Making old things new

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, June 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: making the old new again.

Red and white barns once dotted the American countryside. But over the years families left the farms. And the barns left to ruin. 

Traditional barns aren’t big enough to house today’s massive farm equipment. So modern farmers are tearing them down to make way for more spacious shops and sheds.

REICHARD: But instead of burning barn wood, some are finding a new use for it. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg met a Missouri man who’s giving the old barns a new life.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Barry Kraft walks through his furniture showroom pointing to newly crafted tables, cabinets, dressers, countertops, chairs, and benches.  

KRAFT: So we have everything from cabinets in the back to tables to small items, and you could buy things off the showroom floor or we can custom build anything you want. 

All the pieces have a vintage, rustic look, but no two are alike. Each table top and furniture item is made from boards and planks stripped from barns. Barns throughout Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. All of the wood predates 1920.

KRAFT: Each barn tells the story because most barns around here were built from lumber that was milled on the property. So if we’re working with a barn that’s near a river for per say, it may be have a lot sycamore and more soft woods that grow next to the water where other barns are up on top of the hill is going to have a lot of oak trees.

Barry Kraft works to give that historic wood a different ending: a new life in someone’s home. He calls his furniture business “Reclaim Renew.” 

That was originally the name Kraft and his wife created for a marriage ministry they dreamed of starting. When Kraft felt God calling him into carpentry instead, he realized Reclaim Renew also applied to his business.  

KRAFT: We’re trying to take these old things that are falling apart and people don’t think they’re good anymore, and we’re making it into great furniture.

When Kraft started his business in 2010, the idea old barn wood could have a use was novel. Most farmers thought of their old barns as pretty useless. 

KRAFT: I’d walk up to people’s houses and just simply ask them, are, you know, you have a barn falling down on your property. And they were surprised that I would want it. Now, um, it has become a hot commodity. 

A hot commodity because Kraft says people want furniture with a story. In one decade, his business went from a one-man show to five full-time carpenters. And instead of traveling the countryside asking farmers for barn wood—they’re bringing it to him. 

Kraft keeps some of that lumber here in a warehouse. It’s the size of a basketball court, but today it can’t hold all the barn wood people are offering or selling.  

KRAFT: So you’re seeing about 1/100th of our woodpile in here. This is the pile of 2×6 oak boards out of a barn that’s near Effingham, Illinois. 

Preparing barn lumber for use is time consuming. Each board has to be inspected, dried out and stripped of all nails. Then it’s off to the kiln for a week.

KRAFT: That’s going to kill all the termites, beetles, anything like that. And in storage we’re checking to make sure it’s at the right moisture. You’ll see a lot of the products that we’re working on. We have a kitchen island over here that we’re working on for our client, a custom project and all the drawers and doors on that is a really neat thing. And then you see here, we build about 50 or 60 mantels at a time.

Even if a piece of wood isn’t suitable for a table or dresser, Kraft tries to find a use for it. 

He holds up a wooden tray with handles drilled into either end. 

KRAFT: This is a good example of if we don’t let anything go to waste, so even the small boards. So we’ll put handles on it and then engrave the family name.

Over the last few years, Kraft has seen the idea of repurposing something old spread from barn wood to other antique items. 

A bowling alley asked Kraft’s team to convert wood from their old bowling lanes into tables. 

Kraft and another carpenter lift one of the heavy tabletops onto a workbench.  

KRAFT: You’ll go to a bowling alley, all sit around this table and have your Nachos on a table that was salvaged from the bowling alleys that used to be in that place.

In another corner of the warehouse, Kraft points out fire hydrants serving as table stands. 

KRAFT: We have a restaurant that’s going to have kind of a firehouse theme. 

Barry Kraft hopes his business will continue to grow. But he doesn’t want to lose the ability to interact with each client. That’s one of the reasons he went into this business: building relationships. 

KRAFT: Our clients have become our friends. I know their families. 

And through those relationships, Kraft wants clients to see that taking something old and making it new is also what God does with people. The story of the furniture could be your own. 

KRAFT: The goal is to get to the point where I can tell my clients the fact that there’s worth in everything you have and everything you are. The wood is a perfect example of that. If you’re looking at a piece of wood with grooves in it, the end is split I mean someone else would throw that away. But if I can make it into something that’s beautiful, we’ve, we’ve achieved our mission and I can tell people the same story about themselves.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Fenton, Missouri.

(Photo/Reclaim Renew)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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