Cleaning Shop, Saving Scraps: A Photo Essay

I have been working wood for only a few years, and I remember my early frustration with woodworking literature that always seemed to include the instruction, “Use a piece of scrap to…”   I never seemed to have any “scraps” of the right kind on hand. Perhaps that’s the reason I have become something of a scrap-rat. You never know when a project will call for that one bit of wood you just threw away.

And this is AFTER organizing them.

I just cleaned out my workbench area and carried away three big boxes of scraps that had been cluttering the workspace.  I have tried several methods of organizing “shorts” and “offcuts” (which sounds much nicer than “scrap,” right?), but no organization scheme lasts long.

The problem is that I have been able to make a number of useful things out of scraps and offcuts, including the following:

Hard maple kitchen spoons. One made from a 1 1/2" wide long piece, the other made from a 3" wide short piece.

Pecan handle for an old Witherby socket chisel.

Christmas ornaments, made from various hardwoods resawn and painted.

Small marking gauge made from bits of curly maple and purpleheart.

A set of dovetail markers, a different wood for each different angle, from 5:1 to 8:1.

A pair of miniature pecan mallets for my children.

However, for every scrap I use, there are twenty that just sit there for years.

Recently I’ve had to be honest with myself: “Realistically, how likely will I be to use this piece in the next two or three years?” The answer depends on several factors, typically considered in this order:

– Condition? Anything with deep checks, significant knots, or major tear-out goes to the burn-pile. Pecan scraps are nice for grilling.

– Softwood or hardwood? Pine scraps are the first to burn. I hesitate to discard hardwoods of distinctive colors, like maple, cherry, and walnut, since I can often cut little accent pieces from them. For example, I use walnut wedges for through-tenons in light-colored wood, and I don’t need to cut up a big piece for such a small wedge.  Plainer hardwoods such as oak and pecan are good firewood.

– Obvious use? I always save select hardwood scraps that might make good blanks for spoon carving, and I like to keep softwood stickers for stacking lumber. Thinner bits of softwood are good for blocking under clamps. I save hardwood scraps that are good candidates for tool making. I also keep anything wedge-shaped, since I often need wedges of various sizes.

– Dimensions? The longer it is, the more likely I am to keep it. I usually keep hardwoods that are over a foot long, and softwoods over two feet long. Any piece that is wider than it is long gets split up for firewood.

– Similar stock available? If I already have several, similar pieces on hand, I am more likely to throw a couple out.

Regardless, nothing but treated lumber scraps and plywood go in the trash. Discarded scraps become firewood. Each November I do a big scrap-purge when packing for our annual camping trip, so my next scrap culling is ten months away. At this rate, I’ll be able to keep the campfire going for a week.

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4 Responses to Cleaning Shop, Saving Scraps: A Photo Essay

  1. Chuck Walker says:

    There is no such thing as “scrap” wood. There is “short stock”, “cutoffs”, even “firewood”. All of it deserves careful and thoughtful husbandry to see it to its proper destination!

  2. Steve Massie says:

    Steve ………… I am with you and pretty much use the same philosophy . I don’t have any “good wood” to speak of, I have a little of the pecan left and a piece of orange ostach ( sp ) I received from 2 Beast. Other than that I have a few misc. piece’s of pine from the Borg. I keep a few small piece’s of 2 X 4, 2 X 6 for my Grandson to pound a few nails or screws in when he is in the shop with me.

    I am trying not use any more plywood if I can help it, especially since I am trying to use mostly Hand Tools.

    I have a couple plastic tubs I keep my “scrapes” in and stack them by size. I can not hardly throw any wood away as for me it is not plentiful.


    • Steve S. says:

      I remember being at that point myself. I saved every last offcut, just because I never knew when I would need a bit of extra wood for some household repair or impromptu project. I hoarded any hardwood scrap I could get my hands on, and I often found myself using up the scraps faster than I could accumulate them.

      I’m only now starting to break the scrap hoarding habit.

  3. Rob says:

    I’m inspired by what you’ve made with scraps, and your analysis of what’s likely to be useful will help me sort out my own scrap problem!


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