Currently, I am bandsawing small planks, turning blanks and spoon blanks for future projects. Admittedly my storage areas look like I am a packrat. But the materials were either free or very cheap compared to buying plank stock in length and thickness for the work. Nothing goes to waste. The materials are cherry firewood, found wood, and small logs that people gifted to me. The waste streams are sawdust, planer shavings, and lots of scrap wood. The sawdust gets composted, the planer shavings become mulch for the garden, and the scrap winds up in the stove. At last, the wood ash then goes onto the garden. No waste.
One can only wish that all waste streams could be as efficient as this. And maybe that should be the target; to create materials that yield functional materials downstream from the original use.
Of course, I am not alone in converting waste into a product. Artists and craftspeople around the world do it all the time. There were the lovely little cars I gave to my sons one year made from cut-up scrap tin cans. Or the earrings my wife received that looked like elaborately figured stone but were made in Africa from tightly wound scrap paper that was then varnished. One year a colleague gave me an ingenious gift from Melanesia. It was a sort of marionette made from cardboard egg containers. With practice, you could make it move sinuously across the floor. An outstanding Haitian artist I met turned scrapped sheet metal into elaborate sculpture using paint, saws and repoussé tool work.
The list is long enough to show the potential for downstream arts and crafts.
Here’s a picture of some pontils. A pontil is a waste object from glass blowing. I collected these from a glassblower I knew. I had, and still have, no idea of what I’ll do them, but they were too lovely to throw away.
Be extravagant. Explore the recycle bin. Float a new idea from old materials and invent something new.
Culch, or sculch, is neither the name of a grunge rock band or a “Great Old One” from the Cthulu Mythos.
Culch has a variety of related definitions here in New England mostly related to waste or junk. Being from New York City, this word made zero sense to me. Told to move a barrel of odds and ends at a boatyard described as culch I looked about and wondered if this was like some of the new fish hazing rituals aboard ship. ” Go find me a left-handed skyhook, fast.” I smiled widely, to imply that I was not so easily lead astray, only to be told to “get the damned two-wheeler and move that barrel of culch.” OK, I rapidly figured out the relationship of the barrel, the contents, and the order to move it with the two-wheeler. I was still less sure about the true nature of culch.
Over time I learned that culch could apply to a wide variety of materials. In aquaculture, culch is the bed of crushed stone and shell prepared for oysters to adhere on. In a boatyard, it frequently is used to refer to scrap. Typically, culch is broken, defective or somehow just odd material, but often too good to throw away. So, it gets put aside in a barrel or box for later disposition. My friends who make mast hoops save the worthwhile culch to sell as seconds at boat shows; too good to throw out, but not good enough to put a company name on.
In general, marine professional, boatbuilders, marlinespike artists and carvers are masters of reuse and recycle. Good carving wood is precious; I can’t afford to throw out good leftovers. That’s why my shed looks like a lot of other woodworkers and boatbuilders with odd pieces of sassafras, teak, mahogany cherry, oak, and pine. Lots of the cut-offs wind up as small carvings, bowls, spoons, cutting boards and the like.
As in boatyards the final results of reuse and recycle winds up feeding the woodstove. The ash gets spread on the garden. Not a lot goes to waste. If only plastic were as easily recycled.
The story is that the term culch came to New England with the first English settlers. I do not think that it persisted in areas beyond the reach of the tide though. I’ve mostly heard it in Coastal New England. It’s dying out, and it’s not probable that most folks outside of aquaculturists, boatbuilders and the like will know what the hell you mean, but, hey – it’s a nice obscure word that you can use innovatively in a variety of self-determined situations if you want to insult someone, and not have them understand what you just called them.
The term leftover takes a bad rap in our society. But that’s because we have options to disparage valuable used materials in favor of new. With fewer options, you make other choices. While running a Folklife program for a federal agency, one of my staffers gave me a gift made by Indonesian youth. It was a sort of lobster made from egg crates and other bits and pieces. It scuttled around realistically when manipulated with a string. Next year I found some neat little autos made from cut-up bits of soda cans. After my federal job went south, I learned first hand the need for using leftovers. As a woodcarver with a very marginal business, wood was my most considerable expense. I found a local mill that produced large amounts of cherry, oak, and maple flooring and paneling. They sold their “shorts” – pieces too short for their use but too long for scrap. They also gave the waste away as firewood. Their waste-stream fed directly into my product stream.
A favorite dish in our house is my wife’s Shepard’s Pie. It has a crusty covering of biscuit. Beneath the biscuit is the filling made from leftover dishes we’ve had that week. It’s forever variable, filling, and always a culinary opportunity to enjoy.
So the problem isn’t with the material; it’s with the mindset. The leftover is the opportunity.