Refab Wood turns old barns into new furniture

Raleigh company reclaims wood from dilapidated structures

Eamon Queeney—The North State Journal
Mitchell Alexander

RALEIGH — Mitchell Alex­ander has always been around woodworking. His father worked in carpentry in one way or another his entire life, and his grandfather took it on as a hobby after retirement.”I was really fascinated by that when I was a kid, because he had his own little wood shop out in his backyard,” Alexander, 27, said of his grandfather’s later-in-life undertaking. “And I have always been kind of handy. And after he had passed, I inherited his tools. So I had them and I started doing a little woodworking on my own just for fun.”Alexander now owns Refab Wood, a Raleigh-based company that reclaims wood from older structures, often barns, and builds dining sets, desks and other furniture and items.The company was born four-and-a half-years ago after Alexander left a furniture restoration shop to pursue his own business. Seeing all the old roadside barns and structures that were going unused and just waiting to fall over, Alexander figured he could salvage at least some of the wood and repurpose it for furniture.Alexander reclaimed his first barn over the course of a few months and the wood lasted him about a year. Alexander had found that barn himself, but word of mouth and the internet have led to people calling him up to take away their old barns and structures.”From there it’s just a matter of determining whether or not they’re a good candidate to be reclaimed,” Alexander said. “Because most of the time they aren’t. … I’d say about one in five barns we check out we can actually use for furniture.”When he does find a barn with enough good wood to make it worth his while, Alexander and his workers essentially provide a removal service for the owners of the structures with their payment being the raw materials Refab needs to make furniture.”We don’t charge to take down unless it’s a special case,” Alexander said. “If there’s a barn that is mostly, let’s say 50 percent, trash wood, then the rest of it’s good, we might have to charge them because we at least have to have them pay for getting a construction dumpster to throw all the waste in.”The useable wood is then recycled by Refab to make tables, chairs, desks, coffee tables, benches or truly anything, with Alexander offering predesigned pieces on the company’s website,, or doing custom furniture for customers.But Refab isn’t a one-man show. Alexander, a Raleigh native and NC State graduate, has forged a partnership with his alma mater to provide internships and apprenticeships through the school.”We were trying to find a way both to find passionate workers; because you can try to hire people hourly and they’ll work, but the people who work the best are the ones who really want to learn,” Alexander said. “So since we’re so close to State and I was an alumni there in wood products, we just kind of came up with the idea if there’s something like that exists let’s find out, and it turns out there was.”While most of Refab’s interns and apprentices come from related NC State programs — for example, one current intern is studying Sustainable Materials & Technology — some come from totally unassociated disciplines.Even Alexander’s 22-year-old brother Paul, the minority owner in the company and its only other full-time employee, graduated from Wake Technical Community College with his degree in web technologies.For the students, the three-month internship includes a stipend and some have earned class credit for their work at Refab.Alexander moved the business into a bigger space in May, included spending about $5,000 on air conditioning, and said most of the profit Refab makes goes right back into the business. The brothers live together in a place on their father’s property, but said they got any brotherly bickering “out of their system when they were younger.”The Alexander brothers have explored other ideas, like making guitars, but the heart of the business is still turning reclaimed wood into furniture.”We have to have the best stuff for furniture because it’s got to hold up for a long time,” Alexander said.With satisfied customers providing positive word of mouth both for their work in removing old structures and making reclaimed furniture, Refab hopes to be around a long time itself.