What’s My Worth—Part I

I received four books for review this week. They got bogged down in the post and should have arrived 6 weeks ago. Glancing at the covers of a couple I can see the content will not be for fine furniture as such but more, alternative pieces using wood that’s basically secondhand be that shaped, square, painted, varnish or unfinished. Often the work is not even fine work necessarily, more the creative considerations of inventive people transforming something thrown, chunked and discarded or set aside until good use could be found for them. We have all seen renewed interest in alternative-use items upcycled into unusual accent pieces and often furniture. It’s not a new concept in any way. It’s just come around again though many do think that they invented it. In the 60s and on through to today recyclers,  upcyclers, restorers  have all actively put their mark on the discarded in very unique ways in an effort to repurpose what would otherwise be considered by most as being of little or no real value. Giving this type of work a proper name, though mocked by some, has somehow validated the once rejected  and indeed changed the way people perceive value. Scaffold planks and pallets are the most basic of basic forms of repurposing the discarded, but even that’s not always the case. One national chain store selling DIY and construction materials recently had brand new pallets for sale at £15 a pop.—not repurposed—unused purpose made and created for the DIY market. Not true at all to the spirit of recycling and so too I have seen scaffold planks with steel hoop iron in place on the ends brought in to fill the gap in supplies.

I have known two of the authors of the two of the books personally and spent time with them. I have also spoken to them on long distance telephone conversations too. Yoav is a die-hard ‘skip-hopper’ (dumpster-hopper equivalent USA) doing his bit to make sure nothing gets wasted and he is highly creative not just in woodworking and designing but writing and teaching too. I am reading the book but just raiding the pictures make you want to get out there and join him. His ambitious projects always bear fruit in the form of quality workmanship too. The different chapters walk you through concepts you might never have thought of and indeed his insights provide a plethora of unique opportunities for anyone with upcycling and saving wood, trees and valuable land from pollution, being polluted or polluting. If you are at all interested in this sphere of woodworking and furniture making I think you would enjoy owning the book Working Reclaimed Wood By Yoav Lieberman; A Guide for Woodworkers, Makers and Designers.

For the main part, and I think the authors would at least generally agree, the offerings in their book would  not necessarily be considered fine furniture (though some pieces displayed obviously are) so much as finding purpose for what might otherwise be unusable. On the other hand it is also an alternative to the status quo of both woodworking and furniture making as well as design. The message being conveyed in the books is quite clear. There’s an alternative to fine that does not mean discomfort or squalor. There is an alternative to mindless throwaway to counter our consumerist values. It’s more about repurposing our value system and how we measure and quantify what we make, use and sell too. My view is simple enough. Some people see a vegetable colander and say lampshade, others see only cauliflower and cabbage. Added to that as always is countering of waste and the burying of it. Out of sight out of mind for one generation means those born two generations later say what’s that nasty smell or better not build there. The small book stack made me think on another situation that occurred this week also. Two questioners wanted me share more about turning their woodworking into a business and then pricing the work. I will give my view on this in What’s My Worth-Part II.


  1. I look forward to hearing your perspective, advise, life experience, opinion (whichever applies) in Part 2.


  2. I inherited a piece of furniture that was way too big for my house and to be honest not too attractive. I was agonizing over what to do with it when a woodworker (fine) suggested I knock it down and re-use it. He pointed out that we are spoiled by the easy available wood, and suggested that our forefathers had to recycle/upcycle because there was no alternative.

    Just a thought as climate change creeps steadily along and trees are disappearing.

    As always thanks for the good thoughts and the feelings they bring and thanks for graciously looking after your kindred spirits and their offspring.

  3. The idiom used in the United States is “dumpster diver.” Sorry, please don’t take me as tiresome or pedantic. Paul, you have a real talent for using the right word in the right phrase, just as you apply the right tool to shape the wood into what you want. Just a gentle nudge, with admiration for your output in words and created furniture.

    1. woe be the American that try’s to decipher British slang. After living there for a while I decided they just made up some words to trip me up. Here’s my “test sentence albeit from 2000”. The project was going along tickety-boo, but then it went pear shape and now we’re pants, but it’s horses for courses.

      You’ve got to just love it.

      1. Just wait until you get load of true Australian strine and you will be making a mess like a mad dogs breakfast of it flat out like a lizard drinking trying to understand it and gawd knows what else because half of the Australian population doesn’t understand it either….and then you have Oz rhyming slang.

      2. My Translation/explanation
        for those not familiar with British slang:
        Everything going well or is well.
        “Pear Shape”
        Things not going well, diverges uncontrollably from plan.
        Less than desirable,
        (American) crap.
        “Horses for Courses”
        The right person or right skills required for a successful outcome.

  4. I’m a great fan of this timber re-purposing, and have picked plenty of good timber off the side of the road. My workbench end shelves are made from the slats of a broken single bed I found on a council pickup day (sadly council puts all the items into a crusher-type lorry ie they don’t attempt re-use).

    An extension of that I have recently discovered is buying old solid wood furniture on ebay. I picked up a hardwood console table for my hallway for 30 aussie dollars, a few marks to the top which I will plane off meant I paid a fraction of what the timber would cost. Had it been in worse condition than expected it would have become a garage side table or wood for my next project.

    I see huge solid pine bookcases for peanuts as people decide they want a different style. I reckon these are great workshop storage or a supply of wide pine boards, again for less than the cost of the raw materials.

    1. Yes, my workshop is full of old bed side tables, pine shelves etc, (some look like they were school woodworking projects thrown out years later after the kid had grown up) well used but they all work well and cost me between AU $2-$4. Heaps of storage. Compare that to a metal cabinet I bought brand new for $300 to hold my spray cans, it’s the most expensive item. The rest is either made by me or an old piece converted, including all my machines. My table saw was made in Melbourne probably over 60 years ago and has a small planer side attachment. Restored and used almost daily. I love it! Most modern stuff is rubbish. There’s no comparison to old stuff.

  5. I would rather use repurposed old lumber (pallets etc.) than the particle board currently in use for cabinets and furniture. Big Box stores are also selling “distressed” cheap wood to look like oak or maple pallet wood – go figure, isn’t the original pallet wood better than the poplar reproduction?

  6. Upcycling certainly gets my vote! Wood used in old furniture is often of surprisingly good quality – especially when compared with new timber available from most merchants. It is also likely it was fully seasoned before ever getting near a wood worker and the finished item probably spent several decades in the comfort of a centrally heated home. By the time us skip scavengers/dumpster divers get our hands on the wood, it is as seasoned and dimensionally stable as it is ever going to get.

    I have found mahogany and beech planks in skips (though, what I saw in my mind’s eye were things like posh marking gauges). Pallet timber is not always the easiest to work with but can be turned into decent objects or used to produce prototypes before taking the tools to expensive timber. Old wooden wine boxes are currently adding to the ‘ambience’ of my workshop. A plough plane now lives in an upcycled box of Saint Emillion Premier Cruz with the poker-work labelling proudly displayed on the outside. The assorted cutters and parts are now less likely to go AWOL and some dovetail practice was acquired while making the box.

    Care is needed to avoid woodwormy timber and all metal fixtures (nails, screws etc) must be found and removed to avoid wrecking the edge of cutting tools. Other than that, scavenged wood is far and away the best value-for-money timber available and, in the area where I live, there are always a few skips outside of houses being modernised – and thus a plentiful supply.

    I was amazed to read about a store selling new pallets for the DIY market at £15:00 each. I wonder what planet the buyers are from when so many freebee pallets are easily available!

    Upcycling – a game where everyone wins!

  7. I’ve recycled some old sheet metal pallets into a workbench and have enough left for an outfeed table. Some of my hand tools are old used but still good and I just bought an old(30 or so years) 41/8 inch jointer, it works but the fence needs some TLC or replacement. Old is not bad. I wish we had recycled wood stores here.

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