Best Reclaimed-Wood Standing Desks
The Rapid Evolution of Reclaimed Wood Desktops for Standing Desks
One of the most popular search terms for active workstations right now is “reclaimed wood standing desk.” Their popularity is simply due to how much money certain marketers have spent advertising these products, spinning a romantic story of environmentalism around what is in fact just an extremely cheaply-sourced product that is just their latest greenwashing sham. Nevertheless, these marketers have created a lot of demand for reclaimed wood, and others would soon follow to exploit this. Some of equally dismal quality, and some of astoundingly high quality.
Not all reclaimed wood tops are created equal. While this trend originated with some very inexpensive, low-quality offerings we are now seeing an inflection point in the kind of reclaimed wood standing desks that are capturing market share, particularly in the post-pandemic era (wait for it, we’ll explain).
There’s “Reclaimed Wood,” and There’s “Authentic Reclaimed Wood”
Shopping for reclaimed wood desktop options is an entirely different process than shopping for desktops made of virgin hardwood. If you’re looking to purchase a standing desk with an actual reclaimed wood top we highly recommend reading our primer on solid wood standing desks first, because reclaimed wood is, after all, just an aged version 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 actual reclaimed wood slabs is highly variable, and thus as a general rule we strongly recommend avoiding lesser-quality reclaimed wood offerings 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 premature 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 fluctuates greatly, 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.
It is crucially important to understand that “authentic reclaimed hardwood” refers to 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 at least 10x more but be authentically “reclaimed.”
Most 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 China. 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 this subject.
Cheap reclaimed tops are mass produced in southeast Asia, and the first clue is that they are only offered in only one or two varieties, and three sizes at the most, since these are inventoried items shipped across the ocean in bulk containers.
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. It actually takes more energy to reclaim wood, re-kiln it, re-plane it and re-ship it than it does to make an MDF core like you find inside of 99% of modern desktops. At least the MDF core is made from recycled sawdust.
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. And you’ll need to go to a custom woodwork shop to acquire it and have it prepared to add to your DIY electric standing desk base.
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.
New: Stable 3D-Laminated Desktops That are Virtually Indistinguishable From Real, Antique Reclaimed Wood
In an exciting new development in the reclaimed wood category there are now 3D-laminates appearing that not only mimic antique reclaimed wood perfectly, they had the ridged texture of real wood planks.
Like other 3D laminates these new “textured” laminates use a technology called “Embossed In Register” (EIR) to create a raised grain pattern you can distinctly feel when you run your hand across the desktop. Being a flexible vinyl film rather than a hard, flat laminate, 3D laminates can be formed seamlessly around an MDF core, even all the way through the grommet holes and around the ergo-contoured edges. We’re talking state-of-the-art equipment that costs $1.5M but makes an astoundingly perfect desktop slab that is very hard to distinguish from the real thing.
Because 3D-laminated desktops are hermetically sealed they’ll never warm or crack like real wood – especially reclaimed wood – can. Unlike most desktops these typically come with a 5-year warranty, but they’re sure to last for generations.
How Covid-19 Changed the Market Even For Reclaim Wood Standing Desks
Especially when desks are shared by more than one person their surfaces can act as a transfer agent of viral infection, not to mention other germs that came before SARS2. So it’s more important than ever to keep your desktop not only cleaned but sanitized, and ideally, disinfected. If you’re not sure what the difference is between these three levels of cleanliness be sure to check out our comprehensive primer on How to Clean, Sanitize and Disinfect Your Standing Desk Workstation in the Age of Coronavirus.
As we cover in the primer, a particular type of 3D laminate, specifically Omnova’s Surf(x) brand, are the only laminates that can withstand that harshest of hospital-grade disinfectant solutions. So besides being gorgeous and ultra-durable, they have no glue seams to dry out or collect germs in, and they won’t discolor for daily cleaning with harsh agents. Get the complete low-down on Surf(x)’s performance specs and EPA-approved disinfectants on iMovR’s site here.
So the good news is that the new EIR textured reclaimed wood laminates are in fact Omnova Surf(x) brand and available on all iMovR standing desks including the Lander, Lander Lite, Lander L-Desk, Energize and Cascade. As of the date of this round-up review no other standing desk manufacturer is offering 3D-laminated reclaimed wood tops. While 3D-laminated tops cost more than the cheap reclaimed wood tops from China, they’re a fraction of the cost of authentic reclaimed wood, and rock solid stable, i.e. they won’t ever warp or crack.
To learn more about other desktop surfaces including high-pressure laminate (HPL), powder coat, 3D-laminate and hardwood, check out our experts’ primer on Choosing the Right Desk Top for Your Standing Desk.
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. Unfortunately you can’t find the latter in e-commerce, at least not yet, so if authentic antique is what you’re looking for you’ll need to find a capable and willing fine custom furniture maker locally.
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. Finally, in July of 2020 expanded their 3D laminate collection from 16 colors to 22, including two new textured EIR reclaimed wood options. These are available on all iMovR desks, including the Lander, Lander Lite, Lander L-Desk, Energize and Cascade. Order samples of the laminates here.
Reclaimed Pine Cabin laminate realistically simulates old painted floorboards worn by wear, without risking the potential for warping, cracking and decomposition of actual reclaimed wood. This innovative new laminate technology is true to nature with “embossed-in-register” (EIR) texture that echos the grain with lifelike ridging, giving it a remarkably realistic appearance and the tactile feel of actual reclaimed wood.
Reclaimed Warehouse Oak laminate realistically simulates old floor planks marred with scrapes, scuffs, and the remains of worn paint, without risking the potential for warping, cracking and decomposition of actual reclaimed wood. This laminate is textured with ridges to give a more lifelike tactile feel.
(Note that due to the texturing of the surface handwriting on a sheet of paper will appear rough; use a writing pad to ensure smooth writing.)
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