Working with wood generates a lot of wood scraps and sawdust. Learn some innovative uses for this waste material that saves you money.
So what can you do with scrap wood and sawdust? You can use scrap wood in the workshop, for small projects and in the woodstove. You can use sawdust in the garden, in animal cages and to pack delicate items.
I sometimes wonder if there is more wood on the shop floor and in the scrap wood box than in my actual project! And the piles of sawdust that are created can be overwhelming too.
You need to do something regularly with the waste wood that is generated. Otherwise it will just accumulate and then you have a bigger job getting rid of it.
With so many areas of our lives becoming “greener” and more sustainable, there are ways to reuse wood scraps and sawdust so that it has another life inside and outside your woodshop.
How to Use Scrap Wood
Woodworkers generate a lot of scrap wood.
I try first to minimize the amount of scrap wood I generate. So I plan my projects where I can to use standard lumber lengths, widths and thicknesses especially in outdoor projects where size usually is flexible.
As an example if I’m building a garden raised bed I will size it to by length and width to use full, halves, quarters or even eighths of 8′ or 12′ lengths of cedar 2×6’s or 1×6’s. So a 4’x8′ raised bed or 1’x4′ planter works better than some odd sizes that leave scrap behind. It also saves cuts, which saves time.
Same works for furniture, especially when you are using plywood. Try to layout the various pieces for maximum usage of a sheet of ply, without many scrap pieces (and even scraps might be useful as cleats or reinforcement).
But scrap is still generated especially if you’re aiming for a specific size for your project that will fit in a specific spot. I have a scrap box underneath my mitre saw where the really short pieces go temporarily so they are not underfoot and the longer ones go onto my lumber storage shelves for later reuse.
Here are some ideas of what to do with that quickly growing stash of scrap wood!
Use it for Woodshop Jigs
Jigs are the secret to saving time, provide repeatable results and safely working with wood while keeping hands at a safe distance from saw blades and router bits.
Sometimes you’ll need to buy wood for a jig, but most often you should be able to find some scrap wood that you already have. Some jigs do need hardwood to provide durability, so make sure to have your scrap wood sorted into hardwood and softwood piles.
Just don’t get used to keeping every piece of scrap thinking you might need it for a jig. That can get to be too much, especially if you procrastinate on building jigs!
Use it as Clamping protection
Whenever you clamp anything as part of a glue-up or to secure wood before working it, you need to protect the project surface from dents.
You can of course get clamps with jaws that are softer or buy special clamp pads that slip over the jaws. But that is usually an extra expense that is not really necessary.
After all you have a free source of clamp pads in your scrap box. So why not use them?
The other reason for using wood scraps for clamping, is that you can distribute clamping forces more evenly. Using a longer piece of scrap with several clamps allows you to have clamping force along the entire joint for a better glue-up.
Make Easy Scrap Wood Projects
There are a few projects you can make with lots of short wood scraps. Here’s just a sample. You can find more on my Pinterest boards.
- Cutting boards – use the wood either end grain up or assemble like a butcher bloc
- Wall art – get creative with a piece of plywood or MDF as the base and glue on scrap pieces of wood in different colours
- Spoons – if you want to get into carving, this is a great first project
- Coasters – think of these as miniature cutting boards, so use the same techniques, just thinner and smaller
- Toy cars – these usually require lots of smaller pieces so are perfect for using up small scraps. If you go this route, check out this great book on building wood trucks and construction vehicles
- Model making – I find very small scraps of wood, especially thin pieces useful for my model railroading projects
- Doll house furniture – like with toy cars, dollhouse furniture requires lots of tiny pieces of wood
With all of these projects, it’s important to note that cutting very small pieces of wood can be quite dangerous. You may need some jigs (made from scrap wood!) to hold these small pieces safely when machining them.
Burn Wood Cutoffs in a Woodstove or Other Heating Source
If you have a woodstove, fireplace, pizza oven or outdoor fire pit, burning your scrap wood is another option.
Even better if you have a woodstove in your workshop. Although I have some reservations about having open flames where I am storing lots of wood. It obviously needs to be installed properly.
Hardwood burns the best, but even scraps of softwood can be used to at least start the fire.
However, careful here in what you burn. Never ever burn any pressure treated lumber scraps. When the preservatives in the lumber burn they release a toxic gas. For more info, here is a Government Canada article. I usually keep PT wood for outdoor projects where I may need a shim or sacrificial foot under a planter, etc.
Sheet goods such as plywood, MDF, melamine, particleboard, oriented sheathing board (OSB) and laminate flooring should also not be burned due to the glues used to glue the veneers together and in some cases the finishes applied to the outside.
And finally any stained or painted wood should not be burned. Especially if you don’t know what stain or paint was used.
How to Use Sawdust and Wood Shavings
Any process in the woodshop that cuts, planes, routes, sands and drills wood produces either a fine sawdust or larger wood shavings. Sometimes it feels like we are drowning in all of it!
The good thing is that sawdust and wood shavings have lots of uses inside and outside of the woodshop.
Use it in the Garden as Mulch
I’ve a need for mulch all the time for my garden beds. Sawdust and especially wood shavings can be used for mulch.
Pine shavings work well to mulch strawberries and may reduce the pest damage from slugs and snails.
I’ve written a more detailed article about the benefits of mulch on my homesteading blog in case you are wondering why mulch is a good addition to your garden.
The only caution here is using sawdust and shavings from wood such as black walnut. These woods have a biochemical that can stunt or kill plant growth. You should not use these in any garden beds that have plants. You could use these on garden paths if you can install a barrier that keeps the mulch out of your garden beds.
Use it for Animal Bedding
Another use for wood shavings is animal bedding. Bedding needs to be replaced regularly and this is one way to save some money.
However some cautions:
- make sure there are no wood splinters or sharp pieces that could hurt the animal
- don’t use fine sawdust as this can get into the lungs and cause issues for the animal
- don’t use shavings from pressure treated lumber because of the preservatives used
- avoid cedar as it has oils that can cause health issues if your animal chews or ingests them
- if using pine shavings, make sure they are heat treated to burn off the natural oils that can also be toxic to smaller animals such as guinea pigs – most pine used for woodworking will be kiln-dried so should be fine
Check with your veterinarian for advice before using wood shavings for your animals.
Use it to Burnish Lathe-turned Projects
A trick lathe turners use to finish their projects is to burnish them while spinning on the lathe with various materials. Some turners use a paper bag or cloth.
Many though use fine wood shavings and sawdust. Usually under a lathe you’ll have your pick of fine, medium and coarse shavings/sawdust so it is readily available. The key here is fine wood shavings as you don’t want larger pieces scratching your project.
The key here is to generate some heat by holding the shavings and sawdust against the spinning project. This helps to close the pores of the wood, which creates a high-gloss sheen.
Use it for Packing Material
If you are running a woodworking business and shipping items, you can use wood shavings as a packing material. This is what was used a long time ago as packing material before the advent of bubble wrap and styrofoam.
You do need to be careful to not scratch your finished project, especially if it is painted or has some other surface finish. You may want to wrap it in one layer of unprinted newsprint to protect it. Then use the wood shavings to fill in the voids around it in the box.
You can also use it to pack fragile items when moving. It especially will work for dishes and glassware.
So you don’t need to drown in wood scraps and sawdust. Instead save some money and reuse the waste material in your woodshop and outside of it.