Uses for shavings and sawdust

A discussion of uses for and the marketablility of waste from the primary processing of lumber. July 18, 2000

Do any of you compost your waste sawdust and shavings? Seems like kind of a waste to be giving away great organic matter. I would be interested in hearing from anyone experienced in this area.

Also, does anyone know of any good websites pertaining to this subject, specifically wood byproducts?

Forum Responses
Sawdust and shavings are viable byproducts without being composted, at least in my area. Livestock bedding is shipped to the users.

We do compost our bark, and some people are composting ground wood, which is coarser than sawdust. The wood mulch requires quite a bit of turning and most have to add water. There can be a problem of lignin runoff. Compost markets are cyclical, so you will need storage space until the product moves.

My dad uses all of our sawdust on his garden. He also mulches his Paulownia trees with it. When we had cattle on the farm we used sawdust for bedding.

I compost everything I can except the big chunks. I also add our cat litter, which is newspaper, and our household organic waste.

Bag it up in large plastic bags and sell it for a dollar a bag! Stack the bags in piles according to wood type. I particurarly like using walnut, oak, and cherry saw dust in my garden and flower beds. Acid loving plants love it. I give my excess to the neighbors.

I cut a lot of Eastern redcedar and I bag the sawdust up and sell it. I get $3 a plastic garbage bag, using kitchen bags (I believe they are 15 gallon).

I also bag some up in burlap bags and sell them for $10 as dog bedding. They go faster than I can bag it up. You might check in your area to see if there is a flea market; it is a ready market. I also sell my slabs and other rejects at larger profit than my good lumber.

Walnut sawdust contains an herbicide and will kill tomatoes and other plants.

When using sawdust in gardens always add extra nitrogen, because the decay bacteria will use all available nitrogen and leave the plants with the "yellows." Eventually the nitrogen is freed, but that may take a year or two.

The larger the pieces of wood, the less nitrogen starvation is a problem.

This is covered in many gardening texts and wood products books. The U.S. Forest Products Lab has a pamphlet.

Putting wood waste on fields can be against local laws without a permit. Check with your state's Department of Natural Resources or similar agency.

Gene Wengert, forum moderator

Organic Gardening magazine gives precise procedures on how to compost. Don't put cat or dog poop in if you want to use your compost for the garden.

Pure sawdust will take longer than if it is layered with some other material. My sawdust and planing shavings are given away if picked up, or $1.25 per large garbage bag.

I don't compost our wood byproducts, but use them as mulch instead, to help maintain moisture. I use cypress mulch in the garden, which reduces the bugs. The nitrogen depletion is taken care of by adding in composted chicken manure.

I use aromatic cedar around the roses, and a combination of pecan and other hardwood mulches throughout.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
We sell the shavings or use them ourselves on a regular basis as a mulch. It is wet enough in central Texas that composting is not necessary. The mulch here is actually used to conserve moisture or as horse bedding.

We keep our walnut totally separate from other shavings. Walnut is a natural herbicide and is primarily sold for walkways or areas that you want to keep plants out of.

As far as keeping out cat poop, you can't keep them out of it, sorry. We don't compost the bark, used as decorative. Takes a long time to break down.

Comment from contributor B:
Another use for hardwood shavings and sawdust is in ceramic raku firings. It won't use up great quantities of waste sawdust, but maybe you could get a free pot or two out of the deal, and it is fun to watch.

Comment from contributor C:
We get free semi-trailer loads of sawdust and just mix it with hog manure and spread it on our fields. We usually get three loads a week, which is a lot of sawdust.

Comment from contributor D:
If you have nature trails in your woods or know of those who do, use planer shavings, sawdust, etc. for reduced soil erosion and a clear comfortable path in which to walk.

Comment from contributor E:
We use our shavings and sawdust for mulch, to keep moisture in and weeds away from trees, floor covering in chicken coops (easier to clean floor, when cold). We also burn it in our boilers to heat house and barn.

Comment from contributor H:
If using or selling shavings for livestock bedding, keep black walnut shavings separate. Black walnut is extremely toxic to equines when ingested, even in minute quantities. You wouldn't think that horses/ponies/donkeys/mules would eat wood shavings, but some will nibble on shavings if bored, and almost all will ingest them incidentally while picking hay or dropped feed out of their bedding.