Barn wood or barnwood furniture utilizes wood that has been re-purposed from an actual barn. Proponents of barn wood furniture enjoy the natural, weathered look and feel of the wood; moreover, they have an appreciation for its historical context. Shoppers beware! A lot of big box stores will market their products as “Barn Wood Furniture” at huge markdowns; don’t be fooled by this. They may have a “barn wood” style but are not selling authentic barn wood. The reality is, these pieces can be pricey due to the fact that reclaimed barnwood is a limited resource, but largely because it’s extremely expensive to harvest.
Barnwood furniture pays homage to Americana
If a list were to be made on the top ten items that symbolize Americana, barns would have to be near the top. Barns were being built by the earliest of American settlers. Barns were around when the ideas and principals for a free and independent country were being discussed; they were around through civil wars; they were around during dust bowls and depressions; they were around through the industrial revolution, and they are around and thriving in the twenty-first century.
According to the USDA the number of farms peaked in 1930 with approximately 6.3 million farms in the United States. Every farm had some type of barn used to protect livestock, equipment or hay. These barns were made from easily accessible local trees. The wood used for barns was primarily pine, spruce, oak, fir, and hemlock. Farmers preferred pine as the wood was prevalent, quick to air dry, lighter in weight, and easy to cut. You can find barns made from just about every species of wood, but the vast majority were made from pine. Farmers often painted the barn in an attempt to protect the wood from the elements. After the initial painting, barns were usually left to endure the wrath of year-round, daily sun, rain, snow and wind. Most barns eventually took on a silver-gray appearance as the paint slowly faded away. The wood became textured and weathered. Farmers cared little about aesthetics, and why would they? They were utilitarian at the core and everything was about function, efficiency and survival. Barns were a means of survival for both the family and the cattle that fed them. Inside the barns, farmers used every square inch as there was never enough space. Support beams were littered with nails and spikes holding tools of the trade.
The daily use of the wood by farmers, coupled with the slow, methodical weathering by Mother Nature, gave the wood a warm and weathered texture. As modern barns were now being constructed with sheet metal, older wooden barns were destined to slowly decay and fade away. All across the Midwest tens-of-thousands of barns can be seen fighting to stay erect and relevant.
Get the Best Barn Wood Furniture from Woodland Creek
Approximately twenty years ago a client asked us to build his family two vanities for their new summer cottage. During a brainstorming meeting on design, the customer said he wanted something rustic, but was hoping we had some ideas for something slightly more refined than the traditional log vanities we had on display. We discussed cabinetry made from hickory, pine, cedar and other traditional woods used at the time, and it could be seen the customer wanted something different. A promise was made to think and research other woods and to revisit the topic again the following week when they next visited. A few days later, Woodland Creek’s founder, Robert Evina, was driving to see a wood supplier on the northeast side of the state of Michigan (specifically the area between Mio and Glennie). On certain roads in this part of the state, it is not uncommon to drive for 15-30 miles and not see another vehicle. On one of these less driven roads, there was a barn that was half-standing. A storm must have taken down part of the barn. Robert stopped his truck and walked into the field and up to the barn. The wood was solid, but heavily weathered. His immediate thoughts turned to how this wood might look if lightly sanded and sprayed with a finish. All the wood used for furniture up to this point was newly cut and smooth. A farmhouse nearby proved to be the owners of the barn. Robert asked if he could take a few boards and experiment with the wood to see if it could be used for furniture. The owners were happy to grant permission as they said they looked at the barn daily and wished there was a way to use or preserve this once important piece of the family farm.
The wood was laid on a table in Woodland Creek’s workshop and as expected some of the woodworkers had negative thoughts on using barn wood for furniture. The boards were cut into smaller pieces and experimentation began. Some pieces were heavily sanded while others received varying degrees of sanding. Some pieces were sprayed with a clear lacquer and others were given a stain to see how it would react. Hours and hours were spent experimenting to find the best finishing techniques. Early samples were inconsistent. Some samples would turn out aesthetically appealing while other parts of the same board using the same techniques turned out blotchy. This did not make sense. It was later realized that some boards were subjected to a steady drip of a leaking part of the barn and a different part of the board had never been touched by water. After countless hours and days, a finishing technique was developed. The barnwood boards were beautiful and aesthetically appealing.
The finishing technique is one of the main reasons Woodland Creek’s barnwood furniture looks so much different from competitor’s. Low grade barnwood furniture appears blotchy and mottled. Woodland Creek’s barnwood furniture has just the right balance; it holds the weathered charm of aged wood, yet it is refined and soft to the touch.
Barnwood vanities were made for the customer and compliments soon followed. This customer and the owner of Woodland Creek became friends and remain in touch. The vanities are almost twenty years old and still look great. This is also an advantage of barnwood furniture. It literally gets better looking with time. It is easy to touch up and daily use only adds to the “weathered” character.
Woodland Creek makes some of its own barnwood furniture, and we also work with other companies that share the same commitment to high quality furniture and unique designs. Finishing techniques have been shared so we consider these smaller, specialty manufactures part of the Woodland Creek family as we have been working together for almost eighteen years.
If you look at wood under a microscope, you will see that its cells resemble and hold water much like a sponge. A common misconception is that barn wood has been air dried for decades and is immediately ready for use in furniture. Newcomers to our industry do not have twenty years’ experience and know the right way to season barnwood and get it ready for use in furniture. One of the first mistakes they make is gluing barnwood boards together. Barnwood is subjected to large swings of moisture in the air. During the humid summers, those cells in the wood will absorb water and expand, and during the cold winters those same cells will give up their water and contract. Wood adjusts to the climate and will continue to do so inside a home. Yes, the variation of humidity is less inside a home, but none the less it will expand and contract with the change of season. Glued up barnwood has a high chance of cracking over time. Woodland Creek’s barnwood furniture has a proprietary, engineered top that subtly adjusts to the varying humidity levels and rarely has issues. With over 100,000 pieces of barnwood furniture sold over the past eighteen years, we have only seen a few tops that needed to be repaired. We are quite confident in saying that we know our competitors are manufacturing and selling barnwood furniture that has a 10% to 15% chance of developing large cracks that will make the furniture unattractive and in some cases unusable. We know this because we used these same woodworking techniques eighteen years ago; we were forced to find a better way.
In conclusion, Woodland Creek Furniture feels it offers the highest quality barn wood furniture available in the marketplace. Yes, there is always less expensive options, and we know how to make less expensive barnwood furniture; we choose not to. We choose to offer the best quality at a fair price and develop trust with our clients.
On Woodland Creek Furniture’s web site you will see a large selection of barnwood dining tables, barnwood coffee tables, barnwood sofa tables, barnwood end tables, barnwood beds and barnwood lighting. Woodland Creek is constantly adding new designs so please check back with us as we are committed to be the premier barnwood furniture resource in the country.