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Cleaning oak beams

Category: Essential information November 29th, 2008 by mbc

I wanted to minimise the use of steel in the building and I like the texture and appearance of untreated hard woods – that led to the importation of two eastern European oak beams for use in the barn.

That long journey (let’s not worry about carbon footprints for now) and a few weeks sitting outside on my yard left their marks on the beams. Both were water stained and blackened and in this state were installed into the barn and the first floor was built ‘on’ them.

Based on a combination of hind-sight and time earned experience here is the MyBarnConversion guide to cleaning oak (hardwood) beams.

If at all possible, clean the beams with a pressure washer prior to installation, that will save a lot of effort later.

If you’re unable to clean the beam before construction, then get out the elbow grease.

  • Wash down and scrape the beam to remove surface dirt and mold.
  • Use a steamer cleaner to open up the grain and clean into the beam, this will also have the effect of sterilising the wood. A wall paper steam remover will work fine.
  • Steam cleaning will begin to bring engrained dirt to the surface. You will find that badly stained wood will need to be scraped to remove the worst of it.
  • Using a combination of scraping and washing down (preferably with warm water and detergent) your beam will slowly become clean.
  • Rinse and repeat…
  • The wood may take some time to dry out, you’ll not be able to tell the final colour and finish until it’s dry, so don’t panic yourself into unnecessary cycles of the cleaning process.

Sand to remove particularly deep stains, splinters and scruffs.

I’ve read in a couple of places that sugar soap works well. Will give it ago as I have some other beams that need cleaning.

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Posted in Essential information | 6 Comments » « Leave Yours
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6 Responses

  1. Ed Says:

    Did you consider the use of oxalic acid? Some friends have used it with success to remove water and iron marks from oak.

  2. Alice Avery Says:

    The oak beams in our barn are very dry and crumbly is there anything we could use to give them some moisture.

    Thank you

    A Avery

  3. mbc Says:

    Alice, I’d try linseed oil or bees wax – test out on a ‘hidden’ surface first.

  4. ewan Says:

    My barn has very grey thin/thick beams with 200 years of age.
    they are not wrotten but they are in a bad way.
    can i sand blast them?

  5. mbc Says:

    Sounds like sand-blasting is an option, albeit a potentially messy and costly one. I’d be cautious as sand blasting old wood can lead to a corrugated effect where the blasting eats into the soft parts of the wood-grain. Personally I’d try cleaning (as described here) and additionally sanding them to see how well that works.

  6. Nigel Ricks Says:

    Farrow systems UK
    Farrow systems UK have the answer! low impact, Eco friendly and caring blast cleaning, our system can clean a huge range of surface damage and dust free.
    Beams, pulins, paint removal, brick work cleaning, fire places, ranges, stair cases (stone or metal) concrete, steel, alloys.
    Please email me your project details and we will provide an unrivalled quote and service.
    Please send me an email

    Best wishes

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