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Reclaimed lumber industry thrives in Gallatin Valley

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By Doug Hare

BIG SKY – The reclaimed lumber industry has been around since the 1980s. The industry started to gain steam in the early ‘90s, when deconstructing wooden industrial, commercial and agricultural buildings that were no longer in use became a more lucrative option than simply demolishing the old structures. Reclaimed lumber from old telephone poles, float logs, timbers sawn from standing dead trees (buckskins), snags, character logs, and hand-hewn barn timbers all became hot commodities.

Today, reclaimed wood is highly sought after for its beauty, durability and often fascinating history. It can be used both as a decorative element and as a sturdy surface for flooring, walls, rafters, tables and much more—and demand shows no signs of slowing down. 

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Gallatin Valley is the epicenter of Montana’s reclaimed lumber industry. Boasting three significant lumberyards, much of the inventory from these businesses dates back to 1910–1950 when wartime steel shortages drove an increase in wooden structures. “I would stay the Gallatin Valley-Bozeman area is the state leader if not the leader of the North America. I have clients fly in from all over the U.S. and Canada with their interior designers,” said Pat Iwanski, partner and operations manager for Montana Timbers. “I don’t know of any other region that has such a strong market, both in terms of supply and demand, for reclaimed lumber.”

Montana Timbers has an inventory spanning over five acres with species including Douglas Fir, Southern Yellow Pine, Heart Pine, Hemlock, Cedar, White Oak, Red Oak, Sycamore, Redwood, Elm, Walnut, Gum, Poplar, Maple and Beach woods. Iwanski says that most of his clientele is split between customers working on custom lodges and mountain modern, contemporary homes. Iwanski has worked with pieces that date back to the 1700s, albeit those structures are becoming increasingly rare.

Most of the wood at Montana lumberyards is sourced from slow-growing species that have rich, unique color patterns that will eventually give a space in a new home an understated authenticity and rustic yet sophisticated feel. Many reclaimed wood suppliers ensure buyers that the timber is far denser and more durable than newly harvested wood. Older timber has withstood decades of exposure to fluctuations in humidity making it less prone to warping and offers years of weathering and strength that quick-growth wood simply cannot match.

Reclaimed lumber not only offers superior qualities and aesthetic value, but buyers also are importing history into their homes as well. The narrative behind the wood’s history is often a major selling-point and a primary reason why clients are willing to pay a premium price. Whether the pieces are sourced from historic barns and stables, factories and warehouses, retired watercraft, train stations and box cars, wine casts, mills, coal mines, the grains and hues of the refurbished product seem to tell a story that connects us to a simpler time through one of the oldest and most natural building materials. 

In order for a given board to make it from its original context to a new home, it will go through a complex process before being reintroduced to market. The source material needs to be discovered, disassembled, transported, denailed, cleaned, resawn as necessary, stacked, graded and sorted. The amount of work and care that goes into curating a single board is exhaustive and meticulous, but the end product provides a warmth and timeless beauty than your typical Ikea table can’t deliver.

This story originally ran in EBS’ Winter 2019-2020 Real Estate Guide in December 2019, edition #235.

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