Any woodworker soon finds themselves with a pile of scrap plywood pieces and no idea what to do with them. We tend to keep them with the idea that we will use them someday, when we need a small piece of plywood for something or other. The problem is, “someday” never seems to come; so our pile of scrap grows, being too “valuable” to just throw away.
The real problem here is that we tend to think in terms of using that scrap plywood as a part of a larger project, rather than coming up with projects that can be made out of that small stuff. But if we shift our focus, there are countless different ways that small pieces of plywood can become a big part of small projects.
Being a woodworker who likes making both large and small projects, I manage to keep my scrap plywood pile down pretty good, which also helps me to keep my other scrap wood box fairly low too. After all, most of these plywood projects mix with other types of wood as well.
One thing to keep in mind, when looking at how you’re going to use scrap plywood, is the quality of the plywood in question. Much of the scrap I have is construction-grade plywood, which tends to have voids. While I don’t have any problem with filling voids with putty and using the wood, I have found that small pieces of plywood with voids tend to lose their structural integrity. So even trying to make the most out of my scrap plywood, I end up with some pieces that end up in the trash.
Another important thought about using scrap plywood is that it can be laminated together, essentially turning it into striped dimensional wood. The layers of veneer can end up being a design element in and of themselves and gluing a lot of small pieces of plywood together, turns them into something much more usable. This is especially true of quality hardwood plywood or marine grade plywood, which is made without any voids.
But even small pieces of construction grade plywood work out well, when laminated together. While there are voids in that type of plywood, we must remember that the majority of the sheet won’t have voids. Scrap pieces which come from sections without voids, are just as good as scraps that come from hardwood, with the exception that they don’t have the thin hardwood veneer. So, when clean and clear scraps are laminated together, they are just as good for small projects as the higher grades of plywood.
One of my favorite places to use scrap plywood is for children and grandchildren. There are an endless number of ways that plywood can be used for children, either in making toys for them or in giving them things to do.
The big home improvement stores put project kits together for kids to do, charging their parents a pretty penny for those kits. There’s no reason to pay those high prices, when there’s a stack of scrap plywood lying around. There are plenty of plans and patterns online, which can be used for coming up with our own project kids, either for our own kids to do or to give as gifts. Sounds like a great alternative to giving away candy on Halloween.
Let Them Make Stuff
My kids always enjoyed my scrap box, as they were allowed to use anything in it, without having to ask. I could just about count on one or both of them being in my workshop with me in the evening, turning that scrap into “great” creations. They enjoyed it and it gave them the opportunity to learn basic woodworking skills.
One of the great educational toys for little ones is a busy board; a board with different tactile things for a baby to do, developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Many of the plastic toys out there use some part of a busy board as their basis for design.
Any decent size piece of plywood, from a strip 8” wide by several feet long, to something that’s actually a couple of square feet, can be used for making a busy board. It’s also a great place to put all that miscellaneous hardware that’s been sitting around to use.
Wood Cars and Trucks
Laminating plywood together gives nice solid pieces which can then be cut out and sanded to make simple wood cars and trucks. This is a great way to use up all those cores that came from using a hole saw too.
For a fancier truck, use ½” to ¾” scrap pieces of plywood to make fenders, bumpers and other add-on parts of the truck. Or, to make it into something really interesting, make threaded wood fasteners and turn that truck into something that can be taken apart and put back together, like a puzzle.
Any scrap wood can be used to make an old-fashioned set of blocks; but plywood works well, with the banding caused by the veneer layers making for an attractive design. The kids probably won’t care, but mom and dad might appreciate that.
For this, the plywood can either be laminated together or used as is, especially if it’s ¾” thick. That thickness can be turned into a lot of nice shapes, which work well for creative little hands to work with.
It’s easy to turn small pieces of scrap plywood into a homemade Jenga game. All that’s needed is 54 rectangles where the length of the rectangle is three times the width. Three-quarter inch thick plywood is ideal for this, although ½” makes for a greater challenge, as it’s a whole lot easier to bump the adjacent pieces while trying to get the one that’s wanted.
Rather than using paper for tic-tac-toe, make a wood one, cutting the Xs and Os out of scrap plywood on a scroll saw and painting or staining them for color differentiation. The “board” can be made by mortising a couple of strips of scrap ripped off of boards for other projects.
Plywood and a Scroll Saw
Speaking of scroll saws, small pieces of plywood are excellent for making cutouts on a scroll saw, especially small, thin pieces, such as ¼” thick Luan plywood. But even ½” plywood works well for cutouts, making it possible to turn those scraps into something useful.
Most of the cutout letters available in craft stores are cut out of plywood. It really doesn’t make much sense to buy them, when there are a mountain of them sitting there, hidden in the scrap plywood pile. Don’t limit your thinking to only using one thickness of plywood either; a nice effect can be accomplished by using different thickness of plywood lettering together.
Much of the work done with scroll saws is decorative in nature; so that pile of scrap plywood is a treasure-trove for anyone who likes scrolling. There are a large number of decorative projects which can be made, including projects that might require a number of different pieces, allowing for use of even small pieces of scrap plywood.
Every home needs a napkin holder and scrap plywood, especially scrap hardwood plywood, is ideal for making one. It can be simple or fancy, as the woodworker desires, and finished with either paint or varnish.
There is a style of Christmas decorations that is just simple silhouettes, whether we’re talking about tree ornaments or yard décor. Since most of these are painted, there’s no reason why several pieces of plywood can’t be bonded tighter, with a butt joint piece glued to the back side. That allows even making larger pieces, such as a yard nativity scene, out of what would otherwise be nothing more than scrap.
Everyone enjoys a jigsaw puzzle and the ideal material for making one is plywood. While a large jigsaw puzzle might require cutting into a new sheet or using a large piece of not really scrap plywood, there’s a lot that can be done with smaller pieces, including jigsaw puzzles with unusual shapes.
Stores use signs to tell us a wide variety of things, such as where the bathroom is. For families which do a lot of entertaining or have a lot of houseguests, adding a few signs can be extremely useful. Even labeling light switches can be helpful.
Many signs in stores and other places of business today are silhouettes, such as the signs used for restrooms. Those will work in a home, just as well, and can be made out of small pieces of scrap plywood.
Useful Things Around the Home
Many of the projects we make in our workshops end up being used around our homes, in one way or another. Either that or they just annoy our spouses, by taking up space and collecting dust. Better that those projects be things that are useful, so that there’s some tradeoff for any work put into dusting them off.
Small squares or circles of scrap plywood can be stacked and laminated, either aligning the pieces or keeping them offset, then a large hole can be drilled into the center of the stack to make a candle holder. Depending on the size hole put in the candleholder, it can be used with votive candles or tapers.
As an alternative construction technique, the stack of laminated wood pieces can be taken to the lathe and turned, providing a smoother finish to the outside of a round candle holder.
Just about any rectangular piece of plywood can be easily turned into a serving tray by adding a rim around the edge and handles. These make great gifts as well, which are sure to impress any who receive them.
Laminating strips of plywood together, can make a great cutting board, with the edge grain of the plywood forming a nice pattern. This is one where voids can be an issue, so they should be avoided. Since the cutting board would probably be made of softwood plywood or a hardwood plywood with softwood core veneers, it would be a good idea to finish it with a heavy coat of poured on epoxy for protection.
Miniature “Crates” for Organization and Storage
The wood crate has become somewhat of a standard for home décor, especially in homes where a “country farmhouse” style is desired. These crates can be made in a variety of sizes, allowing them to be used for storing a wide variety of different items in a wide variety of different places. Since there is no right or wrong size for the crates, they can easily be made out of scraps of plywood, designing the crate to fit whatever scraps are available.
For people who garden, there’s no such thing as too many planters. wood planters, even plywood planters, provide for both a casual and elegant style, giving a natural looking home to the plants in them.
Wood planters can either be made to be used directly, with the soil filling the planter or with a pot set inside the wood planter. That is usually better, for the long-term, as the moisture from the soil will eventually work its way through the finish and into the wood, causing it to rot. Just make sure there’s a good drain hole in the bottom, so that any overwatering can make its way out of the pot.
Sofa Arm Organizer
Everyone needs a place to keep their television remote collection, their phone, and even to set a drink or some snacks. A sofa arm organizer, which can be made out of scrap plywood, provides room for all that, in a convenient place, right on the arm of the sofa.
Canned Goods Dispenser
Canned goods can be held organized and dispensed as needed by a rack, either sitting on a shelf or hanging on a wall. The key is making the slots in the rack just the right size for the cans, with a lip at the dispenser end, so that they cannot fall out.
Dividing up a drawer, like the dividers made for silverware, is an excellent way of keeping things organized and making them easier to find. These are normally made of small pieces of plywood anyway, so there’s no reason not to make them out of plywood scraps.
For the Workshop
No workshop is complete, unless the woodworker has customized it for their own personal use. That doesn’t just mean setting the various tools, toolboxes and workbenches where the woodworker wants them, but also the little details, the things that make it easier for the woodworker to ply their craft.
This often means that a fair number of the woodworker’s projects are things for their own workshop, whether those be storage racks, shelves, tool holders or whatever. These projects are often made of scrap wood, as we all tend to pinch pennies a bit, trying to save them for a new tool we’ve got our eyes on or for the larger projects we’re trying to do.
Tool Holders & Hangers
One of the more useful things to make, for any workshop, is tool holders. Regardless of how big your toolbox is and how many drawers it has, it eventually fills up. But worse than that, getting the tools always means going to the toolbox and opening it up, then looking for the desired tool.
While I’ll never get rid of my toolboxes, I find that having tool holders for categories of tools that I use frequently to be extremely useful. Not only does it expand the available space I have in my toolbox, but it puts the tools I use most often within reach, while working at my bench. That saves time and aggravation, while helping to keep my workshop organized.
A tool caddy is extremely useful for those times when it’s necessary to work on something in the home, which is too far from the shop to be making trips back and forth all the time. It allows an organized way of carrying a number of tools, without having the awkward problem of too many tools to fit in one’s hands.
Tool caddies can be made in a variety of sizes and styles, depending on the woodworker who will be using it. One useful thing to do is to make several small compartments so that tools will stand up and be easy to see, while leaving one or two larger compartments for the bigger tools that will be carried along.
Storing material can be a bit of a nuisance, especially storing it neatly, where everything can be seen and nothing will warp due to the way that it is stored. Scrap plywood can be used to make organizers, especially for smaller material, which seems to be the bigger problem.
Another way of using scrap plywood to make a material rack is to make something that hangs from the ceiling joists. Just remember that the wood which will be stored in that rack is going to get heavy, so don’t make it so wide that it sags from the weight. If the material isn’t any wider than the joist spacing, then it makes sense to put hangers at every joist.
One of the last unused frontiers in the workshop is usually the ceiling space. Making hanging material racks can be very useful, turning otherwise unused space into usable storage space. Another thing that can be hung from the ceiling quite effectively is ladders. All it takes is a bracket at one end and a couple of hooks at the other. The bracket can either be a wide “U” hung from the rafters or something that looks like a small shelf, up near the ceiling. For the other end, the ladder is lifted up and a short length of rope or a bungee cord is hooked around one of the rungs and to the two hooks, holding up that end.
I actually did this with a rather heavy 28’ extension ladder in a previous home. But rather than trying to hold the weight of the ladder up with one hand, so I could hook it, I set up a simple pulley for pulling that end up and into place. The cord was then tied off on a cleat, attached to the wall.
If there’s anything a woodworker needs, its clamps. We also need them readily accessible, where we can get to them at a moment’s notice. Putting them away just doesn’t make much sense, as that makes it hard to grab one, when needed. The solution is to make a rack, which will hold our F and bar clamps, as well as wood screw clamps and spring clamps. Just make sure that the rack is on a wall near the workbench, so that it is easy to reach.
Shelves are always useful, although it usually requires larger scraps to make them. Nevertheless, there are times when there’s a long strip of plywood which doesn’t seem to have a home. That’s just about a shelf waiting to happen. All that’s needed is some sort of shelf brackets and there’s a little more storage space in the workshop.
Finally, plywood scraps can always be used for making segmented wood turning projects. Mixed together with pieces of hardwood, the striped pattern of the plywood looks nice. It also turns nicely, although care must be taken when combined with hardwood, as the softer plywood will cut quicker and not as neatly as the hardwood will. The neatness problem can be solved in sanding, and the difference in cut by judicious control of the cutting tools.
When laminated together and then cut with the lathe turning perpendicular to the plywood’s veneers, the plywood provide a nice, striped pattern, that is consistent across the entire project. But when laminated and then the axis or turn is parallel to the veneer layers, the laminated plywood block ends up looking like the rings in a tree, to the point where most people won’t even realize that it is plywood. The giveaway, of course, is that these “rings” are much more consistent than an actual tree will provide.
More complex segmented plywood pieces can also be made, using smaller pieces of scrap plywood. This can create a variety of effects, where the “grain” pattern of the plywood’s layers is the outstanding feature of the turned piece. The possibilities are only limited by the imagination of the woodworker.