Everywhere you look there are opportunities to get free or nearly free wood.
Let’s face it, you’ve spent many a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon roaming the vast halls of Lowe’s and Home Depot wishing you had a million dollars in the bank so you could purchase all the wood necessary to make all the great projects you plan to make when you have a little more time. I can tell you that you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s true that every once in a while you’ll luck out and find maple boards on sale for $1 a linear foot, but opportunities like that are few and far between. Finding great deals on great wood requires one thing – your willingness to work for it.
Use your head and you could find wood for all types of wood projects sitting right under your nose.
There are pallets around and wood that needs a little work to make it worthwhile. Many of us know of that industry not too far from our home that has pallets in view that they are probably going to discard. Take some time and stop in to chat with the owners or dock workers. They most likely would be willing to put the better pallets on the side for you for free, but if you want to secure a place in their hearts and minds, bring a box of donuts about once a month.
You can also find great hardwoods like oak and maple for very little money or even for free. The key to finding this great wood is being smart about it. Take an early morning ride on trash pickup day and see if your neighbors are throwing out any furniture. These days many pieces of furniture are made from particleboard which can really only be machined once, but the trim pieces are generally real wood such as red oak. Another great place to score wood is at thrift stores such as the Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity. These stores have furniture that has slight wear and tear usually for a great price. Break down the furniture and you could be sitting on a treasure chest of wood to create all those wooden toys you’ve been thinking about recently.
Here are some things to keep in mind when searching for wood to recycle into a great handmade project.
First you will need a basic salvage tool kit. Don’t worry. Any do-it-yourselfer already has all of these things. Grab a tool bag or other type of carrying case, like a canvas bag, and pack up the following: safety glasses, gloves, a pry-bar, a hammer, a battery operated circular saw, a battery operated screw gun, a small can and pliers. Bringing a helper along on your salvaging trips is always a good idea. If you see pallets in a fenced gate NEVER think that they are free for the taking. Always make sure that you have permission to take old pallets and don’t forget to get the first and last name as well as a contact phone number of the person that gives you this permission. It will make your life a lot easier if you go when your contact is not around. If you have a form of transportation that will fit the pallet as a whole, I have found that it is better to tear down the wood at home. So if you find something that looks like it can be useable take the entire piece home and work on it their.
Second, you will need a way to transport your haul. A pick-up truck or trailer is ideal, but you could manage with a minivan or small SUV. I have even had luck with my Jetta coupe. Just remember to bring blankets to protect your interior. If you’re not lucky enough to have a minivan or a Ram with an eight foot bed and you have to tear down your pallet in the field, don’t forget these few things.
· Don’t leave nails rather take them with you. Don’t be tempted to just leave them where you found your piece because the last thing you would want is for someone to get a flat tire or a nail threw the foot. Drop nails in the small can that’s in your salvage kit.
· Don’t make a mess. If you find a piece in a small area and you’re not taking everything, try to leave the scraps in the same amount of space.
Lastly, you will need the proper tools to re-work your great wood finds. I suggest: a metal detector wand, a planer, a jointer, table saw, band saw, and patience. Make sure that you don’t rush when you are getting your wood to a workable state. One missed nail will put a nice big gouge in a planer (trust me, I know). If you take your time and work smart you will be very pleased with the finished product.
These tips and tricks to find great wood for my handcrafted wooden toys and home décor have provided me with great results.
I have been able to get many board feet of oak and pine from following these steps. I have made friends with the guy who owns a business around the corner from me and I now have a limitless supply of pallets for the cost of a dozen donuts. I have been able to break down some curbside furniture and find several nice panels that were around 1/4″ thick by 12″ X 16″. Also I was able to save the tacked on detailing, like rosettes and trim, to use on my own projects. Thrift stores have also been kind to me. For a few dollars I broke down a piece of furniture that yielded about six board feet of maple hardwood which sells for about $4.50 at most home centers. There are ways that you can create beautiful works without breaking your wallet to do so, you just have to be willing to work a little for it.