Tips and tricks for architectural salvage noob?
December 19, 2018 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I have the opportunity to get into a 120 year old house before it is demolished. Need advice!

Please give me your advice, experience, tips, what-not-to-dos as far as retrieving architectural features out of an old farmhouse of no particular architectural style.

Plans are to remove doors and molding as well as baseboards which are at least 10" high. Will take a look at the flooring as I am not sure of the condition. What other items might be worth removing?

The owners painted ALL of it with a dark brown paint so I have no idea what kinds of wood these items might be. Bonus points if you have any clue what types of wood would have been typical for trim carpentry in the southern US in early 1900s.
posted by Ginesthoi to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Original plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures, doorknobs and cabinet pulls sold very well when I worked in salvage. A clawfoot cast iron tub with decent enamel was always the great white whale (both in rarity and in weight - you would need at least 3 people to help you move it if there is one). Fireplace mantles were also in demand.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2018 [7 favorites]

It may seem obvious, but make sure you get the hinges with the doors, and the striker plate.

Any decorative hardware (mail slots, manual doorbells). Any decorative windows or window panes. Look for handmade tiles.

That wood in the South might be southern yellow pine.
posted by the Real Dan at 8:21 AM on December 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Poplar was common for both framing and trim. Cut some of the trim and look for a greenish hue. Poplar, especially OLD poplar is extremely stable and I'd harvest as much of it as I could, if I were you! Good luck, I wish I could help!
posted by bird internet at 8:23 AM on December 19, 2018

Check to see if there's lead in any of the layers of paint. If there's lead, wear an appropriate mask when you remove it.
posted by aniola at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

I used to make furniture from repurposed salvage. Stair stuff like risers and treads, spindles, and banisters are helpful for that. Even if the whole flooring isn't worth saving, you can take the parts that are and reuse them in smaller things. You only need a 2x2 section to use as a top for an end table, for example.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2018

Agree with the Real Dan that southern yellow pine is likely. If so, the fact that it's from early 1900's means it's probably what people call "old pine" or "heart pine" or "antique heart pine." If you're able to salvage large or long pieces like joists and flooring, they will have real value to woodworkers and furniture makers. This site shows some good examples of how great it looks in a finished form. Google image search gives you a lot more pictures of what the unfinished wood looks like.
I'm not a woodworker, I only know this because I have memories of my dad's rare expressions of professional joy whenever he got access to a demo site of a similar age in Texas. Our house was full of this stuff and it was beautiful.
posted by gang of puffins at 8:59 AM on December 19, 2018

Don't know where in the world you are but in NZ I'd also:

Old ceilings here are sometimes pressed tin 'tiles', and sometimes the ceilings have been lowered and these valuable old ceilings are hidden above.

Is there an old copper hot water tank?

Old windows of the sash type - you really want the whole surrounding frame and the counter weights - if th ropes haven't broken and dropped the weights into the lower wall space! A

What are the windows like? - the old wavy glass is much in demand at least here.

Also compare outside and inside dimensions - as with the ceilings, subsequent owners may have e.g. removed a chimney and the boxed in the fireplace and all the good things are hidden.
posted by unearthed at 9:16 AM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Very good points from unearthed (and eponysterical!). Tin ceiling tiles are great and window glass is a good idea, but the guys who ran the salvage yard where I worked generally didn't waste their time on complete windows or sashes, with an exception for really elaborate or decorative units.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:24 AM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Instead of "just" the doors, get the entire door frame - threshhold (if possible), right left top jamb, right left top face on each room.

Also every light switch cover, and every outlet cover.

All of the molded tile (and whatever flat tile) in the bathroom and kitchen.
Floor tile in the bathroom, if it's basket weave. That's Italian marble, oftentimes.
posted by notsnot at 10:04 AM on December 19, 2018

Oh! If they're original, cabinet/bookcase doors and hardware.

Even if some of the doors are trash, get all the hardware and screws. It's hard to find old-school flathead (vs phillips) brass screws any more. If the electrical covers use knurled knobs instead of screws, those too!
posted by notsnot at 10:08 AM on December 19, 2018

I wouldn't bother checking for lead. That vintage, it's pretty safe to assume it's there and take appropriate precautions. Speaking of which (these are probably no brainers, no offence intended), make sure you wear safety boots and are up to date on your tetanus shot .
posted by kate4914 at 10:14 AM on December 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

Look for neat windows, especially stained-glass?
posted by hydra77 at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2018

Check the basement and attic [if applicable] for wood used in shelves and utilitarian storage spaces. Some nice wide [and old, duh] unpainted wood in places like that. Also check the garage loft space for lumber. You might judiciously saw out some posts and stiffening members in those spaces as well.

The porches will have a lot of good timber underneath, plus columns and balusters. The flooring is probably too painty to bother with on the porches.
posted by Glomar response at 10:29 AM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Awesome. Everyone's got great ideas - if time's going to be an issue I'd start with any obvious features, especially those that might require packing (e.g. chandeliers) fixtures/knobs/cover plates/hardware/radiator registers, then door and window trim, then spindles/banisters, then molding/baseboards, then flooring.

Tools-wise, bring
    at least one decent flat bar
    a crowbar
    a cat's paw-type nail puller
    an end-cutting pliers, also for nail pulling
    a small sledge
    a framing hammer
    a couple different sizes of flathead screwdriver, including a teeny one (old bathtub hardware)
    a screwgun with a couple different sizes of drill bit, including at least a 1" paddle bit (if there's evidence of rot in e.g. the floor you want to be able to drill a couple pilot holes to make sure it's worth pulling things up. Also potentially handy for fishing wire out of the walls if you end up trying to reclaim copper).
    a sawzall with a couple spare metal blades and a couple longer "everything" blades.
    a little voltage tester (the simple kind that's just an LED - if you run into a wire you need to be able to make sure it doesn't have power, and no it doesn't matter if the house hasn't had electrical service for years)

posted by aspersioncast at 11:15 AM on December 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Take pictures! If you intend to sell items, they're good to show provenance and how they were used in the house. Beyond that, you're the last person in an intact space that has housed generations of people. Document it and give the photos to a local historical society or archive.
posted by Preserver at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

The kitchen sink (literally and figuratively)?

Glass light fixtures

Multi-pane cabinet/cupboard doors, but leave the cabinet behind. (Midwestern homes had these.)

Brass or even wooden heat registers

Wear gloves and a mask! Think about how to power any tools you rely on, if the juice is off. Same for water: demo is thirsty, dirty work. Do you have a trailer to get this home, and tarps & tie-downs? Do you have a place to dispose of stuff that you rip out of the way just to get to better stuff?
posted by wenestvedt at 1:39 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Check nooks and crannies in the attic and basement, and closets, for any small items lost and left behind. Also when you pull up the floor boards, see if any items like money or jewelry have fallen into the space beneath them. Someone I know found a leather baby shoe dating to the late 1800s when doing that in the attic of a house they were rehabbing.

Ooo, I'm envious! I would love the opportunity to truly search an old house like that.
posted by annieb at 2:37 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mullioned glass panels if you're careful not to crack the framing as you remove it. Don't try to get the individual panes out unless they are very loose. Wrap the whole thing in stretchy plastic like you can get at moving supply stores so nothing falls out when you move it, then sandwich between cardboard and tape it up.

Really, if storage isn't an issue, I'd take everything you can possibly take and sort it out later.

Wear a good mask or respirator, old houses are often filled with rodents and disintegrating horsehair insulation.

I'm jelus.
posted by ananci at 11:44 AM on December 20, 2018

Thanks so much to each of you for sharing your wisdom and experience. You pointed out many angles that I had not considered. I would love it if I had a couple of Mefites working with me next week but, failing that, I am thankful for your online help. (p.s. horsehair insulation: who knew there was such a thing?).
posted by Ginesthoi at 10:15 AM on December 21, 2018

An oscillating multitool is really handy for cutting out tile and delicate trim.
posted by bz at 9:14 PM on December 21, 2018

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