Reclaimed, Repurposed Beauty

Sunlight streams through an east window, its gleam and shadows falling over a melange of sturdy boards.

These aren’t your run-of-the-sawmill two-by-fours and particleboards. In this little warehouse, every piece of wood has a story.

“People crave this stuff,” says Jay Robertson, who mines weatherworn barns for wood that’s stood the test of time. “The character you see in reclaimed wood is completely unrivaled.”

Though obviously aged, you wouldn’t guess that these sunlit beams have been salvaged from a ramshackle barn. They’re pristine and squarely cut.

That’s because Robertson always washes every board, pulls out nails, and cuts out any bad spots. Then he sells the boards to furniture makers and carpenters and anyone who wants to build something of storied wood.

Jay Robertson, owner of Kentucky WiseWood.

Jay Robertson, owner of Kentucky WiseWood.

Robertson, an energy engineer, founded Kentucky WiseWood in November 2013 in his one-car garage in the Highlands. “It kind of started one customer at a time, a truckload of wood at a time,” he says.

“Very soon after that, my garage was piled to the ceiling with old, dirty wood.”

In February 2014, he moved the operation to a facility rented from Shine Contracting, at 1535 Lytle St in Portland.

“It’s kind of fun going out into barns and stuff and seeing what’s out there,” he says.

But the work can be time-consuming, especially when the barns are overly dilapidated.  So Robertson, who runs the business around his full-time job at Earthwell Energy Management, sometimes hires two other men to help.

“We’re very picky with what wood we take out of old barns,” he says.

Those barns were built from trees that grew in the forest and weren’t fed steroids at a tree farm. Growing in the wild gives wood more knots and more interesting grain patterns.

And then, over perhaps a hundred years as part of a barn, the wood yields itself to the artistry of the elements – holes, cracks and wormholes.

DSC_0089“They just add tons of character and interest,” Robertson says. “It’s unmistakable when you see it.”

A board that’s held up over, say, 250 years, has proven itself.

“That piece of wood has a track record that it’s a solid piece of wood,” Robertson says. “It’s not going to rot. It’s not going to attract termites.”

Robertson stumbled onto the reclaimed wood business one weekend when he wanted to make some shelves. He’d seen reclaimed wood at bars and restaurants around town, and thought he’d find some.

“I realized you couldn’t get it in Louisville,” he says.

So he drove 45 minutes south of town and spent the whole weekend pulling wood out of the mud, cleaning it, removing the nails and hauling it back home.

He had discovered his niche.

To survey the resources, Robertson took a drive out in the country looking for barns. “I noticed there are hundreds if not thousands of abandoned barns in the state of Kentucky,” he says.

“There’s a surplus of really good wood that’s just rotting into the ground.”

Robertson got into woodworking when he was 15. It all started with a poker table.

“I started building it, thinking I just wanted a poker table, and I fell in love with the wood,” he says.

Now that Robertson is a wood supplier, he loves seeing what other people do with what he sells them.

“Seeing the transformation is very rewarding,” he says. “That’s my favorite part of it.” VT

For more information, call 502.550.7635, visit www.kentuckywisewood.com or email Robertson at kentuckywisewood@gmail.com. For updates of new projects built with Kentucky WiseWood, visit www.facebook.com/Kentuckywisewood.