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Randy Smith salvages barn wood.

Barn “picker” finds new uses for old barns

Randy Smith used to have a Harley Davidson motorcycle, but he doesn’t anymore. He traded in the freedom of the open road and the rumble of an engine beneath him for dark corners, creepy critters and centuries of dirt and neglect that are part of a career and lifestyle most people may not find all that appealing.

“Rooting around in old barns is not necessarily at the top of the list for many people. You have to be a unique individual to want to deal with mice, birds, bats, skunks, raccoons, or a seven- foot-long black snake in a haymow and deal with stuff that has been sitting there for 150 years,” Smith said. “But I am addicted. That is why I traded the Harley in for a skid steer. We have over 40 barns that we have taken down in past 10 years and approximately 12 since June of 2013 since working fulltime.”

Smith got started in the barn business when he tore down an old barn to build his home and needed more material, so he needed more old barn wood. Smith calls his Mt. Gilead-based business Ohio Valley Barn Salvage. He calls himself a “picker.” He roams central Ohio in search of unwanted barns to reclaim.

“Right at the moment, we are working in a four-county area in Central Ohio. We are pickers. We are at the bottom end of the food chain. We’re the guys going in and rooting around and finding barns, taking them down pulling the nails out, and doing our best guess on the species of wood. Then we turn around and sell it to wholesalers or retailers depending on who is looking for wood. Typically, I’d say 80% of our sales probably go through wholesalers. They stock it in their yards and they have retail customers across the U.S. They process it and make it into cabinets, flooring, or build homes with it. There are usually those three steps before it makes it to its final reclaimed use,” he said. “ We do everything from getting paid to take down barns that need to be disposed of on up to some owners getting up to $20,000 for a barn. If the barn is salvageable, it can generate some income for the owner.”

The value of the barn depends on a number of factors, with most barns averaging $2,500 to $5,000 generated for the barn owner.

“If it is all white oak, with big timbers built before 1850, I know people are dropping a lot of money to get them. The most I have ever paid was $12,000 for a barn. It was chestnut oak,” Smith said. “Big hand hewn beams — that is what everybody wants. That will get your barn on the list to be torn down. White oak and chestnut are the two top of the line species, more white oak than anything. The market is being driven by architects and engineers and white oak is the only thing that they are comfortable working with. White oak is the most rot resistant out there and that is why everybody loves it. You can take a barn down that has been up for 180 years and those beams will be solid all the way through. Other species like red oak can rot out in the middle. Beech turns into powder and deteriorates faster than anything else. The ash and the elms are a little more rare. In Ohio there is a lot of white oak, hickory and some elm and ash.”

The quality of Ohio’s barns has turned into a surprisingly big business.

“There are around 25 legitimate pickers around Ohio and a whole bunch of wannabes. Ohio is a hotbed for reclaimed barn wood. It is a billion dollar market that nobody ever thinks of. There is pretty big demand right now for all wood species. Wealthy people are doing some unique things and part of that is building cool mansions out of hand-hewn timbers,” Smith said. “Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan are the prime states for hand-hewn timbers. West of the Mississippi there are none at all. Pennsylvania probably has twice as many barns as we do in Ohio, but I hear New York is picked over pretty well. You get down south in Kentucky with the tobacco barns and after that it gets pretty skimpy. Ohio is the hot spot for hand-hewn timbers. The best white oak is right in central Ohio.”

Flooring, paneling, homes, and mantles are other big uses for reclaimed wood.

“There are 10 or 15 companies out there stockpiling a million board feet of wood all the time,” Smith said. “That is 200 to 250 barns worth of wood in their yard all the time.”

Every project Smith tackles is different based on the specifics of the barn and the owner.

“I have been doing this for 10 years and every one is different. When people have no emotional attachment to it, they just want it gone. Some clients want everything completely cleaned up and that determines the basis of the proposal. We completely take it down put the stone down and grade it out. Some farmers say, ‘Come on in and leave it there and we’ll make it disappear after you’re done.’ Or, the insurance companies may come in and force people to get the barn taken down and put them into dumpsters,” he said. “Every one is unique to the barn and to the customer. That’s what makes this kind of neat.”

Even though there is often value in old barns, many barn owners are unwilling to put the money, time and effort into saving it through reclamation or restoration.

“It is illegal to burn down a barn, but it is being done all the time. You can bury them in the ground but not open burn them. In some cases there is not any salvageable wood and it is of no value. It costs $5,000 to $10,000 to get rid of those and I shy away from that as much as I can,” Smith said. “There is a company called Royal Barn Restoration and he has restored 1,100 barns in the last 10 years, but for every four being taken down, one is restored. Probably 80% of the people I talk to would love to restore

Smith’s house near Mt Gilead is partially built from reclaimed barn wood.
Smith’s house near Mt Gilead is partially built from reclaimed barn wood.

their barn, but from a practical standpoint it serves no purpose. Not everyone can afford to drop $30,000 into a barn. And what do you get when you’re done? An old barn.”

While Smith does not restore barns, he loves to help in finding new uses for old barns.

“A private conservatory is getting a barn that was built in the 1820s. It was one of the best examples of early barn construction in Ohio I have ever seen and we sold that to them to put up as a building that is unique to the area and open to the public,” he said. “It is phenomenal. I was very happy about that. I signed the contract to tear down the barn and five days later a friend of mine called me and told me the conservatory was looking for a very unique barn. It is very rare to find something like that and I would have cried a tear to pick that thing apart and sell it for reclaimed wood.”
For now, it seems that Ohio has plenty of old barns to go around, but as these icons of rural Ohio continue to age, they will become increasingly scarce, Smith said.

“The last we heard, about three years ago, there were approximately 30,000 barns in Ohio,” he said. “So, in another 10 years or so it will be getting skimpy in Ohio.”

And, while he may be sad to see such history go, Smith is proud to help make valuable use of what too often becomes a nuisance and a liability on Ohio farms.

“It is a very unique and fun business,” Smith said. “When I tell my friends about it they think it is fascinating, but when I ask them if they want to come out and help and they say, ‘Nope, not interested.’”

For more information, contact Smith at 419-564-9803.

 

 

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234 comments

  1. My mother has an old barn from early 1900’s that she would like to sell, approx. 100×50. New tin roof placed about 10 years ago. hand hewn beams, not sure what type of wood. Located near Port Huron, Michigan. Pictures available.

  2. i have bunch of barn wood to sale i tear barns down an looking foir a buyer
    close to indiana or will come an buy wood

  3. 812 581 9477

  4. I have two old barns on my property that need to come down. I was going to do it myself, but fell and broke my hip. one barn is about 60 ft X 90 ft, and the other about 30 X 40. Please call me at 315-921-2672 so we can discuss. Thanks

  5. I buy and sale whole barns if any one needs our services

    812 216 5417 all looking for someone that wants to buy a barn

  6. I have an old barn and old house that is half an old cabin with hand hewn timbers. They are located in SE Ohio. I want to keep all beams, siding and useable wood to use in my new home construction. I’m curious how much this will cost and how long it will take. Please email me if you are interested.

  7. Got a friend looking to sell his old barn in Oakville, In. I would say it is approx. 30×40 with tin roof. Back side is starting to fall a bit. Beams look solid, flooring on second floor is solid, lots of rough cut lumber. Beams have some with a little bark on them. They have the wooden pegs in them. I will send pics. if anyone can help. Thanks

  8. I have an old barn, Woodland Mi. approx 40×60′ hip roof, hand hewn beams. I would like it taken down. It is starting to fall. No paint on exterior wood.

  9. I have a barn in Northwest Ohio that needs taken down. It has some hand-hewn beams, some square cut. Looking for someone to take it down for the wood.

  10. Our barn collapsed last summer and I would like to sell the wood and tin and have that area cleaned up.

  11. I have a train station depot. Antique wood . approximately 18×22 Hoping to sell to someone who can use/ repurpose the wood. Wayne county Ohio. Photos available if interested

  12. We live near Erie, Pa and have an old barn we would like to have someone take down, Do you work in our area?

  13. I have a barn built in the 50’s I’d like to have taken down. approx 30’x15′

  14. I have an old barn near Erie, PA that needs to come down. I would like it to have a new use.

  15. Old Milk/Bank Barn for Sale
    Main Barn is 55’ 6” x 36’
    Lean-to is 17’ x 36’
    Wood Species Unknown
    All Hand Hewn
    Pictures Upon Request

  16. I have a 22×48 barn that has 3/4 by 4 inch siding. Not sure wood type but very hard. Beams are 5 1/2 by 51/2, sawn and pegged. Shoulder mortise and tenion. Barn built very early 1900’s. Located in St. Paul in central Indiana. Looking to sell for repurposing. 317-642-6739

  17. I have an old barn here in greenwuch ohio i woukd like to sell..its in fair condition..the inside beams are in grreat condition..was built in the early 1900s i believe. Please contact me if interested

  18. I have an old barn built in the early 1900’s for sale. The back end has fallen in but it is still in good shape. It has 4 good stalls with two huge over hangs. The upstairs is in fair shape. Most of the wood has the wooden pegs. It’s located in Norris City, Illinois. If interested email or text me 618-384-7977.

  19. I have two late 1800’s barns and a third on the ground. Standing barns are 20×40 and 15×20. Located in Northwest Ohio.

  20. I am interested in your barns Bill

  21. My # 608-434-3183

  22. I have a bank barn built in late 1800’s. One end of the barn, approximately 14×45 and two stories tall, needs to come down. There are no real large beams in this part but the second floor is tongue and groove flooring and the floor joise’s are 2×10 rough cut oak. There is also barn siding all the way around. I am going to tear down if there is no interest but thought I would check here first to see if anyone would be interested. There is a lot of wood that I would hate to see go to waste when I know it has value. The wood will be free to anyone willing to take it down.

  23. I am located in Wayne county Ohio.

  24. I have an old barn on my property need someone to come look at it and tell me what it’s worth to be taken down and hauled away. I’m in Randolph County, Indiana. If I had to guess it was built in the early 1900’s. The roof was redone in the middle 90’s all tin.

  25. Kenneth F Johnson

    I have a old barn that needs torn down built in the 1900. Has nice solid white oak in barn. It’s a 50 by 80 3 stories high.You may call at 740 577 8337 anytime.

  26. I have a barn that has been built in the early 1800s it has fallen in but has been covered by the outside walls and tin roof I have had a couple of Amish look at it and they are interested but I don’t think they want to pay Fair 7402561318 is my phone

  27. I have an old barn early 1900s in northwest Ohio
    I am looking to sell/ have brought down and cleaned up. I have had a local company quote it and am looking for at least one more. It has all wooden peg assembly. Many large hand hewn beams most of which are 8″x8″ and at least thirty + ft long. The rest are saw cut beams ranging in size. 2.5 X10 floor beams most of the beams are in good shape with little to no rot or bug damage. My number is 492620181 I have tons of pictures to send if your interested text or call for more info

  28. Mistypes number above, my number is 4192620181

  29. TOP KNOTCH BARNS

    We buy barn wood and demo barns contact us any time …812 525 2163

  30. I have a large crew available to remove old barns. Call 614-203-8893

  31. 1903 grain elevator r0 x60x100

  32. I have an old bank barn for sale NE ohio. Anyone interested. About 70 x 70 have photos. 3305193124

  33. I’m looking for old barns around northern Iowa Illinois and Midwest to southern Wisconsin if you have one you need down call Jon at 6084822371 text is fine to

  34. I have an old barn that needs to be torn down for the reclaimed wood! It is a hip barn with hay loft. Metal is very good but it seems to be rotting from the bottom up! If someone is interested I live in Adrian, MI close to the northwest Ohio line! Not sure of the date of barn but I can take pics.

  35. I have 3 old barns to be torn down for the reclaimed wood located in Licking County, Ohio. I am not sure just how old the building are; the farmhouse was built in 1850, if that means anything.

  36. Hi Kathy I’m interested in your Barnes my number 608-434-3183

  37. have an old barn in down town martins ferry for free with anything inside you may like to have , also has a lot of junk in it as well it probably 30ft x 60ft 2 story might be even bigger just guessing really but it is larger than my house
    number is 740 827 1024 please text
    thank you
    donnie

  38. I have a late 1800’s barn I want to sale. Kept cows in bottom floor, parked tractor on 2nd floor, corn crib and tool room. Had hay loft also. Falling down. Lots of wood still good and long beams. Can send pics. Make me an offer. Located in Jacksonville Ohio. Athens county.

  39. I live in mich i am looking for a company that would be interested in buying the wood from my old hay barn 989413 7691 if i dont answer leave a message ill call back or send pricing list thank u

  40. I have a hewn bank barn in eua Clair Michigan for sale 1000 dallors….812 525 2617

  41. I have 1903 grain elevator for sale ..5000 dallors..its 40x60x100 ft tall ..fountiantown indiana

  42. I have a 80 x 45 Bank barn that was built in the 1800’s. Barn is in good shape. Hand hewn log beams. Looking to sell. 724-610-6740

  43. I have a 28 by 28 Carriage house & another Barn large barn over 100 years old. I would love too sell.We are located in Albany N.Y. I’ve sold my property and have 6 Months too remove any building on my property before the recking ball comes in and removes all my beautiful wood and sends it to the city landfill !!! Please Help 518-441-5864

  44. I have Handhewn Beams, 2×7 white oak boards. surface denailed and stacked. Can send pictures and measurements. Located in Huron County Ohio. Interested? Make me an offer. Email- 521crabdad@gmail.com.

  45. Anyone on this forum interested in doing work in Kansas? I have an old farmstead with a barn (42X35), a granary (30X30), a two-story farmhouse (32X34), and eleven other structures and outbuildings of various sizes. Most of these structures are approaching 100 years old, and are all still standing. Lots of wood and lots of corrugated tin (and some limestone) are available in these structures. Can send photos. If interested call 9I3-238-43OI.

  46. Looking for someone interested in dismantling a granary built in 1925 in southwest Iowa (Adair county). Measures 36X40. Lots of shiplap in the interior that’s been well preserved. If interested, call 515-313-7592.

  47. I have a bank barn built in 1887 that i need to sell . We are located at 43160 Pine Hollow Road. Lisbon Ohio. 44432. My cell # is 330.831.7347.

  48. I have a barn 43 X 54. It is approximately 130-140 years old. It has large beams and all boards are 12″ wide. I live in Mason, MI (near Lansing). Do you know of anyone in the area that will take down the barn for trade or to buy wood?

  49. I have a 1887 barn for sale if you would be interested please call me at 330.831.7347

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