Reclaimed Wood Standing Desks
How to Spot the Difference Between Faux and Authentic Reclaimed Wood
Shopping for reclaimed wood desktop options is an entirely different process than shopping for desktops made of virgin hardwood. We highly recommend reading our primer on solid wood standing desks first, as reclaimed wood is, after all, just an aged virgin of some original species, and there’s a lot to know about the differences between elm, pine, spruce, fir, oak and hickory, for example.
As with virgin solid wood tops, the quality control and stability (resistance to dimensional movement, warping and cracking) of these materials is highly variable, and thus as a general rule we strongly recommend avoiding lesser-quality reclaimed wood slabs if you’re planning to place it atop a delicately-tuned standing desk base. We can say that after hearing from way too many readers who experienced early failure of a virgin or reclaimed solid wood standing desk top… it’s not a fun thing to deal with.
As in the case of fresh-cut solid-wood desktops, when it comes to reclaimed wood you get what you pay for, and with more money you get a more beautiful and durable product, with nicer finishing touches—i.e. species and stains to match the tone of your decor, smoother surfaces, softened edges, plentiful size choices, grommet hole options, etc.
The supply of raw material for producing reclaimed wood desktops is highly unreliable, as you might imagine. Suppliers need to wait for old structures to come down, and then spend a lot of time sorting out the usable pieces from the scrap. It is in effect a “spot market,” especially if you’re looking for hard-to-find species or top quality specimens. So for this reason it is not uncommon to see 6-12 weeks delivery time for higher-quality, made-to-order desktops. If the warm and storied look of reclaimed wood appeals to you, it’ll be worth the wait.
Key to Understand: Discerning consumers perceive “reclaimed hardwood” to mean something that was originally hewn by early American settlers from original old growth timber, to fashion structures that they lived and worked in, like houses, churches, lodges and barns. If this is what you’re really after, make sure to note whether the tops are marketed as “Antique,” meaning at least a century old. Antique reclaimed wood will cost a lot more but be authentically “reclaimed.”
Sadly, many reclaimed wood tops being marketed online are not remotely authentic. Ambitious online marketers have bastardized the term “reclaimed” by promoting very inexpensive versions imported from southeast Asia. These will often be comprised of soft woods like fir, elm or pine, sourced from structures of unknown type, age and locale. These species have a bad reputation for warping and cracking. Soft wood tops are easily dented, like by signing your name on a document with any degree of pressure—your John Hancock may become permanently embossed in your desk.
Sources for cheap reclaimed wood are not typically from old growth timber, and they may include “sinker logs” (from submerged forests), off-cuts from an industrial process such as furniture making, live orchards that have become unproductive that need to be replaced (e.g. acacia, pecan, walnut). For the most part these are not what we would consider honest reclaimed timber. Some online marketers will make specious claims that their reclaimed woods are “heartier” and more scratch resistant for having endured decades of exposure to the elements. They may fool some of the people some of the time, but not anyone who does even a modicum of research on the subject.
Cheap reclaimed tops are mass produced in countries like China, and the first clue is that they are only offered in one or two varieties, and three sizes at the most, since these are inventoried items. Don’t be fooled by marketers that position their mass-produced reclaimed wood tops as a “guilt-free” option for those concerned with the sustainability of our forests.
Authentic, antique reclaimed wood sourced from old growth timber structures at least one hundred years old is very costly, and therefore usually sold to precise dimensions that the customer selects. For a true, bespoke reclaimed wood top you’ll want to stick to truly hard antique hardwoods like oak, customized to your specific dimensional size and stained to match the tones of the room the desk will go in.
There are many other factors that go into the hardness, stability and surface durability of a desktop, including the species of wood and how the planks are bonded together to make a slab, plus the numerous finishing steps required before it can be sold to a desk manufacturer. For these reasons we wouldn’t dream of buying a reclaimed wood top without warranty coverage. A savvy shopper will consider the hassle and expense of replacing their desktop after it fails—that is, if they’re able to talk the seller out of their default position that “we don’t cover normal wear and tear.”
Besides a solid warranty backing, be sure to look for products that are 100% FSC Certified Recycled (Forest Stewardship Council) and, if it’s important to your organization, eligible for LEED Credits.
If you’re buying a reclaimed wood top you’re going for an authentic look. Our advice is to shun the gimmicky commodity imports and seek out desktops that are architectural grade, domestically sourced, and that you can order to the exact specifications of size, species, stain, and finishing options you desire. It’s worth the money and worth the wait to get something of heirloom quality and beauty.
Understanding the Current Offerings in Reclaimed Wood Standup Desks
More standing desk makers are appearing with reclaimed wood desktop options all the time, so we’ll be updating the following information as they come along. Suffice to say there’s a wide range from commodity elm or fir softwood tops sourced from China to truly bespoke, authentic antique oak desks made from century-old, midwestern-US heritage structures.
UpLift has been through a few different reclaimed wood desktop offerings over the past couple of years, obviously in the search of reasonable quality at a competitive price point. Like their head-to-head competitor Fully (see below), UpLift has had a bit of a rough history with the durability and stability of their reclaimed wood tops. The last version of this offering was 1.5″ thick, with a plywood backing to reinforce the old wood against potential warping or cracking.
The reclaimed tops they offer now are not domestically sourced, though this is not indicated anywhere on the website. We have confirmed with an UpLift representative that they are imported. As such, one advantage to these tops is that they do ship from stock.
Currently UpLift offers three “colors” of reclaimed wood fir: rustic, smooth and aesthetically-flawed ($200 less if you can deal with the flaws). Each is available in 30″ depths and widths of 42″, 48″, 60″, 72″ and 80″ with some exceptions. All tops are 1.5″ thick and grommet holes are optional. Note that fir, elm and other softwoods are not going to be as strong and stable as oak and other hardwoods higher on the Janka scale, but they generally cost a lot less.
If you’re considering UpLift’s reclaimed wood option, be sure to read all their FAQs and disclaimers, especially given that there is no warranty provided against the warping or cracking on either their reclaimed wood or solid wood tops. UpLift’s warranties also do not cover labor, just parts. In their warranty caveats they state “Imperfections that occur naturally, such as those sometimes found in reclaimed or solid wood desktops, do not qualify for repairs or replacements” and “If your desktop is looking dull or scratched as a result of normal wear and tear, your warranty also covers expert advice from our woodworker on care and restoration for your desktop to keep it looking its best.” We find that UpLift’s hyperbolic marketing claims about this wood’s stability and durability when contrasted with their warranty disclaimers merit the Pinocchio Award. Bottom line: caveat emptor.
Fully has long offered a reclaimed wood desktop, albeit with many caveats such as “unpredictable variations in dimension,” and “even more wacky fun, adding age, weathering, and even species to the list of variables.” At the time of this review update the reclaimed wood option is still listed on fully.com as “out of stock,’ and hasn’t been available in many months.
We can only speculate that the many customer complaints we heard about Fully’s reclaimed wood desktops have made it untenable for them to provide a reasonable quality product for the price. We’ve also been hearing for quite a while now that they’re working on sourcing an alternative reclaimed wood supplier, but perhaps they have have been somewhat distracted by their recent acquisition by contract furniture industry giant Knoll.
One limitation for customers evaluating Fully’s real wood options is that they do not offer color sample kits as UpLift and iMovR do. You can tell only so much from a small photo on a website, especially given the variabilities of color representation on different LCD monitors. And for what it’s worth, we don’t expect the next product to appear on this page to have the same look, dimensions, price or any other similarities to the last version they were selling.
There is little published about the details of StandDesk.co’s sourcing of their reclaimed wood tops, other than a few flowery sentences about it being “made of high quality 100% reclaimed elm wood material that is smooth to the touch. Our highly skilled craftsmen curated it with care. This explains why its surface still shows that rustic beauty of natural wood complete sawmill marks and oxidized nail holes.”
What we were able to learn from the company is the tops are produced in China, and are sold in only three sizes: 45×24, 60×30 and 70×30.
Of particular import is the fact that StandDesk no longer offers a warranty on its desktops. We learned that they have many warranty returns, especially on products like this and the China-sourced bamboo tops in terms of warping, delamination and other early failures. As we say above, when it comes to budget imports in the real wood category, caveat emptor.
See our complete lab review of the StandDesk for more information about the base itself.
Varidesk’s Pro 60 Standing Desk also comes with a reclaimed wood top option. As colors go, Varidesk gives you the choice of Black, Butcher Block, Darkwood, Reclaimed Wood and White, which sounds like a nice palette until you realize that these are all just different images printed on the same thermoformed laminate. Don’t expect real “reclaimed wood” or “butcher block,” though there’s no disclaimer on the website to tell you so. The only specific information they give on their laminate technology is that it’s “hardened,” whatever that is supposed to mean.
As is typical of iMovR, the company is taking its time before rushing out with a reclaimed wood product of its own, particularly given the harsh realities that UpLift, Fully and StandDesk faced with their early introductions. What we hear is that iMovR does plan to start offering a reclaimed oak version of its Lander Desk in Q1 2020. Like all iMovR desks, it will come with a ten year warranty on the American-made base and five years on the domestically-sourced reclaimed wood top.
Details are limited at the moment, but here’s a sneak peek at what’s coming:
The quality of the product is going to be in an entirely different league from that offered by UpLift, Fully, Varidesk and StandDesk. And the price will be commensurate with the differences. In fact it’ll be priced higher than even the top tier of iMovR’s solid wood tops, and for good reason…
iMovR’s reclaimed wood will be sourced exclusively in the American midwest, and be truly “antique,” meaning over a century old, reclaimed only from buildings, barns and rural structures that have been condemned, abandoned or beyond repair (out of respect for American heritage and architectural history). Being antique assures that all of the wood used was originally hewn from old growth timber by early settlers.
The wood species iMovR will be using in crafting their reclaimed hardwood tops is a mix of American red and white oak, promising “a playful mixture combining the warm tones of red oak complemented by the golden and light brown hues of the white oak,” according to the company’s representative. At least four different stain options will be offered in addition to natural (clear), for customers to be able to closely match any particular tones in their office decor.
Of course, oak costs significantly more than soft woods like pine, fir or elm, but is a far better for something you’re going to place on top of a precision-tuned electric standing desk base. As we explain above, using a soft wood for a desktop is risking dimensional changes with temperature and humidity fluctuations that can torque the entire desk base (you’ll know when it starts squeaking while going up or down) or worse, crack. Paying a little more for iMovR’s heirloom quality production also makes environmental sense because you’re far less likely to need to replace the top in a few years due to dimensional movement or cracking.
In following best practices when dealing with reclaimed woods, the oak boards are first kilned to a very precise range of moisture content. The boards are then cleaned, denailed and milled in a specialized plant in Kansas City, where boards are bonded together to make desktop slabs. Each desktop is milled to a robust thickness of 1.5 inches and the precise length and width that the customer has ordered, to eliminate wastage of this limited natural resource.
After a six-week curing and milling process the slab is shipped to iMovR’s woodcrafting shop in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where from that point forward it is processed the same way as any fresh-cut solid slab desktops. There, the slabs are shaped and precision-drilled for base attachment using advanced CNC equipment, and then hand-finished in a 7-step, heirloom-quality, hand-finishing process. The tops are 1.5”-thick, 30”-deep and will be orderable in lengths from 41” to 83” on the 6” increment. As with all Lander desks, the frame hardware is installed and tested at the factory, leaving only a few minutes of no-tools assembly for the customer.
Ergo-contoured edging – a ¾” round-over along the user-facing edge will be optional on these reclaimed wood tops, as will be 80mm grommet holes for cable pass-through or installing various desktop power modules offered by iMovR. If the customer prefers the hard-rectangular aesthetic of antique tabletops, iMovR will only minimally soften all the 90° edges of the slab. Once shaped, the slabs will receive multiple passes of hand sanding and staining.
The tops will then be finished with a KCMA-rated waterborne sealant, both top and bottom (even through the grommet holes), ensuring long life by reducing the effects of humidity changes on the wood. This low-VOC finish protects the natural wood from moisture, chemicals, abrasion and marring, while being safe for workers and the environment (reduces the use of solvents for application and cleaning).
Worked this way, antique reclaimed wood is just as durable, long lasting, and easy to care for as fresh-cut wood. iMovR’s reclaimed wood desktop will be 100% FSC Certified Recycled and eligible for LEED Credits. We’re looking forward to seeing this product in our test lab!
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