A Big Pile of No. 2

I do not have the gene of a hoarder or a collector. The fewer things I own, the happier I am. So for the last eight years, a pile of wood has made me miserable.

The following is a cautionary tale for beginning woodworkers about getting stuck with the world’s largest horde of mostly useless scraps. Or, as I called it, my big pile of No. 2.

It started with a phone call from a close friend and colleague. An elderly friend of his with Alzheimer’s was selling his tool collection and all his lumber. Both the husband (who was the tool collector) and his wife were afraid they would get taken advantage of when selling the wood. It was many hundreds of board feet of wide cherry and walnut.

Would I take a look?

It was a three-hour drive, but I agreed to go. I called the elderly man before I went, and he got it in his head that I was going to buy all his wood. I honestly didn’t need a splinter of it, but I rented a truck and made the trip.

The wood filled his entire basement. And, as advertised, it was loads of wide cherry and walnut. The problem was that it had been planed to 3/4” and had warped during the last couple decades. As I sifted through the stacks I realized that most of it was No. 2 common (at best). Lots of sap, knots, unusable grain. About 20 percent of the stack was FAS (firsts and seconds).

The deal was all or nothing for the wood. I wanted to walk away, but I felt sorry for this old couple that was struggling with Alzheimer’s (which my grandmother had), and they really just needed this wood gone. So I made a kind offer.

The wife was insulted. She thought the wood was worth several multiples of what I offered.

They agreed to my price. But it was a miserable day because they thought they were getting screwed. And I knew I was getting screwed.

For the last eight years my friends and I have all picked at this pile of walnut and cherry. If you’ve taken a class at Lost Art Press, you probably have worked with some of my No. 2. I’ve given away lots of it to beginning woodworkers who wanted to make mistakes in inexpensive wood. It’s been used as backboards and interior bits in my case pieces.

Today, I loaded up the last 100 board feet of the stuff into a dumpster. Lucy and I are moving out of our house and above our storefront, and there’s no room for this garbage wood.

Good riddance and – I hope – never again.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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45 Responses to A Big Pile of No. 2

  1. Bill Giles says:

    I have recently got back into woodworking as a hobby. I have a shelf under my bench with sides and if I have a bit of wood more than 6 inches long I think “there will be a use for this” and under the bench it goes. In the last year my shelf has become overloaded. I really need to be hard hearted and get the scraps used for firewood. Much of it is cheap pine with a few bits of oak. Maybe I’ll start by getting rid of the pine!

  2. Dfost says:

    Argh!!!!! No!!! This is cutting board nirvana for us beginners. Crap. Wish I lived on the area

  3. Jeff says:

    A dumpster fire is in order.

  4. Jim Slusser says:

    Bless your heart.

  5. Scott Maurer says:

    Missed opportunity for smoked meat.

  6. JY Chin says:

    Why not free on Craigslist instead of dumpster?

    • This is the wood people wouldn’t take even when it was offered for free.

    • Jim Dillon says:

      Not to disagree with you, JY, but rather complicate what you say. I personally find that dealing with leftovers can be a challenging, thought-provoking, and even rewarding aspect of woodworking, co-equal with designing, joinery, sanding & finishing . . . I have given away leftover/picked over/short ends of wood several times via Craigslist, Freecycle, and my local woodworking guild. I found that if I let people take what they wanted and leave the rest, I’d spend a lot of time and still have plenty of unwanted wood to dispose. Insisting on “all or nothing” worked somewhat better but still involved real cost in time to photograph & write the listing, then chaperone the pickup process. The past several years I’ve found a coworker who heats with wood and is delighted to get occasional tubs or plastic bags of kindling and tinder. He even likes hand plane shavings for tinder, though I tend to keep dust & shavings for my own compost.

  7. Kerry Doyle says:

    Too bad you weren’t blessed with a fireplace. It’s a wood worker’s way of eliminating mistakes and staying warm.
    While it required no financial outlay, a brother in law who guards a barge dock spoke in glowing terms of beautiful 4×4 oak five feet long. “You better hurry and get them before they’re gone,”
    As we delve deeper into this hobby and avocation, our wood tastes become more refined. It seems like there’s always that person who thinks they’re doing such a good deed by rustling up some bargain wood.
    I didn’t want to turn down the helpful relative, but the timber’s loaded under fading twilight into seriously laden truck rolling low on its springs, turned out by full daylight to be worthy of landscape timber status, and little more. When it dries in a couple of years it could be firewood.

  8. Joe Natishan says:

    Chris, I recently had a similar opportunity with a neighbor up the road. My next door neighbor told me about a lady a half a mile up the road whose husband had passed. He had a nice standalone shop building and a ton (literally) of cherry and walnut nicely racked (lots of 16″+ wide and 5/4″-2+” thick), most were 8-10′ long. High quality stuff. The full racks were 8′ high!. The machines weren’t anything special (I have a full shop with better stuff) but I knew the wood was worth a lot. Tempering my excitement was the fact that I’d have to put it somewhere in my house not to mention carry some behemoth boards! AND, I’d have to move the boards again to our new house in the next year!
    So I didn’t aggressively pursue the purchase – she knew I was interested but she claimed that a son-in-law was interested in a couple of boards and she’d let me know. Happily I never got to the “making an insulting offer” stage as she found someone else who apparently agreed to buy everything (wood and machines). I’m actually quite glad that I didn’t create a lot of work for myself even if it meant not getting a lot of terrific wood at a good price. This time the dark side of an opportunity was readily apparent!
    Joe

  9. Chris, I recently had a similar opportunity with a neighbor up the road. My next door neighbor told me about a lady a half a mile up the road whose husband had passed. He had a nice standalone shop building and a ton (literally) of cherry and walnut nicely racked (lots of 16″+ wide and 5/4″-2+” thick), most were 8-10′ long. High quality stuff. The full racks were 8′ high!. The machines weren’t anything special (I have a full shop with better stuff) but I knew the wood was worth a lot. Tempering my excitement was the fact that I’d have to put it somewhere in my house not to mention carry some behemoth boards! AND, I’d have to move the boards again to our new house in the next year!
    So I didn’t aggressively pursue the purchase – she knew I was interested but she claimed that a son-in-law was interested in a couple of boards and she’d let me know. Happily I never got to the “making an insulting offer” stage as she found someone else who apparently agreed to buy everything (wood and machines). I’m actually quite glad that I didn’t create a lot of work for myself even if it meant not getting a lot of terrific wood at a good price. This time the dark side of an opportunity was readily apparent!
    Joe

  10. Jim Dillon says:

    Chris, you provoked some strong emotions in me with your description of the older couple you bought the wood from. Several times, I’ve helped transfer the tools or lumber of an elderly woodworker in the grip of dementia or another terminal condition. It’s never easy, and seems to be just as likely to generate bad feelings, as in your story, or positive ones. Even the positive experiences, where the person selling or giving away the stuff realizes it will be used appreciatively and respectfully, are emotionally draining. As a result, I have included a letter on how to dispose of my woodworking stuff in the “In Case of My Death” file my wife and sons know they’ll find if they need it. It’s a brief essay on which tools matter to me personally (and why), which ones I consider no more than appliances, along with the names and contact information of a couple of woodworkers I tell the reader to trust implicitly to help set prices & find buyers for what isn’t kept (and instructions that whoever helps with this sale gets 50% of the proceeds). Leftover materials are to be given away free. One man’s approach, offered to help others minimize anguish later on.

  11. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack says:

    No good deed goes unpunished

  12. Ronnie Kotler says:

    Good story I enjoyed reading it as I do of all your story’s. One day sone I am going to make the trip to your storefront

  13. davevaness says:

    You know someone is going to find that wood in the dumpster and will have a hard time believing
    that some fool is throwing out valuable wood. They will take it home and in 5 or 10 years this guys family are going to ask if you want to buy it 🙂

  14. toolnut says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t want to use it as firewood in the fire pit in the LAP beer garden. Beer, fire and friends go well together.

    • Tony Zaffuto says:

      You beat me to this post! His is what happens to my cut-offs, and the wood that a good meaning uncle always off-loaded on me, while in-loading his wallet.

    • Bruce Lee says:

      Yep, BBQ fodder – unless something really nasty has been spilt on it.

  15. Barry MacDonald says:

    With some epoxy and butterflies, that material could get you trending on instagram.

  16. Bob Glenn says:

    I have found that free wood is generally worth what you pay for it.

  17. Luke Maddux says:

    Been there…

  18. occasionalww says:

    I confess to being afflicted with wood hoarding disorder.
    Storage is definitely a problem, and scraps and offcuts can spend years in my shop before they are used or burnt. You can only make so many chopsticks and cutting boards. My wood stove is my savior and by the time the heating season comes around each year, I have boxes and tubs full of scraps for the fire.

  19. Joe John Nurre says:

    At first I thought “But think of the birdhouses!!!” – then my mind went back a few more years. W hen I first joined the local union over 45 years ago I went to a lot of estate auctions and clearance sales for older members who had passed on. Most of these guys would have started the trade well before World War II and would not have been included in any subsequently negotiated pension plan (or would have been in the shallow end of that pool). I was at first bemused, then amused, then edified by the practice of fellow Carpenters informally bidding up the most worthless stuff to unbelievable, almost incomprehensible, prices until I figured out that the quickest way to dig a hole that would take someone years to dig out of was to cheapshot a Brother Carpenter’s widow. We may have only been able to afford one or two items; but we paid dearly for them and were proud of it. I still have some of that stuff stashed away. I usta puzzle over it; now I treasure it. Yours in solidarity, Joe.

  20. Joe says:

    Good for you! Congrats. I lack a hording gene as well and can’t stand having crap around. Nothing makes me or my wife happier than a big clean out and donating lots of stuff to the local battered woman’s shelter which runs a thrift store in town.

    Out of curiosity, any reason you didn’t use it as firewood? I get not wanting to keep it but it would be free heat in the home. Of course, assumes you have a working fireplace or wood stove.

    My dad on the other hand is a hoarder. He has just about every spot in the basement full of wood. I have half jokingly told him I am going to go through that wood to make him his coffin from it. He thought that was funny. In all reality, I will likely burn it for heat.

    I don’t think folks realize that after a certain point, keeping stuff costs money. For example, I know someone who has rentals. In one of the rentals he has a large garage that he keeps to himself. Where it is located, he could easily rent out the garage to park cars ($250/car/month) and could easily fit 4 cars in parallel. So, the stuff is costing $1,000 per month.

  21. Murray Heidt says:

    rip 4″ strips, glue together = beginners bench top.
    Have a great weekend, enjoy the decluterring.

    • lorenzojose says:

      Ripping and glueing is exactly what I did to build a Tage Friday bench in 1976.

      Still use the bench.

  22. Mituk says:

    I did much the same thing years ago. Most of the wood was not worth what they thought, and much of it had the dreaded powder post beetle tracks. However, they needed it gone, so I worked out a deal and hauled it away, knowing I’d never use most of it. Had to stack it outside well away from my barn where my shop was because I didn’t want to pesky beetles finding my shop.
    The wood weathered, cracked, and checked. Oddly enough, the weathered Cherry actually became usable – the boards that didn’t self destruct looked fantastic with a light planing/sanding and a few coats of varnish.I made a lot of kitchen knife boxes back then, and that cherry was tremendously popular.
    That’s about all it ever got used for.

  23. Bill says:

    I have two rules:
    If it’s less that 12 inches long it’s most likely firewood.
    If it’s more than 8 feet long it’s a tenant, so it has to pay rent by the end of the month.

  24. I bet there’s an easier and less expensive way to get rid of snow than putting it in a dumpster…

  25. Daniel Feeser says:

    In 1989 I answered an ad from a turner that was selling their house and moving into an apartment. The man had a heart attack and did not want the responsibility of dealing with a house in snow country.
    Then I thought the price was cheap, but 30 years later and 6 moves including one of 1000 miles I have come to believe the wood was very expensive as it has owned me rather than me owning it.
    For all those years I have provided heat and shelter and valuable space in my shop areas.

  26. Rachael Boyd says:

    Not a single comment on the term No.2. Hahaha my grand kids would have had a heyday with that one….I love when people bring me that No.2 stuff. my students get to work with different woods to practice dove tails and other joints with hard woods and not spend money on something that they will just through out.

  27. Matt says:

    Did not spark joy

  28. Coco says:

    Hank Gilpin made a point of taking all the timber the sawmill did not sell due to defects etc and made something beautiful from it all. Can’t believe nobody would take it free !

  29. karl wissinger says:

    As a dedicated woodworker of 25 years I can sympathise with the over indulgence of collecting wood. I find the best way of controlling this illness is to move one’s shop every 2 or 3 years and on moving DISCARD the unneeded timber. DAMHIKT but, I now am going through this process this month.

  30. Dean says:

    My 70+ year old dad keeps finding wood and materials that I’ll never use and stacking it in his garage — think nail-filled dimensional lumber, discarded hardwood flooring, a stack of 50 low grade 1x2s, MDF, etc etc. He always talks about having the space for it, despite my protestations. And there’s always the fact that he has space because I’ve spent years “disappearing” the stuff into his firewood stack.

    Generally speaking I turn down offers for wood unless I know that I’m getting something special. I’ve just done too many favours in the past, and end up stuck with stuff I neither want not need.

  31. Quercus Robur says:

    A familiar problem.
    I only recently started to discard “bad wood” that was stored for the never-to-be-project. It’s a slow and painful therapy… I did manage to complete a few 90-100% reclaimed wood projects, but the dictated dimensions of the raw material is quite limiting.
    At least I have some “garden projects” like compost bins/fences/walk paths where the discarded wood can decay slowly while providing nutrients (mushrooms mostly).

  32. DM says:

    I *do* have that gene, inherited from my father, and have amassed a daunting collection of high end and antique hand tools, good quality (though 120v) power tools and accessories, and cast iron antiques that I need to be (mostly) rid of.

    For those with this problem, it is difficult in the extreme if we want to correct course.

  33. Andrew Davidson says:

    There has to be a support group for those of us who can’t throw wood away. I have been storing about three buckets of sticks about 1 inch wide by 5 feet long haphazardly sitting on end. Moving them out of the way, or having them fall when I bump into them. I eventually moved some to the back porch for the fire pit. I keep telling myself, once I work down the pile of wood I have been storing for years, I will only buy as much as needed for the project at hand.

  34. Gav says:

    I ended up with the task of clearing my deceased Dad’s house. There was so much in the way of building materials gathered or donated over the years I lost count at trip number twenty something to the local tip (dump) This was the stuff, mostly timber based which wasn’t any good for anything – painted, treated, damaged, composite, all of the previous etc . My sister ended up with seven tonne of offcuts for firewood which was burnable but of no use for anything else. I then had about three tonne of usable along with the timber I have found, gathered, sourced, scrounged, salvaged or had left over from the time I have been in wood related capers. The scary bit is I came across some easily recognisable pieces that he had kept since I was seven years old, I am now forty six. Admittedly some was old teak which is rather nice but it had never been used and some was so small as to be useless. Suffice to say I am becoming more pragmatic and ruthless and a system of chop and bag is in place for the cruddy and really small bits so my mother in laws wood burner runs through winter. Then there was the metal hardware……

  35. Steve C says:

    I store and hoard, then find myself cleaning out some of those saved scraps. I have a woodstove that heats my shop. It loves scraps, so every so often I feed it some scraps.

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