Castoffs tell a story

I’m sure that even though I stand out as an outgoing, somewhat goofy columnist, I’m a pretty typical hobby woodworker. I’ve got a pretty typical shop in a pretty typical home in a pretty typical town. I also have those typical problems finding time to get into my shop to do some woodworking.My scrap bucket

Since my shop is so darned typical, I’m sure each of you probably has similar tools, lighting and workspaces.

And, I’ll even bet you have a pile of scraps somewhere near where you do your cutting.

I’m not talking about pieces of wood that still have lots of useful life in them. Those usable, figured or otherwise special looking leftovers find their way to a shelf where I hoard them for future projects. I’m talking about those off cuts that serve no more purpose in the shop. I keep those scraps in two five-gallon buckets hidden between my band saw and rolling clamp rack. It’s just a short toss from the table saw or the work bench.

I’ll collect the pieces there until either a year is up, the pile grows just too big or my wife comes in from the garage after trying to locate a lost soccer ball and informs me it’s just time to clean up. That’s when I find a very creative way to get rid of the evidence: I give it away for people to burn in their fireplaces.

Sure. Laugh it up. Unlike folks up north who shiver their kiesters off all winter, I live in sunny, warm Florida, where there’s really no need for that kind of heating.

And, yes, in some Florida homes, people actually do have working fireplaces. I’ve even been to people’s homes that have the fireplace and the air conditioner running at the same time, just for the ‘atmosphere’.

There are about four homes on my block so equipped, and, rather that just throw this stuff into the trash, I divvy up the loot accordingly. After I scrounge up a few boxes from the local liquor store, I start loading them up with the scraps.

As I go through the bucket, it stops being a clean up exercise and becomes more of a walk down memory lane. What I accomplished this past year can be read in the little chunks, slivers and other splinters I pull out of the bins.

The ragged ends of glued-up panels that I squared up on the table saw. Curved sections I cut from an arched top rail on a door. Sample joints that helped me to find better ways to cut and assemble. Those pieces create an interesting mix of colors as I pull out pine, cherry, maple, oak and lots of exotics. The deeper I dig into the buckets, the older the project scraps are. I find myself thinking about a project I built last winter to have ready in time for the birth of a friend’s grandson. The entertainment center that my wife, sons and I snuggle in front of when we’re watching a family movie. The baptism gift I built for my new nephew.

I’ve noticed that the off cuts tend to get smaller as the year goes on. Maybe it’s because I’m getting better with my joinery. Maybe it’s because I’m getting better with my material estimation and material use. Or, maybe it’s because the woods I’m now buying are much more expensive and I can afford a lot less… Who knows?

After all of this reminiscing, I’m surprised to see just how quickly the job has gone. Each box is filled with memories of my year in the shop. The frustrations. The triumphs. The successes and the failures.All that I am left with are two clean, empty plastic buckets that are ready to serve another year. They get pushed back into the corner, ready to help me tell another story next fall. I’ll load the boxes into my kids’ wagon and head off to the neighbors’ homes. And, each of them is very happy to get their annual supply of kiln dried hardwood firewood from their generous neighbor.

I wonder if any of them really appreciates just how much work goes into creating their kindling?

3 thoughts on “Castoffs tell a story”

  1. Great article. As a fellow “typical” hobby woodworker, I found myself nodding and thinking, “yep, that sounds familiar”. I look forward to reading more of your stuff in the future.

    Plano, Tx
    (formerly Jax, Fla.)

    PS, we had a fireplace in our Florida home and felt obligated to use it several times a year. For atmosphere, of course.

  2. We have camping trailer seasonally (we never move it) located at a nearby campground. Some of our camping friends are Carpenters. On weekend evenings we take turns hosting a campfire of usually 15 to 20 people. When the Carpenters host a fire. You will usually see lots of 2×4 cutoffs deck boards and just plain old construction waste at their fire. Those Carpenters see it as disposal or cheap firewood.

    When I host a fire, I get teased when I pull my paper bag of delicate little cutoffs closer to the fire …har…! har…! har…! What ya making this week… a picture frame, har…! har…! har…! Hell, half the time these goofs can’t even tell what kind of wood I’m throwing in the fire (har… har…har… boys, suck it up (pay backs…) )

    As stories and beer pass around the campfire. I can’t help but to see my little cutoffs at the bottom of the fire-pit, as if looking back at me, saying “help me!…help me!” I then slump back into my camp chair watching a little part of my woodworking spirit burning away. Yes those little scraps do have meaning…don’t they!

    (sniff, sniff)


  3. Tom I’m with you on the cutoffs, mine are getting smaller as well. I will hang on to them for awhile and try to think of a future project that might require such and animal! Ok ok so maybe not an animal but if you saw my load of scrap you would flip….

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