Bottom feeding in the woodworking world, part 1

Before I delve into this month’s story about scrap pieces and design in wood, I want to share with you some wonderful news. My save-from-the-trash regency game table found a loving studio to go to. 

As you recall, in December, I wrote about a falling-apart, yet still pretty unique, antique furniture piece that I found in the trash and was eager to give to a reader who would commit to restoring it. I received more than a handful of adoption proposals from serious woodworkers, and after sorting through them, I chose the person I believe has the best prospects of succeeding in this task. The lucky winner is a graduate of the North Bennet Street School in Boston, the country’s most prestigious institution for teaching the art of furniture making and conservation. The winner, Conrad Chanzit, told me that after graduating from the Cabinet & Furniture Making program, he decided to stay for a fifth semester and specialize in furniture conservation. Conrad also mentioned that all the senior instructors are eager to partake in this endeavor and that I will receive visual updates on the progress.

Conrad Chanzit takes home an antique game table to restore.
Conrad Chanzit before heading back to Boston with the game table.

I look forward to seeing how this conservation project unfolds. 

Three cutting boards by Yoav Liberman, made from salvaged wood in scrap bins.
I found the wood for these cutting boards in scrap bins. The tall curly maple cutoff was a real find. I turned the handles from scraps too.

Scraps and the origin of my woodworking journey

It is a well-known secret that the firewood bins in commercial woodshops hold vast potential. These bins are packed with production-line leftovers that the companies find hard to reincorporate into future projects but which are perfect for beginners or woodworkers seeking a design challenge. From the dawn of my woodworking career, and even before it, when I had just begun tinkering with wood and tools, I found these scraps fascinating and invigorating. For a start, they were free and available to experiment with. But the second reason was that I have always been game for a design-within-constraints challenge. 

Firewood bin at the old Powderhouse Woodworking
The firewood bin at the old Powderhouse Woodworking was one of the best caches of scrapwood I have been privy to.

Working under constraints

Working under constraints is one of the best ways to stimulate creativity. 

Constructive parameters are good for us since they direct us to devise a plan to harness the full potential of the materials at hand; they force us to contend with a challenge that might not arise if we had carte blanche or total freedom vis-a-vis resources. Don’t get me wrong, I do see a lot of value in giving creative individuals the freedom to work with a bounty of material and a plethora of fabrication techniques, but I also see how an excess of possibilities can debilitate the beginner’s mind, throwing the brain into a whirlpool of endless options and away from a coherent course of action.

A bin of scrap wood at a Rockwell store in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In some woodworking stores, such as this Rockwell store in Cincinnati, Ohio, you can pay by the pound for scraps of hardwood that you fish from a giant bin.

I think that a bounty of materials and tools, in the hands of the inexperienced maker, often leads to a result that is a cacophony of shapes, colors, and textures devoid of a coherent focal point, backbone, or composition.

By comparison, starting small with some scraps and a limited amount of tools is a great way to ascend into productive woodworking. Later on, and after gaining a healthy design vocabulary, we can venture out to explore a more extensive array of materials and techniques and tackle it with an informed eye and a confident hand. But here is another truth about design: No matter how competent the designer or how affluent the client, those who do this craft professionally always work under constraints of materials, production technique, time, and budget. So it makes sense to train ourselves from the start to work within limitations. 

Salvaged wood on a table saw Wooden vases by Heather Dawson


Wooden vases by Heather Dawson
Heather Dawson turned these beautiful vases out of small wood scraps (shown above).

Foraging for scraps

To get access to these small goodies, you can cultivate a relationship with a big woodworking business. Calling a company that produces hardwood cabinetry and asking if they can spare you some scrap lumber is a good idea, but paying a visit or emailing might be a better way. Lumberyards are another place to start. Even if they don’t have any distinct sale area for scraps, they might be convinced to let you buy cutoffs or other secondary wood pieces that were rejected by their professional customers. To motivate you as you’re foraging for scraps, think about that recent nature video you watched and imagine yourself as a bird of prey that descended on a carcass to munch on the leftovers that the lion left behind after taking his share. Toughening your spirit before your rendezvous with the scrap bin will make things easier.

Wood cutoffs from M.L. Condon Company Inc. in White Plains, New York
In some lumberyards, like M.L. Condon Company Inc. in White Plains, N.Y., cutoffs of various sizes are sold at a substantial discount.

My One-Knife-Stand began as a scrap of maple. It was one of my first woodworking projects, built 25 years ago to fulfill my need to pedestal my first chef knife. The design mimicked the shape of the ancient Israelite/Canaanite Horned altar found in many archeological excavations. I tried to infuse the symbolic outline of a structure used for food offerings with a stand meant for a knife that chops vegetables. The symbolic horns also prevented the knife from sliding and falling from the “altar.” 

Yoav Liberman's kinfe block, "One Knife Stand"

Elevations of typical Four-horned altars. Illustration of scrap wood

I used a table saw and a band saw to make a stand. I cut a stopped groove for the knife’s blade with the table saw, and I sculptured the horns with the band saw. Other ways to cut the knife’s groove are a router table and excavation with chisels. 

Plans for Yoav Liberman's knife block, "One Knife Stand" Plans for Yoav Liberman's knife block, "One Knife Stand" Yoav Liberman's knife block, "One Knife Stand"

My friend, master woodworker Thomas Newman, gave me these random sapele scraps. They were of the perfect topography to become a bluff of trees—a project I teach in the 6th grade. My students whittle the trees and then plant them in the sapele. 

A box of sapele scraps

Miniature trees carved out of sapele wood

Tom’s studio uses sapele to fabricate some dreamy woodworking projects. The scraps he gave me were sawn off from components that were joined together to form futuristic chandeliers and furniture pieces.  


One of Thomas Newman's tables under clamps.
One of Thomas Newman’s tables under clamps.

A table by Thomas Newman A chair by Thomas Newman

A side table by Thomas Newman.
A side table by Thomas Newman.
A futuristic chandelier by Thomas Newman
Tom’s chandelier

Next time I will show and talk about some formidable scraps given to me recently by a top-notch design studio in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

While Windows Shopping
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart