Bowens - The Builders Choice

Building Advice
Jeff Harvey

The Pros and Cons of Recycled Timber

I reckon I understand the pros and cons of recycled timber as well as anyone in the timber industry. It is widely a misunderstood and misused product. 

That said, I should go over the history of my involvement and how I can advise its use with some expertise. 

About 25 years ago, Jack Bowen perceived this was a specialised product that Bowens had not tapped into. Accordingly, he said we are going on a tour as far as the Murray River visiting some known suppliers of recycled timber.  

At the time Waverley Park/VFL Park was being demolished and we decided to submit a joint venture with Nullarbor Timber to buy all the seating. I remember walking around the stadium estimating how much timber was involved. As it was, we did not win the job. Interestingly, the material was Queensland Tallowwood, and all the lengths were 9 metres long and had to subsequently be cut in half to conveniently move the timber. 

In the ensuing years I have dealt with many suppliers and in the process, have had some good and bad experiences. Some suppliers could be classed as unscrupulous by mocking up new timber and calling it recycled. For that reason alone, I prefer to deal with a supplier who only deals in recycled timber. Also, there are no mandated grading rules and some of our purchases have left something further to be desired.  

Furthermore, what needs to be understood, unlike newly graded timber products where supply is ongoing, one recycled order supply may vary, even if good quality, greatly from another. Particularly if the further supply of the product is not available. For that reason, my advice to anyone wishing to use a recycled product is to make sure your quantities are precise. 

Another misnomer is the cost of a recycled product. Some may mistakenly feel that because the product is recycled, it is cheaper than an equivalent product in new. Nothing can be further from the truth for the following reasons; 

  • A recycler will probably have to bid for the material from a demolished building
  • He then will likely have to de-metal by hand (nails, screws & bolts) the wood
  • Depending on the age and hardness of the wood, it may be difficult to machine
  • It is custom-supplied to a client’s specifications. 

So, what are the advantages of using a recycled product? 

  • One can find a relatively dry product in large sections. New timber is not available to dry over 50 millimetres in thickness. 
  • The recycled material originally used (sometimes 100 years plus) has come from the old-growth mature forests. 
  • Saving the use of a substitute new product and environmental benefits. 

Accordingly, I have no hesitation in recommending a recycled product in certain circumstances even if a recycled product was not originally specified, under fit-for-purpose criteria. 

Summing up; I take no shortcuts with this product. I usually only deal with one recycler whom I consider probably the best in Australia, and do so for the following reasons; 

  • They only sell recycled timber
  • They have a large stock to choose from
  • They have strict quality control
  • They have a diversified machining infrastructure
  • The species they produce are usually durability class 1 & 2 (in-ground & above ground).

The last point I want to raise is the price. Like anything today, you pay for what you get and therefore these products are probably not cheap compared to others, particularly as they are produced interstate and therefore involve a significant freight factor, but I know I can supply a quality product. 

I have quoted and been involved in a few jobs; 

  • The teardrop cladding supplied for the St Kilda pier kiosk produced ex 300×50 (split) Ironbark floor joists
  • Tallowwood flooring to an Eastern Suburbs builder. To quote him “the best flooring I have ever used”
  • 300×175 Ironbark Pergola beams, 8 metres long ex a railway bridge from Queensland, joining to 2 buildings with white walls, no sap stain
  • 225×225 Class 1 in-ground dressed posts to an exact specification, supplied to Queen Vic Market. 

For any recycled timber enquiries, please contact me at [email protected] 

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