Help Identifying an Old Barn Beam

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Forum topic by smp928s posted 04-27-2012 12:14 AM 8842 views 0 times favorited 23 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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15 posts in 2216 days

04-27-2012 12:14 AM

Topic tags/keywords: old reclaimed beam barn

Hello all:

I am new to the forum and new to identifying wood! I will try to keep this brief and answer questions after you have seen the photos. I am trying to determine what type of wood this old barn beam is that I have salvaged from a barn that fell some years ago on my parent’s Upstate, NY property. The beam partially rotted (not sure how long it was) but as it sits is a little over 8’ and is at least 12”x12” ( I need to take exact measurements). I estimate its weight at 500lbs. I will gladly take more photos that might help in the identification. I cut about a foot of rot off the end with my chainsaw and there is still a little mush there on the end but mostly very solid. I would eventually like to do something with this beam as it has personal significance to me and my parent’s property. My father is a pretty adept woodworker (carving is his real standout woodworking skill) and I would like to do something with this beam other than just try to sell it as a mantle piece (would be a big mantle!). Does this beam have any real monetary value? Any ideas as to a project I could undertake with this beam? I appreciate all responses!

- Steve

23 replies so far

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 3013 days

#1 posted 04-27-2012 02:58 AM

You would need to plane part of the length to see what the wood looks like and take a close up photo. The end grain is too coarse for proper identification, perhaps if you smooth it as well?

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

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15 posts in 2216 days

#2 posted 04-27-2012 10:53 AM

Thanks for the advice.

View Durnik150's profile


647 posts in 3316 days

#3 posted 04-27-2012 02:16 PM

Like Bearpie said it might be easier if we could see the long grain as well. However, I think it looks like some sort of Pine. They used almost the whole tree back then, shear off the sides to make them flat and into the building they go…

-- Behind the Bark is a lot of Heartwood----Charles, Centennial, CO

View Scot's profile


344 posts in 3391 days

#4 posted 04-27-2012 05:24 PM

Hemlock was very common for barn building in that area.

-- If the old masters had power tools, they would have used them. So get off your damn High Horse.

View Tennessee's profile


2872 posts in 2509 days

#5 posted 04-27-2012 06:47 PM

So was red oak, brown oak, white oak and chestnut if the barn was old enough. Having taken down quite a bit of barnwood, and with the 500lb estimation, I’d go red oak. But a clean surface on the side would tell for sure.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View chrisstef's profile


17380 posts in 3001 days

#6 posted 04-27-2012 07:03 PM

At that kind of weight id certainly guess oak or chestnut. You might be able to take it to a mill and get some very nice boards out of it. At 12” wide you could get 8-10 4/4 boards cut out of it. Hopefully that mill doesnt find any nails.

Welcome to the gang ….

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2281 days

#7 posted 04-27-2012 07:29 PM

When they built those old barns, they used whatever was plentiful and close. :)

I’m of the opinion that if this piece of wood is important to you, find a good saw mill and have them slice it for you. Once you know exactly what you have in terms of usable material, you can design a project around that material.

Identifying what species it is, is almost secondary to what you can get out of it if it has sentimental value.

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 3818 days

#8 posted 04-27-2012 07:30 PM

I hope it chestnut…take a belt sander to the length and this will help to ID

View toddbeaulieu's profile


814 posts in 2999 days

#9 posted 04-27-2012 08:00 PM

The weight and density would be an additional clue. If it’s super light and soft, it isn’t oak.

View Don W's profile

Don W

18707 posts in 2562 days

#10 posted 04-27-2012 08:03 PM

It doesn’t look like oak or chestnut from the end grain. I’d say hemlock or fir, but a side shot would be easier to tell. I’m about 30 miles NE of Albany NY and have a small bandsaw mill if you want it resawn and are close enough.

Welcome to Lj’s

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Richard's profile


400 posts in 2686 days

#11 posted 04-27-2012 08:05 PM

Looks like Fir to me, I’ve been working with some lately and the red tint is a close match.

-- "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain

View smp928s's profile


15 posts in 2216 days

#12 posted 04-28-2012 02:16 AM

Really appreciate all of the responses. I will get better photos this weekend and attempt to get a better representation of the grain. My friend and I moved the beam by utilizing two tow straps wrapped under the beam and then wrapped around our arms and “carried like a fridge” as he kept saying. He is 6’3” 300 lbs and very strong. I wouldn’t consider myself a wimp either and we carried the thing 20 feet to his truck and had to put it down a couple times in the process haha. I don’t think that is a technical enough way to describe the weight but we both figured it had to go 450-500lbs easy. As far as the reddish tint goes, I am not sure how much stock can be put into the color cast as this was a quick snap with my cell phone camera.

Don W: Thanks for the offer. Coincidentally my parent’s house (where the beam is) is 30 miles NW of Albany (Charlton/Glenville). If you wouldn’t mind sending me a PM and letting me know an approximate cost that would be great. I don’t have a truck so I would be at the mercy of my friend and I think there is someone that offers milling about two miles from parent’s house but I would love to know what I am looking at $$ wise as I decide.

I have salvaged some other smaller beams that I cleaned the rot off, split and planed and it is some neat wormy oak (as I was told by the owner of a chestnut reclamation company). I am going to continue to see what wood I can salvage this weekend. For some background, my parent’s house was built in 1842. There was a house on the property before that, that was built in 1785. I don’t know the exact age of the barn but my father believes it may have been older than his house. I actually don’t recall ever seeing the barn fully standing. I am 33 and that tells you how long it has been down for. Luckily, at some point some prior owner covered over the wood shake roof with metal and when the barn collapsed on itself some of the wood (the above beam included) was covered from the elements by the roof.

I am kind of waiting until I have the site cleaned up and all of the wood that I can salvage accounted for before I decide to cut any of it up or plan anything. I am finding some neat artifacts (old plow, part of an early 20th century tractor I believe, tools, bottles, horseshoes, cut nails etc etc) so it is an enjoyable experience that I wish was done MANY years ago but hindsight is 20/20…

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Barbara Gill

153 posts in 2655 days

#13 posted 04-28-2012 03:02 PM

Recently I found out about this website. It might help you.

-- Barbara

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 3481 days

#14 posted 04-28-2012 03:29 PM

Just another option. Sometimes your ag. extension agent can help, some know more than others. A state university agriculture or forestry department may help. If you saved the cutoff, send a piece to your local authority. They don’t charge, at least in Texas. The can do a moisture and spec. gravity test, and most know wood species by the cell structure, or just take a glance and know it’s red oak or chestnut.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4000 days

#15 posted 04-28-2012 03:42 PM

I don’t think any softwood would approach that weight. I vote it’s red/white oak or possibly hickory.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

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