Upcycling Old Fence Boards

Reader Contribution by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen and Be The Change Project

Recently, we’ve been doing some beautification projects on our half-acre urban homestead and Be the Change Project in Reno, Nevada.  Many of these have utilized salvaged fence slats.  The results have been so lovely that I wanted to share about them so others can make use of a great urban resource.  

In our neck of the woods old wood is hip and is prominent on bars and breweries, in café’s, and on houses in Reno’s up-and-coming Midtown District.  And why shouldn’t it be?  With weathered colors, lustrous grain patterns, and soft texture it is a material that helps give a place a stronger sense of belonging.  A lot of this wood is old barn board which is generally thicker than fence board but also more expensive.  Fencing is thinner but nearly as versatile and wonderfully free!   

We’re located right in Reno and back up to a busy road.  For years we’ve thought about fencing off the back to give a bit of privacy and, as importantly, to give definition to a long stretch of our backyard. However, like much of what we do, we didn’t want to use new materials.  Using salvaged wood reduces logging and is more sustainable, is cheaper, and like I mentioned above gives new projects the aesthetics of aged materials which help them blend in and belong.  

Sourcing Used Wood 

I contacted one of Reno’s larger fence companies and they were glad to show me their “bone yard”.  Every old fence they replace is loaded onto their flatbed trucks and dumped in their bone yard until they have enough to load into a dumpster for a trip to the dump.  Being a large company they amass a great quantity of wood debris each week.  Some of this is truly garbage – ancient slats of cedar barely holding themselves together, 4×4’s ravaged by water or dry rot, and lots of broken slats – victims of the demolition process.  However, it is rare that a trip to the bone yard does not yield a full pickup truck load of quality, usable, beautiful wood.  This includes slats of many widths, 2×4’s and 4×4’s (regularly of 8’ and longer lengths), and includes cedar, spruce/fir/pine, and redwood.  And, as an added bonus and (and following the permaculture principle of stacking functions), each trip doubles as firewood collection be it from what I intentionally grab at the yard for burning or from the scraps I’m left with after my building projects.  

Here’s an assortment of what we’ve done with this great resource:

Raised garden beds (as cladding)
Exterior siding over ugly particle board
Interior siding 
Trim and detail work inside our home
Art projects
As partial siding on our hybrid cob cabin  

So give your local fencing company a call and see how you can make great use of this underappreciated urban treasure.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen runs the Be the Change Project with his wife in Reno, Nevada. They are dedicated to creating a just and life-sustaining world while having fun doing it. They were one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Homesteads of the Year in 2013. Shoot him an email.

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