Recycle creatively

Pit-sawn elm has its historic marks. I am glad that wood like this will be developed into new projects showing the cuts recorded in one way or another .


Last week we filmed a simple video on how to make a handled cutting board. We wanted to do some more of these simpler projects because the gap between simple and our more advanced ones and the longer series can be quite large. We will always reach out to new woodworkers and of course the new generations yet to come into our craft. Over the past three years or so we have developed about 400-500 video hours for with some for youtube too. All the videos are designed to train woodworking hand skills at as many levels as we can cater to. Many of our projects, the ones that might seem complex, soon become simpler this way. When we break the work down into bite sized pieces, using techniques like we use to make cutting boards, making wooden spoons and such, we find everyone is inspired to consider using or adapting the techniques we show to either make their own version of the work or adapt aspects of it to other more demanding work.

Watch this new video and imagine making window sills and stair treads for your house, rounded edges to box lids and the front edges to shelves. If you’re a new and want a place to start with wood, this will be a great step for anyone.


Remember that inside secondhand wood the wood is almost always fully seasoned and brand new.

I think it’s true that approaching our training from a background of developing skill, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the aspirational aspects where people seem more apt to approach projects they might not have approached otherwise. The big difference in my view is using hand tools slows down the process to a more controlled level; so people feel as though they are actually in control. By that I mean that the work relies on slower, dare I say more methodical cuts through cutting-edge hand tools rather than the high-speed cuts you get using machines. This in no way means that the hand work is automatically slower as that often depends on the work type. No, it just means that we have options and so more another method of working. Much of my experience has shown me very much the opposite anyway, and that for some work my hand work can bring much greater balance to make the work more effective and efficient and, believe it or not, enjoyable.P1160253

Like most seasoned woodworkers I have turned to secondhand recycled wood before the term recycled came in. This past week I bought a full trailer load of wood from Oxford Wood Recycling. This business runs more as a social enterprise where all members, paid or volunteering, are members for the common good of the company and in some measure one another. Basically they clear surplus wood and reclaimable materials for a price, denail, resize and then sell on. The prices vary between half to two thirds less than the retail options but of course there is great diversity in the offering and where some people are looking for old beams or elm panels, others are looking for offcuts of 3/4″ ply and not high-priced half or quarter sheets. For me I am planning on making yet another workbench from recycled wood; as a guide for others to get their workbench. I bought enough wood for three benches, two saw trestles and a shelving unit for £100.

The wood is denailed when you get it but you must check incase one broke off or was buried.

I will of course keep you posted as we will be writing and filming progress.P1160292

Of course recycling doesn’t mean throwing out what we have. Our cutting board split or perhaps opened along a lamination, which often happens. In this case I split off the one part from the other, planed up my boards and created two from one.P1160366

31 thoughts on “Recycle creatively”

  1. Hi Paul,
    Glad you’ve found Oxford Wood Recycling. The people there are very friendly and helpful. That’s where I got my oak from to make my frame saw (couple of table legs).
    A while ago I bought some 100 year old pine from there which apparently had come from the roof of Oriel College in Oxford. I liked the idea re-using a bit of wood with some history behind it. I couldn’t believe the lovely pine aroma that was released from the wood as I cut into it and which had obviously been locked inside for all those years!

  2. What a wonderful place. I wish I had access to such a place. Alas, I am doomed to orange and blue.

    1. try craigslist, comes in many forms. pre-cut and dried wood all the way to green trees that have been cut down.not as convenient, but its even cheaper!

  3. Always bringing excitment where ever you go paul. Ill be looking forward to see the making of your new (old) bench. I love the way you break down the barriers and preconceptions of daily life and just do things the way everyone should be doing them. I feel myself becoming more self sustaining, self-realiant every month all thanks to you, its liberating, thanks.

  4. Oxford Wood Recycling is great. Over the years I’ve mostly picked up surprisingly good quality plywood for numerous projects, plenty of pine for home “construction” type jobs, and a little hardwood for more decorative projects.

    The downside of Paul posting this of course is that it may make it harder to find the gems, but I certainly couldn’t begrudge them the sales!

    In the hope Paul may have spotted and identified it; they often have a fairly dark brown/red (pretty close grained) hardwood in stock; that frequently takes the form of handrails (from stairs). The couple of times I’ve asked they weren’t sure what it was. They do pull out mahogany (for a higher price) so it’s not that, but they also thought it wasn’t sapele. Any ideas as to what it might be? I could post an image of some if required.

  5. Kevin Wilkinson

    A house near mine was dismantled a few years ago into it’s various wooden parts. The house was a post-and-beam/balloon frame hybrid built about 1900 or moved to the spot it was in when the Main Street Middle School was built here in Montpelier, Vermont in 1905. The house was taken apart by a recycling organization that removed the nails and sold the timbers to the public. I bought a stack and used a former pine sheathing board for the bottom of the tool tray on my Paul Sellers style bench.

  6. Recycled timber is scarce in my area, between the individuals feeding their log burners and the massive paper mill feeding it’s power station/furnace there’s not much room for the woodworker, there’s even a frenzy over this winters wind-fallen timber from woodworkers with a lot more capital to hand than I have.

    I’ve resorted to driftwood, I don’t think anyone is willing to get sand in their chainsaws so it’s just me and my bow saw out there in the driving winds. There’s enough interesting spalted timbers and burrs drying in the greenhouse and sheds to keep me busy till next winters storms although that depends how fortunate I am with the drying process.

    1. Hi Gavin ….interesting re drift wood… does salt effect wood … John

  7. why on some cutting boards do we see a tongue and groove? like in the last picture

    i personally would put some holes in the handles and a bit of rope so i could hang those up

    1. George – as far as I understand, a breadboard end is designed to stop the main board cupping. However, the main board will obviously expand and contract across the end grain; so a tongue and groove is one way of attaching the end whilst allowing that movement to occur.

    2. The bottom one is a bread board and not used for wet foods or meats and so is perfect for its purpose. Cutting boards on the other hand have no joinery or laminations where water can gain access and weaken the glue lines and cause unhygienic conditions within the board’s structure. Vegetables and meats, fish and so on need to be free from possible harbouring of bacteria. Hence no holes in the handles or corners of the boards.

    1. Start a recycling business and set the new trend. This one really works well as a social enterprise where everyone is a member and they make money to reinvest in people an employment.

      1. The problem is everyone around where I live thinks the wood is worth a fortune. I watch the classified adds a lot. When I can purchase a new 2×4 for 50 cents more at the store, it is not worth it.

        Another problem is, I am working on another business idea. Gonna do some testing at the farmers market in a couple months too see what sells around here.

  8. Hi Paul

    Will this be a new design of workbench? Or will it be mostly the same design but made of reclaimed materials?


    1. Not new. It’s a new video and book I am working on as an upgrade to include additional material i have come to rely on through the years. The post was more to let people know what i was doing.

  9. Thomas Tieffenbacher


    i first came to know your work when you posted on how to make a woodworkers bench on YouTube. The recycling of old and new is long standing in the Japanese tradition. Just heard that China is cannibalizing “Old Growth” forests in Burma. I know people make a living by sawyering and making furniture in the border towns there. I just believe there are better ways.

    Looking forward to your wabi-sabi projects!

  10. One question this raises is, how do you identify old wood? Particularly if it’s coated with something (paint, etc.) or just grubby from age.

    1. Scott all timber spicies are best and most accuratly identifyed via there end grain. Some research and a block plane should make this task easier for you, happy hunting. Peter

    2. There are many ways to identify wood. Commonly of course the surface grain gives the best information. When I bought this piece one side was clear and the other painted. The wood had a certain consistency to it that I identified immediately as poplar from my working knowledge of the species. Had the board been painted on four sides i would have looked at the end grain. In this case there were no distinctive growth rings so this then pretty much took it out of the softwood range of pine, spruce, fir and so on. Poplar is very consistent in texture and it also has some hint of colour you might not find in other woods. The wood can have subtle hints of green or indeed a deep olive colour.I have seen blues, reds and crimsons too. On this case it was very bland. Smell is a very good characteristic of many woods. Walnut, oak, cherry, pine, spruce and most other woods have their own distinctive smells. Again, only by experience in use will you be able to use this as a guide. Cleaning up the endgrain will help you to, as will surface grain too. Both can be used equally and having both give a more accurate assessment. But of course this knowledge is acquired knowledge books and even photographs alone cannot give. For me this is the excitement of woodworking. You start with zero knowledge and end up at the end of your life knowing and understanding a little more than when you began and realising that there is more in a tree than any man can ever truly understand.

      1. Thanks Paul. Could you give some hints as to what the close-grained dark brown/red hardwood I’ve spotted (at OWR) might be? Seems to be commonly used as handrails. Looks darker than the sapele you used on the tool cabinet project. The guys at OWR aren’t sure of the species.

      2. Weight can also be used as rough guide. Where a wood has been identified from its grain as being one of maybe two, it can help to eliminate one them. A book I use called “Wood, Identification & Use” by Terry Porter has some good descriptions and photographs, but also gives a typical dry weight for each wood. I used it to help identify some unknown hardwood as Hackberry that I bought from the Oxford Recycle Centre. I’d never heard of Hackberry before, apparently it’s a Canadian/American Hardwood.

  11. If the Wood could speak, what stories it would tell…. I am always on the lookout for old wood of any kind and also purchase some when I can find it.

  12. Recycling houseing timbers used to be common, in Vic, Aus’. Now I sadly see new houseing developments, preceeded by the old building being bulldozed, smashed up and skiped to the tip. So much waste. Am happy to read the term ” recycling ” in stead of the yuppy term up-cycling, via which the prices have risen.

    1. Those are still sad happenings and I have seen burn piles of thousands of board feet in flames on and off throughout my life. I agree that yuppyism can take over in a snobbyist way and I see these things permeate many aspects of craft life toda,y but often the problem is that everyone puts their own spin on words that actually describe perhaps unfortunately as a trendy awareness. For me what matters is, no matter the ethos or belief system, recycling or upcycling, people have a greater consciousness that we all dislike the idea that treasured materials can indeed be re-presented to our world rather than polluting it through burning and burying. The true heart of upcycling is looking at one discarded waste pile with eyes that see opportunity as an alternative use for the material things and so adapt what was originally an intended-use object or material for a non-dedicated use. I recycled this wood into cutting boards after it had previously been used as a building board. That’s recycling. Upcycling might mean chipping the wood to make something completely different from it. If I took the crank, cog and chain off my bike to drive my bandsaw or lathe then that would indeed be upcycling. Often we do use the two terms upcycling and recycling interchangeably because both might well fit equally.
      Anyway, I do see your point that upcycled materials are elevated and expected to be of higher by using the term and recycled has an expectancy of a lower value or price.

  13. As is the case or answer to most questions, knowlage is best attained via experence and enthusium to learn. It’s a catch 22 senerio, The best gapping soulution I have found is the internet, in perticular Pauls posts. Very grounded, and sills/techniques broken down to be easily consumed. Just a thanks to Paul and team,

  14. I was recently offered some old barn wood by my stepfather, who had picked it up for free. However, when I saw it in person, there were tiny, lice-like bugs all over it. I was concerned about bringing in an insect infestation into my shop, so I passed on the wood. Are there risks related to storing and using reclaimed lumber?

    As an aside, a North Carolina State University researcher says under some circumstances, wood cutting boards are safer from contamination than plastic. Hardwoods are better than softwoods as well, he says. More at the link:

  15. Stefan Dingenouts

    On the subject of recycling, I was wondering what you do with all your shavings?

    I’ve been bagging them up thinking I can use them to start fires in the hearth, but I’m never going to use them all and am overflowing in bags even after half a year 🙂 It feels like a waste to simply trash or even compost them. Surely there is something more useful to do with them, or maybe companies who’d be happy to use them for their products?

    1. If you have chickens they are perfect for keeping them clean because clean chickens means clean eggs. Horse boxes are kept clean that way too as long as you remember that walnut shavings will kill a horse so they must never be kept for horses. Beyond that they make good mulch for the garden. I used to put them in the chicken coop for the chickens and then every few months till inside the chicken run and put the mix straight onto my garden. If anyone tells you that they will burn the garden or the veggies I never found that. If you have a heat stove with the right burning chamber it works well for warming the house, shop and water. You just have to gear up for it.

      1. Thanks Paul! Good remark about the walnut and horses, never heard of that before!

        Yes, chicken manure would only burn veggies when it’s really fresh. If your shavings have been in there for a month it’s half composted already and the carbon in the shavings counteracts the nitrogen in the manure.

        BTW, if you still have chickens now that you’ve moved, you might find a chicken tractor interesting. It’s basically a movable (or sometimes segmented) enclosure that allows your chicken to clear an area of choice in your garden of insects and weeds, while manuring it for future planting. They do all the work for you 🙂 Google should show plenty of examples.

        I had considered building a rocket stove heater in the future for which they would be perfect indeed, but that will be a while. Unfortunately I don’t have chickens or horses myself, but I’ll have a look around for other people whom I might make happy.

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