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How to Decide What Scrap Wood to Keep

August 23, 2016 by Scott - Saws on Skates

Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked around your workshop and felt overwhelmed by all of the scrap wood. Both of my hands are vigorously waving in the air… ME, ME, ME! “Should I keep this piece of 1×4?” “What should I do with this tiny piece of plywood?” Today we’re going to explore the “what to keep and what to toss” issue and develop some guidelines for dealing with scrap wood in our workshops.

I sooo needed this! I never know what scrap wood to keep and what to toss. Awesome info about how to deal with scrap wood and there's even some great ideas for using scrap wood.

For your convenience this post contains affiliate links to products or tools I used to complete this project. Click here to visit my site policies.

A few weeks ago I received an email from Tony, a new blog follower. His message read in part…

“I read your 9 wood storage ideas because I let google search for ‘Deciding What Wood To Keep.’ Any suggestions on how to decide what wood to keep? Thanks for any suggestions that you might have.”

Before I get to Tony’s message I want to tell you I LOVE when you guys send me messages and leave comments on the posts! Your questions get me thinking and I love a challenge! That’s exactly what Tony’s message did. It got me thinking.

I have struggled with scrap wood ever since I started doing DIY projects. Sure, I have made lot’s of projects with scrap wood, but at some point you have to let some of it go. Constantly moving piles of scrap wood, or worse yet tripping over piles of scrap wood is not only an organization issue, but a safety issue. The quicker we can make decisions about what scrap wood to keep and what to toss, the quicker we can get back to our DIY projects! And the safer our shops will be, and as we know, safety is always number one.

I sooo needed this! I never know what scrap wood to keep and what to toss. Awesome info about how to deal with scrap wood and there's even some great ideas for using scrap wood.

Before I received Tony’s question I had unwritten guidelines for dealing with scrap wood in my shop. I’m betting you guys are dealing with the same issue as me, so I decided to put pen to paper, er, fingers to keys and type up some written guidelines for dealing with cutoffs.

These are not hard and fast rules, but more of a guideline for helping us make decisions about what to keep and what to toss. Please use your own discretion in your shop and please share any guidelines you use in your shop for dealing with scrap wood in the comments below.

What to keep

What to keep depends a lot on the types of projects you usually build. If you typically build large pieces of furniture, you probably don’t have a need for small pieces of scrap. If you’re building decor pieces, etc. you probably have a greater need for small scrap pieces. I would say for most DIYers these guidelines should work.

KEEP: Let’s keep 1x, 2x and 4x material longer than 8″.

KEEP: Let’s keep plywood or MDF larger than 12″ x 12″

Where are we going to store the scraps we keep? Check out these ideas.

SHOP TIP: Are you unsure about your decision to keep a piece? Write today’s date on the end of it. If it’s still in your shop in a year, you probably don’t need it!

What to toss

TOSS: The first thing we should toss is lumber with visible defects, so we’ll toss wood that’s warped, twisted and cracked.

TOSS: Next let’s toss 1x, 2x and 4x material shorter than 8″. Why? Cutting pieces smaller than 8″ could be dangerous. The possibility of cutting a finger is not worth the risk of saving some wood.

TOSS: Let’s toss plywood or MDF smaller than 12″ x 12″. Why? Here’s my thought, most of the time when we use plywood it’s because we need material larger than a 1×12. If we need a piece of material smaller than 12″ we can just use a piece of 1×12 or smaller piece of 1x material.

SHOP TIP: How should we deal with the cutoffs we’re tossing? I keep a cutoff bin under my miter saw and immediately toss pieces too dangerous to cut in the bin. Wood that is large enough to save is set aside until the project is complete and then the scrap is sorted and stored.

I sooo needed this! I never know what scrap wood to keep and what to toss. Awesome info about how to deal with scrap wood and there's even some great ideas for using scrap wood.

Before You Toss

Create a Spacers Box
I keep a box of shims or spacers of various thickness material… 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4″ etc. These shims or spacers help with proper spacing for my DIY projects.

I sooo needed this! I never know what scrap wood to keep and what to toss. Awesome info about how to deal with scrap wood and there's even some great ideas for using scrap wood.

For example, when I installed my garden gate, I wanted a 1/4″ gap between the gate and the fence post. I simply attached 1/4″ piece of MDF from my spacer box with painter’s tape.

garden gate

The spacer allowed me to install the gate with the exact spacing I wanted.

garden gate

I also used some of my spacers to offset the rails on this project.

I sooo needed this! I never know what scrap wood to keep and what to toss. Awesome info about how to deal with scrap wood and there's even some great ideas for using scrap wood. 3

Do you have a spacers box? If not, create one before tossing your scraps.

Scrap Wood for Cauls
I also keep some scrap wood on hand for use as clamping cauls. Have you ever had the impression of a clamp left on your project after clamping? Cauls protect the wood of your project. Cauls are inserted between the clamp and your project. Clamp impressions are left on the caul, not your project. Here I used cauls to protect the edges of the wood of this project while I was assembling it.

Patio Garden Cabinet - sawsonskates.com

I like to keep longer pieces of scrap for use as cauls and I keep them in the corner of my shop. It’s not the best way to store them, but it works for me. If you don’t have any, start saving some scrap wood for clamping cauls and save the finish of your project.

I sooo needed this! I never know what scrap wood to keep and what to toss. Awesome info about how to deal with scrap wood and there's even some great ideas for using scrap wood.

Burning Question
One last thing before you toss the wood in the trash… can you burn it? I keep pine, cherry and hardwoods like oak to burn in my fire pit. I don’t burn scraps like pressure treated lumber, MDF and plywood because they are loaded with chemicals. Who wants to breathe in chemicals?!

Right now I have one cutoff bin under my miter saw and have to sort the wood when the bin gets full. Ideally I should have two cutoff bins. One bin for scraps to burn and one bin for cutoffs to go in the trash. Hmmm… I think I have a new project!

Scrap Wood Projects

Want some clever ways to use up some scrap? Want to make FREE projects? Then make some projects entirely using scrap wood! Below are three of my favorite scrap wood projects, but check out all of my scrap wood projects here.

The first project posted on Saws on Skates was a scrap wood project… scrap wood candle holders!

Scrap Wood Candle Holders - sawsonskates.com

This tablet holder was made entirely with scrap wood and makes a great gift.

DIY Tablet Holder made with Scrap Wood - sawsonskates.com

Can you believe this dog treats fire hydrant container was made entirely with scrap wood?!

DIY Dog Treats Fire Hydrant Container - sawsonskates.com

These thoughts about dealing with scrap wood are only meant to be used as guidelines. I would never tell you to go through you shop and throw out scraps you know you will use. But I hope these guidelines will help you make decisions about scrap wood, keep your shop organized and safe.

How do you deal with scrap wood in your shop? How do you store your scrap wood? I’d love to hear you thoughts. Please share your ideas in the comments.



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I sooo needed this! I never know what scrap wood to keep and what to toss. Awesome info about how to deal with scrap wood and there's even some great ideas for using scrap wood.


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6 thoughts on “How to Decide What Scrap Wood to Keep

  1. Sid Evans says:

    Great information. I am just starting to set up my shop and this will be very helpful

    • Scott - Saws on Skates says:

      Thank you for stopping by and I’m glad you found the info useful. Good luck setting up your shop!

  2. Mark Carter says:

    Hi my name is Mark and I am a wood hoarder. Lol I enjoyed your tutorial , I’m a hybrid wood worker my projects range from 7 foot porch swings to rocking chairs all the way to small stuff less than 3 inches and lictenburg figured art ( where most of my “defective” scrap is used). It is hard to throw away a piece because hey I can make this into a trellis slat 1/4 x 3×4 x 6 ft. But one day my kids will call some new tv show like “Wood Hoarders Buried Alive” and they will come and hold me down and clean my shop and throw away all my “carefully” stacked scraps!
    But hey on the bright side then I will have room in my shop to start a new wood collection.

    • Scott - Saws on Skates says:

      Hi Mark! I think they say “admission is the first step to recovery”, so you’re on your way to being a recovering wood hoarder! Being a wood hoarder myself, I know it’s REALLY difficult to throw away scraps. I think a little wood hoarding is OK, as long as we keep it in check 🙂 Thank you for stopping by and good luck with your wood hoarding!

  3. Great article. I already have the bin under my mitre saw and I can usually sort and find spacers when I need but the idea of deliberately having a collection of them is brilliant. I have a drawer where I keep both narrow and wide cedar shims and I could easily add it to those or have a separate one. And clamping cauls – I usually just go to my scrap bin for that. I do separate burnable and non-burnable scraps immediately – nonburnables go to the dump.

    My biggest problem is I seem to accumulate usable scraps faster than I can build storage for them;I think I need a rule that says “enough is enough” if available storage is full – make something!

    • Scott - Saws on Skates says:

      Thank you for stopping by! Scrap wood sure does accumulate quickly! I just finished up a project and I have a mountain of scraps leftover. This weekend’s chore is going to be picking up the shop, sorting and storing scraps. Thanks again for stopping by and good luck with your scraps!

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