Waste not…

Here in the shop, I don’t generate a lot of waste.  I make small things as well as large, so those offcuts that linger forever in most places tend to get used up for things like trays or boxes.  Though I still have my five-gallon buckets filled with little dribs and drabs of stuff that one day I’m sure I’ll use…one day.

But there’s a lot more that goes on other than saving little pieces of good lumber for a box lid or something.  What about waste: the knots that get cut out of a pine board, or those weird little slices that come off a batch of spatulas?  Where do I put that?

Well, waste is all relative.  See, that stuff goes in the woodstove.  It’s not trash, it’s fuel!  So I don’t have any chunks of wood, no matter how fractious, going into the landfill.  The only exceptions I’ve run into so far are pressure-treated wood, and “engineered lumber” (plywood).  Those have to be binned.  The treated stuff isn’t as bad as it used to be, when they used arsenic, but it’s not something I want to burn.  And since the ashes go out in the garden, I don’t want the chemical residues going in my food, thank you very much.  Same goes for the glues in plywood.  But since I don’t really use any of that stuff, I don’t worry about it too much.

So that takes care of the chunks.  But what about the shavings and sawdust?


Well that gets swept up at the end of the day (or maybe every three…or four), and taken down my backyard to the ACUs (Autonomic Composting Unit).


They get their bedding constantly refreshed so it doesn’t stink, and I get compost for the garden.  No waste again.

The other half of this idea is the concept that a healthy working environment is important.  So dealing with ammonia (for fuming Arts and Crafts pieces) or lead paint is right out.  But there’s more to it than that.  What’s in the finishes that we use.  Half of the can is warnings telling you of the deleterious side effects.  Or what about Poly-Vinyl Acetate (PVA)?  Sounds yummy, right?  Well, that’s the active component in “wood glue”, like Titebond and such.

Whenever possible, I avoid such things.  The cabinet with chemicals in it in my shop is almost entirely non-toxic.  I mostly use hide glue instead of PVA.  I use food-grade finishes on treenware (spatulas and the like).  Other stuff gets mainly shellac, milk paint, or wax.  Some linseed oil now and again.  I think that people should not have to worry about the things they buy from me poisoning them.  And the person most affected by the chemicals in the various finishes?  Me.  Yup.  Hoist with my own petard and all.  This stuff is all at its most malign, volatile state while it’s being applied.  So choosing to stay with more natural, benign finishes is in my own best interest, as well as yours.

What does the waste stream in your home look like?