Woodworking Waste

What do you do with your waste pieces of wood?

I’m not talking about obvious keepers. To me, achieving the rank of “keeper” (and thus, be returned to long-term storage for a future project), an offcut piece of lumber must be greater than 12" in length, 3-1/2" or greater in width, and must retain parallel edges. These guidelines are loosened for some species (I’m likely to keep quite small pieces of tiger maple or cherry, for example). I don’t use a ruler to establish these measurements, mind you, but this is the ballpark for pass/fail. Maybe you have similar standards in your shop.

But what about the lesser bits, those little offcuts, the odd, tapered pieces that often find their way to the floor after a long rip cut? Where do they end up?

Back when I worked at the boat shop, I would bring home boxes of smallish offcuts, pieces not valuable for cleats or fiddles or knobs. Teak, mahogany, holly – fancy stuff. I had in mind some grand future use. But mostly, these boxes lived in the shed and became homes for mice. When we moved to our current home (with two woodstoves), I dragged these along and used them primarily as kindling. What is the saying about firewood heating you twice? Offcuts do even better – every time you lug those boxes around to get them out of the way (again) you get warmed up. And that embarrassed flush you get when explaining the value of a vat of mousey inch-long mahogany to another woodworker is particularly effective on a chilly day.

I do still keep offcuts in a box. I’ve given my kids carte blanche with the contents, and I often find them whittling, carving, or nailing those tapered staves into some masterpiece. But that box also feeds the basement woodstove. When I’m working down there, I usually throw shavings, dirty paper towels (it’s a great way to discard oily rags safely!), cardboard packaging, bark, and anything else deemed flammable and otherwise useless into the old Jøtul. It keeps the clutter from building up in the shop, minimizes stuff thrown in the trash, and warms my little bottle of hide glue. And that piece of pine board is just right to knock off the chill on a winter’s evening.



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