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Upcycling Basics: Wary Of Wood

Upcycling Basics: Wary Of WoodWhen done right, upcycling offers the chance for you to bring new life to existing items. Not only is it hugely beneficial for your creative side, but it’s also a wonderful way of limiting the number of tons that are sent to landfill every year. When you can have a fun hobby and help out the environment, you’re pretty much onto a stone cold winner right there.

However, some things in this world are not the best materials for upcycling. Whenever you’re beginning to contemplate your next DIY project, you need to ensure that you’re going to be doing it in the safest manner available to you. That means you need to know what will upcycle well, and what might be more hassle than it’s worth.

The Safety Concern

Be it teak furniture for your living room or just a wooden photo frame project you want to try, a huge amount of upcycling focuses on wood. Wood is, of course, one of the world’s most reliable resources – especially if the wood has been grown in a sustainable way. Even if it hasn’t been, reusing and repurposing existing wood is a great way of ensuring the most benefit is had from that which has already been harvested.

So there’s absolutely no argument: wood + upcycling = a good idea. Furniture, pallet projects – they all have their place in the keen upcycler’s scrapbook, which you’re not going to need to forgo over safety issues.

The Problem

Not all wood, however, is created equally. As it is biodegradable, much of the wood in common usage has been treated with chemicals to ensure it remains usable year after year. That’s not particularly a problem in and of itself; you can have these items in your home without any cause for concern.

With upcycling, this isn’t the case. If you’re going to be using any kind of tool that will penetrate the wood’s exterior – such as a sander or a saw, both of which are commonly used in upcycling projects – then you’re going to need to be careful. When you break through this chemical treatment, you can release particles into the air. If you inhale these, then you could be harming your health.

Pallet Problems

Pallet projects are a mainstay of the upcycling playbook. Pallets have one use in the world – to be used to transport goods – but tend not to be reused, as each use weakens them. So they are discarded, meaning they are great options for people wanting cheap timber.

Pallets do have their problems though. Like the majority of wood, they are treated – but they are particularly dangerous given their life history. You can be fairly sure a vanity unit that was once used in a house isn’t going to have any nasty microbes on it; the same is not true of pallets. That’s why you should be especially concerned when doing pallet projects and take the time to guarantee your safety.

So What’s Safe?

For pallets, always look for one of the two marks:

  • DB for “debarked”.
  • HT for “heat treated”.

These pallets have not been chemically treated and have thus been judged safe for a variety of projects.

For furniture, it’s far more difficult to tell. There is a chance that the veneer of wood furniture contains phthalates, a dangerous chemical that should be used with extreme caution. Always wear breathing apparatus and perform work outside, just to be safe.

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