop for beams, flooring, and siding at a reclaimed lumber yard. Or, if you have a special project in mind, work with a local builder or artisan that specializes in sourcing, designing, and building with reclaimed lumber.