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Reclaimed barn wood planks - about 100 years old.

Heat treated and planed/sanded to 3/4" thickness, by lumber mill.

Each 4.5 foot X 6 inch plank weighs on average 5 lbs (and there are 99 of them).

Need the weight down of the wood, to at least half:

Can barn wood planks be thinned or will it just fall apart...or get messed up?

If so, how thin can it go?

EDIT
Had carpenter sample plane 4 pieces. He got it down to 3/8" (half of what it was). Some pieces had large cracks than others and for those, glue was needed to get them back together. No cupping so far.

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    Be sure you have found and removed all nails, to protect your planer blades. – keshlam Jan 2 '17 at 21:26
  • @keshlam: do I need a metal detector or does visual inspection work in this case ? – Greg McNulty Jan 2 '17 at 22:28
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    Unless the boards are being checked before they reach you -- and maybe even then -- I'd suggest that the investment in a cheap detector designed for the purpose is probably worthwhile. – keshlam Jan 2 '17 at 22:32
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    Wouldn't a good old magnet be able to detect nails or screws? – Maxime Morin Jan 3 '17 at 0:17
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    @MaximeMorin: Not if it's a brass screw - and that's actually quite likely if the planks are oak. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 3 '17 at 9:42
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As wood ages it will dry out and become more rigid. Most portable thicknessers can get the wood down to approx. 1/4". Any thinner and the wood is at risk of tear out which will destroy the plank as it feeds in. Different species will perform better than others. How thin you want to go also depends on how you will be using the wood and how the grain runs through the piece. The thinner the piece the more likely it is to warp or cup. You can search this sight for more insight into the relationship of the grain and the tendency to warp. The risk of cupping will increase as you get wider and thinner, depending upon how much the grain lines curve in the cross section of the depth. I would recommend testing on a sample or two and leaving it sit for a week or two to see how this wood performs. I also suggest planing in small depth increments to limit the risk of tear out especially as you get closer to 1/4".

  • I can live with 1/4"....I am planning to attach it to a ceiling with drywall, to the studs. Is cupping an issue in this application ? I am not sure how to characterize the grain, need to do more research. – Greg McNulty Jan 2 '17 at 20:30
  • I would be surprised if you do not get cupping on boards that wide and so thin. The current weight should not be a problem to support for most modern residential structures, so I would recommend keeping it as thick as possible. – Ashlar Jan 2 '17 at 22:07
  • that's what I had thought but a structural engine came out and did not recommend anything over another layer of drywall worth of weight. Currently this would be 500 pounds on a 15X13 slanted aesthetic ceiling (see pic in link in post). If I can get the weight down by half, that would work but the cupping sounds like it may not be worth it. Maybe best to sell it. Any good avenues to sell this stuff? – Greg McNulty Jan 2 '17 at 22:32
  • You may want to ask the engineer to determine the actual dead load for the room rather than what appears to be shooting from the hip. 500# works out to 2 1/2 psf and most modern structures are specified by code to design for 30psf dead load. Unless there is something undersized in your roof structure, I would be surprised if you could not easily accommodate that weight.. – Ashlar Jan 3 '17 at 1:25
  • Had carpenter sample plane 4 pieces. He got it down to 3/8" (half of what it was). Some pieces had large cracks than others and for those, glue was needed to get them back together. No cupping so far. – Greg McNulty Mar 4 '17 at 21:33
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Can barn wood planks be thinned or will it just fall apart...or get messed up?

Depends on the wood.

All wood varies and "barn wood" is by no means a single thing — not a single species, not one age, not the same thickness, some will have been painted fairly regularly, some not in living memory and so forth.

But even with wood from the same source you can't rely on it to be uniform or to behave uniformly, boards of similar thickness from the same side of the one building? Similar (ish), but don't expect uniform results from each piece. Much better to expect that planks from the same building won't all behave the same way than to assume they will.

So this is really impossible to answer except to say maybe.

how thin can it go?

Again it depends on the wood. On paper you can thin a board to almost any thickness that's still usable (down to veneer thicknesses in the best of cases) but whether your wood will be stable and hold together well is going to depend greatly on how weathered it is.

Another factor is how you're thinning it. A planer/thicknesser will put the wood under more stress than hand planing down or resawing to the same thickness.

Just to cover the subject more broadly, can recovered wood be planed down to thickness? Absolutely. In general you want to do this by planing wood off both faces equally if possible. This won't always be desirable with reclaimed wood where you'll want to keep more (or all) of the exposed surface because of its patina or character. Just be aware this isn't as safe as removing material from both sides and take extra care to try to stave off warping.

When planing down any wood (even new wood from a reliable yard that dries their material well) you want to either use it immediately after it's at final thickness or protect it from warping in some way as it will want to warp from even the most casual of handling errors — laying it on the bench surface and leaving it there for a few hours or longer. Where you can't use the wood quite soon after processing I think most pros will sticker it (stack the boards with sticks in between) and weight it down, but some will wrap the processed boards in plastic to slow or prevent it losing (or gaining) any moisture.

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