Asked on Jan 19, 2015

Bugs in reclaimed wood

Melanie Hinman
by Melanie Hinman
I salvaged these fence panels a couple years ago. Not having a use right away, they laid flat in my back yard until last summer when I decided the wood was perfect for rustic shelves (w/galvanized pipe!) for my living room. When I lifted the first one I saw leaves, dirt, worms, crawlies and worst of all, black (carpenter?) ants. My plan was kaboshed...or is it? In the fall I brushed them off and propped them vertically. Now the rigid Michigan temps have killed off all bugs. But, do I need to worry about eggs or dormancy of anything that could awaken and infest my house?? Should I just scrap this wood or is it usable???
An apartment complex for creepy crawlies last summer, can this wood still be salvaged?
  22 answers
  • Mary S Mary S on Jan 19, 2015
    I think I would rub in some diatomaceous earth and see what happens
    • See 1 previous
    • Mary S Mary S on Feb 03, 2015
      @Melanie Hinman you can get food grade for consumption in small amounts or you can get the type from home depot which is for garden use.. either way they would both work... food grade is made up of tiny fossils that act like microscopic glass and cut up the bugs.. they will dry out and dye
  • Please make sure that it is safe to put pressure treated lumber inside your house if these are pressure treated fence panels! I would Google it. Good luck! Your idea sounds great.
  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Jan 19, 2015
    Would be careful about treated wood inside. I'd be even more leery if you suspect carpenter ants - they survive our extremely cold temps. There are chemicals that will kill them. If it were me, I wouldn't go there.
  • Lynne Cooper Lynne Cooper on Jan 20, 2015
    I also repurpose old fence pailings and turn them into furniture. Try spraying with a termite resistant spray. That will kill of any bugs and stop them from ever coming back to eat your house, but don't cut the wood straight after spraying. Allow enough time for the bugs to vamoos and the chemicals to dispel somewhat. When you do cut it be sure to wear a mask!.
  • If the wood is rotted along the areas where it was in contact with the ground, its highly unlikely that the wood is treated. If ants and bugs have burrowed into it, its not treated. So no worries there. Cut away the rotted wood before bringing it into the house. Do not spray anything on the wood. But be prepared to deal with some bugs that perhaps are burrowed into the holes. Mary S suggestion is about the best one if your concerned about bugs, but as long as the rotted stuff is gone, you should be ok with your project. Just be careful when sanding finish down if that is your plan as other chemicals may have been sprayed on the wood in the past. Wear a mask. Be prepared for odors as well. Fences tend to pick up doggie odors if you understand what I mean, and once the fence gets warmed up it may admit some of them. You can use a black light on the wood to see if any of the fence has these odors, it will glow green. Natures Miracle which can be purchased at most pet stores will or should neutralize any odors that may be present. Spray and let dry.
    • See 1 previous
    • Lynne Cooper Lynne Cooper on Jan 20, 2015
      @Woodbridge Environmental I've never heard of any of that stuff!! Do we stock it in Australia?
  • Marianne Talsma Marianne Talsma on Jan 20, 2015
    Agree with Lynne Cooper, Melanie!
  • Lance irwin Lance irwin on Jan 20, 2015
    Hi Melanie, I've made projects out of reclaimed Fencewood as well. I found the easiest way to discover infestation is to cut the wood first. if there any little critters inside would toss it. Actually I would burn it. If there are no bugs inside grab some termite spray encode it then let it sit for a few days to dry thoroughly. I made this 6 1/2 foot tall by 7 foot cat climbing shelf out of reclaimed Fencewood, Old peach crate and an old wooden ladder.
  • I have treated lumber outside that does eventually get eaten by bugs after it's been outside over many years. Please be cautious!
  • Melanie Hinman Melanie Hinman on Jan 20, 2015
    Okay, so I googled carpenter ants...and yes, they do hibernate in the winter, and become active again in the spring, or in a "warm area of a building"...making me think bringing the wood inside would activate them. :( SO, would diatomaceous earth (now that I know what that is) work now, or do I need for them to wake up in the spring for it to work?
  • Melanie Hinman Melanie Hinman on Jan 20, 2015
    I'm starting to think I should scrap this scrap lumber....
  • Lance irwin Lance irwin on Jan 20, 2015
    I just added another post with some reclaimed Fencewood..... Check it out.
  • normally ants nest in areas where they are protected from severe cold. Inside walls or in the ground or deep inside trees. Typically you will not find them nesting in the thin boards that make up the fence. I would not be overly concerned about bringing the wood into the home. The DE works when the ants come into contact with them. Do not use any sprays, chemicals or anything else if your planning on using this wood inside. The few possible ants will die shortly after bringing them in. Its not like your bringing in a complete nest of them. One or two can quickly be dealt with. Treated lumber if it has been professionally done from factory rarely if ever gets attacked by bugs. Some stores sell "treated" fence sections where only the surface has been sprayed. Those do get bugs later on. But a truly treated fence will have little to no insect damage and will not show any evidence of ants. Do not ever spray any insecticide on the wood and use it inside the home. These chemicals are designed to last for several years and the risk of a child or animal chewing on the wood is not worth the risk.
  • Ilona Elliott Ilona Elliott on Jan 20, 2015
    I have a friend who sells antiques and recommends coating old wood with a product called Never Peel. It is a matte water based poly product I believe. A good coating of it would seal the wood and probably kill off any bugs, but definitely cut off any rotted wood, clean with a wire brush and some 3/1 H2O/Bleach to kill mold or mildew, sand down the grain,then coat with never peel. It gives the wood a soft sheen and is very pretty.
  • Paticia G Paticia G on Jan 21, 2015
    years ago my husband made me a cutting board for the kitchen from some reclaimed wood after a while tiny tiny little bugs started emerging I wouldn't bring that wood into the house
    • Melanie Hinman Melanie Hinman on Jan 21, 2015
      @Paticia G lol - every time I think "okay, I'm gonna go for it!" a post like yours pops up and scares me!!
  • Mary Mary on Jan 21, 2015
    you never know, the ants might be taking a look at your house, which looks like the posts are close to.
  • Melanie Hinman Melanie Hinman on Jan 21, 2015
    The blue structure is my unattached unheated garage - a good 40 feet from the house anyway. But thanks for the warning!! ;)
  • CK CK on Jan 21, 2015
    Woodbridge has a lot of great answers for you. Our cold upper midwest winters get rid of a lot of 'woes'. I might bleach the wood when it's warmer outside, use what you can, and ditch the rest. It was salvaged so as my dad would say "It doesn't owe you anything" :-)
  • Melanie Hinman Melanie Hinman on Jan 21, 2015
    @CK Hahah! Well put - and since the color, the weathering and the free-ness of it are perfect for what I want, I'm probably going to give it a shot when it starts warming up a bit. Thank you all for the advice - some good stuff!!
  • Upstate NYer Upstate NYer on Feb 24, 2015
    Invite the neighbors over and have a bonfire! There is more wood out there for you to choose from - once you start looking for it.
  • Debra Sue Solecki Debra Sue Solecki on Apr 14, 2017

    Are you still out there?

    I am ready to start a similar project and wonder how your turned out? I see this was written a couple years ago - so did any bugs emerge? What did you end up using?


  • Jill Young Jill Young on Mar 23, 2023

    Hi Melanie, so did you use the reclaimed wood? I'm about to replace my mantle with a beam I found in my barn. I can see termite damage and know I should just bite the bullet and buy a beam for hundreds of dollars but keep wanting to utilize this perfect, well, perfect except for the termite damage, piece of a beam I found..I hope your project turned out great. Would love to hear an update!

  • Mogie Mogie on Apr 03, 2023

    My dad had some old 4x4's in his yard. They looked rotten but when we got them home and sanded them down we were happily surprized. The wood under the rot looked great. And now we turned those in large wooden dice.