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.
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:
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.