Trash to Treasure: Reuse Projects for Your Home

Allen Lyle and Danny Lipford with door to desk conversion project.
Allen Lyle and Danny Lipford with door to desk conversion project.

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Recycling consists of a lot more than just remembering to put your newspapers by the curb every week. Another important component is reusing existing items rather than throwing them away or buying new ones.

Here are a few nifty ideas for fixing up old items that might be cluttering up your closet or garage. Used building materials and other household items are also available at bargain prices through classified ads, local salvage companies, Goodwill stores, The Freecycle Network and Habitat for Humanity ReStores.

Refinishing Furniture

Refinishing furniture is a great way to give new life to an old table or chair. For best results, read and follow the instructions and safety information on the stripper and finish.

        Apply stripper                 Remove residue           Clean with solvent

To refinish a piece of furniture:

  • Apply liquid stripper and allow it to remain on the surface for the recommended time.
  • When the finish has softened, use a putty knife with rounded edges to remove the bulk of the old finish.
  • Take off the remaining finish and stripper using steel wool or a plastic scouring pad dipped in the recommended solvent.
  • Sand the surface thoroughly starting with coarse sandpaper (80-100 grit) and working up to fine (180-220 grit). Sand with the grain when possible.
  • Stain the piece and allow to dry. Applying stain with a rag works best.
  • Finish with several coats of a clear finish such as polyurethane.

Sand stripped furniture           Stain furniture                 Finish furniture

Turn Fallen Trees into Lumber

Small, locally owned sawmills are a great way to recycle fallen trees into lumber. Not only does this keep them out of the landfill, but it can provide unusual species of wood in sizes not commonly available for unique woodworking projects.

Watch our video on How to Recycle Fallen Trees

Recycled Punching Bag

You don’t have to send your kids to a gym to find a punching bag to take out their frustrations. With a little imagination and some scrap materials, you can make one yourself using scrap pipe and plywood, an old carpet pad, and duct tape.

To make a punching bag:

  • Cut a piece of 4” PVC pipe several inches longer than the desired length of the punching bag.
  • Cut out a round piece of plywood for the base approximately 10” in diameter, using the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket as a pattern.
  • Cut a plywood disk the interior diameter of the pipe and attach it to the center of the base.
  • Screw the bottom end of the pipe to the plywood disk.

  Attach pipe to base       Roll carpet pad on pipe     Cover pad with tape

  • Cut the carpet pad to the desired width using a utility knife.
  • Attach the pad to the pipe with duct tape.
  • Roll the pad onto the pipe until the thickness equals the diameter of the base.
  • Wrap duct tape around the pad until it’s completely covered.
  • Drill holes in the top end of the pipe, and hang it on a rope from an eye hook screwed to a joist in the ceiling.

Watch our video on How to Make a Punching Bag

Mud Room Shoe Caddy

This handy shoe caddy is perfect for organizing the shoes in your mud room or garage. All you need to make it is some scrap lumber, recycled 5-gallon buckets, and leftover paint.

To make a shoe caddy:

  • Decide on the layout for the buckets. We used six buckets in a triangular configuration, but other groupings work as well.
  • Cut the lips off the buckets with a sabre saw, using the rim as a fence, then sand off any rough edges.
  • Assemble the buckets into the pattern desired, using spring clamps to hold them together.

    Cut rim off buckets           Assemble frame         Attach buckets to frame

  • Screw the bottoms of the buckets to a piece of plywood.
  • Cut and assemble a wooden frame so it fits tightly around the buckets.
  • Sand and paint the frame.
  • Fit the frame over the buckets, and screw the sides of the buckets to it.

Watch our video on How to Make a Shoe Caddy

Desk from Reused Door

There are a number of useful items you can make from old doors, including headboard and room dividers. For our project, we turned a door into a functional and cool looking computer desk with bookshelves.

To turn an old door into a desk or bookcase:

  • Remove the hinges, lockset, and other hardware from the door.
  • Fill any large holes with solid wood and smaller holes using auto body filler.
  • Plane or sand the filler flush with the surface of the door, and sand the door smooth.
  • Cut the desktop and shelves to size.
  • Rout a molding pattern on three sides of the desktop and shelves.
  • Attach wooden shelf brackets (corbels) to the bottom of the desktop and shelves.
  • Mount the desktop and shelves on the door using glue, nails, and screws.
  • Cut and round 2” x 6” x 2’ support legs and attach at right angles to the sides of the door.
  • Attach a coat rack or hooks to the back of door.

    Patch holes in door           Attach brackets                   Attach base

Watch our video on How to Make a Desk from a Door

Other Tips from This Episode

Fixing a Wobbly Chair

Simple Solutions with Joe Truini:
Fixing a Wobbly Chair

It’s easier to attach a shim to the short leg of a wobbly chair than cutting off one of the legs. Start by setting the chair on a flat surface, then slide a shim under the short leg. Trace the outline of the leg on the shim, and cut the shim to size using a hole saw. Attach the shim to the leg with a furniture glide. Install glides on the other legs as well.

Zip Sander

Best New Products with Jodi Marks:
Zip Sander from Gator Finishing

The ergonomic shape and high density foam body makes the Zip Sander from Gator Finishing Products easy to use. Color coded, hook-and-loop sanding sheets—available in fine, medium, and coarse grits—allow you to change sandpaper in seconds. The Zip Sander is available at The Home Depot.

Sponges vs. Paper Towels

Thinking Green with Danny Lipford:
Sponges vs. Paper Towels

Paper towels account for up to 3,000 tons of waste a day. Sponges are a more eco-friendly option for clean up, since one sponge can do the work of 17 rolls of paper towels. To kill the bacteria and mold that can grow on sponges, put a damp sponge in the microwave on high for two minutes.


  1. I just saw your show where you espoused the use of a sponge in the microwave to replace the use of paper towels. Even better is to buy 18 packs of washcloths at Wal-Mart. I use them in the kitchen for everything that I would use a paper towel for. When they get damp or dirty, I just toss them in the washing machine with the rest of my laundry. They last a lot longer than a sponge, no extra electricity is used (well, except for drying,) and, when they get too discolored to use in the kitchen, they get used in the garage or put in my truck for other uses. No paper napkins, either. I only use paper towels for draining bacon; a roll in my house lasts for months!

  2. Danny,
    Enjoyed your show the other day, especially the “Turn Fallen Trees Into Lumber” story. Where is this guy’s shop located?
    Jim S.

  3. That’d be in Fairhope, Alabama. Having served under Roy as a professional wood mover, I can attest that there’s not another soul like him. Roy Hyde will do magic with your wood.

  4. just caught tv show, my kind of tv. enjoyed and looked up site on pc. Very informative, keep up good work. really enjoyed info on Roy Hyde. Wood is wonderful, wish I knew a lot more about it. A.


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