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Where To Find Free Wood For Your Pyrographic Projects

Updated on November 6, 2017
C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S. Alexis works in an art gallery located in the Calumet region of Northwest Indiana. Come see her at One Best Life at Tinker's Attic.

A piece of Mahogany from ship wreck salvage
A piece of Mahogany from ship wreck salvage
A section of wooden shingle used to mount artwork on
A section of wooden shingle used to mount artwork on

Here is a list of woods you can expect to find on construction sites.

  • plywood in varying thicknesses
  • oak from custom cabinets and trim also,

  • cherry, cedar, ash are commonly used in custom woodworking
  • some areas might use mahogany, hickory, and mesquite wood but these will be rare finds
  • wooden shingle scraps
  • pine boards, in all sizes, used in framing
  • Masonite and paneling that can be used to mount work on or for background and framing devices

Do Not Pay For Wood To Practice Your Craft

The free wood, available for the taking, makes for perfect recycling and utilizing it, in the craft of wood burning. Be it for practice work or, to finish a prized, graphic design, the supply can be endless and cost effective. You might spend some time and gas money to retrieve the goods but, you can keep it to a minimum by using a plan of attack. There is an assortment of wood varieties to be found and also stowed away for later use. You need to know where to look and also when to look. Some wood is a seasonal resource where other wood may be available at any time. Let's take a look at what to consider before you start your search.

Wood For Practice or Wood For Finished Artwork

I would say that I do less finished work and a lot more practice. I try to burn as often as possible and I do so to keep my skill level tuned. It is sort of like playing a musical instrument. You play for practice and you learn as you go. Then when it comes time to perform you have your techniques down pat and it creates the better performance.

When I am working on a project that is commissioned, I want the work to flow freely, from my hands and my mind. A lot of practice with my techniques is what that requires. I want every line to go down with ease. This can waste a lot of wood and, I do not want to pay money for waste. My desire to hone my wood burning skills has lead me to find all the wood I can at no out of pocket expense. Listed below are some of the best places to find a variety of wood.

  • Other peoples trash....Now let's really consider this.....

Look for trash that is usable when you are traveling. You can stop and check it out as you go. This will save making a special trip. I always keep an eye peeled on my neighborhood, trash pick-up day. I have found some nice furniture wood that has been damaged and is no longer of value as the original item. Old curio cabinets, dressers, chests, chairs, etc. that are tossed to the wayside, can be fun to work with. I often find furniture that can be used for practice and also salvage portions that are treasured for finished artwork. I will look in the dumpsters on apartment complexes too. This can be a gold mine for furniture wood. It is best to get permission from the household before digging through the garbage. In my town it is illegal to go trashing through our neighborhoods.

A Word Of Caution

Furniture wood can be and, usually is coated with some kind of finishing coat such as varnish, stain or polish. These can be very harmful to your health as they are heating and burning while you work. Take every precaution you can to avoid inhaling the smoke that will rise. I work outside as often as I can. Use a fan to blow the smoke away when you are wood burning. Always work in a well ventilated area.

  • Businesses who get their merchandise delivered in crates, on pallets and inside wooden containers......

When I lived in Dallas I would make a scheduled run to a few restaurants that received their vegetables in light weight wooden crates. I liked this particular wood because it was very thin and soft. I figure it was pine. I asked the owners before digging in there dumpsters just to be on the safe side. These crates are easy to break down and the wooden slates can be sorted and stacked for storage. I also tried using wooden pallets but am not fond of this particular wood. They are also on the heavy side and take up much more room to store. they do make good elevators to store stacks of wood in storage. My brother has been collecting very large pallets for some time and has constructed a good sized workshop from the pallet wood. He likes it for the same reason I do not. The wood is usually a hardwood and the pallets are designed to take a lot of abuse. I do know that pallets can be transformed into durable sign material. Practice with a variety of woods will help define your personal utilization of the salvage.

  • Construction Sites.....

New construction sites are always the best place to find wood for practice but, remodeling jobs often have the best vintage wood. I like to use both so I keep an eye open for places that are pitching wood. I have learned that you can often get the construction crew to pile choice pieces of scrap to the side for you, if you pick it up as promised. Two thing to remember is that these people have to keep their work area cleaned up and they start early in the morning. A trip to a known job-site just as the crew is arriving is the best time to make your pitch for free wood. Find the job foreman and try to be charming. Most people do not mind helping you out and they will often go out of their way to get you exactly what you want. I remember making about four trips to collect a bunch of cedar fencing that had been removed. The foreman was thrilled when I offered to take it off his hands. It saved him the cost of paying labor to haul it off and dispose of it. I used part of it as a wind break and broke the rest down for my artwork. There are folks out there who make a living from salvaging lumber. You could be one of them too.

  • Seasonal Hunting.....

You will do the best during building season for the most part. That will vary according to geographical location. In the southern portion of the USA they build year around. Here in the Chicago area we slow down and sometimes halt during the winter months. Plan your hunting time. That is not to say you should not always be on the lookout because if you are practicing the craft of wood burning you can go through quite a bit of wood. Keep that in mind and stow some wood away for later too.

Think You Have A Handle On It?

Here are just a few more suggestions. When you find that you have a large pile of wood that you have already practiced on, do not discard your scrap work. Use it in the wood stove. Take it camping for firewood or use it in your fireplace. I use some pieces that are large enough to walk on, to keep my garden paths elevated. This keeps me out of the mud and keeps the weeds down too. This is how you make the most out of collecting free wood for your craft and helping our environment with the horrible problem of waste management. Eventually it will deteriorate and then it becomes worm food. Feed your Mother Earth. She will repay you ten fold. Happy wood burning and Happy hunting.

Plywood can be woodburned for signs and other designs
Plywood can be woodburned for signs and other designs

Get The Kids Involved

Children love to help adults and this salvage game is a great place to include the youngsters. Give them a pair of gloves and a set of hand tools and they will enjoy helping you collect and recycle the wood. They can stack wood, pull nails, pound unwanted nails out, help sand or sort or, do just about anything you need help with. That is provided you give them guidance. It teaches them beneficial survival skills as well.

They learn about using tools. They gain life skills from practice. They learn to work as a team. They learn how to recycle items other than soda cans and plastic bottles. Rewards for their work await when you encourage them to be creative with some of the free material you have gathered. Generally speaking, children benefit in many ways when they are included in collecting free wood, so include a kid if you can. There is a good chance that you could learn something from them as well.


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    • C.S.Alexis profile image

      C.S.Alexis 8 years ago from NW Indiana


      What exactly is the wooden hanger rack?

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I am finally getting around to drawing on the wooden hanger rack again. Gee wish I could speed this up. Your hubs are inspiration when I am slacking :).

    • Just_Rodney profile image

      Rodney Fagan 9 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Great hub, opens up another wealth of memories from the past, I used to do this as boy scout way back in the early 1960s.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 9 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Thanks. I'll do that.

    • C.S.Alexis profile image

      C.S.Alexis 9 years ago from NW Indiana

      Constant Walker,

      you might try asking around , friends and neighbors, sometimes people have plywood stowed away because they hate to throw it away. Who knows, you might be doing someone a favor by taking it out of their way. Another suggestion would be if you do have to pay for what you need... check out the scrap pile at the local lumber store. They often have damaged pieces at a discount. Good Luck! Thanks for reading here. C.S.


      You are a fortunate one to have an unlimited supply of wood. I also hit the dollar stores for misc. items I can dress up in my artwork projects. Thanks for mentioning that idea. C.S.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 9 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      What a coincidence! I don't wood-burn, but am on the lookout for a piece of plywood, size 64 X 24.5, for a different project. Any suggestions?

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      What a wonderful hub! I agree, I never pay for woodburning supplies because my dad is able to use parts of firewood for free. He lives in the mountains and used to clear dead trees off a neighbor's property. Now he has a lifetime supply of firewood, which given me wonderful pieces of wood for arts and crafts. Thanks for the informative hub! I also like to go to the dollar store and buy cheap frames to woodburn patterns around.