Chance to buy very large, old pressure treated beam, is it worth it?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Wood & Lumber forum

Forum topic by KyleT posted 11-06-2013 03:01 PM 1495 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View KyleT's profile


15 posts in 2140 days

11-06-2013 03:01 PM

I have the chance to pick up a huge, old pressure treated beam. It is at least 70 years old, as it is holding up the roof of a shed built in the 40’s. It measures 12” wide, 20” tall, and 24’ long. it is dead straight. I can tell it has been pressure treated because it has the uniform pattern of indentations typical of treated wood on all 4 surfaces. It has turned almost black with age, so it is difficult to determine the species. I’m sure it is some variety of fur. Looking at the end grain, it appears to be really tight, and fairly straight in the 20” direction. I think if I were to plank it into 12” X 1” or 2” boards I would have some nice quarter sawn, VG looking wood.

My concern is the fact that it is treated. How far does the treatment chemical penetrate the wood? I know the indentations only penetrate 1/4” to 3/8” at the most. Would I lose an inch on all 4 surfaces before I got into good, untreated, natural wood? Is the timber useless? I dont want to buy it if I can’t plank it into some nice furniture grade lumber; I’m no interested in buying framing or structural lumber right now.

Best part is, if it ends of being a decent piece of wood, I think I could get it for $100 or less. The guy just wants to get rid of it.


14 replies so far

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3331 days

#1 posted 11-06-2013 03:09 PM

I do not know when companies started pressure treating wood or what chemicals they used…but for $100 it seems like a chance worth taking.

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2993 days

#2 posted 11-06-2013 03:18 PM

70 years ago I was not aware they did pressure treating other than boiling in creosote, which might explain the black color.

Even if it was actually pressure treated, the chemicals they used more than 15-20 years ago were full of arsenic so beware.

True pressure treated lumber is fully saturated with chemicals.
They put the stuff in a chamber and pull a high vacuum on it, enough to suck out the water from within, then let the vacuum pull the chemicals into the wood and finally pressurize the tank to force the chemicals very deep within the cell structure of the wood.

View Dave Pearce's profile

Dave Pearce

108 posts in 3695 days

#3 posted 11-06-2013 03:21 PM

Pressure treating lumber is over 70 years old, invented by Dr. Karl Wolman (hence the name “Wolmanized lumber”). Until about 2003, wood was pressure treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA). This is a nasty chemical, and will certainly be released if you saw, plane, or sand this beam.

If you had access to a commercial shop who handles this type of material on a frequent basis, you might be able to salvage it without any ill effects.

Personally, I wouldn’t touch this beam unless you plan to use it as is.


View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4947 posts in 3983 days

#4 posted 11-06-2013 03:47 PM

Yep. We used to apply a product called “Copper Tox” to exposed wood. Late 40s early 50s time line.
That stuff would take the face off a hammer.
Nice beam? Sure. Would I touch it? Nope.


View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2392 days

#5 posted 11-06-2013 03:50 PM

I too would be wary of this, and probably pass. As others have stated, the older chemicals used were really nasty. To the point where wood treated as such must be disposed of in a specially equipped facility (at least in my state).

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Marcus's profile


1163 posts in 2042 days

#6 posted 11-06-2013 03:50 PM

+1 to bill. There is a reason you can get it so cheap….

View KyleT's profile


15 posts in 2140 days

#7 posted 11-06-2013 03:51 PM

Thanks for all of the responses. I don’t think I’m going to do it. Not worth the chance at releasing some nasty chemicals in the air with kids and family running around, and for my own health as well. I have no use for the beam as is. Looks like he will have too haul it to the dump or find someone else to buy it.

Thanks again.

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10117 posts in 4075 days

#8 posted 11-06-2013 05:18 PM

Yep, that’s the Safest way to go…

If you coulda turned around and Sold the lumber, you could make some pretty good money on the deal… BUT, there would always be that question about Health Safety…

Health takes precedence… IMHO…

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View bigblockyeti's profile


5135 posts in 1743 days

#9 posted 11-06-2013 06:27 PM

Where is the beam located? Someone on here might be interested if you don’t want to mess with it. Depending on how it was “treated” it could be bad, but there’s a possibility it’s fine. You might have to cut an inch or so off the end for further examination. If it’s not dangerous and it’s hardwood, like white oak for example, it could be very valuable!

View KyleT's profile


15 posts in 2140 days

#10 posted 11-06-2013 07:14 PM

It is in northern Utah, the Cache Valley area. If anyone is interested I can certainly get them in touch with the owner.

View JCantin's profile


179 posts in 3434 days

#11 posted 11-06-2013 07:22 PM

Many former wood treating facilities are now EPA Superfund sites undergoing or awaiting extensive clean ups.

View treaterryan's profile


109 posts in 2309 days

#12 posted 11-07-2013 03:06 AM

The indentations, incising, does not nessecarily mean it is treated. As a wood treater, when we incise, we do it for drying purposes. Incising relieves surface tension in thick timbers and causes small checks to develop during drying rather than large splits. That being said, I would probably pass. Not knowing, it could or possibly could not be treated, theres no easy way to tell. Being that old, any smells are probably gone. If it was treated, it could have been treated with creosote, copper napthenate, and very popular for dimensional lumber back then, CCA, which contains arsenic. I am doubtful that it is creosote or copper napth, people simply would not have put much of that indoors, due to the odor that would linger for years. Being fir, if it was creosote, the penetration is probably more than an inch. CCA, being a smaller molecule and a waterbourne preservative, probably deeper. There so many variations of chemicals, processes, and wood species used, it woild be hard to tell, and because you dont know and think it may be treated, just pass on it. Contrary to popular belief, most treating chemicals do not penetrate all the way through the wood, but some do. Fir can, on occasion turn grey/black with age when untreated. Theres just no good answer without seeing, feeling, and smelling the lumber.

As for someone elses comments, they were treating wood in ancient Greece. Obviously the technologies have change, we now generally use a pressure vacuum style treatment, but the same idea.

-- Ryan - Bethel Park, PA

View treaterryan's profile


109 posts in 2309 days

#13 posted 11-07-2013 03:07 AM

If you have any questions about it, or get a picture, send me a PM and ill tell you what I think about it.

-- Ryan - Bethel Park, PA

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2095 days

#14 posted 11-07-2013 11:36 PM

There are ways to protect your self if you want to get at that wood. Also CCA was invented in 1933. It was first used in the us in the 40’s. In the dry climate of UTAH in the early 40’s you are into a 50/50 chance it is creosote and not CCA. Or not treated at all. Even so, the biggest risk of CCA treated lumber is in leeching, or in “occupational settings” If you wear protection, clean up before you hug your family, don’t work in a factory treating lumber (which hasn’t happened since Dec 31st 2003), or a mill milling it, and don’t bury it in the ground.. IMO you are going to be ok. My lifetime exposure to CCA is going to be significant next to this one beam, and I am checking out ok so far. Not to mention that there are still risks associated with new methods of pressure treating, and you need to protect yourself when working with it as well.

-- Who is John Galt?

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics