Are you considering placing a mantle above your fireplace or wood burning stove? Oak beams are a great choice, but there are a few considerations as you make your selection. First of all, the wood must be completely air dried. If the beam isn’t completely dry, it can crack, shrink, split, or bend as it dries inside. It’s not too hard to tell a dry beam from a green one.
As you examine the beam, look for cracks. Air dried beams will always have some cracks. These are perfectly normal and add to the beauty of the wood. If a beam has no cracks, it is probably still a green oak beam. Completely air dried beams can also differ in appearance.
The thing most people notice about an oak beam are the cracks. These will differ from beam to beam and if they are too large can ruin the appearance of the wood. Many consider knots to also be very beautiful. These add character to a beam and can vary in color and size. A knot shouldn’t be larger than 50 mm. Bigger than this and it can cause problems with the strength of the beam.
Some choose to use reclaimed beams. These are beams that have been recovered from old buildings and then cleaned and recycled. Reclaimed beams are often very dirty and can be damaged. It may be necessary to remove part of the wood from the beam before it can be recycled. Once the damaged part of the beam is removed, the beam must be cleaned and allowed to dry out.
Depending on the condition of the beam, it can be sanded or sandblasted to remove the exterior coating and allow the beautiful wood underneath to emerge. Once the beams are sanded, they are cleaned. The best method of cleaning a recycled beam is to use air pressure. This ensures all dust is completely removed.
Unless there is a request for a particular stain, most recycled beams are treated with beeswax. This provides a finish that is not only beautiful but also nourishes the wood. The beam can then be buffed to provide a high sheen or left alone to look more like natural wood.
The process of reclaiming a piece of oak takes anywhere from seven to ten days. This provides time for the wood to completely absorb the finish and finish drying out. With proper care, reclaimed oak beams can last another 200 years.