The fence in my back yard was already half collapsed when I bought my house last year. I figured I'd take care of it eventually, but this winter when a wind storm came through it went from one section already on the ground with two more halfway there to four sections (around thirty feet) down.
There were lots of old rusty nails sticking out all over the place in a spot right next to my daughter's playground, so I decided I'd better do something about that. Without a truck readily available, I decided I'd just remove all the nails from the lumber and make a pile of it somewhere until I had an opportunity to take it down to the wood recycling place.
As I was pounding nails out of boards, I realized that a lot of the pickets, posts and stringers, while not in great shape at the top or bottom, were in relatively good condition for most of their lengths. After disassembling a couple of sections of fence I had a pretty good pile of cedar that, while not any good for building furniture or houses out of or anything like that, were still solid enough that the idea of just sending them away to be chipped and mulched kind of grated on me.
My mind began to churn, what could I build out of all that still perfectly serviceable wood? I later on decided I'd rebuild that entire fence and pulled down even more boards, until the pile got really big. I settled on structures for my garden, and this instructable was born!
Step 1: Get Some Old Wood
Old beat up lumber is actually very easy to find. As I mentioned, I got most of mine from the old fence in my back yard, but I sourced some 2x6's from a couple of other places. My dad had several redwood 2x6's from an old barn (I think) that he offered to bring me. Also, a coworker had torn down part of his house to make way for new construction, so I spent a profitable morning with a sledge hammer pounding fir 2x6's out of what used to be his roof. I thought if I needed more lumber I might use pallets or even put up an ad on craigslist offering to remove someone's old fence in exchange for the boards, but those sources weren't needed this time. I've still got plenty of wood in the pile next to my shed!
In addition to the wood you'll need:
Woodworking tools (tablesaw, circular saw, drill, etc)
Hammer (and an anvil if you have one)
Eye and ear protection
You'll most likely need some wood glue and maybe some more nails, but you'll get a lot of those from the next step.
Step 2: Prepare the Wood
This is the part where you turn old crappy fence boards or rafters into usable lumber. You'll also be salvaging a lot of perfectly good (if a bit rusty) nails.
Make sure you wear eye and ear protection for this! Impact sounds from repeatedly hammering wood are particularly bad for your ears, and every time you try to pry a rusty nail out of a board you run the risk of breaking the head off and getting an eye full of steel. Seriously, a good friend of mine had exactly that happen and it messed up his vision something awful!
First, turn the wood over and tap the nails from the pointy end out as far as you can. If you're doing this to old fence boards, a lot of the nails will just fall right out a this point. I kept a speaker magnet lying in the area where this was most likely to happen so as to avoid the possibility of stepping on nails. I have done this before and don't recommend you make the same mistake. Flip over the board and use the pry bar or the claw end of your hammer to remove the nails the rest of the way. I also kept a bucket handy to throw these nails in, to be sorted and straightened out later, as many will probably still be usable.
Once you've got a good stack of boards, pull out your circular saw or bring them to your table saw. Safety first! I hate to keep harping on this sort of thing, but I have an uncle with two and a half fingers. He lost the rest in a table saw many years ago. If you go that route, use push sticks or a fence where possible. Don't worry about getting a square cut at this point, as you're not finishing the lumber yet, just cutting off any parts that are too rotten or split to be used. After I was done I was left with a big pile of bad lumber and a bunch of boards that were relatively solid. I ended up giving the bad stuff to a friend with a wood stove, as they made great kindling.
Now you've got a whole lot of lumber that will be great for outdoor construction! The next steps will show the various things I built out of my old fence and the other wood I acquired.
Step 3: Raised Garden Beds
I've been told that in the overly wet western Oregon climate, raised garden beds are great for keeping your soil drained. I've certainly had gardens in the past that got way too wet and had plants struggle to keep up with all that water. This year, I'll see if raised beds make a difference.
I built a whole bunch of these raised beds in a variety of sizes. For the largest ones I double stacked 2x6's, the ones I got from my dad and the ones I got from my coworker's old roof. On the smaller beds I used fence pickets stacked three high and two boards thick.
The design is really simple, I just cut the pickets and 2x6's to the lengths I wanted and took either a fence post or a stringer and cut a piece to put in the corner and cobbled it all together. Take a look at the pictures below, I'll make sure to include photo notes. For the smaller beds I used nails reclaimed from the boards, but on the larger beds I wanted to be able to replace boards if they rot out, so I used wood screws coated with some sort of anti corrosion substance.
Step 4: Hanging Planter Boxes
I already had one of these lying around the house, and really liked the idea of putting my strawberries in it, to keep the damn snails off them. With the extra wood, I decided to build a couple more. As the well known formula runs, strawberries are good, so more strawberries would be better!
These are very simple planter boxes, just two end pieces and three main boards between them, with hooks at either end to hang chains from. You don't have to get as fancy as me, but I wanted these new ones to match the old one. I wood glued these together, but forgot to follow that up with some screws or nails for added strength, and ended up with one of them falling apart in a strong rain.
Step 5: Garden Markers
With some of the smaller ends of the pickets I decided to make little garden signs. If I thought the board was too small to be used for much of anything else, I ripped it in half on the table saw. After I had everything planted, I took down a bunch of left over house paint, gave them a coat of something almost white, and started painting. I think the result was pretty good, all told!
Step 6: Ugly Grape Arbor
My brother gave me an old grape vine he didn't want anymore, so I parked it in the corner of my yard. I realized that it probably needed to get off the ground though, so with some more of the old lumber I cobbled together a kind of rickety, but good enough for now grape arbor.
Again, this is a very simple build, and since I didn't want to make it permanent I didn't even bury the posts. It's just four legs held together at the top with 2x4's, with a couple of cross beams made from pickets for a bit of added sturdiness. The grape seems to like it so far, so I don't mind it being kind of ugly!
Step 7: . . . Any More?
No, that's all for now, but I've still got a big fat pile of old lumber by the shed . . .
So thanks for reading! Please take the time to leave a comment and a rating, and make sure to vote for me in the garden contest! I love hearing what people think of my instructables, so don't be shy.
If you can think of something else I could build from all those fence pickets, let me know! If I decide to build what you've suggested, I'll give you a patch. Also, if you post pictures of your own creations from reclaimed lumber in the comments below, I'll send you a patch for that!
Step 8: One Small Update (7/30/10)
I just thought I'd post a couple of pictures of my garden, now that things are in full swing. What do you think?
Runner Up in the