Welcome to Woodworking for Mere Mortals.

Free woodworking plans. Easy woodworking projects. Fun woodworking videos. Woodworking for Mere Mortals.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A whole LOT of uses for sawdust

I received an email from Adam Reed wondering if I had any suggestions for what to do with sawdust. Sure, we occasionally mix it with glue and make wood filler, but mostly it all goes into the garbage. It seems so wasteful.

So I posted the question on the Mere Mortals Facebook page a got a bunch of good suggestions. But special kudos goes to 
Walter Masten who has already been compiling a list of ideas he has run across and has even taken the time to categorize them. I have taken the liberty to edit his list as well as add suggestions from people on Facebook and put them all in the following list.

I can't personally guarantee the veracity of any of these as they are tips from around the web, but most seem like reasonable uses for sawdust. Feel free to add any of your own in the comments section. I just hate throwing stuff away!

Sawdust Uses in the Wood Shop
  • Fill wood holes and defects. Used by professional floor refinishers, very fine sawdust or "wood flour" makes excellent, stainable filler when mixed into putty with wood glue. The wood flour from my sanders I put in small zip lock sandwich bags, label them as to wood type and save for project repairs or repairs to wood structures around the house.
  • I occasionally go through my old cans of paint, finish, and stain to throw away. By law you can’t throw those as a liquid in the landfill. But you can if they are dry. I pour the liquids into a bucket of saw dust until it is absorbed nicely and let it dry. Then I dispose of it.
  • You can pour them into moulds coated with wax to make stuff. You just need to mix them with a bit of resin. Turns out like MDF, except whatever shape you want. Paintable, stainable and super easy to sand and get a glass like finish on.
  • I use mine to protect the concrete floor of my shop. I have found that a 50mm thick layer prevents scratching of the delicate concrete surface and deadens the noise of falling tools.

Sawdust Uses in the House/Body/Cooking

  • Lighten up cement. Sawdust mixed into mortar has long been used when erecting cordwood walls to aid in bonding the logs together. Do the same when casting lightweight vessels and moisture-loving planters.
  • Use wood shavings as a packaging material in place of Styrofoam peanuts, bubble wrap, and other synthetic material.
  • Clean a floor. Moisten a pile of sawdust with water and use a push broom to sweep it around the concrete floor of your garage, basement, or shop. The wet sawdust will capture and absorb fine dust and grime.
  • Cedar can be put in ziploc bags and put in closets.
  • Pack a path. Tamp sawdust into a dirt walkway to curtail erosion and create a soft, fragrant pathway through your garden or wooded lot.
  • For areas that get snow. Use untreated wood shavings for traction on sidewalks etc. better for the plants than using salt products.
  • Get a grip. Winter loggers spread sawdust on their truck paths. It provides traction and strengthens compacted snow while protecting the ground underneath.
  • Use sawdust to stuff decorative pincushions for gifts at holiday time. Pins and needles won’t rust.
  • I use some of my hardwood shavings in my side fire box meat smoker for added flavor.
  • Use sawdust for soaking up oil spills. Just sprinkle it on, let it sit for awhile and then sweep up. Sawdust can also be used to clean greasy, oily hands and tools. Sprinkle it on, massage thoroughly, and add more sawdust as necessary. Better than using messy newspapers or wasting paper towels.

Gardening with Sawdust:

  • If you use a lot of sawdust in your vegetable garden it might turn your soil acidic. Plants need a somewhat neutral PH to be able to pick up nutrients, so add some lime. Do a soil test to determine how much lime. 
  • Walnut sawdust contains an herbicide and will kill tomatoes and other plants.
  • When using sawdust in gardens always add extra nitrogen, because the decay bacteria will use all available nitrogen and leave the plants with the “yellows.” Eventually the nitrogen is freed, but that may take a year or two. 
  • The larger the pieces of wood, the less nitrogen starvation is a problem. 
  • Chase away weeds. Sawdust from walnut wood is a natural weed killer. Sweep this variety between the cracks of your walkway.

Sawdust and Woodchips for Fuel

  • We burn most of ours in the boiler to make the steam to dry wood.
  • Mix it with wood chips and melted paraffin. Pour into empty tuna fish tins for emergency fuel or camp fire starter
  • Another use for hardwood shavings and sawdust is in ceramic raku firings. It won’t use up great quantities of waste sawdust, but maybe you could get a free pot or two out of the deal, and it is fun to watch.
  • How to build and use a sawdust stove
  • The Fire Brick: I start with a large tub (about 2′ * 15″ * 15″) 3/4 full with sawdust. To this I add 15 – 20 litres (3-4 gallons) of the biodiesel byproduct and mix a bit. I leave this for a day or 2 and then mix again. I repeat this until the sawdust is evenly mixed. If it is too moist, I add more sawdust and mix this sawdust in the top layer. When I have sawdust which can be squeezed in my hand, and it retains its shape, but crumbles when pushed from the side or top, it is ready to be packed.
  • Make a fire starter. Melt candle wax in a nonstick pot, add sawdust until the liquid thickens, pour into an empty egg carton, and let cool. Use the briquettes to help get a fire going.

Animal Woodchip and Sawdust Ideas

  • Certain species of woodchips and sawdust make great bedding for cows, horses, chickens, pigs and other farm animals. Beware Black Walnut though… it’s highly toxic to animals.
  • I also bag some red cedar up in burlap bags and sell them for $10 as dog bedding.
  • As bedding for small mammals gerbils, mice, rats etc.

Sawdust Uses in Projects

  • Make fake snow. Mix sawdust with white paint and glue to cover holiday crafts with simulated snow.
  • Lighten up cement. Sawdust mixed into mortar has long been used when erecting cordwood walls to aid in bonding the logs together. Do the same when casting lightweight vessels and moisture-loving planters.
Sell or give away Your Woodchips and Sawdust

  • I cut a lot of Eastern red cedar and I bag the sawdust up and sell it. I get $3 a plastic garbage bag; using kitchen bags (I believe they are 15 gallon). 
  • Craigslist. Thanks to CL, I have a regular picker-upper now. I let her know, leave them out, and she hauls them away.
  • Donate your sawdust to schools for use in pottery making classes. Some special firing techniques (e.g., the Raku process) involve packing the pieces in sawdust and firing in a pit.


  1. That's a great list! Have to remember more of those ideas...

    When I've tried to make wood filler out of sawdust, it always colors very darkly when finish is applied. The idea was that it was supposed to match the surrounding wood. What am I doing wrong? (Using PVA glue).

    1. Try using sanding sealer before coating, like Zinsser SealCoat. It will help to act as a barrier to absorption, but still allow color to seep in

    2. I was told to thin the glue with water and use more sawdust with it.

  2. Its because it acts like end grain David it soaks up more then long grain your not doing anything wrong.

  3. Sawdust is great for compost bins too!

  4. I put my sawdust in my Mr. Coffee every morning. I mean, if I'm gonna breathe the stuff I might as well drink it.

    Matt Gradwohl
    Upper Cut Woodworks

  5. Depends what I do with wood chip waste. Depends on how much of it I have, what type it is, if it is contaminated with other garbage, what mood I'm in etc. But generally if I bother with the stuff I just dump it on a trail I have in my back yard. Though sometimes I will use some to soak up oil spills. Not that I spill a whole lot of oil, but when I do some saw dust works great for that.

    Mostly for me wood chips and saw dust from woodworking is a nuisance. Though one of my famous saying when people ask me if I work wood is to reply, no I make dust, everything else is just a byproduct of the dust making process!

  6. shavings from a jointer or planer work great for removing paint remover and refinishing liquids off of furniture - just grab handfulls of it ans start rubbing then bag it up and dispose of it.

    Sawdust or shavings can be used to burnish wood spinning on a lathe...hold it up tight to the whirling wood in your (gloved) hand.

  7. Hmmm. How about adding scented oil to sawdust or chips and tying it in nylons. Would make a good "under the seat" air Freshener.

  8. Hi Steve,

    The sawdust you mix with paint might be useful as 'firelighters' for those who have log burning stoves. Not sure if the emissions would be good though. So maybe mix with paraffin wax, and make 'briquettes', for starting off the log fires. Or just make misshapen lumps maybe. After all they are just going to be burned, right? Is that cool? Or Not, maybe hot! But you get my drift?

    Woodrow Lister

    1. Absolutely, Woodrow!! My wife mixes sawdust or that shredded packing packing paper and melts candle stubs and paraffin down to make fire-starters for our wood-stove!

      Steve MacLeod

  9. Shavings remove the excess grouting from tiled floors. Works real well.

  10. Bob from Florida.
    Ever get the pickle buckets from Firehouse Subs? Dump some sawdust in there to get rid of the smell of brine. Remember not to eat the sawdust no matter how good it smells.

  11. Hi,

    Steve, I really appreciate your site - it reminds us that good working tools may be built without spending a lot (my other problem being I live in a flat, so space is at a premium...)

    I recently had a weird experience with a mix of white wood glue, of the fast drying type, and some sawdust - when it dried it became a very dark brown color, which in no way matches the mahogany veneer of the planks I was working with. Fortunately this was not a critical work (I don't do critical work, anyway...)

    About uses for sawdust, just as long as people remember sawdust is flammable (and sawdust+varnish the more so...)and take their precautions...

    Thanks for all

  12. When you build bird houses, remember that some birds like saw dust inside their next box. Chickadees, for example, prefer it.

  13. works great for a composting toilet here is a link about it. http://www.weblife.org/humanure/chapter8_2.html I built one for my father in laws shop because his shop is so far away from the house this worked out great.

  14. One thing you can do is invest in hydraulic piston and pump, and make cylinder shape mold, to make wood briquettes. It`s not cheap, but they burn very well and if you have a larger wood shop, or do a lot of projects, you could use them whole winter, or you could sell them, or store them for winter (if you don`t live in Cali like Steve :))

  15. Hi Steve, I have made artwork from sawdust in the past, it makes it recycled aswell!
    Great Website, BTW.

    1. hey bob!.. I m also loooking for an idea to make a big decoration or art work using saw dust.. . if u have some ideas !!!pls do tell me!!

  16. For any of you who are into backyard ballistics (spudguns) you can make a mold and pour a mixture of 20-80 sawdust (by volume) to water to create Pykrete bullets. Pykrete has greater tensile strength than concrete (though less than half of concrete's crushing strength).

    Nothing like punching a piece of ice through blocks of wood.

  17. How about using sawdust sandwiched between stud walls instead of regular insulation to form an acoustic sound baffel and act as an insulator too? not sure of the "R-Value" though.
    Maybe design hollow wall acoustic panels thta can be filled with sawdust and used to house noisy power tools?
    You could mix with polyurethene and make interestng countertops.
    Or, create a secret "pocket" in the back of evey desk, cabnet, etc. to let the sawdust go with its project. ;-)

  18. Thats a great post sanwiched between stud walls instead of noisy power tools.. Its make interesting countertops based on cement wall putty..

  19. When using it in molds, what kind of resin do you use and is it flexible? I'm looking to make decorative furniture appliques. The ones for sale are pricy and state they are made from "resin and wood filler." Any idea what they are using? I know I can make them from plaster but I would like them to bend with the curves of the furniture.

  20. make particle board from saw dust


  21. Great idea's. But what about, saw dust from treated wood?

  22. some of my friends seem to have filled there heads with sawdust
    because there daft as a brush

  23. Tile Grout
    Tile Adhesive is a dry entry line polymer modified thin-set mortar used in the installation of tiles and stones over floors or walls. This mortar is recommended for most interior and exterior residential uses as well as light interior commercial uses.

    more details


  24. Not sure if it's been mentioned or not but I do not recommend the suggestion to use the shavings in a wood smoker for food. The chemicals of pressure treated wood should not be digested. My two cents.

  25. Um, is there a reason why I would want a sealed bag of cedar dust in my closet?