Making Scrap Wood Projects from Pallets, Reclaimed Wood and Salvaged Lumber
Easy to find and often free for the asking, pallets a good source of raw material for scrap wood projects
Make New Projects from Pallets and Reclaimed Materials
As the cost of lumber continues to rise, reusing reclaimed and salvaged wood is suitable for many types of woodworking projects. I've used bits and pieces of found wood and salvaged lumber to make a variety of different projects ranging from birdhouses to planting boxes and compost bins, jewelry boxes to shelves and cabinets, cutting boards to carvings and wooden toys.
Once I started looking and asking around, finding sources and places to look for old wood was relatively easy. However, converting an old board into usable lumber can take some time and effort. Pieces of salvaged wood often needs to be cleaned of dirt and grime, the rusty nails and stripped out screws must be removed, and any split or damaged sections of wood gets cut away. Though used wood and salvaged lumber isn't suitable for every project, using reclaimed lumber is a great way to stretch your woodworking budget, keeps good wood from heading to the landfill, and the character of aged wood makes for interesting DIY and scrap wood projects. And there is a real sense of satisfaction from giving new life to an old piece of wood.
Check the Job Site
I'm always on the lookout for home remodeling projects, building renovations and new construction sites as potential places to look for old lumber and salvaging pieces of scrap wood. The demolition work needed to make way for additions and renovations can generate a lot of wood waste, and some of that waste can be salvaged and reclaimed as usable lumber. When asked politely, many residential contractors will allow you to search through their dumpster or scrap pile for reusable treasures.
After getting permission, I look for discarded exterior trim boards made of cedar or pine that can be rescued and reused to make scrap wood projects such as window boxes and birdhouses. In renovation debris from older homes, I've rescued old oak and walnut boards along with interesting pieces of interior trim and lengths of wide pine boards. New construction sites typically don't generate as much scrap as remodeling jobs, but high-end homes can offer usable scraps of desirable woods such as oak, cherry, maple and other woods.
Remember, always ask permission before searching through any job site for scrap wood.
Reusing Old Furniture
Old furniture and bookcases that's destined for the landfill can often be broken down and salvaged. An old toy box that was tossed to the curb gave up wide panels of beautiful hard maple. A discarded bookcase provided enough material to make a planter box plus enough smaller pieces to build a few birdhouses. Several nice slats of teak and ash from a damaged plant stand were recycled into new cutting boards. A pair of old raised panel doors, taken off the hinges and left in an old barn, yielded some nice pieces of dense pine that became a pair of side tables.
And save those old wooden closet shelves. A Honey-Do project to upgrade our closet shelving into a new modular system provided several wide pine boards.
Before carrying off a big piece of old furniture to re-purpose into the next scrap wood project, check to make sure it is made of wood that is worthy of the time and effort to take apart and salvage. Hardwood and softwood planks are desirable and reusable, but don't waste time with furniture made from cheap veneer or damaged particleboard.
From Flea Markets to the Landfill
Flea markets and tag sales are another source for old furniture as well as reclaimed lumber and barn wood. I've also found a few good buys on Craig's List.
Seats from an old wooden rowboat produced another source for scrap wood projects. The homemade boat was left to rot in the weeds, and the current owner was happy to have it hauled away. The original builder splurged to make the seats and transom from mahogany, and the aged patina on the sun-bleached wood was the perfect material to recycle into a small bench for our deck. The leftover pieces were incorporated into a couple of more birdhouses.
Don't overlook the town's recycling center and transfer station. Increasingly, municipal recycling centers are separating construction debris, primarily to reclaim metals and plastics. Some locations have designated ares where folks can leave their old furniture and other useable items so it can reused rather than tossed into landfill.
Most of the scrap wood waste gets chipped and hauled off to the incinerator or trucked to the landfill. Salvaged lumber finds at the town transfer station or local recycling center have ranged from old wood furniture to solid panel doors, from oak flooring and old stair treads to cherry cabinets and cedar fence boards -- great raw material for more scrap wood projects (including more birdhouses!).
This Old Pallet
The ubiquitous pallet is a good source of materials that is often suitable for making into a DIY scrap wood projects, but be selective when choosing a pallet to salvage. Wooden pallets are filled with nails that are difficult to remove and it often takes a considerable amount of effort to disassemble a pallet. Don't waste your time with stained, painted, dirty or broken pieces.
Look for pallets from companies that import shipments from other countries - pallets are made from local lumber, and wood that is common in one country can be desirable in another. Salvaged hardwood from a pallet shipped in from overseas can yield some nice pieces of free lumber for DIY scrap wood projects. Some imported pallets are made from hardwoods that defy classification, and can make for interesting woodworking projects. An imported pallet found behind a local business was actually made with mahogany slats. There was enough wood to make several scrap wood projects including a couple of butterfly houses for the garden, plus a couple of thicker pieces of mahogany from the cross-members that were perfect for wood carvings.
DIY Scrap Wood Project: Adirondack Pallet Chair
Tips for Using Salvaged Wood
* Do not use salvaged wood that shows any signs of damage from termites or powder post beetles. You do not want to risk bringing these critters into your shop or home.
* Inspect reclaimed wood carefully for any foreign objects, and use a metal detector to find all of the nails and screws which can damage cutting edges and cause injuries.
* Thoroughly clean pieces of salvaged wood with a paint scraper or a stiff bristle brush to remove any dirt or loose paint.
* Warning! E. coli and other bacteria as well as chemical residue can remain on shipping pallets. Be very careful and selective when using pallets for salvaged wood projects.
Turning Scrap Wood into Reclaimed Lumber
Clean off the salvaged wood with a stiff bristle brush to remove any dirt or loose paint before bringing it indoors, and let lumber dry in the shop or garage for several days to remove any moisture. Most salvaged lumber has already lost its original moisture, but the wood may be damp from exposure to rain or snow.
Inspect the wood carefully for nails, screws or any other foreign objects that can damage cutting edges and cause injuries. A metal detector is very useful for finding and removing bits of steel and iron. Mark the useable sections of lumber, and cut away split or damaged sections.
Have You Salvaged Old Lumber for DIY Scrap Wood Projects?
Have You Salvaged Old Lumber for DIY Scrap Wood Projects?
Tips and Tricks for Pulling Apart Pallets
Build this Nesting Box from Salvaged Wood
This attractive birdhouse - or more accurately, this nesting shelf - is a DIY Scrap Wood Project made from pieces of salvaged wood. The ends and bottom pieces of the birdhouse were cut from a cedar corner board removed during a remodeling job, and I salvaged the milled side pieces from the railings of cedar play set. A few slats from an old pallet provide the roof pieces and door trim, and the metal stars tacked to each of the ends are re-purposed Christmas ornaments.
Resembling an old barn or rustic farm stable, the aged wood has a nice weathered patina from years spent outdoors. The shelf nesting box designed to attract robins. In the winter, small birds will take refuge in the birdhouse from snow and chilling winds.
Building a birdhouse requires only basic woodworking skills and hand tools, and using salvaged wood keeps useable lumber out of the landfill. And because I salvaged all of the wood for this Scrap wood project, the cost of the lumber is $0.
The size of the nest box is not critical, and can change to accommodate the pieces of salvaged wood in your lumber bin. Likewise, the design adapts easily into a platform style birdfeeder to attract cardinals and mourning doves, or into a birdhouse for cavity nesting birds such as wrens and chickadees.
Cut the reclaimed wood into the following dimensions:
Nest Box Dimensions:
Ends: 4-½" W x 9-¾" L (Qty of 2 needed)
Sides: 14" L x 3-¾" W (Qty of 4 needed)
Bottom: 12-¼" L x 4-½" W
Roof Sections: 15-¼" L x 3-¼" W x 3/8" Thick
Mark and cut the end pieces to form the 45-degree gables for the roof. Rip one edge of the side pieces to match the 45-degree slope of the roofline. Position the sides together with the end pieces. The exact height of the end pieces is determined by the combined width of the side pieces. In this case, after milling the 45-degree bevel, the sides are 7-½" high.
Assemble the Nest Box
With weatherproof nails or screws, attach the sides to the end pieces, taking care to line up the beveled edges at the top as well as the bottom edges.
Measure and mark out the opening for the nesting shelf, then use a jigsaw to cut out the opening. Use s rasp, file or sandpaper to round over the edges and smooth out the curved top of the opening.
Cut off the tips of the corners on the bottom piece to allow the birdhouse to drain. Press the bottom piece into place inside of the end and side pieces, and then secure it with nails or screws.
Lay out the first layer of roof slats, starting at the peak of the roofline and then working down towards the side. The roof slats should overhang the side by about a 1-½" but the exact size is not critical. It is more important that the roofline and overhang fits the birdhouse and looks good to you. Depending on the width of the slats, it may be necessary to cut the width of a slat to fit properly. Nail the slats into place.
Repeat the lay out of the slats on the second side, overlapping the edge of the top slat on the first side as shown in the diagram.
Lay out the second layer of roofing slats, using care to overlap any joints on the lower level. Rip the roof slats to the proper width to accommodate the overlap, and to keep both sides of the roof even.
Cut the door trim from sections of leftover roof slats. The uprights are cut long enough to raise the cross member above the curved opening, forming the recessed doorway detail. Nail the trim pieces in place.
For a little extra country charm, tack a couple of metal stars or similar found objects to the ends. In this case, I left the painted white board exposed, and added a blue and a red star to each end for a patriotic theme.
Building Rustic Birdhouses
An old horseshoe, bits of rusted barbed wire and slats from a discarded pallet gives a rustic style to the basic birdhouse design. A little leftover paints and stains along with a few re-purposed bits and a bit of creativity adds whimsy and interest, creating a unique rustic cottage birdhouse.
These birdhouses are fully functional, and made to fit the bird's requirements. Only the exterior is stained and painted, leaving the natural wood on the interior of the nest box for the safety of the baby birds.
DIY Scrap Wood Project: Build a Butterfly House
A Butterfly House Made from an Old Pallet
This butterfly house is made from pieces of mahogany that I salvaged from an old pallet, and then left to weather naturally to a warm silvery gray color.
Making garden butterfly houses is an easy weekend DIY scrap wood project that requires just a few pieces of salvaged wood and some common hand tools. Butterfly houses are great projects for making from reclaimed lumber or scrap wood, then painted in bright colors.
While entomologists and biologists question whether or not butterflies will actually use butterfly boxes to take shelter from the storm, every gardener will agree that butterfly boxes look great in the garden. Make two butterfly houses, and give one as gift to a gardening friend.
Butterfly House Woodworking Plans
Another DIY Scrap Wood Project: Hanging Birdhouse
This little wooden birdhouse is attractive and easy DIY Scrap Wood Project.
Building this hanging wooden birdhouse requires only basic woodworking skills and hand tools, and re-using old wood helps to reduce the expense and keeps useable lumber out of the landfill.
An exterior cedar trim board rescued from a remodeling job provided enough material to make several small birdhouses.
The roofing and entrance hole guard was cut from the hardwood slats of a discarded shipping pallet.
To build this little birdhouse, start by cleaning off the old wood with a stiff bristle brush to remove any dirt or loose paint, and let it dry indoors for several days before beginning the wooden birdhouse project. Most re-used wood has already lost its original moisture, but may be damp from exposure to rain or snow.
Inspect the wood for nails, screws or any other foreign objects which can damage cutting edges and cause injuries. A metal detector is very useful for finding and removing bits of steel and iron. Mark the useable sections of lumber, and cut away split or damaged sections.
Cut the wood stock into the following dimensions. The cedar board used to build this birdhouse was 1" thick (known as a 5/4 thickness). If using ¾" thick stock, increase the width of the side pieces to 4-¾" wide.
Front: 5-½" L x 5-½" W
Back: 5-½" L x 5-½" W
Sides: 4-½" W x 5-½" L (Qty of 4 needed)
Roof Sections: 8-½" L x 3/8" Thick (widths vary from 1-½" to 4" W and cut to fit)
Entrance guard: 3" L x 3" W (1-½" diameter entrance hole)
Position the sides together to form a square as shown in the diagram. Nail or screws the side pieces together.
Center and drill a 1-½" hole through the front section and the entrance guard. Position the front section in place, and attach to the sides with nails or screws. Attach the entrance guard on a bias to form a diamond shape. Then attach the back section of the wooden birdhouse.
Lay out the first layer of roof slats, starting at the peak of the birdhouse roof and then working down towards the side. The roof slats should overhang the side by about ½". Depending on the width of the slats, it may be necessary to cut the width of a slat to fit properly. Nail the slats into place.
Repeat the lay out of the slats on the second side, overlapping the edge of the top slat on the first side as shown in the birdhouse diagram.
Lay out the second layer of roofing slats, using care to overlap any joints on the lower level. Repeat with the third layer, again using care to overlap and joints in the layer below.
Hang the finished wooden birdhouse using two galvanized eye bolts, screwed into the roof peak approximately 1-¾" from each end. Use a short section of reclaimed and stripped copper electrical wire to hang the birdhouse from a tree or pole.
Scrap Wood Projects: Making Handcrafted Wooden Toys
DIY Scrap Wood Project: Make A Wooden Toy Bulldozer
This little bulldozer is made from several pieces of different hardwoods leftover from other projects that I found in my scrap bin. The base section is made of oak, the radiator is a piece of cherry, and the seat and the trunk lid were cut from a thin piece of teak. The dozer blade was shaped from a scrap of mahogany, and the dozer blade arms are thin strips of oak.
I prefer using hardwoods like oak, cherry and walnut for making wooden toys over the softer woods like pine because the toys hold up better under use, the hardwood grain looks good when finished with oil, and hardwoods are less likely to splinter -- an important consideration when making wooden toys for young children.
The special feature of this wooden toy bulldozer is the back & forth action of the Dozer Blade that results from pinning the Dozer Blade Arms to the rear wheels. As the bulldozer is pushed along and the wheels turn, the pinned arms are pushed forward and then pulled back by the rotating wheels.
For step-by-step instructions to build this little wood bulldozer, please visit
Making Handcrafted Wooden Toys: The Bulldozer
Wooden Toy Bulldozer Plans
Got Old Brick?
Use Recycled Brick to Make a Garden Plant Stand
Create a focal point in your garden by elevating a favorite plant or container above the rest. This plant stand is made of recycled bricks, takes just a few minutes to build and cost less than $7.
I was happy with my new herb garden. My plan called for a round planter in the center of a square planting bed, surrounded by a pathway made of recycled bricks from an old patio. But the concrete planter looked lost in the midst of the lavender, basil and other herbs. After a little thought, I used some left over bricks to build a small pillar. Then I added a large paver for the cap stone, and the resulting raised planter looked great. Here's how I made the brick column:
Start with clearing out a flat section of ground. Add a little sand or pea gravel to create the base, and then tamp it down to form a firm footing for the bricks. Lay the bricks out flat, and use a level to… well, to check for level. Once the area is flat and level, lay the bricks out in a square pattern. A few light taps from a hammer will set the bricks down firmly into the sand base. Check the bricks for level in all directions. If a brick is too high in one spot, gently tap the brick down a little at a time and check again for level. If a brick is too, add a little sand underneath and tap the brick down again.
Stack 'em Up
After the first course of bricks is in place, lay the second layer on top, with the bricks over lapping the joints. Overlapping the joints makes for a stronger and more visually appealing structure. After laying the second course of bricks, check all of the way around again with the level.
Continue adding rows of brick until you reach the desired height. Because the joints are not reinforced with mortar, the number of brick layers should not exceed five or six rows high. My column is four layers tall and is quite stable.
When you reach the desired height, cap the column with a 14" cast concrete paver. I chose a light gray concrete colored paver to compliment the old red bricks and the back concrete planter. A piece of salvaged slated or a re-purposed stepping stone would also work well as a cap stone.
The pillar is elevated the planter, creating a focal point and visually finishing off the small herb garden. This project is just about as quick and easy as a garden project can be, and the results look great and will last for years. If you do not need a plant stand, the brick column will work well for a sundial, small bird bath or a favorite garden statue.
Around The Web: Resources for Salvaged Wood
- Longleaf Lumber
Longleaf Lumber is an antique and reclaimed lumber company. Their primary business is the milling of antique flooring derived from salvaged Heart Pine beams and decking. We also carry antique Chestnut, Oak, White Pine, Hickory, Maple, Spruce, Hemlock
- Duluth Lumber Company
Duluth Timber Company has supplied premium reclaimed wood to craftsmen, architects and homeowners across North America. The reclaimed timbers, lumber, flooring and other recycled woods are salvaged from warehouses and factories, trestles and tank sto
- Barnwood Naturals: Reclaimed Vintage Woods
The materials used by Barnwood Naturals are 100% reclaimed and salvaged are from barns and buildings in the Salem, Oregon area. They dismantle each structure by hand and document the history of the building. Virtually every species of wood can be sal
- Heritage Salvage
Salvaged and reclaimed old wood sourced from barns, water tanks, warehouses, buildings and structures. Sources include old beams, reclaimed flooring, barn doors and slabs of exotic hardwoods.
- Vermont Wildwoods - Forest Salvaged Butternut Wood Products
Vermont WildWoods is a specialty wide plank flooring and millwork company dealing exclusively with the salvage and manufacturing of disease killed butternut trees for the architectural design industry.
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna