Reclaimed wood offers a beautiful material, with a history.

Customers enjoy the unique look and history of reclaimed wood. The wormy chestnut used for this elliptical stairway in a mountain home in North Carolina came from a Tennessee tobacco barn.

Who says there are no second acts in life? Certainly not the folks at StairCrafters Inc. of Easley, SC, who transform wood reclaimed from old tobacco barns and cotton mills into beautiful staircases, while offering clients a green product.

StairCrafters, which services customers internationally, was founded in 1988 by Les Jayne, current president and CEO, and the company’s general manager and head of operations, Brandon Jayne. For almost two decades, they worked together to design, fabricate and install beautiful staircases.

Sales manager Paul Morey notes that there has been a consistent rise in the demand and use of reclaimed woods in the company’s staircases during the past 10 years. He estimates that approximately 10 to 15 percent of new custom-built staircases involve using environmentally friendly or reclaimed lumber, such as antique heart pine, wormy chestnut, oak and even submerged river recovered logs.

“Our customers are interested in the history behind their lumber,” Morey says. “Not only do people like reclaimed lumber for the environmental value, but also knowing where it came from is of special interest to them.”

This 1930s tobacco barn gained a ‘second life’ in a residential stairway. StairCrafters presented a copy of this photo to the homeowners, who were appreciative of the history behind their dramatic staircase.

Barn Wood Finds a Second Life

Case-in-point: “We recently built and installed a beautiful three-level French-style spiral staircase in Asheville, NC, using reclaimed wormy chestnut from a 1930s-era tobacco barn,” Morey says. “We typically have a lot of waste in working with reclaimed material, so we try to make use of as much as possible by finding the right match for treads, risers, skirt boards, rails and fittings. Today, that wood is part of a dramatic staircase which is a focal point of the home.

“Spiral staircases are especially dramatic versions, showing much more of the material from all sides than a typical staircase,” Morey adds. “It is cool to think the reclaimed wormy chestnut will have several more generations of use in its new life.”

A look at the detail of this three-level stairway shows the character of the reclaimed wormy chestnut that was used.

StairCrafters had a photo of the barn from the days before it was torn down, and it presented a copy to the new owners, who were delighted. The wood was not exactly picture-perfect when StairCrafters acquired it. “When I saw the raw material, I thought it looked like it should be headed to a landfill,” Morey says. “But after the shop put it through a planer and skimmed off the top layer, it revealed the rich golden color of the wormy chestnut underneath the weathered grey.”

In another interesting project, antique-grade reclaimed heart pine from a cotton mill in operation in the 1880s became treads for an elliptical stairway in a private residence in South Carolina. The stringers were four-piece fabricated steel tubular members. The balustrade was solid 5/8-inch round hot-rolled steel finished with an acid etching and a gun-bluing protective coating to reveal the handcrafted look of the Old World blacksmithing — not an easy thing to do, but it turned out beautifully, Morey says.

StairCrafters also rebuilt the curved staircase in its own office using reclaimed antique heart pine for the handrails and treads.

Challenges of Using Reclaimed Lumber

Using reclaimed lumber can pose many different problems, Morey says, from finding what is requested to processing a rough board into a beautiful stair part. Old hardened nails and even buckshot have been found in some of the boards, and they can be rough on saw blades and planers.

The yield is a challenge, too. “We use as much of the wood as possible,” Morey adds. “To minimize waste, we even make the cove and shoe mouldings for the stair trim. When ordering wood to turn balusters, we have to order about twice as much as needed due to shattering and splintering.”

Despite all the extra challenges, working with reclaimed wood can be quite rewarding, Morey says. “The lumber often has worm holes and nail holes, but it adds to the character of the material.

“When you combine a great design with superior craftsmanship and add a beautiful rich wood, you take a centerpiece of your home and turn it into an amazing work of art that will last for generations,” Morey says.

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