Our handling of raw materials is characterized by a global mechanism of waste. At the same time, many people are questioning their consumption habits because they no longer want to accept the ecological consequences of our way of life. Thus, many designers and producers in furniture construction are also increasingly dedicated to the upcycling of wood. They create new and high-quality products from what is thrown away. And precisely because this corresponds to the increasing sensitivity to environmental and consumer issues, there is a lot of attention for it.
the essentials in brief
- Do it yourself (DIY) is the buzzword for anyone who wants to get creative themselves.
- Wood can be very well processed and fed into new utilization cycles. And yet, multistage material use (multistage cascade use) in the economy remains far below its potential.
- New trends in furniture construction promise creative designs committed to environmental sustainability. This also provides a response to pressing challenges of our time.
DIY – DO IT YOURSELF do it yourself and beyond: reclaim your creativity
In the field of alternative art, it’s as clear as mud: nothing comes off the shelf here, and materials can be infinitely recombined. Value does not refer to the monetary amount that is expropriated for something, but to the individual appreciation of objects. However, it is not about asceticism at all, but rather about an alternative kind of abundance. Because the possibilities of rearranging things are ultimately limitless – as far as the voice of the artistic avant-garde goes.
That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and it doesn’t have to be. What’s more interesting is when useful ideas trickle through to everyday life. The DIY movement, rebuilding old things into something new rather than throwing them away, is such an idea now everywhere. This is shown by the media presence – lately, hardly any magazine omits this topic. In any case, less waste is good for the environment. And the Ikea lifestyle, which is based on a certain short-lived nature of furniture, will also be overcome at some point.
New trends in furniture making – professional upcycling of wood
In furniture making, there has been a trend for some time to produce furniture with a used look, the so-called shabby chic style. However, there are manufacturers who also use new wood for this purpose. Then the idea of sustainability is lost. However, there are also a number of furniture producers who rely 100% on used material.
And indeed, “discarded” wood can be found in large quantities. On construction sites, for example, there is almost always wood lying around that is no longer needed. These may be remnants of cuttings or wood that has been removed and replaced during refurbishment work, e.g. window frames, doors and old beams from the construction of roofs and walls.
A lot of wood can also always be picked up from scaffolders. Because for safety, the boards on which they stand at a great height, must be periodically replaced. Even driven piles made of high-quality and extremely robust oak wood must be replaced at some point. This is the case, for example, in cities like Amsterdam or Venice, but also in the port of Hamburg.
The idea of using this wood again as a material has not really taken root in the economy to date. Thus, after initial application, it is sent for energy recovery in biomass power plants. This wood can often be collected cheaply or for free. It can then serve as a raw material again in furniture construction. This often requires only a few steps for upgrading and results in high-quality designer furniture that is now fully in vogue and whose used look is not just attitude. Of course, there is also furniture made of scrap wood, which looks like new. But often it is appreciated that the wood still shows traces of previous use – its history.
Multi-stage material use of the raw material wood
When furniture is made from reclaimed wood, the raw material is used one more time before it is eventually burned. Energy recovery in biomass power plants is therefore postponed. However, the management of the various energy producers must then also adapt. It is of little benefit to the environment if waste wood in power plants is even replaced by fresh wood or other emission-intensive forms of energy production. Today, as much as 44% of the fresh wood harvested in Germany goes to the power plant without being used as material.
Recycling means that less fresh wood needs to be harvested from forests. As a natural resource, wood is limited and demand is trending upward. Even if the market is not showing any signs of shortage at present, there is a desire for sustainability in many places.
Cascade utilization – i.e. multi-stage utilization – describes the most efficient use of wood. This is referred to as a single-stage cascade if the feedstock ends up directly in the biomass power plant after initial application. If, on the other hand, several material recycling stages are realized, this is referred to as multi-stage cascade utilization. The more cascades of material use the wood goes through, the more efficiently the raw material is used.
Learn more about cascade utilization here.
Read here our small tree lore about native tree and wood species.
What can I make myself from old wood? A few ideas for DIY upcycling:
For example, old window frames, which are still removed in large numbers from old buildings during renovation projects, can be made into delightful picture frames or even entire walls.
Old wine crates make great shelves (e.g. shoe racks) – your neighbors will be amazed!
You can make a lot out of pallets anyway, for example, quite pretty sideboards placed on end, also a variety of different shelves, tables and seating …
Wood waste from the garden can be cut and cleaned of branches. Then all sorts of things can be made from it. There are also companies that specialize in making furniture with old trees from your garden.
Demolition work also produces a lot of wood that can be well processed (e.g. demolition of a wooden barn). This tip is then probably more for professional furniture makers who specialize in reclaimed wood.
Wood waste, which sometimes accumulates in large quantities on construction sites, can be processed and used as building material for floors or even garden sheds.
Take a look around your attic or basement and see what you can find. You may have interesting ideas for new uses.