Unmaking(?) old woodwork (moulding and trim) tips?

I grew up in a house that was originally built by my family in the mid to late 19th century. It is nine bedrooms and has gorgeous woodwork through. The house has unfortunately been vacant for almost 20 years. My father died in October and my grandmother has decided to tear down the house because it is in such bad shape. Nothing I can do to change that decision.

But… I am going to remove all of the old woodwork that I can (all of the trim/molding, stair woodwork, doors, paneling, possibly flooring) and the old fixtures. I am doing this myself and in one weekend (4th of July weekend). The house is very large. I would love to salvage the slate roof, but I cannot do that on such a steep and complex roof. I believe that I have all the tools to salvage the woodwork (wonder bars, wrecking bars, putty knives, reciprocating saws, muscles, etc). It is unlikely that I will be able to remove any of the non-loadbearing timber because that would me removing lath and plaster (probably horse hair).

One good thing is that I can salvage all of this (or most of it) for personal woodworking projects and for friends. I refuse to sell it.

Does anyone have any experience unmaking an old house and saving the woodwork? Any advice?


Well, first round of demo done. Talk about hard work!

I now have several hundred board feet of white oak, some fir, and another darker wood that I have not identified yet. Now the fun work of denailing it all has begun. I will go back up sometime soon to get all of the doors and as much trim and other woodwork as I can (possibly the paneling in one of the photos, but that has to be just before it is demolished).

Here are some general photos.

Figured out that the columns were not loadbearing after I removed the trim around the pedestal. Decided to take them out. They are not solid but each weigh somewhere over 100lb. There is a rectangular channel through each. My guess is that they were made of four pieces of similar oak and then turned on a lathe to achieve the columnar shape.


DISCLAIMER: I curse in this video because taking down the columns was killer on my hands…


I don’t have much to share about demo but I’m glad you are able to recover the wood! I can only imagine the memories while you are doing it!

All I ever knew about demo for recovery was very long ago, as a kid, watching a friend of the family take down an abandoned barn to recover the wood, and they were so creative about the process almost nothing was lost. They had everything tied up to huge stakes to make sure it wouldn’t fall down on them while they were inside, but also to make sure they could disassemble everything of value without it crashing down in a broken heap. They found such good workmanship! I remember moss had been used in beam joints to keep them from creaking, and generations later the moss pressed in the beam joints was still green.


I really wish I could get at the structural timbers but that is beyond me. Can’t go getting crushed by beams while in pursuit of them.