How to Decide What Scrap Wood to Keep

Scrap wood can overtake your workshop making it feel crowded and disorganized. Here are some guidelines for deciding what cutoffs to keep and what to toss.

Scrap wood can overtake your workshop making it feel crowded and disorganized. Here are some guidelines for deciding what cutoffs to keep and what to toss.
Scrap wood. It can be overwhelming. Should we keep it? Should we throw it away? If we throw it away we know we’ll need it! What should we do?! We often become paralyzed by indecision when it comes to scrap wood. Today we’ll explore “what to keep and what to toss” and develop some guidelines for dealing with scrap wood in our workshops.

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Originally published August 23, 2016, updated September 4, 2018

The Scrap Wood Struggle

Raise your hand if you’ve ever looked around your workshop and felt overwhelmed by all of the scrap wood. This guy right here has both of his hands in the air and each hand is filled with pieces of scrap wood! Seriously though I have a love-hate relationship with scrap wood. I love to have it on hand for my DIY projects and I hate throwing it away!

And I’m not the only one struggling with scrap wood. Recently I received an email from Tony. 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 question I love it when you guys send me messages and leave comments on the posts. Your questions get me thinking and I love a challenge!


The Cramped Feeling

Throwing away scrap wood is a touchy subject for many DIYers. Why would anyone want to throw away scrap wood that could be used for another DIY project?

Related: 71 Scrap Wood Projects (Clever Ways to Reuse Old Wood)

For me purging scrap wood is not just a choice but a necessity. My workshop is just too small to keep every cutoff. Lots of scrap wood hanging around my small workshop makes it feel cramped. Almost like the walls are closing in on me.

Related: My 12×13 Small Woodshop Layout

I hate to admit this but I’m guilty of letting piles of scrap wood accumulate on my workbench, table saw, or any flat surface with some free space. This usually means I have to move the piles before I start building and that can be really frustrating!


The Disorganized Feeling

Proper organization is one of the keys to making a small workshop feel bigger. Allowing scrap wood to pile up looks disorganized. And this disorganization makes my small workshop feel crowded.

Related: 9 Clever Ways to Make Your Small Workshop Feel Bigger

I know what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself “Didn’t he just say proper organization is one of the keys to making a small workshop feel bigger? Why doesn’t he just create an area for scrap wood storage or build some cutoff storage?”

You’re absolutely right to think this and I have an area for scrap wood storage. But again, my workshop is small and I’m limited in the amount of space I can dedicate to wood storage. Having a small workshop is a constant balancing act.


A Workshop Hazard

Piles of scrap wood not only look disorganized but can be a workshop hazard. If you’re like me and guilty of hoarding piles of scrap wood you already know what’s coming next.

Constantly moving piles around means you’re guaranteed to drop those scraps on your feet or against your shins at least once. Or maybe you set the pile on the floor for “just for a minute” and a minute later you’re tripping over the pile. Piles of scrap wood are not only an organizational issue but a safety issue.


Scrap Wood Decisions

By now you’re probably thinking I’m telling you to throw away all of your scrap wood. Not true! What we need are some guidelines so when we see a piece of scrap wood we can quickly identify what to keep, what to toss, where we’ll store what we’re keeping and how we’ll use the scrap wood we decide to keep.

The quicker we can make decisions about our scrap wood, the quicker we can get back to building our DIY projects.

Before I received Tony’s question I had unwritten guidelines for dealing with scrap wood in my small workshop. In this post, I’m putting pen to paper, er, fingers to keys, and sharing my guidelines for dealing with cutoffs.


How to Decide What Scrap Wood to Keep

These are my thoughts and guidelines on dealing with scrap wood in my small workshop. Please use your own judgment when dealing with scrap wood in your workshop. Only you know what cutoffs you’ll need and what you’ll use.

Scrap Wood Guidelines

  • Keep scrap wood that you’ll use based on the projects you typically build.
  • Toss scrap wood that is warped, twisted, cracked, or full of knots.
  • Create a “spacers box” to use as shims to help with proper spacing.
  • Use scrap wood as cauls to protect projects when clamping.
  • Build practically free projects using scrap wood.

Scrap Wood to Keep

What scrap wood to keep depends on the types of projects you usually build. If you typically build large pieces of furniture, you might not have a need for small pieces of scrap. If you typically build decor pieces, etc. you probably have a greater need for small scrap pieces.

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? Skate over to these 9 DIY Ideas for Wood Storage for some storage options.

💡 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!


Scrap Wood to Toss

Toss: The first thing we should toss is lumber with visible defects, so we’ll toss wood that’s warped, twisted, cracked, or full of knots.

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 a smaller piece of 1x material.

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


Before You Toss Scrap Wood Create a Spacers Box

I keep a box of shims or spacers of various thickness material like ⅛”, ¼”, ½”, ¾”, etc. I use these as shims or spacers to help with proper spacing for my DIY furniture projects.

Use scrap wood as spacers or shims to offset workpieces for DIY projects

For example, when I installed my garden gate, I wanted a ¼” gap between the gate and the fence post. I temporarily attached a ¼” piece of MDF from my spacer box with painter’s tape. The spacer allowed me to install the gate with the exact spacing I wanted.

I also used some of my spacers to offset the rails on DIY Dog Bed and countless other places when I build my furniture projects.

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


Use Scrap Wood for Clamping Cauls

I also keep some scrap wood on hand to use as clamping cauls. Has a clamp ever dented your project while clamping? Cauls protect the wood of your project when clamping. Cauls are inserted between the clamp and your project. The clamp dents the caul, not your DIY furniture project.

Use scrap wood as clamping cauls to protect DIY projects while assembling

I like to keep longer pieces of scrap for use as cauls and I keep them in the corner of my small workshop. 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 protect your DIY projects from dents.


Can You Burn Scrap Wood?

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 burning chemicals?!

I have one cutoff bin under my miter saw stand and have to sort the wood when the bin gets full. What I would really like to have is 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

Looking for some clever ways to use up some scrap? Make some FREE scrap wood projects! Here are three of my favorite scrap wood projects and you can skate over here to check out all of my scrap wood projects.

The first-ever project posted on Saws on Skates was a scrap wood project. These candle holders were made entirely with cutoffs I had in my workshop. Skate over to more home decor projects here.

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

Can you believe this dog treats fire hydrant container was made entirely with scrap wood?! Skate over to more projects for your pet here.


Organize Your Tools

Need more help organizing your workshop? In the How to Organize Tools in a Small Workshop post, I’m sharing 5 steps to get your tools organized. We’ll compare pegboard vs. cabinets, ways to store hand and power tools and how to keep them organized once and for all.

Skate over to How to Organize Tools in a Small Workshop now or watch the quick video below!



Final Thoughts

Scrap wood can overtake your workshop making it feel crowded and disorganized. These are my thoughts and guidelines on dealing with scrap wood in my small workshop. Please use your own judgment when dealing with scrap wood in your workshop. Only you know what cutoffs you’ll need and what you’ll use. Whatever decisions you choose to make about scrap wood, please keep your workshop organized and safe.

Thank you for stopping by. If you found this information helpful, would you please pin it to Pinterest? Other DIYers would appreciate it and I would too! Thank you – Scott



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23 Comments

  1. I too, collect (pronounced ‘HOARD’) entirely too many scrap pieces of wood, and seemingly hundreds of boards from dismantled pallets.
    Something that really saves my sanity is using about a dozen empty ‘milk crates’ … those 12″ square cubes that are VERY sturdy and stackable.
    I have several on the go with wood slightly sorted, and of course cutoffs to be eventually thrown out.
    I also have one for rags, extension cords, all my sandpaper …. etc.
    Its easy to see in the sides and they pile down and restack in an instant….
    hmmmm … I think I am becoming a ‘milk crate’ hoarder …. LOL
    Tony,
    Meaford, ON

  2. While reading your article, (that my wife sent to me) (what does that mean?)
    I had an idea for using those too small pieces… Build some wooden toys. They are a great gifts and keep sakes for those grand kids and adopted grand kids. Will add that to my list of things to do. Right after I organize my wood scraps.

    1. Hi Dale – Thank you for stopping by. Building wooden toys is a great idea for using up scrap wood!

  3. Evening Scott, Thanks for your input on saving pieces of assorted lumber. I tend to save everything since I utilize practically every bit of lumber except for those items that are way to small for any project. I’ll surely will keep this site for future ideas when I have more room since my workspace is practically my driveway. Every time I want to work on a project I have to take everything that I need outside & when the evening rolls around I pack everything once again and return it into the garage. This is due to that I’m renting still.

    1. Hi Roy – Thank you for stopping by. Working outside has its advantages. Cleaning up sawdust is a lot easier because it just blows away with the wind!

  4. As I store scrap, I measure and mark the length on the end grain. It’s great knowing at a glance the exact length of each piece.

  5. Good approach but on the 1x or 2x I will keep it shorter than 8″ if it’s maple, cherry, poplar or walnut. I build toys and small pieces of hardwood are gold. Plywood and Pine you got it…now I just have to follow the rules. Thanks for sharing.

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