Wood 101 – Ridding the Critters

Powder Post Beetle WoodOne of the most common questions we get here on the AVF is “How can I be sure the old barn wood you sold me won’t have termites/bugs/worms/etc in it?”


And that’s a great question. Because after a piece of wood has been exposed for 50-60 years or more, there are bound to be some critters nestled in it. Right? And that is exactly right. Most of us tend to think of the larger or more invasive bugs like beetles and termites, but there are hundreds of other creepy-crawlies that would love to set up shop in the fibers of your historic old wood, then later come out to explore once you get it tucked away in your warm, dry house.


Before we talk about preventing them, let me highlight a few common pests, and dispel a few myths.


Termites. The big kahuna of bugs. Especially here in the South, we shudder at the mention of the T word, and will do anything necessary to make sure our homes aren’t invaded by them. The truth is, as invasive as termites are, they’re actually quite delicate. And if you have a previously termite-infested piece of wood in your home, it won’t suddenly reveal hoards of wood-eating bugs, once mounted on your living room wall. Termites are very dependent on their colony, and removed from that environment, they quickly die. So the very act of removing the wood from its original location will kill them.


Powder Post Beetle, or Post Hole Borer. In my opinion, these can be much more of a problem than termites. The Powder Post Beetle does exactly what its name implies. It bores holes in wood and reduces it to powder. A nuisance in fence posts. A disaster in a home. Frankly though, they aren’t commonly found in a house. It just isn’t the environment they like. They prefer the dark, airy, cool world of untreated barn and shed wood. An active infestation will have wood borings in piles that are accumulated on the floor below or near pin holes in the wood. You may also hear a ticking sound made by the larvae.


Carpenter Ants. Carpenter Ants are usually black, here in GA, and are a common find among old wood. They’re not a tiny any, like a fire ant, but have a little size on them. And they can be winged. Flip over an old piece of barn wood and you’re probably going to find either beetles, a snake or ants. (Preferably not the snake.) Contrary to popular belief, Carpenter Ants do not eat wood. They do, however, cut through wood to form their pathways for movement and foraging, and for that reason, they’re a problem for homeowners. They like moist, decaying wood. We usually don’t have a use for that kind of material anyway, so generally, they aren’t much of a concern for us in the materials we reclaim.


Carpenter Bees. Commonly mistaken for the bumble bee, Carpenter Bees are notorious for boring curious, perfectly-circular holes into wood. You can hear them, usually. And most people think that’s the sound of them eating the wood. But that isn’t true. They’re simply boring a tunnel for egg laying. The humming is the vibration of their bodies as they bore. They aren’t necessarily a problem for home infestation in our products, but their larvae can mature in a warm environment and come out, one here or one there. Although, it’s still unusual. Male bees, contrary to popular belief, cannot sting. Although they are very territorial and can appear to be aggressive. You’ve probably seen them hovering around your porch “patrolling” the area for other invaders like wasps. The female can sting, but rarely does.


So how do we make sure you don’t get any of these critters, or hundreds of others, in your home when we bring reclaimed creations into the mix? Well there are two ways we could do it. One would be kiln drying. A very effective method, but it can be time consuming and costly. Kiln drying removes the moisture content of the wood, as well as heats everything up to the point that nothing can survive. This actually is something AVF is looking into as a future method, but it isn’t very cost effective right now.


The second method, and the one we employ, is treating the wood. We treat our wood with a Borate Insecticide and Fungicide that kills any bugs and their eggs or larvae. It also acts as a preventative against future pests. This is the method used by all major pest controllers for pre-treatment during renovations, new home construction and to remove infestation from existing structures. It’s inexpensive, effective, environmentally friendly, and perfectly safe for human contact after application. You’ve heard of your grandma’s 20 Mule Team Borax? Same initial ingredient. Borate is a naturally occurring mineral, and this just mixes it into a liquid solution, then we spray it on.


So that’s how we keep the critters out of the picture in all our Apple Valley Farm creations and crafts. Hope that eases your mind, if you had any concerns before. Nobody wants to deal with a bug problem, and the solution is really, really easy. So you can relax, knowing that we’re making sure you won’t have something cropping up weeks or months after getting something from us.


Thanks for reading. And til next time, have a great day!