Large or small, all woodworking projects inevitably end with a pile of sawdust that needs to be cleaned up. What do you do with this material? Do you throw it away or use it for something else? This article discusses seven ways to dispose of sawdust, their advantages, and any special measures that need to be taken for each.
7 Best Ways to Dispose of Sawdust
Many methods of sawdust disposal first involve a repurposed use. Below are seven ways to reuse your sawdust before disposal to make the most out of a great byproduct.
#1: Cleaning Up Spills
Sawdust is an extremely absorbent material that is great for cleaning up spills. Reserve some in a canister, jar, or bag for times when a mess has you scrambling. The dust and shavings are excellent for oil-based spills like automotive oil and varnish, as well as any other liquid spills that happen around the home. Simply sprinkle the dust and shavings over the spill and let sit for several minutes to absorb.
Once absorbed, the sawdust can be swept up and disposed of in the bin.
#2: Mulch and Plant Additives
Depending on what type of wood your sawdust is derived from, you can safely use your sawdust to supplement your plants. Acidic in nature, sawdust is a great mulch option for acid-loving plants like blueberry bushes, rhododendrons, and azaleas. Sawdust needs nitrogen to break down, so prior to mulching the soil will need to be treated with a nitrogen fertilizer to avoid nitrogen deficiency in your plants. Once the treatment is in the soil, lay a few inches of sawdust around your plants, avoiding large piles around the stems (they will rot instead of breaking down).
The type of wood used for mulch is very important. Organic material (plants and animals) cannot handle black walnut sawdust. Black walnut contains a natural toxin called juglone, which leaches into the soil as the wood breaks down, causing plants to turn yellow, wilt, and sometimes die.
#3: Compost and Vermiculture
Similar to method two, sawdust can be used in a compost or vermiculture bin. Both compost and vermiculture consist of alternating layers of wet and dry organic material, and sawdust is a great dry organic material to use. The same precaution against black walnut sawdust applies to these methods.
#4: Paint Disposal
If you have extra paint cans lying around waiting to dry out, sawdust is a good tool to help expedite the process. The shavings and dust can be mixed in with the paint to absorb moisture and speed up evaporation. Leave the can open to dry for several days in a well-ventilated area, then dispose of the can in the garbage once the mixture has fully hardened.
#5: Animal Bedding
Wood shavings are a great material to keep for pet bedding, especially for small animals like hamsters, mice, and rabbits. The shavings should be clean and dust-free to protect your pet’s lungs. Pine, oak, cedar, and birch are all good varieties to use for this application. The shavings are soft, absorbent, and smell great!
To protect your furry friend, the types of sawdust to avoid include any wood that has been pressure treated or put through a chemical treatment process. Walnut–especially black walnut–shouldn’t be used for animal bedding. The juglone in the material is toxic to animals.
#6: Fire Starters
Though it does require certain precautions, sawdust can be used to make firestarters. Preparation involves mixing sawdust with melted paraffin wax to form a thick paste, placing it in molds, and allowing it to cool and harden. Once set, wrap the molded blocks in paper and set them aside for future use.
Depending on the wood the dust is derived from, smoke from sawdust can be extremely hazardous to lung health. Pressure-treated wood should never be burned because of the chemicals used during the treatment process. Plywood, MDF, and OSB are included in the list of sawdust to never burn. Also, walnut should not be burned because juglone is a lung irritant and can exacerbate conditions such as asthma.
#7: In the Garbage Bin or Recycling
The classic method if reuse isn’t an option, is to dispose of wood shavings and sawdust in the garbage bin. A common point of concern when throwing away sawdust is the possibility of spontaneous combustion. In small settings like home woodshops, this is rarely a danger. Historically, many sawdust fires have been in conjunction with large (i.e. commercial) quantities of sawdust combined with large amounts of chemical solvents with low flash points.
Any airborne dust can be a fire hazard, however, so the sawdust can first be placed in a canister or bag prior to placing it in the bin to avoid this issue. Some recycling programs accept sawdust as a recyclable material, so check with your local area before throwing clean sawdust away.
Does Sawdust Decompose?
Like any organic matter, sawdust does decompose. This makes it a great material for applications that require biodegradable materials. The decomposition process is excellent for compost, vermiculture, and mulch.
Can You Burn Sawdust?
Though it’s not ideal, with care, sawdust can be burned. The type of wood and its treatments must be taken into account. Pressure-treated, painted, varnished, or any other type of treated wood shavings should not be burned.
Mistakes to Avoid
Below are some common mistakes made regarding sawdust disposal, along with some tips that can be helpful to note.
#1: Throwing Away Sawdust
The most common mistake to avoid is throwing away sawdust without taking advantage of its many applications! It’s a great idea to keep some sawdust around the house as a low-cost versatile solution to many household problems.
#2: Repurposing the Wrong Type of Sawdust
Taking into account the source of the sawdust is hugely important. If the wrong type of sawdust is used, it can have detrimental effects. Take, for example, the hazardous shavings from walnut discussed above. Use of this material in the wrong applications can cause you, your loved ones, or even your pets to become very ill.
Tips and Tricks
When saving sawdust from various projects, make sure to label the types of wood the sawdust is sourced from. This can be immensely helpful when deciding what to do with the shavings.
Sawdust derived from pressure-treated wood can be used for shop spills and various cleanup tasks. Sawdust from hard and softwood (aside from walnut) can be used for firestarters or compost. Having sawdust on hand is even better when you know where and when it can be safely used.
We have reviewed how to reuse sawdust to clean up spills, enhance your compost pile, mulch your plants, and start fires. This article should have given you some ideas on what to do with your leftover sawdust, along with any safety precautions that come with that decision. Come back soon for more great tips and info on your next home project!