To wrap things up regarding recycled wood, here's some final info on how the mills process their incoming material.
Alice DeGennaro of Longleaf Lumber told me that unlike some companies that leave the original surfaces exposed, they don't. All their material is resawn to raw wood and "with regard to lead; the process of milling flooring removes all of the exterior of a salvaged timber and the chance of any lead surviving the resawing, planing and molding is near zero."
John Williams of Mountain Lumber agrees that if a product is resawn and reprocessed, most paint penetration will not survive. He adds that while these contaminants may not be in your house, green manufacturing should also mean taking special care of where they do go.
"Sometimes there is more than meets the eye-paint, for instance. Many structures have been retrofitted over the years, which in some cases means many layers of lead-based paint. While your flooring or millwork may have been 'planed clean', you have to ask, where did the lead paint go? Check with your supplier to see if they have a lead paint abatement program in place. Safeguards need to be in place to protect employees and the environment. Lead can seep into groundwater and, when sawn, will become friable and easy ingested. Responsible manufacturing will eliminate these undesirable possibilities. So a consumer should ask questions. What do they do with the wood dust that may have lead contamination? Do they have an air filtration system to keep it from being airborne? Is there a containment system to prevent it from seeping into the ground water?"
I want to close with a great quote from Goodwin Heart Pine's sawmill team leader, Joe Collins. Joe may be known to some from his appearances on the Ax Men TV series. Joe was asked about the challenges of pulling nails out of beams and said, "It's not a science, though it's hard to do for sure. You don't want to drag any metal across the saw and ruin a several-hundred-dollar blade. The ceramic insulators that they used in the era when they ran bare wires through the walls were sometimes drilled and inserted into these old beams. They are especially hard to drive out of the hole, and leaving even a little chard is equivalent to a little nail or a big rock that can get embedded in the beams. Nail pulling is a lot of tough hand work with basically a pry bar and a chisel."
Then Joe got blunt in his summary of the work. "It's an arduous task for sure. Frankly, I ain't got a quote about it that is clean enough to print."
So appreciate, please, the hard work that these companies and their employees put into their products. From diving through murky waters, to investigating the long histories of their buildings, to pulling nails out one by one, creating reclaimed, recycled, and salvaged timber products is truly a labor of love.