Turning Waste into Something New

This week I built an end grain cutting board out of white oak. Renee and I have wanted a cutting board like this for a long time, but could never justify the $150+ price tag for one. I like large wood cutting boards because they feel heavy duty, they don’t slide around when cutting or rolling dough on them, and the end grain allows knives to stay sharp because knives slide in between the end grain fibers instead of cutting across the wood. Plus, they usually look beautiful and can act as a serving platter as well.

Although these benefits make end grain cutting boards attractive, the best part about this board is that it was made from scrap wood waste from another project.

My in-laws live in a beautiful 100+ year old home and are replacing their 100+ year old hardwood stair balusters. Using manufactured wood replacement spindles from a big box store wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the their house, so they decided to get some custom made spindles. Fortunately, their neighbor has a wood lathe and can turn the custom spindles for them, but my in-laws would still need to provide him the wood to do so. Buying milled hardwood is extremely expensive though, so my father-in-law and I decided to mill the lumber ourselves.

We started with three 9 foot x 8 inch x 2 inch rough sawn white oak boards. After cutting, jointing, planning, and ripping, we were left with about 36 milled blanks, 1 3/8” square on all sides and about 32 inches in length that they could be used for turning. About 12 of these blanks had defects though (knots, bug and worm holes, cracks, etc…) and wouldn’t be suitable for turning. Originally we were going to throw these defective blanks into the kindling pile but this felt wasteful since it was still mostly good wood, it just wouldn’t be good for turning on a lathe.

Charcoal is carbonized wood that is produced by smoldering pieces of wood for a long time. Charcoal manufacturers can produce charcoal from large logs of wood but this is wasteful since large pieces of hardwood could be better utilized for the construction of furniture and homes. Instead, charcoal manufactures have developed methods of producing charcoal from wood waste products. One of the first companies to do so was Kingsford Charcoal co-founded by Henry Ford in the 1920s. Ford saw that his automobile manufacturing lines were producing a lot of wood scrap waste. Instead of throwing out the scrap wood, Ford capitalized on it and helped build Kingsford charcoal which transformed all of the waste wood into charcoal briquettes that could be sold to consumers.

Instead of letting that scrap wood go to waste, Ford found a way to make a new product from it.

We were left with about 25 feet of milled white oak that couldn’t be turned on a lathe. We decided that instead of burning this scrap, we could cut the blanks into little cubes and glue them into an end grain cutting board.

After I cut all of long blanks into cubes, Renee designed a nice pattern for the cutting board. I then glued all of the cubes together, jointed, planed, ripped, and sanded until I was left with the finished product, a 12 inch x 18 inch cutting board. Retail value, $200 William Sonoma.

It felt good to be able to make use of these beautiful wood scraps and turn them into something functional. And I’m happy to think that plenty of inviduals and businesses do the same thing: Ford used scrap wood to produce charcoal; breweries sell their spent grains to farmers as animal feed; bakeries use the heat from their ovens to warm up their building’s ambient temperature in the cooler months.

If there’s no way to reduce the waste occurring in your processes, is there some way you can reuse that waste to create something new?

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