What to do about “Scrap”

As a manufacturing/process engineer, I am programmed to reduce scrap and optimize materials. When it comes to DIY projects around the house, things are no different. Here are some tips on how to optimize your materials and what to do with any scrap you end up with.

#1 – Measure Twice Cut Once!!!

It may seem repetitive, but it has saved me from so many mistakes. Everybody has a bad day, and especially in the midst of a DIY project, your brain is bound to shut off at least once or twice. When you measure something at 65” and swear you read 56”, or accidentally read off 9/16” instead of 9/32”. When you measure twice, you are less likely to make the same mistake both times. Ideally, if you are working with another person, have them verify your measurement, especially if you are performing a critical cut on pricey material.

#2 – Play “Tetris” with your cuts

The benefit to “Doing it Yourself”, is that you can spend more time optimizing your cuts to maximize the use of your materials (with a contractor on the clock, this will likely just cost you more money). Make a list of the cuts you know you need, and plan them out. If you have leftover material from another cut, try to use this first for any new cuts.


Ex: I had the above measurements and could buy the needed material in 6’ or 8’ lengths. With a little planning, we determined that we needed to buy one 8’ length and two 6’ lengths, and would end up with 30” of scrap, which could be usable for something else later on.

#3 – Start with your larger cuts first

For our bookshelf, we needed several strips of MDF board cut to 15 7/8”. Half way through, our cutting guide got nicked, and a few of our strips were slightly off. However, we thought ahead before starting the cuts. We also needed several strips cut to 15 ½”, so we were able to trim the “messed up” strips and use them elsewhere. You can always cut material down further, but you can’t add it back.

#4 – Keep your scrap

No matter what you do to optimize your material, you will always still have scrap. But scrap doesn’t have to be scrap. Keep a neat pile of all reasonably sized pieces of scrap because they are great for making cutting jigs, practicing techniques, and visualizing your project. We had a lot of “scrap” with our bookshelf due to the non-optimal measurements we were working with, but we used almost all of it between cutting guides and testing out cuts. When you are done with the project, I suggest keeping some of that scrap for the next project or just to have. We had about 100 1’ lengths of fence panels left over from doing our backyard, and they made great “stickers” to place under our MDF sheets to support and space them while cutting.

#5 – Inspire your kids!

Scrap can be great inspiration for kids. Let them build something with your scrap, or teach them age appropriate shop skills. When I was younger, I would always take scrap wood pieces and nails to build little creatures (see image below). They weren’t too impressive, but it got me thinking creatively and may have even been one of my early inspirations to become an Engineer.


Bug Creature I made around age 5


Thank you for reading, please feel free to leave any questions or comments.


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