Storing Reclaimed Wood for DIY Projects
When I start any DIY woodworking project, one of the challenges is knowing what bits of scrap wood are stored in my shed, and another challenge is finding and getting to them easily. So the more efficiently I can store and retrieve off-cuts and unused wood from previous DIY projects and previously salvaged and reclaimed wood, the less I need to fork out to buy new wood.
Waste not, want not. I always aim to recycle salvaged wood for future DIY projects.
I'm sure many other home DIY enthusiasts who use a lot of wood in their home projects have similar problems and dilemmas. This article looks at some of the problems of safely storing salvaged wood. I will describe my short-term storage solution and how I may turn it into a longer-term one. Perhaps some of my ideas will give you ideas (or food for thought). If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Where and How to Store Scrap Wood
There is no single or simple answer to this problem. Scrap wood, salvaged wood, and wood off-cuts come in all shapes, sizes, and quantities. Over time, the quantity, shapes, and sizes of the scrap wood you've shoved to one corner or the back of your home workshop will change. So it's no good making custom-made shelves or racks for what you currently have when in six months or a year's time, the bits of scrap wood you've accumulated may begin overflowing the storage racks you've built.
In the past, like many others, I just piled the scrap wood up at the back of the shed. Periodically, I would sift through it to find suitable wood for a particular project. Occasionally I would weed out the smaller and more damaged pieces for burning to make space for newer and better spare wood. However, unless you can clearly see what you have, good pieces of wood can get overlooked, and you may end up buying new wood—adding to the problem when on completion, you want to store the off-cuts away for another time.
I know some people store their spare wood outside, either under cover (e.g., a covered wood storage area at the back of the shed) or for hardwood, sometimes stacked outside and exposed to the elements. Hardwood (and to some extent pressure-treated softwood) will generally keep outside quite well in the medium term, but untreated softwood, even if covered, is prone to rot in damp conditions and more attractive to woodworm.
If you have roof space in your home workshop, some of the longer pieces of wood can be stored there until needed, and a small selection of small pieces such as Dowling and beading can easily be stored in suitable tubs or propped up in one corner without taking up much space. The larger pieces, on the other hand, can be a bigger problem for storage.
Disposal of Surplus or Unwanted Scrap Wood
I know some people keep the minimal (if any) of their scrap wood following a DIY project. They tend to throw away good wood in the skip or burn it. I know spare space in a shed or small workshop can be a premium, so you do have to draw the line somewhere; there is a limit to how much scrap wood you can hang onto. Nevertheless, throwing away potentially good wood due to the lack of storage space just seems such a waste.
My concept of drawing the line mainly depends on the wood's size and quality. For example, a good bit of timber that's less than 300mm (1ft) or 450mm (18 inches) is generally destined for the bonfire, and anything larger I try to keep, space permitting. If space is an issue, then real wood and plywood will take priority over contiboard and laminated board.
When people dispose of their scrap wood, many will just throw it in the skip; some will burn it either on a bonfire in their back garden or in a garden incinerator. My preference is to burn, not only because it costs nothing to burn, which is cheaper than hiring a skip, but also because the resulting potash is good for the garden, especially if you grow your own vegetables. Potatoes, in particular, love potash, so even burning the wood doesn't go to waste but helps in growing vegetables in your back garden for use in the kitchen. If you intend to burn any bits of scrap wood that you don't want to keep (along with any garden waste), then you may wish to check on any local bylaws. For example, in our area, the bylaw is that you shouldn't start burning in your back garden until after 9:00 p.m.
What to Salvage and When
When starting a DIY project to renovate or replace something in the home—e.g., a kitchen or bathroom renovation to replacing old shelves or built-in cupboards—I start by carefully dismantling the old and salvaging what I can. Often much of what you salvage can be reused in the same project, saving money on not needing to buy so much new wood.
Of course, if you're replacing some old shelving made from laminated board (or contiboard) with real wood, there may not be much to salvage. However, if it's a built-in cupboard you're replacing, and the odd panel of the laminated sheet of a respectable size comes out intact, you may consider saving it for future use.
Also, when dismantling existing built-in furniture and fixtures, the pieces of wood or wood panels you remove often have fittings attached, such as hinges, handles, and sometimes glass which you may also wish to remove and salvage; even if you dispose of the wood itself.
Woodworm and Wood Rot
Salvaged wood, especially from older houses, may have rot and or signs of woodworm. If the wood has rot, it should be burnt or skipped; particularly dry rot, which should be burnt quickly.
Before the days of central heating, woodworm used to be the scourge of old houses; but these days, in rooms that are centrally heated, the central heating dries out the wood so that the moisture content in it is too low for the woodworms to taste, so it's not so much of a problem.
However, any salvaged wood should be checked for rot and signs of woodworm, especially wood reclaimed from unheated areas of the house such as your loft or attic and if you find any signs of woodworm, then decide whether to dispose of it or treat it. If the woodworm attack is minimal or the piece of wood salvaged is important enough for restoration, then there are plenty of good woodworm treatment products available in the UK market that are inexpensive to buy and fully effective.
Temporary Storage Solution
For quite a while, my wife has had her eye on a piece of solid oak furniture specifically designed as a unit for supporting a large flat-screen TV, but it was far too expensive for our pockets. One day, one of the local stores put on a long weekend offer of a 70% price reduction, and on seeing the advert, my wife snapped up the offer, making our previous plate glass TV unit redundant.
Coincidentally, the same weekend our next-door neighbour also replaced their plate glass TV unit with a new wooden TV unit, albeit not solid oak. However, our neighbours were going to take their old plate glass unit to the local council-run disposal yard, which wouldn't have cost them anything other than petrol. Instead, I offered to take the glass unit off their hands, saving them the trouble and time to dispose of it.
And it is with these two glass units that I saw the potential for a 'quick fix' temporary shelving that (until I find a better use for them) would help to provide some useful shelving space for storing a lot of the salvaged wood stored in my home workshop.
My first task was to temporarily move all the scrap wood piled in the corner of the workshop outside to make space for these two plate glass units.
I then placed our old plate glass unit in the space created and then reassembled our neighbours glass unit. And once reassembled, I placed it on top of our old unit to create one unit with lots of descent size shelves ideal for storing small bits of wood, leaving a gap to one side of the unit for storing sheets of wood e.g., plywood.
Then, after a good coffee break, I sorted through the scrap wood, storing it in a more organised way in the available shelving space, e.g., all the oak wood on one shelf, chunky wood on the top shelf, and thinner pieces on the shelf below, etc., and storing the sheets of wood and some of the larger pieces of wood in the gap by the side.
Step-by-Step Process: Sorting and Organising Scrap Wood for Storage
Longer-Term Storage Solutions
In time I may find a more fitting use for one or both plate glass units or even find a use of the raw material (the glass), at which time I will need to decide whether to proper shelving from timber.
In the meantime, the glass shelf units give me an opportunity to fully test how well this method of storage works for the scrap wood and allows me to identify the pros and cons so that if and when the time comes to reuse the glass units for another purpose I should be better placed to design new shelving incorporating what works into the design.
Although it’s early days, I have done a couple of small DIY projects since reorganising my salvaged wood, and so far, I have found the new shelving beneficial in that it gives me better access to the scrap wood I can see at a glance the type and quantity of scrap wood I have and searching through a particular shelf for something specific is quite easy and only takes a moment.
Being mindful that the glass units may someday be found a new home, I’m paying more attention to de-nailing old wood before storage to reduce the risk of scratching the glass; although generally, glass is quite resilient and not easy to scratch, so I don’t see it as a major problem.
Shelving and Storage Solutions
I find good shelving in your shed or workshop pays dividends in storing and organising your DIY materials and tools.
Sometimes you may be able to repurpose an old piece of redundant furniture for storage and shelving in your garden shed workshop or make what you need from spare scrap or reclaimed recycled scrap wood.
On other occasions, you may decide to buy some dedicated workshop furniture and shelving units.
What do you do with your scrap wood?
Even if you salvage your scrap wood, there are always odd bits left over too small to be of much use. With these bits, do you burn them or throw them in the skip?
Share your tips and views on salvaging old wood for DIY projects!
Paula Hite from Virginia on March 13, 2014:
Greta ideas! Your lens will be featured on our Facebook page on March 15.
"The Green Thumb: A Place For Gardeners To Gather"
VspaBotanicals on February 22, 2014:
I'm loving this!
Ruthi on March 14, 2013:
I no longer get involved in many DIY woodworking projects but I am sure there are many who will find your wood salvaging storage tips quite useful for their future projects.