If you do any kind of woodworking, construction, carpentry, or anything else involving lumber there is one by-product you probably have plenty of and that is sawdust.
Whatever kind of tools you are using, whatever kind of wood you are cutting, it is the inevitable result of your labors, and must be dealt with.
And though most people treat it strictly as waste, you don’t have to: it turns out that sawdust actually has many clever uses around your home, property, shop, and even if you are out in the field.
With just a little bit of extra effort to collect it and store it you’ll be sitting on a small mountain of a new and valuable resource.
This article will tell you about 20 such uses for sawdust…
1. Absorbent Media
One of the first and still best uses for sawdust that most people learn is as absorbent media.
Whatever is spilled that you need to pick up, chances are good that sawdust can absorb it.
From oils and finishes in the wood shop to motor oil on the driveway or in the garage, and even blood if you are having to deal with a little bit of impromptu first-aid or slaughtering an animal.
Simply sprinkle the sawdust on the spill, work it in a little bit if necessary, and wait. Once it is a congealed mass, scrape or sweep it up and discard it safely.
Keep in mind that any hazardous materials such as blood or varnishes that might auto-ignite should still be disposed of carefully and in accordance with proper procedure.
2. Pet Bedding
If you have any small animals such as hamsters or gerbils, they love sawdust as bedding. It is soft and absorbent, easy to dig through and can be collected easily after a few days of use if the cage needs to be cleaned out.
It is also very economical when compared to store-bought stuff since you are already paying for your lumber in whatever project you are working on.
Just collect any sawdust that results from it, sift it for nails or metal shavings that might injure your pets and voila, you have yourself some free bedding material.
Caution: never use treated lumber for this purpose!
3. Kitty Litter
Sawdust is also good for cats and makes an excellent kitty litter. It is absorbent and soft, which cats love to use for a potty, plus it does not stick or cling like some of the store-bought stuff.
Just scoop out any messes as needed with a scoop as normal.
Once you are done cleaning up, add some more fresh sawdust from your stockpile, stir it around a bit, and you are good to go.
Once again, never, ever use treated lumber because it can harm your cat!
4. Getting Your Car or Truck Unstuck
Sawdust can be used to good effect when you need to get your vehicle unstuck from snow or mud. This is because it can improve traction and perhaps give your tires that extra edge they need.
Simply spread a layer of sawdust in front of or behind the tires as necessary, or even spread it into the hole that is trapping your car or truck.
This should provide some extra grip, allowing you to get yourself out of your predicament without having to resort to tow straps or professional help.
Keep a large sack of sawdust in your trunk just for this purpose, especially during winter weather, and you’ll always have an easy trick to try before you resort to more involved methods of getting your vehicle unstuck
5. Stopping Slips on Ice
You can use sawdust around your home and shop to help prevent slips, trips, and falls on icy surfaces. Just put a layer of sawdust on the ice and you have yourself an effective anti-slip surface.
Unlike ice-melt products, it won’t get rid of the ice but it won’t harm surfaces and pets’ paws, either!
Be careful with this one as using too much or not enough could make the problem worse instead of better.
Too much sawdust can actually be slippery on its own, and if it absorbs too much moisture it might refreeze into a solid sheet of ice.
Too little sawdust, on the other hand, won’t provide as much traction as you need for safety.
6. As Wood Filler
Another time-honored technique for using sawdust is in conjunction with wood glue as DIY wood filler.
Just put wood glue onto your sawdust and mix it together until you have the consistency of paste or dough depending on the application.
Then press it into place wherever you need it to fill in cracks, gaps, or voids on furniture, cabinetry, or any other projects that require a bit of filling in.
Once dry it can be sanded and painted or finished as needed, making for a neat and tidy repair job on the cheap.
7. Make Fire Starters
Sawdust, as you probably already know, is highly flammable, and though this is a major hazard around the waste bins or in a poorly-maintained shop, we can repurpose this characteristic to our advantage.
To make a quick sawdust fire starter, just grab some sawdust, a little water, an old rag or sheets of paper, a candle, and get to work:
- Mix the sawdust into a paste with just enough water to form it into a cake.
- Press it flat in a container or on an old metal pan, forming a disc or rectangle, then let it dry thoroughly.
- Wrap it up in the rag or paper, allow it to wick away as much moisture as possible before discarding it. Ideally, the finished “cake” will be firm and not too crumbly.
- Re-wrap it with fresh, dry paper then pour melted wax over it to seal it closed.
- To use, scrape away the wax to reveal the paper beneath the light. The wax keeps moisture out until you need it.
This makes for an excellent fire starter that will burn long enough to help light your campfire or whatever else you need.
8. Make it into Smoker Pellets
If you own a smoker, then sawdust can come in handy here too since it is perfect for making your own smoker pellets.
You can use this to give your food that smoky flavor without having to purchase pre-made ones.
All you need is some untreated hardwood sawdust and a pellet-making machine. Load the sawdust into the hopper and away you’ll go.
A full breakdown of how these machines operate is beyond the scope of this article, but there are plenty of YouTube videos and articles if you are interested in getting one for yourself.
Remember, you must be sure to never use treated lumber or anything else with chemicals when using sawdust to create any of these products as they could poison your food with toxic byproducts when burned.
9. Use it in a Composting Toilet
Sawdust can also be used as a dry agent for your very own composting toilet. Simply layer periodically in between layers of fecal matter and urine to help reduce odor and break down the waste for easy cleanout.
This simple step will keep the whole thing from getting too cloyingly smelly and is easily done with a tub of sawdust and a large scoop for the purpose.
Using sawdust in this way is far cheaper than commercially produced media for the purpose, and just as effective most times.
It’s a small change to your bathroom routine that can help you get the most from a composting toilet.
10. Add it to Your Compost Pile
Compost toilets, now compost piles? You bet. Sawdust can be used to help break down organic materials in your compost pile faster.
The sawdust helps absorb excess moisture, which allows the compost to break down more quickly and effectively, while adding in nutrients that microorganisms need.
Just add it to your pile according to the right ratios of greens and browns and you’ll be good to go.
11. As Plant Food
Sawdust can be used safely, if sparingly, in your planters, beds, and gardens as a slow-release fertilizer.
The sawdust helps to increase the soil’s organic matter content, which allows plants to better absorb and make use of essential nutrients like nitrogen.
Sprinkle it around your plants and lightly over seeds and your plants will love it.
Once more, you will need to take care to avoid using treated lumber sawdust for this purpose as some chemical treatments contained therein can be toxic to plants.
12. To Cut/Lighten Cement
Cement, mortar, and other masonry can be made cheaper and lighter, if slightly weaker, by using sawdust to “cut” it or mixing in with the other ingredients.
The sawdust helps to fill in the spaces and makes for a lighter, smoother mix that is easier to spread or layer.
Keep in mind that using sawdust will reduce the strength of these materials, so you’ll need to take extra care whenever using them for some applications.
Anytime you are working with cement or mortar, be sure to read up on the manufacturer’s instructions beforehand and if you have any doubt whatsoever consult an expert before making any necessary decisions.
13. To Cut Potting or Top Soil
You can “cut” potting soil or topsoil with sawdust to stretch your dollars or make your current supply go a little further. This is especially useful if you have a large planting area to cover or large pots to fill.
Mix it in with the soil or topsoil, at a ratio of around 1:5 or 3:7. This will still give your plants what they need while saving you money.
As always, unless you are just filling in holes with basic dirt, think twice before using treated lumber sawdust or any sawdust that is chemically contaminated.
14. As Weed Killer
Another great use for sawdust around the home. You can use sawdust as mulch for an added layer of protection against weeds and other plant pests.
Simply lay down a small mount on the base of the weed and a few inches out in any direction.
This will effectively smother the weed while creating a physical barrier that will make it harder for other weeds to take root in the same spot.
15. For Cleaning Your Muddy Boots
You might think sawdust is something you are trying to keep off your boots, but this is one case where it can actually help your boots get cleaner.
You can sprinkle sawdust in a tray or on the ground and then tamp your boots in it before going inside or going further.
The sawdust will help absorb some of the mud so that you keep from tracking it all over your house or property, and will then make it easier to scrape or brush off.
You can also consider making a little trail or path out of sawdust that is leading up to your home or into your shop that you can walk through with muddy boots to prep them for your boot brush or scraper.
16. As Fuel
Sawdust, as we have learned, burns quite readily and this lends it to use as a fuel in all sorts of stoves, fireplaces, and appliances.
Be sure to use only untreated sawdust for this purpose and check the manufacturer’s instructions for any special considerations when using sawdust as fuel.
In addition, you can also use it to make your own charcoal briquettes. Sawdust burns hot and quickly, so it is good for maximizing your fuel on hand, or as a last resort.
Be careful that you aren’t allowing too much wood dust into the air when using it around an open flame, as this might be another fire hazard!
17. To Stuff a Scarecrow
This is another old-school use for sawdust that is still used to this very day. If you are putting together a classic scarecrow you could consider using sawdust as a stuffing material.
This will provide it with shape and support while making it easier to fill out the clothing you have chosen.
The downside is that the sawdust can leak out when the clothing starts to break down or gets punctured, but with a little extra care, you can make it last longer.
18. For Drying Out Old Paint and Coatings
An ingenious shop trick from way back. I mentioned above that sawdust is a great absorbent media, and it is, but you can put those properties to use in a different way by adding a little sawdust to old paint and coatings you plan on throwing out.
This helps dry out the liquid into a hard rubber-like consistency so that it can be tossed more easily without such a big risk of spillage.
Be sure to check with your local hazardous waste facility first on how to dispose of any such products as they might not be okay with sawdust for the purpose.
In many places, the paint and coatings you treat in this way can just be tossed out in the usual garbage assuming they are hardened, but not always. Violation might entail a substantial fine, so do your own due diligence.
19. For Dust Remediation
How on earth are you supposed to use, well, sawdust for helping to keep dust at bay? Talk about a paradox!
The trick, as always, is pretty ingenious: if you sweep up the coarse sawdust on your smooth shop floor and lightly moisten it, you can push it around with a broom or squeegee and it will collect and trap the fine dust your first pass missed, all without having to vacuum.
Then you can scoop it up normally with your dustpan or shop vac and toss it.
20. As Miniature Terrain Paste
One of the neatest uses of sawdust is as miniature terrain paste.
What’s that? Have you ever seen a model diorama? A model train table? Or seen a school science exhibit of a volcano or some other terrain piece? That textured stuff that is the “ground”? That’s terrain media.
You can use sawdust instead of paying the frankly outrageous price that hobby companies charge for this stuff.
Simply mix the sawdust with enough watered-down PVA glue until it forms a consistency like spackle. Apply it to your piece, let it totally dry, and then you can paint it whatever color you need.
This trick can also be repurposed for creating bouquets and other arts and crafts. Anywhere you need an adaptable, realistic-looking ground cover, try this trick.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.