Protecting the environment is very important to me. Read my tips about how to consume less resources, recycle, reduce, and re-use the things that you consume.

Rugged Stair Treads Using Butterfly Keys

Decorative Stair Treads Made From Cracked Oak with Butterfly Keys

What do you do if you have the perfect piece of lumber for a project, but it’s strength is compromised by a crack?  Or what if that crack is just what you’re  looking for in a natural or “worn” project, but the lumber must be stable for your project to function? Butterfly keys are the perfect solution!

Unfortunately this post is not about how to cut a butterfly key. That’s coming up later.  This post exists exclusively to gloat about my first project that incorporates a butterfly key: the steps leading into my master bathroom. The steps are made out of three 4/4 oak slabs I found covered with dust and dirt in my basement when I first moved into my house.  A few trips through the planer rendered some gorgeous red oak, but two of the three slabs had a pretty serious crack.

My first inclination was to cut out the compromised section and glue it back up, but then the idea occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try out a woodworking technique I’ve been itching to try: butterfly keys.  A butterfly key (or bow-tie key) is a piece that’s basically just a piece of wood shaped like a bow-tie. If you want to be all geometrical about it, it’s two trapezoids that mirror each other.  The butterfly key is then inlayed into the primary workpiece, right across the crack you wish to secure.  The shape of the key locks the two sides of the crack in place and provides a pretty significant increase in stability for not a whole lot of work.

Or course the video above won’t show you how to do any of that.  I’m just gloating because I’m so thrilled with how my butterfly keys turned out.  But I will be doing a tutorial video on how to cut butterfly keys in the near future.

A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

Giving Your Trash a Second Chance

Those of you that follow my website and my YouTube channel know I’m all about reuse: I save the scraps from my big woodworking projects to make little woodworking projects. I use my sawdust to mulch my garden and as bedding for my worm farm. I feed table scraps to my worms or throw them on my compost pile. Then I turn around and use my worm castings and compost to feed my garden. Basically I try to make my life as much as a closed ecosystem as I can and I produce very little trash. What little trash I do produce can almost entirely be recycled via my local single-stream recycling program.

Maximize Reuse By Thinking Beyond Your Own Necessities

So what about the stuff that doesn’t fit your own needs? What do you do when you have some item or materials that have absolutely no value to you but might be useful to another like-minded person with a different set of needs, projects, or priorities?

Now I’ll admit it: things that I want to get rid of that still has monetary value I’ll usually try to sell first. And why not? Living a life without money is at worst impossible, and at most completely impractical for the average person.

I’ve tried offering items to my friends and family, and that’s fine provided you limit the offerings to items like clothing, appliances, and furniture, but beyond that unless your friends are as nutty about reducing trash as I am, they might not respond, and might actually think you’re flat-out strange for wasting so much effort on keeping things out of the trash can.  I know mine do!

The CraigsList Option

You might try listing stuff on the free section of your local CraigsList, but I’ve had very little success with this. First of all my local CraigsList’s “Free Section” is where pallets and pianos go to die, and where people try to con you into cutting down trees they don’t want. In the past when I’ve listed things on CL’s free section I’ve received more spam and scams than legit replies, and those that did reply never showed up.


A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

A bunch of fence pickets that I offered on Freecycle.

Fortunately I found out there is a pretty large like-minded community interested in giving and receiving free stuff. I started with Freecycle, which I think started off on Yahoo Groups. Basically it was a group, or a series of geographically dispersed groups of people who would post “Offers” and “Wants:” basically things they wanted to give away, and things they needed.

Unfortunately I never had much luck with Freecycle, mostly because I have issues with the website, which are still, apparently, ongoing, and group admins are quite picky about how you word your posts.

Fortunately a website came along that streamlined the entire process of using Freecycle: it’s called Trash Nothing. Trash Nothing is basically an interface to Freecycle that lets you easily post Offers and Wants in a way that isn’t going to upset a anal group moderator. It offers other cool features like integration with Facebook so your friends automatically see your offers, email notifications when a user posts an item, notifications when a user posts a specific type of items (I have notifications for “wood” and “books”), and they even have an iPhone app. When I’m working around the house and run into something that needs to go, I take the picture with my iPhone, and in 30 seconds I can have it posted to Trash Nothing.

Trash Nothing is fantastic for three reasons: the first is, obviously, it’s free. The second is that it’s members-only, and the third is that it’s moderates. So unlike CraigsList, spamming and scamming is minimal.


There’s another online resource that I’m keeping a close eye on called Earthineer. Earthineer is basically a social network for homesteaders, but it’s geared toward sharing information and resources, and less towards bitching about work and begging for Farmville cows. Earthineer is still pretty small and it might be hard to find a lot of folks in your area, but the people who are there are precisely the kind of folks that might be interested in giving, taking, or bartering for things you no longer need.

Use a vise grips to make quick work of peach pits.

How to Remove Seeds from Peach Pits

In the words of Nicholas Cage, I could eat a peach for hours.  But unlike that dirty pervert Nick Cage I’m talking about fruit. So it seems logical that Mr. Cheapskate Do It Yourself Caveman might want a couple of peach trees some day.  Last night after cutting up peaches at my girlfriend’s parents house I saved the pits, cleaned them, and brought them home to get them started.  Peach pits don’t crack easily with a nutcracker. A hammer certainly works but you risk breaking the seed too.  I found the easiest way to remove the seed from the peach pit is to use a s grips, and I provided a little video below.


"Every time you print an email, a hippy cries tears of pure THC."

“Every time you print an email, a hippy cries tears of pure THC.”

I bet you’ve received a few emails from well-meaning environmentalist friends and coworkers with a signature that says something like

Please consider the environment before printing this email.

Today I ran into something very interesting.  I received an email from a coworker whose signature was the exact antithesis:

“Notice: It’s OK to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of Americans. Working forests are good for the environment and provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago.”

I’m Hesitant to Give an Opinion

I’m not passing any sort of judgement on anyone here. Personally I try to keep my opinions on things like this out of my professional life. I recycle just about everything that crosses my desk and then some, and if people see my example and do the same that’s awesome. So “professional me” is keeping his nose out of it.

So Here’s my Opinion Anyway

However The Renaissance Caveman thinks this seems like a pretty relevant topic to discuss considering I just talked about the difference between Recycling, Reducing, and Reusing yesterday in my post about reducing your junk mail. So let’s explore this idea a bit.

The Tree is a Red Herring (or “It’s the Production Chain, Stupid”)

The “it’s OK to print this email” people are absolutely right: paper is biodegradable, renewable, and sustainable. But this argument assumes that the death of that poor, innocent tree, cut down in it’s prime before it even got to see it’s seeds germinate is the only thing that concerns the environmentalist, and by extension it reduces the environmentalist to a tree hugger. The environmental impact of paper goes beyond the felling of a tree.

  • Fossil fuels power everything from the trucks and saws used by the logger to the mills where the wood turns to pulp and then into paper, to the complicated logistics chain that eventually gets that paper to your office. In addition to burning nonrenewable resources all of these machines contribute to air pollution.
  • Wood is not the only ingredient that goes into paper. The pulping process uses dangerous chemicals including mercury, and all sorts of other delicious chemicals are used in paper production. When the paper breaks down these chemicals don’t just disappear.
  • Even if the paper itself was pure, your ink and toner probably aren’t. If you’d like to know what’s in your toner (aside from gold and diamonds which I only can assume are the main ingredient based on cost), just locate the MSDS sheet from the manufacturer (here’s an example from HP). Of course most of the ingredients are trade secrets, so decide for yourself if that gives you more or less confidence about their health and environmental impact.

Reduce > Reuse > Recycle

And even if none of this were true there would still be an environmental impact from the recycling process itself. Let’s say your paper was made from trees that were sustainably harvested, the equipment from the logger on down to the  truck that delivered the ream of paper were all running on sunshine and happy thoughts, and your printer cartridge contained nothing but orange juice.  There is still energy and environmental impact involved in recycling the paper to turn it back into a usable product.

Is recycling your paper (and buying recycled paper) better environmentally than buying new product that results in running the whole production chain?  Absolutely.  But environmentally speaking, never manufacturing that paper at all is always the best option. If environmental impact is the only concern, not creating and consuming a product will always be the best answer.

Hey! My Family Depends on you Wasting Paper!

Now I’m from Central Pennsylvania where I know this idea is less than popular.  We’re surrounded by woodlands which (giggle giggle) makes it difficult to see the forest for the trees sometimes.  We look around and laugh at the idea of running out of something that occurs naturally in such abundance, but running out of trees is a total misrepresentation of the environmentalist’s concern. The entire production chain has a negative environmental impact that doesn’t have to happen.

Of course much of our local economy revolves around wood manufacturing.  We’re home to dozens of companies that employ thousands of people in the manufacture of wood products. So I get it, I really do: less paper might mean less jobs. One might also argue that fewer nuclear weapons would mean less jobs too, but it’s still a noble goal.

So print your email.  Or don’t.  The choice is up to you and the environmental impact of not printing that email is pretty minimal compared to just about anything else you might do to minimize your environmental impact.  But by all means, do something.





How to Stop (Some) Junk Mail

"15 credit card offers, but I still didn't get the latest issue of Jugs!"

“15 credit card offers, but I still didn’t get the latest issue of Jugs!”

You know what really annoys me?  Junk mail.

“Me too!” echoes a chorus of everyone, ever.

Before I get into some tree-hugging rant I’ll just throw a possible solution at you:, and Go to these sites, sign up, and choose which types of direct mailing you do and done want to receive. It’s similar to the National Do Not Call Registry but for direct mail, and about as effective (take that as you will). In other words it will help, but it probably won’t totally eliminate your  junk mail.

Now, back to my rant.

What’s an environmentally-conscious geek to do about junk mail? Most single-stream recycling programs will take junk mail or shredded paper, and if you don’t have that option rural farmers love it because it makes great animal bedding. I know of several farms within a few miles of my town that have shacks along the road for people to drop off bags of such material.

But forget about all of that, because you’re smart and you remember your Three R’s and know that it’s always better to reduce than it is to reuse or recycle.  If the junk mail is never printed and sent in the first place, the environmental impact of it’s production, transport, and inevitable disposal never has to happen.  Plus you don’t have to figure out what to do with it, which is kind of the point here.

So check out the sites I mentioned above, and post below to let others know how they worked for you!