10 Things Made from Recycled Wood

old wooden bench at a park in munich
You can make a variety of things using recycled wood, including planters, tables, headboards and benches.

Woodworking is one of the oldest trades of humankind, dating back thousands of years. And why not? Wood is plentiful, inexpensive and easy to work with, not to mention the fact that it's a renewable resource.

Whether crews are tearing down an old barn or cutting down a dying tree across the street, chances are you either have some spare wood lying around or have a source right around the corner that you can recycle it from.


Though wood is much easier to work with than, say, a piece of sheet metal, it still requires patience and precision. In any woodworking project, exact measurements are important. You should also be sure to follow any directions you have so the pieces fit together properly and be sure to take care of your tools so they stay in prime condition [source: Essortment]. Well-sharpened tools require less effort to use, so you're less likely to cut yourself -- but all tools should still be handled with care and used with appropriate safety equipment.

Before you start working with recycled wood, you should familiarize yourself with the three kinds of wood: hardwood, softwood and plywood. Hardwood comes from deciduous trees like oak, walnut, cherry, mahogany and maple. Softwood is made from coniferous trees like pine, hemlock, spruce, cedar and redwood. Plywood is made from thin sheets of wood glued and pressed together [source: Essortment].

What kind of wood you use depends on the project. If you're making furniture, for example, hardwoods are best. If you want to make a plaque or box, pine is a good choice.

So when you have wood left over from a remodeling job or are replacing a bookshelf or doors, don't throw away your scraps. Doors can become tables. Shelving can become a coat rack. Blocks of wood can be wrapped and turned into Christmas decorations [source: Craft Ideas Guide].

There's no end to what you can do with recycled wood. Read on to find out how to turn recycled wood into planters, benches, tables, headboards, birdhouses and more.

10: Planter

An extreme shallow DOF shot of purple thyme flowers in a wooden planter.
With some old cedar, a few supplies and a little elbow grease, you can create your own planter.
©iStockphoto.com/Katie West

Got some old cedar lying around? Then it's time to make a flower box.

Cedar is a soft wood that's both durable and resistant to weather and frequent watering. That's what makes it perfect for flower or plant boxes you put outside on your balcony or in your backyard. If you plan to make a planter for inside your home, you can also use woods like pine, cherry or maple [source: Essortment].


You can make your planter any size, depending on the types of plants or flowers you'll use to fill it. But before starting, be sure to draw a plan so you know how much wood you'll need.

Build the frame first by fastening strips of wood into the shape of a rectangle. Then, attach panels to the sides and ends and across the bottom. Do this by applying a bead of wood glue at the point the panels attach to the frame, nailing them together and drilling a screw into each joint.

Start with attaching the side panels, then the end panels, making sure they are flush with the frame. Before attaching the bottom panels, make sure your box forms a perfect square or rectangle. If necessary, adjust the box until it is square. Then, glue the panels to the bottom and drill screws into each corner [source: Rohde].

Finish it off by drilling holes in the bottom, or leave a gap between the panels for water drainage. Sand down rough edges or splinters and apply a stain, seal or primer that matches your home décor or garden.

Then, put your potted plants or flowers in the box. You can also line the bottom with plastic, layer it with gravel and fill it with soil or potting mix formulated for container plants, then add your flowers. Don't forget to cut holes in the plastic to line up with the drainage holes in the bottom of the planter so you don't drown your pansies.

Next up: a home for your books.

9: Bookcases

Bookshelves are an excellent way to use recycle wood -- especially since they support other items made increasingly from recycled wood: books.

Using recycled wood to make bookshelves can be very simple. If you have even-sized planks that are already sanded and finished, you won't even need any tools. You can simply separate them using other recycled materials (be it two concrete blocks standing on end between each shelf or anything else that will provide enough separation between planks for shelf space). In fact, you don't even need the wood to be sanded, painted or finished. You can use untreated pine boards or particle board for your bookshelf if you so choose. And why not, they'll be covered in books, after all.


Wood for bookshelves can even be recycled from older bookshelves. A piece that was used vertically on the side of a shelf (as opposed to the horizontal shelving) can be sawn into two or more pieces and used as horizontal shelving in the new project. Or old shelves can be inserted into a new support system.

Depending on the size and appearance of your recycled wood, you may need to make a plan, and figure out the ideal dimensions of your shelving, its vertical supports and its backboard (if you choose to have one). With the dimensions in mind, you can cut the wood to fit your needs, and then assemble it using nails, screws or shelf brackets. If you have extra pieces of wood lying around, you might want to use them as supports beneath the contact points where shelf-ends meet vertical support.

You'll need somewhere to sit while you read those books, which we'll take care of next.

8: Bench

Looking for a place to sit? Grab some of that hardwood that's sitting around in your backyard or storage unit, and make yourself a bench for your garden or your home.

Your bench can be as simple as a tree stump or as complex as woven wood and seat cushions. It can be a modest plank or have elaborate armrests and a back. With this project, there's not much in the way of your creativity.


You can choose a design and get specific instructions on how to build a bench from the many woodworking books at home improvement stores, or you can search online. But there are a couple of standard measurements to keep in mind.

The seat's height should be compatible with the length of your legs. The height of an average chair seat is 20 inches (51 centimeters). But to get a more customized fit, you can measure the length of your leg from the back of your knee to the floor and use that measurement instead [source: Essortment].

The seat should be 17 to 18 inches (43 to 46 centimeters) deep. As for the width, you should figure 25 inches (63 centimeters) per person you want to fit on the bench. If you add armrests, they should be no higher than 8 inches (20 centimeters). The back can be as high as you feel comfortable [source: Essortment].

Next, outfit your bar with stools (right after you build them).

7: Stools

Many homes have kitchen islands or other counter surfaces suitable for eating, working on a computer or reading a magazine. Your living space may incorporate a bar that serves as the epicenter of social activity when guests visit on a weekend. Or maybe you've got a high-top table for recreation (low-stakes poker) or even as your primary dinner table. Any of these setups could probably use some extra seating that doesn't take up much space.

When designing your stool, take its height into serious consideration, as no other feature can potentially annoy your stool's occupant more than towering above a counter -- or having to reach up to its surface. Use existing stools at home to determine the optimum height as it relates to your counter/bar surfaces.


As long as you have wood long enough to suit your purposes, you more than likely have (or have access to) the supplies you'll need, such as sand paper, a saw, clamps, screws and a drill. In short, you'll want to produce four legs of even length first (easy enough if you're recycling wood from an old table or stool). Next, you'll attach the seat using wood glue, clamps and screws. Add stretchers -- bars of wood that attach two legs. Stretchers placed closer to the bottom of the legs double as foot rests.

Now that you've taken a seat, read on to open a new door.

6: Table

A cup of coffee on a wooden table
Turning an old door into a table is a great way to recycle wood.
©iStockphoto.com/Sean Nel

Before you toss that old door in the Dumpster, think twice. A door may be a door, but it can also be a table.

Many woodworkers use reclaimed lumber like barn doors and wood from old farmhouses and warehouses to make furniture. Because much of this wood was harvested more than 100 years ago, it often comes from old growth forests that are dry, stable and dense [source: Old Barn Wood].


Your new table can come from ancient wood or from contemporary sources like a solid bedroom door. Doors can be turned into coffee tables, kitchen tables or dining tables -- really just about any table you need.

To start, take the door off the hinges and remove all the hardware. Scrub it with soap and water. Let it dry, then strip or sand the door if necessary. Next, apply primer to the entire door, including the sides, top and bottom.

Then you have a fresh canvas to do whatever you want. Some crafters have sponge-painted their doors or used stencils to draw their own design [source: Sattler]. You can get as fancy as you want, or paint it a solid color.

Once the paint dries, be sure to use a sealant like polyurethane. To be extra safe, use more than one coat. Once those have dried, turn the table upside down and attach the legs, which you can buy from a variety of furniture or hardware stores.

For a finishing touch, you may want to top the table with a sheet of glass. You can have one custom-made or go to your local auto repair shop and get a piece of tempered glass [source: Sattler].

The glass top is not just good for protection; it also allows you to customize your table by changing the scenery whenever you want. You can switch out pictures, pieces of wallpaper or fabric from between the wood tabletop and glass whenever the mood strikes [source: Crafty Crafty].

Next, a project you can collapse upon.

5: Bed Frame

If you've ever slept on a mattress on the floor, you can appreciate something that often goes overlooked: a bed frame. Having your mattress on a bed frame can really class up the look of a room. Some say it can also help prevent back pain.

Recycled wood from barns and old buildings can produce aesthetically pleasing results, but not all pieces will be suitable for the frame's support structure (though you can tack them onto the outside of an existing frame). The nature and size of the frame's support system will depend on whether or not it supports a box spring or if the frame will also serve as the box spring.


The dimensions of your bed frame should fit the size of the mattress, of course. (For a queen-sized bed, that's 60 inches (152 centimeters) by 80 inches (203 centimeters).) Within the rectangular frame, there should be support joists every 16 inches (41 centimeters) [source: Ana White]. The slats can be covered with a piece of recycled plywood, so that the surface is smooth and flat.

While it will take some forethought, planning and time to construct a bed frame using recycled wood, in essence you are just making a table top supported by short legs or some other base, upon which you will place your box spring and mattress. And speaking of support, make sure your bed frame is sturdy enough to support not only the mattress and box spring, but the maximum occupancy of people and pets in your household. Because at some point, they're all going to be on there.

Read on to find out how to make a headboard.

4: Headboard

Old bed with lamp at hotel in Sicily (Italy).
Looking for something more unique than wrought iron? Try turning an old wooden fence into an interesting headboard.
©iStockphoto.com/Peter van Vuuren

Buying a headboard can cost hundreds of dollars -- all the more reason to gather that old wood and see what you can make for yourself.

Of course, you could use any variety of leftover wood to make a headboard, but there are some especially creative and easy ways to build your own. If you're interested in a country feel, you may want to make your headboard out of a picket fence. Or if you want something more stately, you could use an old fireplace mantel.


To start, you'll want to measure your bed, adding a couple extra inches on both sides to account for the thickness of your bedding. If the headboard is too narrow, it will look odd; if it's too wide, it will look unwieldy.

When working with an old fence, use your measurements to cut sections in the size you need or separate the pieces so you can make your own design. Be sure to clean the wood before starting and sand any rough spots or jagged edges.

If you're using a precut section, prime the wood and then cover it with two coats of paint. Once it's dried, you can lean it against the wall and push the bed against it until the bed is holding it in place.

To make your own design, cut the pickets at graduated length, arranging the tallest slats in the middle. Use spacers and backer boards to space the pickets no more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) apart so something, like a child's appendage, can't get stuck in them [source: DIY Network]. Then attach a cross brace with finishing nails and glue. You can mount it to the bed frame or just lean it against the wall.

If you're using an old mantel, touch it up with paint, then cut out a piece of plywood the size of the fireplace hole and cover it with batting. Attach the batting to the back using a staple gun and then attach the plywood to the mantel [source: Martha Stewart]. Secure the mantel to the bed with four mending brackets screwed into the back of the plywood. Attach it to the wall with "L" brackets. Sweet dreams!

If you like applying one set of measurements to every piece of wood involved in a project, you're going to like the next one on this list.

3: Decorative Boxes

There are plenty of uses for one of the easiest things you can make from recycled wood: a decorative box. You might build a box to show off a treasured item (1989 league bowling championship trophy), display a certificate behind glass on the lid ("Certified Member in Good Standing, Bowling Academy") or to store something that just needs a good-looking home (lucky bowling shoes).

Any type of wood works for box-making, as long as you take into account the intended use of the box and whether or not it will be exposed to the elements. And here's a bonus: In addition to being an easy project, building a decorative box with recycled wood can save you lots of money compared to purchasing one. If you don't think so, go price-shopping for a simple wooden toy chest, and you'll be reaching for a hammer and nails in no time.


Building a box can be as easy as forming six equal-sized square pieces of wood (a base, four walls and a lid), attaching the base and walls using nails, glue or screws, and using two hinges to attach the lid. In fact, if the box is purely decorative, the lid can be left unattached, or attached permanently like any other side of the box.

After that, you have plenty of options when it comes to painting or otherwise decorating the box. And once you're done, you can rest easy knowing you've built the perfect home for that 9-pound Bowling Ball of Destiny.

Keep reading to learn how to house your feathered friends.

2: Birdhouse

Fancy but rustic style option for bird house-hunters.
Building a birdhouse is a perfect way to put wood scraps and old wood to use.
©iStockphoto/William Britten

Building a birdhouse is an easy way to get into woodworking. First you need to observe the types of birds that frequent your backyard and decide which ones you'd like to house. That will determine the size of the birdhouse and the circumference of its entrance.

Keep in mind that only cavity-nesting birds like robins, chickadees, swallows, flickers and bluebirds will use a birdhouse. You aren't going to get the attention of birds that nest on the ground.


Next, select the wood. It's best to use untreated lumber, like the kind you'd have lying around after a home project. Treated wood like exterior grade plywood can contain toxic preservatives that could harm the birds.

Then you'll want to decide what you want the house to look like. You can choose from a variety of designs online or in crafting books. But make sure the plans you pick have ventilation holes in the sides (not the top where rain can get in) so heat can escape [source: Rohde].

You'll also want small holes in the bottom for drainage, and the roof should be slanted so rain runs off. The roof should also extend over the entrance hole to protect the birds from sunlight and rain.

Because these are nesting birds, you will not need a perch. But you will need a door, roof or side wall that opens so you can clean out the birdhouse to prevent an infestation of parasites [source: Rohde].

Don't use paint or stain inside the birdhouse. If you paint the exterior, be sure to choose lead-free paint. It's also recommended that you use light colors to reflect the sunlight so your feathered friends don't get too hot.

On the next page, a project that's picture perfect.

1: Picture Frame

While a frame doesn't exactly make or a break a picture, it can go a long way toward bringing attention to a photograph and serving as a piece of art itself. What's more, you can create unique picture frames using scraps of wood left over from other projects.

Starting out, it's easiest to use similarly shaped and sized wood for all sides of your frame. However, once you get the hang of what you're doing, you can experiment with using different types of wood for the different sides.

If you're making a frame for a specific piece of art or photography, know ahead of time if the object being framed will be presented on a mat or not, and plan to size the inner dimension of the frame accordingly.

Cut four pieces of wood that will comprise the frame, with enough length to account for additional 45-degree cuts on either end to allow the pieces to fit together. You'll need a miter saw or another tool capable of making these precise, clean cuts. Before attaching the pieces, you'll need to decide if you want to make a groove along the inner edge of the frame using a router to allow the frame to hold a glass front. Initially, though, you may just want to make a frame that won't use glass and see how you like the results.

Use wood glue to affix the frame pieces together, and clamp together until dry. Next, reinforce the frame by using framing staples or "V nails" to secure the pieces to each other. Now you can sand, finish or decorate the frame to your liking.

You may need a little hardware to finish the job, such as glaziers' points that will hold the glass in place, or screw-in hangers that will allow you to hang the frame on a wall (though you can build your own "kickstand" so the frame can be displayed upright on a shelf or other horizontal surface).

Depending on how you like the results, you can determine which photo to feature in the frame.

To learn much more about recycled craft projects, read on to the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Craft Ideas Guide. "Discover These Simple Wood Craft Ideas." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.craft-ideas-guide.com/wood-craft-ideas.html
  • Crafty Crafty. "How to Turn an Old Door into a Stylish Table." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.craftycrafty.tv/2009/02/how_to_turn_an_old_door_into_a.html
  • DIY Network. "Picket-Fence Wainscoting and Headboard." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/cda/article_print/0,1983,DIY_13822_2269609_ARTICLE-DETAIL-PRINT,00.html
  • Ember, Steve and Griffith, Shirley. "Exploring the Richly Detailed History and Art of Woodworking." Voa News. 4/10/07. (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2007-04/2007-04-10-voa1.cfm?renderforprint=1&pageid=92020
  • Essortment. "Do it yourself: make your own tiered wooden plant stand." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.essortment.com/hobbies/tieredwoodenpl_sdtv.htm
  • Essortment. "Garden Bench Plan." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.essortment.com/all/gardenbenchpla_rano.htm
  • Essortment. "Woodcrafting for Beginners." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.essortment.com/hobbies/woodcraftingbe_tuje.htm
  • Martha Stewart.com. "Mantle Headboard." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.marthastewart.com/portal/site/mslo/menuitem.3a0656639de62ad593598e10d373a0a0/?vgnextoid=9d76d13cc97a7110VgnVCM1000003d370a0aRCRD&vgnextfmt=default
  • Old Barn Wood. "Recycled Lumber, Reclaimed Old Barn Wood, Furniture Boards, Antique Rustic Used Timber Beams." (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.old-barn-wood.com/recycled_wood__reclaimed_lumber.htm
  • Rohde, Don. "Building A Birdhouse: Things to Know." Stressless Country. (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.stresslesscountry.com/building-a-birdhouse/index.html
  • Rohde, Don. "Building A Planter Box." Stressless Country. (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.stresslesscountry.com/planter-box/index.html
  • Satter, Anna. "Recycle a door into a new dining table." DIY Life. 2/1/08. (Accessed 4/17/09)http://www.diylife.com/2008/02/01/recycle-a-door-into-a-new-dining-table
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