Upcycled wood is a unique challenge to woodworkers daring enough to choose it for a project. Not only does it provide your finished work with unique character, but the actual process of working with it is different than working with new wood. Sourcing upcycled wood for projects takes a little bit of legwork and research and a lot of discerning attention to detail.
Where to Find Upcycled Wood
Finding upcycled wood isn’t much of a challenge with people focused on the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra of going green. Building supply stores and lumber warehouses both are easily able to supply upcycled wood, while the old standbys of salvage stores and Habitat For Humanity ReStores are stocking more used wood than ever.
Beyond the standard places, you can also find people advertising salvaged, reclaimed, scrap and otherwise upcycleable wood for sale or free in classified ads, local bulletin board postings and sites with a local focus like Craigslist.
Match Your Source to your Project
It’s not too hard to turn upcycled boards into nearly anything, but other sources of wood are trickier. If you already know what you’d like to build, go ahead and try to find a source of wood that makes the transformation easier. For example, old bookshelves can easily become headboards and deluxe habitats for pets. Pallets, once deconstructed, can become nearly anything. But if the wood you’ve found is already cut, shaped or elaborately styled, it may be harder to turn it into what you need. For example, wood that’s been shaped on a lathe wouldn’t be good for a project that requires flat lumber. One of the advantages of using upcycled wood is that you can incorporate the previous work and shape of the project into yours — some of the work is already done for you. This is only true if you match your source to your project.
Considerations When Sourcing Upcycled Wood
There are a couple notable drawbacks to using upcycled wood. The chief concern is the hardware present in previously used lumber that may pose a hazard as you work. Nails in pallet boards, for example, may be well-hidden until you go to cut into your wood. Carefully examine each piece you intend to use for defects, knots, weak spots, extant hardware and other “imperfections” that wouldn’t be present on new lumber. If you possess the skill set to work around it or cut the wood to avoid the hazard, by all means proceed to use it in your project. If not, there’s no harm in passing it over in favor of a less challenging upcycle.
The other concern comes from the safety of treated and weathered wood. Wood that’s been treated for use outdoors, for example, may contain amounts of arsenic and other compounds that make it unsuitable for use in projects for pets or children. Untreated wood that’s been used or stored outside — old, rustic fencing, for example — may harbor insect damage, mold and other hazards that make it undesirable for certain projects.
Working with Upcycled Wood
Whether you call it reusing, recycling or upcycling, working with previously used wood can be a welcome challenge that brings character and style to your next woodworking project. Source your wood carefully and examine it for any potential challenges or hazards. Try to match the character of your wood to the project you’re embarking on and remember to have fun flexing your creative muscles while sparing the environmental impact of your hobby or work.
What’s your favorite source of upcycled wood?