DIY Tips: Repurposing Green Materials & What You Might Not Want To Reuse

If you remember the last time you were around any kind of construction or demolition activity taking place, you might also recall how your imagination sparked at the treasure trove of materials that could be used to build something good for an incredibly low price.

repurposed materials shutterstock_137822369It takes little effort searching the Web to find items that have been built using materials that, had they not been gathered and used, would have been destined for a final resting place in some junkyard or landfill.

I have seen remarkable items created using scrap materials ranging from the following:

  • Old bricks
  • Shipping pallets
  • Dimensional lumber cutoffs
  • Concrete
  • Railroad ties
  • Plywood, OSB, MDF, etc.
  • Concrete wood forms
  • Etc., etc., etc.

For any designer or building scavenger, the list of potential materials can seem endless. The materials may be inexpensive, but the amount of work needed to produce something good is usually huge.

repurposed materials wooden pallet shutterstock_297453518

Tools needed for repurposing many used materials:

  • Pry bar
  • Heavy hammer
  • Rock chisel
  • Leather gloves
  • Shovel or spade
  • Nail pullers
  • Sledge hammer
  • Safety glasses
  • Hard hat
  • Dust mask
  • Grinder
  • Wheelbarrow
gabions in the gardenshutterstock_266099948
Gabions in the garden

There’s hard work ahead

Salvaging used or found materials is never as easy as it looks. Such endeavors generally require a lot of extremely hard work in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. Also, if you happen to be on a construction or demo site, get permission before taking anything.

Let’s look at some potentially green materials and the effort required. Bricks, for instance, usually need to have old mortar removed as much as possible so new mortar can be used. A stone chisel or hammer will come in handy, s will a grinder.

Most used lumber is full of nails or staples. Before reusing wood like this, all old fasteners need to be removed to prevent injury. Old wood can also make nasty splinters.

Railroad ties may be a nice landscape treatment, but most have generally been drenched with creosote to prevent rot. This acidic treatment can burn bare hands or unprotected skin, so gloves and denim pants are good to have on hand.

Learn the whereabouts of your materials

Be very selective in choosing the materials you wish to salvage. Shipping containers, for instance, are often treated with nasty insecticides or rodent repellents. If you are trying to rescue something for a living space, think about the effects on your health, short-term and long-term. The same holds true for some shipping pallets.

Lastly, be very careful when tearing down any structure. Support beams and rafters need to be taken out with great care. What went up as a building, shed, or house can come crashing down on you if the structure is not taken down in the proper order. If ever in doubt about something, seek expert advice from an engineer or architect.

When you have collected all the materials you plan to repurpose for something else, store them with care. It will make all future work that much easier and safer. Remember, there is no fun at all in stepping on a rusty nail and taking a drive to the nearest doc for a tetanus shot.

For these repurposing ideas, always keep in mind the old quote:

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

True indeed. May you and your imagination enjoy great scavenging! We will eventually provide a number of reports on using green materials, including how I made a red oak end-grain coffee table using scrap cutoffs.

Images: Wood panels used as wall via Shutterstock, Gabions in the garden via Shutterstock, Wooden pallet in wheelbarrow via Shutterstock


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