When old furniture is not recycled, it typically winds up in a landfill where it will become part of the buildup of excess garbage. As landfills become full, even more landfills are created, which wastes valuable property. Decaying garbage in landfills can also leach toxic chemicals into the water supply and cause more health hazards. The demand for new furniture also means a demand for new wood, which contributes to the ever-present logging pressure on valuable hardwoods. However, few if any new pollutants are put into the environment by the manufacturing process when old furniture is recycled into something new. Best of all, by following these 7 steps you can not only make recycled decor yourself, you can even craft it into stylish modern furniture!
1. Identify a candidate for recycling. Generally, recyclers either have a piece already picked out or have a need for a piece of old furniture. If you happen to be in the second category, it is time to check the local curbsides for abandoned furniture heading to the landfill. Craigslist and local recycling groups can also provide good leads on the furniture that you want. Thrift stores can also usually provide decent quality used furniture. Check with your local landfill or dump sites to see if it is permissible to search through abandoned furniture for usable pieces.
Before you buy or pick up, make sure the piece suits your needs. Fabrics and colors can all be changed, so don't worry about those issues, but do make sure that the interior/core pieces of the furniture are as solid as possible. If it is not as solid as you would like, consider cannibalizing it solely for parts.
2. Once you have the piece of furniture in your home or workshop, carefully look it over. If you cannot tell from a simple inspection whether the piece may have damage or rot, dismantle it. On solid wood pieces, look for any screws, wooden pins or wafers that may have been used in the original joinery. Remove what you can; if the pieces are glued together, a light solvent may be necessary
Stuffed and upholstered furniture often requires a little more work to fully determine soundness. Usually, the upholstery fabric is stapled or tacked to the bottom of the wooden framework. Use a claw hammer to remove any nails and a staple remover for any staples. Unwrap any batting that may be around wooden pieces and be prepared to replace boards that are broken, warped or rotting.
3. Once you have the piece of furniture dismantled, take stock of what salvageable materials you have at your disposal. At this point, you may wish to draw up plans for the rest of your recycling venture. If the original form of the piece of furniture suited what you were looking for with little modification, feel free to proceed without plans. This is also a good time to take any fabric pieces and label them with a permanent marker. Any fabric that can be removed or unpicked from the piece of furniture can serve as a pattern for a new fabric piece. Broken or rotting wood taken from the furniture can work as a pattern for replacement parts.
4. Gather any necessary extra materials. Try to use recycled materials when you add to the project, because the goal is, after all, to be environmentally friendly. Wood can be taken from other pieces of furniture too damaged to recycle fully or from wooden palettes that might otherwise be destined for the landfill. Worn out, solid wood tables often have enough wood in them to provide boards that can be cut to make other pieces, including chairs and cribs.
Sturdy fabrics from old jackets or skirts can make nice upholstery material. Consider piecing patchwork fabrics from old blue jeans for a stylish and durable chair cover. Heavy, tight weave blankets in nice patterns also work nicely for making chair covers. Decorative trims and buttons can come from worn-out clothing.
Even used fasteners can be reused, so take care when you throw any nails or screws away. An ideal recycling project uses less than 20% new materials. If possible, reserve that 20% for new batting and padding or finishes like paints and top coatings. Recycle as much as you can for added components of the project, so that less new items need to be manufactured and fewer existing items go to waste.
5. A new coat of paint or varnish can do wonders for a piece of furniture. Stains can completely change the character of the wood. Paint offers the opportunity to match or complement colors in room decor, and even faux finishes are an attractive possibility. Sand the old finish off of solid wood pieces only; if the furniture is veneered, avoid the sandpaper at all costs. Many veneered pieces use ply-wood or pressboard, which do not take finishes well. Primer the wood before applying paints. Apply a good protective coating or use reclaimed glass to cover table tops.
6. Assemble wooden pieces according to the plans you drafted. Use as many reclaimed nails and screws as you can at this stage, but some new fasteners are allowable if necessary and may provide structurally-required sturdiness. Use the remains of any broken boards to cut new pieces from scrap or reclaimed wood.
7. Draft patterns for fabrics on old newspaper; tape pieces of newspaper together if you need larger patterns. Make sure to add at least five-eighths of an inch seam allowance to all fabric patterns. You may also need to account for fabric shrinkage or stretching. Sew cushion covers and place the batting covered foam inside. Wrap batting over foam and around padded chair backs. Staple fabrics in place or fold the fabric under and use upholstery tacks to hold the edges. And voila! Your hand-made recycled furniture piece is finished.
Keeping useful furniture out of the landfill is a worthy goal. Even pieces that seem beyond repair can be largely dismantled for components. Updating style can be as simple as using a new coat of paint and color of fabric, or it might involve a significant redesign of the overall furniture shape. Keep a close watch for components that will help your repurposed furniture match your design plans. All projects can be considered a "work in progress" until you have them exactly the way you want, and trims and decorations can be applied even after the item has seen use in your home. Ultimately, your imagination is the only limitation!