Ways to Reduce and Recycle Wood Scraps

Every woodworker is faced with this dilemma eventually: what to do with all those off cuts and other wood scraps that are left over from your projects? As an eco-woodworker, you don’t want to just dump the scraps out. But you have to do something because those wood scraps multiply like rabbits and will overrun your woodshop before you know it. Perhaps it’s time for a WOOD SCRAP RECYCLING program!

But before getting into what to do with those scraps, let’s talk about how to minimize waste in the first place. If you haven’t done so already, consider investing in a cutting optimization program to improve the yield of your lumber and sheet stock.  In addition to determining optimal cutting layouts for plywood and solid lumber, these utilities generate a materials list to help you figure out how much material is required and what it will cost. Many also provide a waste percentage figure so you know right off the bat how much waste you’ll end up with.

Another waste minimization tip is to design your projects to accommodate the sizes of the available building materials. For example, if building a desk from plywood, try to design component dimensions that allow the panel to be ripped into even halves, thirds, quarters, etc. A cut optimization program can make this job easier by allowing you to quickly run through a number of different what-if design scenarios.

Another suggestion is to be less finicky about using wood with knots, burls, and other imperfections. Think of these features as giving the wood “character”. Perhaps Beeken Parsons Furniture  puts it best: “Character wood provides evidence of the random workings of nature. The natural beauty of wood is found in features such as knots, heartwood and sapwood, and mineral streaks. We highlight rather than eliminate these characteristics; they give our furniture soul.”

Ok, you’ve done all of the above and invariably there will still be plenty of wood scraps left over. Here are some ideas for how to reuse them:

  • Create bird houses and feeders.
  • Use larger scraps to build compost bins. This is the ultimate in eco-reuse.
  • Make cutting boards, serving trays, and knife blocks by gluing together woods of contrasting colors.
  • Create goblets, candle holders, miniature baseball bats, and other turned products.
  • Make wooden blocks, miniature trains, cars, and other toys.
  • Make Christmas tree ornaments.
  • Glue scraps together to make segmented bowls.
  • Use them as clamping blocks and other project assembly aids.
  • Use them for shop jigs – especially the scraps from sheet stock.
  • Create sanding blocks.
  • Make wooden shop mallets.
  • Make wooden push sticks for you and your woodworking buddies.
  • Create “bit boxes” for router and drill bits.
  • Use the wood to smoke meat. Mesquite, maple, apple, alder, oak, and hickory all work well.
  • Use the scraps for intarsia. (pictures made from different colored pieces of wood).
  • Use scrap panels as backing for trivets (hot pads).
  • Make wood carvings from the softer woods or give them to a wood carver.
  • Finger joint the wood pieces into larger boards.
  • Create pen blanks and pepper mills.
  • Refinish small scraps and screw in cup hooks to create a key holder.
  • Donate the scraps to schools and community centers for crafts projects.
  • Use long and narrow pieces of scrap wood for garden stakes.
  • Find a municipal facility that can grind the scraps into wood chips for mulch
  • Toss whatever is left into the wood burner.