Church pews project #13: thoughts on recycling timber for projects

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Blog entry by inchanga posted 02-17-2013 06:48 PM 3185 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 12: Monks bench finished Part 13 of Church pews project series Part 14: Bookcase »

Having just recycled four 160 year old 12 foot church pews and manufactured the furniture shown here I am in a position to comment on the process from an operational and financial point of view which i hope may help LJ’s involved in similar projects.

Firstly let me say that the customers are absolutley delighted with the pieces. The pews are from their local church and they wanted them to be saved for emotional reasons as well as providing much needed furniture for their new home.

From a personal point of view I also found it immensly satisfying to take something that would have finished up on a fire and created unique items of very practical furniture which are easy on the eye and should last for another 160 years.

However, in terms of time, the labour involved is at least fourfold that of doing the same projects with new timber bought in already planed and sanded and that does no include the commercial stripping time which is an addtional cost.

Stripping the timber does not remove nails, mend splits and cracks, cure rot or leave the surface in a condition where it is ready for final sanding and finishing. All of these tasks have to be done by hand and they are laborious time consuming chores which have to be completed before any thought can be given to cutting pieces to size ready for assembly. Sanding in particula,r takes forever to achive an acceptable surface.

It also takes a great deal of time and ingenuity to sort, cut and very often glue up the pieces that will form the final assembly. Shelves for instance, will very often have to be two thin boards laminated together to give the required thickness, because there is no suitable thickness of timber that can be used from the piece being recycled.

Likewise, it is not unusual to have to join two or more pieces of timber in order to achieve the length needed.
Anybody undertaking this sort of project will get plenty of practice in laminating, scarf jointing and making up panels from leftovers.

For the hobby woodworker all of the above activities are grist for the mill of woodworking and will provide many hours of pleasurable activity and result in some wonderful furniture from material that would otherwise have gone to waste.

For the professional woodworker, or the amateur who has taken on a commission it is almost impossible to know just how much time will be needed to get the materials to the point where they are dimensioned ready for final sizing and sanded ready to take a finish i.e. they are at the same stage in the constuction process as bought in lumber.

Remember, the materials component when working with new wood is typically about 20% of the final price but when taking labout costs into account recycled timber is very often much more expensive than new timber so anyone hopng to save money using recycled timber is on a loser. It is not always easy to convince customers of this…..But convince them you must if you want to eat.

The trick is to give a fixed price for the construction of the furniture using material that has been cleaned up, stripped, dimensioned etc. but to charge an hourly rate, or quote subcontracors prices for the timber preparation phase and forewarn them of likely higher cost than when using new timber.

This timber preparation is a real and substantial cost and the customer should pay it….not the woodworker.

-- chris, north wales

1 comment so far

View Robb's profile


660 posts in 3896 days

#1 posted 04-29-2013 06:15 AM

Good perspective on reusing material. You’re right on about it being totally different as a hobbyist versus trying to quote a job. You turned out some great looking furniture with the reclaimed lumber.

-- Robb

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