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6 Tips For More Sustainable Woodworking

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DIY furniture is a great way to make stuff that lasts. Be even more environmentally responsible with how you buy, use, and dispose of your materials. 

My husband, Chip, has recently taken up a new hobby: Woodworking. So far he’s made us a console table, a bedframe, a set of modular porch furniture, and a pair of wardrobes. I love how durable this new furniture of ours is compared to the IKEA stuff that it has replaced, and I especially love the idea that, unlike its predecessor, our DIY furniture will last a lifetime and maybe even find homes in my daughters’ houses. What I don’t love is the growing pile of lumber scraps in a corner of the backyard, the tools everywhere, and the half-filled cans of paint and stain taking up space in the shed after we’ve finished our latest piece.

Wanting to align Chip’s awesome new vocation with our efforts to reduce waste and live more sustainably, I did a little research for him and other woodworking enthusiasts on how to make a few changes to reduce carbon footprints. If you’ve got a woodworking connoisseur in your life, share these ideas with him or her. And if you don’t, well, IKEA actually does a decent job when it comes to sustainability efforts!

1. Pool your tools. One of Chip’s biggest laments is that he doesn’t own all the tools he needs to work on his projects. But in our small bungalow in the city, where garages and basements are rare, he wouldn’t have the space to keep them anyway. This is where a close-knit neighborhood comes in handy — he only has to post on social media or chat at our kids’ Saturday-afternoon soccer game, and he has offers to borrow just about any tool he might need. I love this idea not just because we have fewer things to buy and store, but also because sharing tools and equipment makes sense from an environmental standpoint. Fewer tools being purchased means fewer resources are needed to manufacture them. One of these days I’d like to formalize it into a tool lending library for the community to use.

2. Buy sustainable lumber. It’s important to buy responsibly sourced lumber. A surefire way to know you’re doing so is to look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification logo. This logo guarantees that the wood is from responsibly managed forests. Certain types of wood are also known for being sustainability sourced. And using reclaimed or recycled wood, sourced from a local salvage shop or a building-materials reseller like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, is a great way to ensure that wood isn’t wasted.

3. Measure twice, cut once. My mom taught me this in sewing, to avoid wasting fabric, but it’s just as important in woodworking. The more careful you are in measuring and cutting your pieces, the less you’ll waste materials.

4. Have a plan for the scraps. No matter how carefully you cut, you’ll inevitably end up with miscellaneous supplies: Odd scraps of lumber and random hardware. Rather than let these pile up in your basement or yard (ahem, sweet husband!) find someone who can put them to good use. Donate to a school that might be able to use these items in their woodshop, sell them or give them away through local sites like Craigslist or Freecycle, or let your kids use them to make a fort.

5. Explore low-VOC finishes. If you’ve ever experienced a headache or nausea while painting a bedroom or staining furniture, you’ve probably inhaled volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The consequence of inhaling these chemical compounds can be as minor as an irritated throat or, with prolonged exposure, as serious as organ damage or cancer. To avoid the risk, seek out nontoxic paints and stains, such as the choices sold online by Green Building Supply.

6. Dispose of paint responsibly. I’ve mentioned before how the shed behind my house was filled with old cans of paint that the previous owners thought were illegal to trash. Properly storing paint and stain you might use again will keep it from drying out in between uses. If you don’t plan to use any more of a paint or a stain, try to donate it. As a last resort, make sure to take precautions when disposing of paint so that it won’t contaminate soil or water supplies.

Calling all woodworkers and home improvement buffs: How do you conserve materials and reduce waste when making projects? Share your ideas in the comments below. 
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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • Gordon K. 10 months ago
    Donate paint,stains,thinners,paint remover,and other solvents to your local municipality that has a graffiti abatement program. It helps the environment and saves taxpayer money.
  • Dean D. 1 year ago
    A lot to learn
  • Gina L. 2 years ago
    I have been refurnishing, recovering and makeovers of older furniture since HS. (I don't want to admit the number of years.) My mother used to donate wonderful pieces to Goodwill and other charities. I finally stopped that process. When I was younger I did not realize the effects of paint/varnish stripper. Now I do it with organic materials. The best part is that I love antiques and those who appreciate them too.
  • Diane G. 2 years ago
    Small pieces of wood can be turned into beautiful Christmas ornaments, lapel pins, etc. You just need some non-toxic paint, a brush, and plenty of imagination!
  • Betty R. 2 years ago
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