In renovating our old house on the East End, we sought out eco-friendly products and materials, like low-VOC finishes, spray-foam insulation with a high R-value, and locally milled wood for our floors. But we didn’t get the chance to use any reclaimed materials (even though we tried, with several visits to the Habitat ReStore.).
When we moved into our new house, which is in much better shape than our last one, we had only one major project in mind: new countertops for the kitchen. The existing kitchen had faux-wood laminate countertops that were scratched and worn out. We lusted after soapstone and considered Corian, but a chance encounter with a Craigslist ad brought us something unexpected: reclaimed wood from bowling lanes.
Our wood came from the old bowling alley up in Gardiner, Maine. The guy who placed the ad had enlisted several friends to help him pull out the old lanes when he heard the bowling alley was closing, then stored the massive hunks of wood in a semi-trailer on his property in Gardiner. It is so heavy, he used a forklift to get it out.
Like high-quality butcher block, old bowling lanes are made from almost 3-inch thick sugar maple. It’s a hefty, durable material that can withstand the banging of pots and pans and more–after all, you can drop a bowling ball on it without making a dent. (Buyer beware: the middle third of bowling lanes are often made forms softer woods like pine, so be sure you are getting the maple sections from the front and/or last third.)
Cutting the wood down to size was more difficult than any of us anticipated. Because the wood is nailed together in long horizontal strips, you are bound to cut through at least a few nails to get shorter lengths. I think we went through three circular blades and even then had to use a Sawzall before we got our chunk of sugar maple.
Finishing it for use as countertops was also a matter of trial and error. Sanding the tops took two men (my husband and his dad) two full days, and innumerable heavy grit sanding discs. Then there was the matter of sealing the countertops. Because the wood is old, it had split open in some places where the strips joined together. We filled the cracks with wood putty, then sanded some more. We tried to use Salad Bowl Finish, but it wasn’t giving us enough coverage in terms of the build-up. So on the advice of someone over at Atlantic Hardwoods, we used Bona brand Woodline Polyurethane, an oil-modified wood floor finish, in satin. The final result? Smooth, polished, tough as nails countertops that fit right in with what we call our modern-rustic kitchen style.
Using reclaimed materials makes a lot of sense: the impact on the environment is lessened by using existing materials, and the cost is often less expensive than buying something that’s been newly manufactured. And then there are the intangibles: The character and patina of a timeworn piece of wood. Or the stories you can tell about its origins. The response when we tell people where our countertops came from?
Why, they’re bowled over, of course.
The finished product – Reclaimed Wood Countertops.