Mining for Timber: Why Reclaimed Wood is New Green Gold

Earlier this week, a 3,000-year-old Huon pine log fetched more than $21,000 in auction. With Wood Central understanding that the timber, once cut into individual pieces, understood to be worth $120,000

Wed 17 Apr 24


It’s more of a treasure hunt than a forestry salvage, but reclaimed timbers are now fetching massive premiums, with harvesters trekking dense woods and seafloors searching for the world’s oldest and most valuable hardwoods.

Earlier this week, Tasmanian sawmill Timberworld processed the three-tonne remains of a 3,000-year-old Huon pine log salvaged from the Teepookana plateau on the state’s faraway West Coast. The log’s market value, once cut into pieces, is believed to be $120,000.

“It’s neither sensible nor sustainable to cut down thousand-year-old trees,” according to Bronte Booth, the Managing Director of Timberworld, adding that lumberjacks penetrated the wildness to fell giant pines from the 1830s until the late 1970s. “But because the timber does not rot, people go back into the forest and retrieve the heads and stumps of the trees from the old quarry.”

Largely logged out, timbers are coveted by boat builders, furniture makers, craftspeople, and artists, adding enormous value to them. 

“This is one of the largest salvaged logs we’ve seen,” Mr Booth said, who sold the processed log for an eye-watering $21,000, adding that “the burls all over the trunk, which are called ‘bird’s eye’…make it very sought after.”

One of the world’s oldest trees is in Tasmania. Despite the odds, this gentle giant still stands today. Footage courtesy of @Tasmania.

Mr Booth is the son of former Tasmanian Greens Leader Kim Booth, who told the Mercury overnight that the “incredibly rare Huon pine” is a “cautionary tale for the way that the Tasmanian forest industry has lost most of the resource.”

The quarry is timber gold, with Mr Booth estimating “that there are only 250t, or eight log trucks worth of salvaged Huon pine left,” with the remaining timbers “priceless really because they take so long to grow.”

Accessing the pines and bringing them back to civilisation is also a challenge. In 2022, the Australian’s Matthew Denholm revealed that Sustainable Timbers Tasmania is using a wilderness railway, once used to cart copper from Queenstown’s Mt Lyell mine to Macquarie Harbour.

And this is where the fun starts…

“We need to look for the old horse tracks made by the piners,” says Mitch Roberts, the state-owned forest company’s North West operations manager. These are barely discernible given the passage of time since piners used pack horses to cart the logs to the King River or tributaries.

“There’s a lot of foot slogging,” Mr Roberts said, adding that a trained eye will quickly spot the treasure. 

“We will salvage down to 75mm—there’s a very big market for that type of limb wood for all your egg cups, candlestick holders, and rolling pins,” Mr Roberts said, with the methods of extracting logs from forest floor involving a 20-tonne excavator and small skidder. 

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Huon pine on the Teepookana Plateau. (Photo Credit: Sustainable Timber Tasmania)

The collected pine is then piled up on a landing area, taken to the nearby West Coast Wilderness Railway line, and transported to a yard in Strahan.

During the five years (up to 2022), Sustainable Timber Tasmania has planted 17,000 Huon pine saplings on the plateau – with Suzette Weeding, Sustainable Timber Tasmania’s General Manager for Land Management, adding “it’s a great opportunity while we’re here salvaging the old resource to re-­establish the resource to grow on for generations.”

Global Reclaimed Timber Market to Hit $74B by 2030

But it’s not just the rare and endangered timbers pushing to embrace recycled or reclaimed timbers. 

Last year, Wood Central reported that the global market for reclaimed timber is expected to grow 20% over the next five years, driven by surging demand in North America and Asia Pacific, according to new data published by Orion Market Reports.

Due to its age and slow growth, reclaimed timber is commonly regarded as superior to newly harvested wood and is less prone to issues such as shrinkage, warping, and twisting. 

Hydrowood is a true Tasmanian story about sustainability, innovation and resourcefulness. Footage courtesy of @BrandTasmania.

The global scramble for reclaimed timbers has seen Tasmanian-based Hydrowood, the world’s oldest underwater forest harvester, raise $2 million as part of a crowd-fund through ‘OnMarket’ – Australia’s largest equity-raising platform.

“There’s a global shortage of timber with demand set to quadruple by 2050,” according to Hydrowood co-founder Andrew Morgan, who said, “with a reduction in native forestry production (in Australia) and reduced supply due to bushfires and increased demand for decorative timbers, Hydrowood can meet the supply sought-after timbers into the future.”

Last year, Hydrowood signed a distribution agreement with Mortlock Timbers and has extracted 6,000 cubic metres of timber off the ocean floor of Lake Pieman to date.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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