The stages of cleaning a reclaimed beam

Recently we have be cleaning, sanding, waxing and polishing a lot of reclaimed beams for use as fireplace mantels. When people come into the yard to view these beams in the raw state it is often hard for them to envisage the stages that they have to go through in order to become a finished article. This post is intended to help with this, and to show the work we do.

Stages of cleaning

reclaimed beam
A reclaimed beam before sanding

Our range of reclaimed beams, whether oak, pine, mahogany or another wood, come from a variety of sources including buildings, farms and sea defences. When they come in they are often damaged in some areas so our first step is always to assess the amount of useable timber remaining and then to cut off the waste sections. Once we have done this then the beam is transferred into our workshop to dry out and enable us to advance to the next stage.

The second step will depend on the condition of the beam, but normally we will then belt sand the entire beam, first with 40 grit and then with 80 grit sanding belts. Is the condition is particularly bad then the beam may be sandblasted to begin with, although this is rarely done due to the cost.

It is at this stage that we start to see the finished shape and colour of the timber. The process will normally take between 2-4 hours, depending on condition. Due to the toxic nature of lots of reclaimed timbers we use heavy duty dust extractors, facemasks and goggles throughout, and frequently pause to let the dust extractor catch up. Once this stage is completed we may need to recut the beam, if more flaws have been revealed or there is staining, which can often occur on oak beams due to the presence of metal contamination.

Once the initial belt sanding has been completed we will swap to a more gentle sander, typically an orbital with a 120 grit pad on. Using these sanders we can smooth the edges, shape any rough sections and remove the marks left by belt sanding. This process will then be repeated using 180 and 220 grit on all beams, although on some we do go up to 600 grit. This leaves us with a smooth surface, free from any sections that could cause splinters. This is very important with reclaimed beams as the idea is to create as tactile a finish as possible.reclaimedbeam2

After the sanding is completed then the beams are cleaned using a high pressure airline, which helps to remove any dust that the extractor has missed, failure to do this could otherwise spoil the finish.

The choice of finish is typically left up to the client, although all beams that are done as stock items are giving a beeswax finish. This comprises of 3 coats of pure beeswax, applied 24 hours apart. The beeswax helps to nourish the wood, and the final coat can be buffed to a high sheen if required.

All in all the process will take a total of between 6-8 hours, and is normally spread across 7-10 days, to allow the finish to properly soak into the wood. Although this is a large time investment the finished article should last another 200 years with little maintenance.

reclaimed mantel
A finished beam, showing a waxed surface

I hope that this article has helped show how beams are cleaned, and how good the finished article can look. If you have any questions or would like a beam of your own then please don’t hesitate to contact us