A Woodworker’s Notebook
Jeff Gorman
Uses for Sawdust and Shavings

Tips harvested from Internet sources over a period of years. Please note that inclusion does not constitute an endorsement.

"Do not dig the sawdust into the ground or dump it anywhere around your house, even under concrete. It is claimed that it will attract termites".

Mulching rhododendrons. "Anything in the heath family, Ericaeae, is said to love acid and would love the very acid oak sawdust. Things that hate acid, on the other hand will keel over and die, or at least do really poorly".
'I personally killed four azalea bushes with walnut shavings. These bushes were planted around a large, old live oak tree which remained unaffected'.

'If your garden ground is *really* bad soil, (clay, tight packed, etc.) burn all your scrap where you want to grow vegetables. Doesn't matter what it is, cherry, walnut, pine, et.al. Do this for a year or so and you will be amazed at the result. We once had a garden plot that refused to grow onions (easy to grow anywhere) but after burning the scrap wood for a year, we had some gorgeous tomatoes, cabbage and onions that even I didn't believe.

"Ideal for mixing with lawn mowings, the two together are better than one". (Probably because the shavings will help to keep the grass from forming a mat and letting the air in).

"Grass clippings are said to be high in nitrogen, but lack carbon which the sawdust supplies. Same with leaves, pine needles and newspapers".

Note from JG

Reservations were expressed about depletion of nitrogen from the soil. Sawdust itself is low in nitrogen. Fungi digest the sawdust, incorporating nitrogen from the soil into their bodies. When the fungi die, the nitrogen is returned to the soil.

A note from "Chemistry in the Utilisation of Wood - RH Farmer - Officer-in-Charge of the Chemistry Section of the UK Forest Products Research Laboratory - "nitrogen deficiency .......... becomes more apparent in the second and third year after applying sawdust, when its decomposition becomes more advanced. To overcome the temporary depletion, add a high-nitrogen fertiliser to the mix". Farmer gives the proportion of fertiliser as about 1/2 cwt of ammonium sulphate per ton of sawdust.

"Let it age for a year in the garden", but Farmer says "it is preferable to use material that is 3 or 4 years old".

"Use it for lining the floor of a chicken coop. Make sure there are no nails and suchlike".
(RH Farmer says that "Probably the best way of using sawdust in horticulture is to compost it with animal or poultry manure in the proportion of three parts of sawdust to one of manure. ....... If poultry manure is not available, use urea or Nitro-Chalk as an activator".

Another comment:
"Plenty of carbon and energy locked up in those tissues. What's missing, or in very low supply, though is nitrogen. For rapid decomposition you need (or the micro-organisms and invertebrates that feed on decaying things need...) a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 30. The C/N of wood is probably 200 or more. So to speed up its breakdown, you would need to mix it with something that has a C/N lower than 30, such as fresh manure (any kind, but bird manure might have the lowest ratio), slaughter house waste, etc. You know the C/N ratio is too low if you smell ammonia emanating from the compost pile...that's excess N being lost".

'Add oyster shell calcium to the mix. It helps with the decomposition speed and nitrogen balance'.

It has been claimed that if you urinate into five gallon bucket of sawdust, nitrogen is added. It will not smell.

Try making a sawdust toilet.

"Use it for animal bedding. Most fruit woods are safe, but Red Cedar is a definite no for some animals (but see below). Walnut may be toxic to horses and is bad for some plants".

'My company produced a lot of Sugar Pine shavings. We gave them to a local hog farmer for a while, then he stopped getting them. Seems the sugar pine had a chemical in it which was deadly on the new piglets that caused them to bleed to death. Apparently only the Sugar Pine species was the only one which caused the problem'.

Compost it with soil and baker's yeast and lots of nitrogen (from an urea-based fertiliser) to accelerate decomposition. Use sub-soil & 50% sand to create top soil. Mix well, keep in warm dark place like the composting barrels they sell in gardening catalogs. make it into something somebody will want to buy/use.

"The herbicide in walnut does not degrade rapidly. Walnut shavings are a worthwhile addition along fence lines where they control weeds."

For toxicity details from qualified sources (14/02/99) see:www.wvu.edu/~agexten/hortcult/fruits/blkwalnt.htm

"Avoid using Red Cedar or redwood sawdust; it inhibits plant growth. Don't use sawdust from pressure-treated lumber, particleboard or plywood either. It can leach toxins into your soil, affecting your plants and possibly your health". Diana Erney, Research Associate, Organic Gardening Magazine - Letter to American Woodworker, August 1995

"Put aromatic red cedar in cat litter boxes".

Fill a mail bag to use as a punching bag. You can put bricks in the middle to make it heavier.

"Put the sawdust of aromatic woods in muslin bags and sell it for people to hang in their closets. String larger scrap cedar and sell it for the same purpose".

"Use it for soaking up oil spills in the garage".

"For cleaning greasy hands and tools after auto work".

"Use it for removing the wet gunge formed by paint and varnish removers".

"Take half a cup and fill it half to 3/4 full of sawdust. Melt some paraffin wax (use kitchen candles and do it in a double pan) and pour into the cup (away from a naked flame). Good for lighting campfires (or garden bonfires)".

"Mix it with a little kerosene and store it in a metal can for fire starter".

"Use old film cassette containers for mini-firelighter moulds".

"Use it to store root crops".

"Store tulip bulbs in it".

"Makes a great kitty litter."

'I throw a couple handfuls of shavings in the bottom of every new trash bag -- they soak up liquids and they make the trash cans smell nicer'.

Use it for mosquito control.'I set up the outdoor meat burning device in my shop for a while and burned shavings to clear them out. I suppose it would help outside too'.

"Sell it to the local abattoir".

"Give it to a school for use in pottery". ( Eg, firing by the Raku process in which red-hot, specially glazed pots are immersed in sawdust).

"Give exotic sawdust to a glassblower, who somehow uses it to color glass".

"Some woodworkers actually use it to heat their shops. A 55 gallon drum, a central vent or flue run down the middle, and lower breather holes make the system- it doesn't burn, it smoulders like a giant incense stick. supposed to last for hours, giving lots of heat".

Bee keepers could use Bloodwood sawdust to attract bees. .

"Use it on ice instead of salt or any other harsh material. It is much easier than rocksalt on the carpets in the house".

"Throw it under a child's swing. It cushions falls very well and is relatively easy to brush off".

"My wife runs a Doll Hospital...she repairs dolls..restores dolls etc. She uses it to stuff cloth doll bodies".

"Make a heater with a 55 gal drum that can heat a small stadium with just sawdust and scraps" Designs appear in magazines from time to time, eg Fine Woodworking, More Proven Shop Tips, page 15, Taunton Press 1990, ISBN 0-942 391-43-8.

"Mix about a pint of water to several gallons of sawdust to make a great dirt and dust cleaner on cement".

"Sifted and dyed, it makes great ground cover for model railroads".

"Fine sawdust mixed with the right amount of white glue makes a good wood filler for small defects, at least for items to be painted".

Mix sawdust with starch and glue and form into blocks. A young child can practise carving skills because they cut very easily.

Scrunched up for density, they provide great smoke for smoking salmon and halibut in one of the electric smokers. Beats paying several dollars a bag for sawdust to put into the smoker pan. Note that you are looking for density so those bulky wispy plane ribbons need to be smashed down and broken up. But they do live on in the form of flavor on that fish. By the way, you want pretty clean shavings that have not been used for finishing, waxing, or other things with bad flavour.

A large handful makes exceptional burnishing material for a lathe turned object. Before removing an object from the lathe, rub (while turning) with the shavings to impart a nice burnished finish. Take care not to burn your hand!

"Mix sawdust with melted paraffin wax and pour into small wax paper cups to make fire starters.If you take a 5oz coffee can and poke a few holes along the bottom edge for air circulation (not in the bottom of the can) drop your cup in, light it and you have a portable heater. You can warm your hands on those chilly nights. Put several near your outdoor plants to help them to keep warm".

'I built a "sandbox" with legs. My 6 year old daughter plays with matchbox cars in it while I work in the shop.

Use dried shavings/turnings for a bran substitute for an old-fashioned lucky dip brantub for the next fund-raising event.

Turn offcuts into charcoal. See http://www.velvitoil.com/Charmake.htm

Mead makers use oak chips. Some people use them lightly toasted, others use them raw. The oak-tannin flavor can add some character to an otherwise sweet or heavy drink. Only use chips since shavings and dust are difficult to strain out.

Oak chips are commonly used in home wine-making. Be careful to use white oak. Red oak apparently makes wine taste like cat piss.

Humour warning!

"It'll work wonders if you pour it into a cranky transmission, but be sure to sell the car right afterwards".

"Put some in each kids pants pockets so they can dump out on the way to school. Slip a container full of it in their lunchbox. There's countless ways of getting rid of it".

'Dump the sawdust in the back of your pick-up. Then go for a drive'.

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