Go Green with Eco-Friendly DIY Woodworking Projects

“Eco-friendly” is becoming more popular today as people are realizing the need to care for the natural resources available to us.

Because woodworkers work with so many natural materials, they have the perfect opportunity to support and preserve the environment with their DIY wood projects.

Looking for some project ideas? Or wondering how you can better care for the environment while woodworking? You’ve come to the right place! We’ll be talking about:

Let’s get started!

Finding eco-friendly wood projects

A DIY coat rack made from reclaimed woodWhile you can turn almost any woodworking project into an eco-friendly one, here are a few specific ones to get you started:

Reclaimed wood headboard

If you want a farmhouse look for your bedroom, this is a must-have! It can easily be modified for any bed size.

Barn quilt table

With this unique design, you can add a flare to your table that you’ll never want to cover up with a tablecloth.

Coffee table

Copy a high-end coffee table for a fraction of the price. All that’s needed? A little reclaimed wood.

Vintage pew bench

Reminiscent of the olden days, this bench—with a storage drawer underneath—is the perfect addition to your entryway, kitchen, living room, outdoor space, or wherever! It would make a nice reclaimed wood project.

Reclaimed wood bookshelf

Reading books gets even more fun with this eye-catching reclaimed wood bookshelf!

Equipped with some project ideas, let’s talk about reasons for making your project eco-friendly.

Why choose an eco-friendly wood project

People seek out eco-friendly woodworking projects for a variety of reasons, usually out of a desire to:

  • Use renewable materials and preserve forests. By selecting materials that can be used again, they reduce deforestation. This, in the long run, helps keep the air clean and keeps the homes and territories of wildlife intact.
  • Minimize waste, such as the enormous amounts of wood and other materials that end up in landfills every year, or the extra timber being cut to supply stores and lumber yards.
  • Reduce the number of harmful chemicals and finishes. Wood often contains toxic finishes containing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) like formaldehyde. These can poison water and the air. And if your home has been newly built or renovated, the wood can release enough of these chemicals into the air to seriously harm people with allergies. Even if you don’t have allergies, they still have the potential to harm you.
  • Reduce project cost. If you pick up scrap wood for free, you can drastically reduce the cost of making a project. However, buying reclaimed or recycled wood that’s already been sanded and finished could be the same price or even more expensive than other wood.

As you’re preparing to start an eco-friendly project, the most important thing to consider is the materials.

Selecting eco-friendly materials

Wood with an FSC tagChoosing eco-friendly options begins with researching your materials. There are certain types of wood that are considered eco-friendly, including:

  • Reclaimed wood
  • Recycled wood
  • Wood certified by the FSC or SFI
  • Wood with non-toxic finishes

Here’s a bit more information about each of them.

Reclaimed and recycled wood

Reclaimed and recycled wood are very similar in that both were used for different purposes before—they don’t come straight from the tree.

Reclaimed wood can be sourced from old barns, fences, or houses. You can check with demolition crews or go looking around yourself. Some places sell reclaimed wood, but this can be quite expensive.

Using reclaimed or recycled wood can help cut down on the use of resources, including water, fuel, and electricity, that would be needed to harvest and process new wood.

Most reclaimed wood will need to be sanded and perhaps cut, if it’s warped or splintered at one end. One thing to watch out for is pieces that have been treated with chemicals or some other type of finish. If you or someone else is allergic to these, be careful with your reclaimed wood and, if possible, ask the previous owner about any treatment the wood may have received.

Recycled wood could be old pallet wood or pieces and sections of leftover scrap wood you’re repurposing. It may not need much attention as far as sanding and cutting.

Certified eco-friendly wood

If you’re interested in buying new wood, look for eco-friendly certification labels. Two of the big ones are FSC and SFI.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an organization that inspects lumber. This label ensures that the wood is coming from sources where:

  • New trees are being replanted at a faster rate than they’re being harvested (sustainable logging).
  • The harvesting is done in harmony with the surrounding environment.
  • The forests are monitored continuously to manage their conditions.1

Forest managers from around the world participate in this program, and a piece of wood stamped with the FSC logo has been treated with care.

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is another program focused on North America. Along with many other areas, the SFI focuses on the protection and sustainability of forests. It works to:

  • Protect the water, soil, trees, and wildlife
  • Harvest and regrow forests sustainably
  • Minimize the effects of forest fires2

Wood marked with these logos has been harvested with consideration for the surrounding ecosystem.

Wood with non-toxic glues and finishes

Most wood finishes contain substances with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a common one being formaldehyde. Glues in some engineered wood will also contain them. These may not harm most people, but some people are extremely sensitive to them and can experience a host of problems, such as difficulty breathing.

To avoid VOCs, purchase non-engineered wood that has not been finished and finish it yourself. As you choose a finish, look for a water-based one with natural ingredients, such as:

  • Linseed oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Beeswax

A non-toxic adhesive is lignin, which is pulp-based.

Materials are important if you want to be eco-friendly in your woodworking, but the actual process shouldn’t be neglected, either.

Working in an eco-friendly way

A woodworker sitting at a work table and writing down plans for an eco-friendly projectImprove your process of woodworking with these tips:

Plan before you start

Before you buy the wood, think about your project. How can you use the wood in the best way to waste as little as possible? How much wood will you need?

Knowing what kind of wood you’ll use is also important. Some types are better suited to certain projects than others (in fact, we have a whole article about choosing wood). If you choose the wrong type of wood, you may be less satisfied with the outcome of the project or even leave the project unfinished.

And before you start working on the actual project, be sure to measure out everything on the wood. When you make a layout, you can move pieces and cuts around to reduce the number of scraps and wasted pieces. It might also reduce the amount you need to use.

No matter how well you plan, you’ll likely have some scraps and a pile of sawdust. But don’t throw those out!

Recycle sawdust and wood scraps

Though it might look like waste ready for the garbage, scraps of wood and sawdust can be extremely useful when recycled.


Plants growing in recycled sawdustSawdust has an incredible array of uses. In the woodworking realm, it can be turned into wood putty. In other settings, it can be used as

  • Garden fertilizer (except for sawdust from treated lumber; this could be harmful)
  • Fuel or fire starter
  • Animal bedding (unless the animal is allergic or has respiratory issues)
  • Stuffing for pincushions or other objects

And so much more. You can store the sawdust in a bin until you’re ready to use it.

Wood scraps

No matter how long or short, thin or thick, wood scraps have huge potential for a second use. They can be reused for a number of purposes, including:

  • Small projects or projects with little pieces
  • Practice pieces for new skills you’re learning
  • Patterns or stop blocks
  • Accents to projects
  • Pieces that can be glued together to make larger pieces

Wood scraps can be repurposed for other woodworking projects or used for unconventional purposes like spacers or temporary pieces in other household or work settings.

Choose tools carefully

Tools are another necessary part of the woodworking process. But as a beginner, or even a moderately experienced, woodworker you may not have use for every tool out there. So, you can purchase and use tools in an eco-friendly way.

Here’s how.

When you’re buying tools, buy only the ones you’ll use. Just because one looks fun and you think you may use it on a project someday doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy it. You may not ever use it. By only buying tools you’ll use, you’re saving the unnecessary production of more tools to cover what you bought.

Carefully consider the brand, too. At first, it might be better to go with cheaper brands until you’re more experienced and have more money to spend on better-quality tools. But when you have the option to buy better tools, choose brands that are known for their quality. They will last longer. In this way, you’ll reduce the amount of manufacturing-associated materials and waste.

And as you’re picking tools, examine your power tools. Check for the most energy-efficient tools, including corded and battery-powered. This will cut down on your electricity usage.

If you need a tool that you know you won’t use often, consider borrowing it rather than buying it. Knowing other woodworkers near you and creating a borrowing system could help reduce the number of tools each person has to buy.

And here’s one tool that every eco-friendly woodworker needs: the moisture meter.

Use a wood moisture meter

Three Bessemeter wood moisture metersBuying wood can be fun, but not if you end up with “green” or unseasoned wood that warps or cracks after you’ve finished your project. That’s a waste of materials, money, work, and time.

Even wood that has been dried appropriately may still warp or crack because it didn’t have time to acclimate to the atmosphere of your shop or home.

Wood is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs and releases moisture depending on the atmosphere around it. It won’t do this immediately, but over the course of days or weeks.

This means if you buy a piece of wood, you’ll need to let it sit in the atmosphere of its final destination to acclimate.

But how do you know when it’s acclimated? Or if it’s even dry at the store? Here’s where a wood moisture meter comes in handy. With a quick scan of a meter, you can check if the wood is green or seasoned while you’re still at the store. At home, you can periodically check the wood to see if its moisture content has stabilized, telling you it’s acclimated and ready to work with.

With a moisture meter, your eco-friendly project will remain whole and beautiful, and you won’t have to worry about it being ruined.

What projects do you wish you had a moisture meter for? Preserve future ones by checking out our line of affordable moisture meters today.