Reuse: It's Time To DIY Your Next Piece of Furniture
by Mike Lambuth
Reuse is nothing new. Although the word is thrown around a lot these days the concept has been around as long as humans have been roaming the earth. And for millions of people around the world the act of reusing materials is implemented out of necessity, not for DIY blog posts, such as this one. That being said if conversations like these can lead to more of us adapting the habits of reuse into our lives, we all benefit. Convenience and consumption have somehow become our BFFs and we have become increasingly comfortable with the notion that all the tangible items in our lives have a useable life that's as singular as our own. It's time we got out of this rut and started looking at everything around us a bit differently.
When we embarked on the exciting, albeit terrifying, endeavor of building out our grey jays brick and mortar storefront we were met with several challenges, the biggest being our budget. We didn’t have a vast expanse of square footage to deal with but we still had a long way to go to make the space charismatic, captivating and inviting. We also set out with a couple principles in mind: We wanted to minimize the waste we generated, any new materials would be purchased from ethical sources but the vast majority of our building materials should be sourced from already existing materials in search of a second life. In other words, the project needed to revolve around reuse. Challenge accepted.
We don't often see the words "budget friendly" in front of the words "sustainable design." We are a brand that wholly utilizes reuse and we know all too well the challenges associated with it. While our material costs might be low our labor costs are substantial. We're working with different materials every time and we often wind up in uncharted territory with our only way out being trial and error. But when it comes to a DIY project, you are handling all the labor yourself. Time is mainly what it will cost you. With a buildout based upon reuse we had to be patient and offer up a healthy amount of sweat equity but we were able to maximize our budget while achieving most of what we hoped to do. It’s never convenient or easy but within reuse, you can have your cake and eat it too and the planet will be much happier you did just that.
For this post we wanted to focus on a hand-made piece of furniture that we were particularly proud of: a built-in two person bench made from 99% repurposed materials.
We’ll look at what we started with and what we did to yield an end result that we love staring at as much as people love sitting on it. We’ll also share some additional DIY elements in our store that integrated reuse in hopes to help inspire your next DIY furniture project.
A couple things before you get started
Tools: especially power tools can be expensive and a significant barrier that stands in the way of people handling their own projects. Tool libraries are places that you can borrow tools for personal use, often times for free. Try this resource to search for tool libraries near you. If you don’t see one in your area try a google search for tool lending, borrowing or rental. You can also try a friend, family member or neighbor that might have what you need and lend it to you. If you plan on purchasing, try Craigslist or Facebook marketplace for used tools that are significantly cheaper than buying them new.
Safety: is a huge concern when building anything. Familiarize yourself with any tools before using them. YouTube will undoubtedly have videos posted by some retiree-turned-DIY-project-extraordinaire on how to operate virtually every power tool on the planet. Wear proper protection (ie, safety glasses, gloves, ear plugs, etc) and don’t do anything that you don’t feel comfortable doing.
Scrap box/kit/pile: start one! For the last 5 years or so we have been keeping every extra screw or bracket or latch or pad or adhesive that we've encountered. We put them all in a little toolbox that we utilize during every DIY project. You have no idea how often these little extras that would normally wind up in the trash come in handy.
Now let’s get to that bench
Tools we used: Drill and screws Jigsaw (or router) Sander Hammer Paint brush Staple gun and staples Scissors
Most of us may not be sure exactly what we want until we see it. Often the best place to start is Google, Instagram or, our personal favorite, Pinterest. We create Pinterest boards for everything and continue to add to them over time. The end result is basically a "mood board" that will help give us an overall feel for what we're trying to achieve. We Found a few benches on Pinterest that we loved and put them all together on a board that served as our inspiration. We made a rough sketch, took some measurements and began the search for materials.
For much of this project we sourced materials from Second Chance, a local building materials center that sells only donated materials. Sometimes it’s unused product and sometimes it’s material that was salvaged from a remodel. There are many of these centers as well as plenty of other places to track down secondhand materials. This article offers many great ideas as to where you can look.
At Second Chance we found a discarded office work surface with an ugly piece of salmon colored laminate glued to the top. A corner of the laminate had chipped away and we could see that underneath it was beautiful wood that needed a little love and would make a perfect seat for our bench. Remember to always look out for quality wood. It's out there. Sometimes it’s been covered up or painted over but with a little work it can come back to life. We also found a large piece of scrap plywood that could be used for the back of our bench.
We peeled back the laminate and sanded the adhesive off the wood. We used an electric orbit sander but if you can’t track one done sandpaper and some elbow grease will work. We started with a grit around 80 and finished with a grit around 220. The higher the grit number, the smoother the finish of the wood will be. Apologies for the sub-par video quality but you get the idea.
We used a jigsaw to cut the seat (work surface) and back (plywood) to our desired dimensions. We cleaned up the cut edges with our sander. We needed to cut round corners into the plywood and we did this by using a large bowl, lining it up with either perpendicular edge on the wood and traced along the bowl from edge to edge with a pencil. We then made cut along our lines with the jigsaw and cleaned up the edges with our sander.
Our next step was to create the padded seats and seat backs. We found some scrap pieces of chipboard that we could use for these. The biggest challenge was making circular cuts out of rectangular wood pieces. If you can track one down, a router is best for this. We did not have access to one so we instead built a slip for our jigsaw that we could mount to a center posted nail. Ours wasn't as pretty as this one but you get the idea. Our circles weren't the best but we were able to clean them up with our sander.
We spent a good chunk of time looking for secondhand fabrics. Fabrics can be tough as it’s not just about the color but the texture as well. Before you purchase, see if a market or retailer will give you a small sample piece of the fabric to ensure it will compliment the other colors you’re working with. We found some at the ReUse Market and others we found from retailers online. All of them were willing to provide small samples before purchasing. Here's a great resource for tracking down secondhand fabrics. At Second Chance we found some scrap pieces of carpet pad and pillow batting that we could use to cushion the seats and seat backs.
When it came time to upholster the padded seats and seat backs we started by cutting our carpet pad and batting to match the circular bases we cut. Fabric is a bit different: the fabric needs to not only cover the surface of the padded seats but also the sides AND have enough left to reach around to the underside where it can be attached to the base. This article was a great resource for upholstering circular seat pads on your own.
We used a heavy duty staple gun to attach the fabric to the circular bases but hammering in small tack-like nails will also do the trick. Just make sure the heads are flat (not rounded) and that the nail portion is not long enough to reach all the way through to the other side of your wood bases. You don’t want anyone to get poked in the ass when they sit down.
After upholstering we stained all the wood with some excess stain we found at Second Chance. We then attached the plywood to the wall with heavy duty mounting screws. To finish the seat we just needed some legs. We simply used some 1” metal piping we had lying around.
This can be found at any donated building materials store. We painted these black with some paint we picked up from Second Chance.
We attached the legs to the underside of the seat and used a couple repurposed L brackets to finally attach the seat (work surface) to the back (plywood). Make sure any mounting screws will be hidden. In our case we made sure they would be obscured by the seat.
We then attached our seat pads to the seat and the seat backs to the back with our drill and a few screws. As a last little detail we found some pieces of brass from our jewelry making materials.
We cut them into small pieces, hammered them out and wrapped them around the base of each leg. They were a nice pop of metal to help obscure the threading of the metal piping.
And our finished bench one more time...
AND, as promised, here are some other cool elements in our store that were born out of reuse. The materials for these elements were sourced from a variety of different places. From wood leftover to build custom trailers to scraps leftover from an office closure. We hope you enjoy these!
Pony wall built from repurposed wood, fabric, carpet pad and table tops
Slotted storage case built from repurposed wood
Product shelves built from repurposed table tops
Product displays made from repurposed wood and fluorescent light covers
When you are perusing materials for a reuse project you have to see their potential. Imagine your finished product. Break it into smaller pieces. Look at all these smaller pieces and see how the materials can become each one of these pieces.
For your next project stop scouring Amazon, Wayfair and West Elm. Challenge yourself. Step out and see what you can come up with. Reuse can be challenging but the rewards are bountiful. You’re left with a one of a kind creation that makes less of an impact on both your wallet and the environment. And when you do it, share it with your friends, family and instagram followers. You may just inspire someone else’s next project!