Reusing everything (old roofing shingles, pallets, sewing machines, magazine racks, and more!)

Walking around our home recently, I realized that about 85% of our furniture was given to us by people who were downsizing, inherited from deceased relatives, or salvaged from someone’s trash and refinished.

We think long and hard before we dispose of anything.  You have to be careful doing this so that you don’t end up with a lot of clutter, which would make finding things difficult, and you have to be willing to part with things if you really can’t come up with a way to reuse/repurpose/upcycle them, but with a little effort, most things can be used again when they’ve outlived their original purpose.  I thought I’d share a few recent ones from around here.

This past summer my mother-in-law downsized from a large home to a condo.  She and my husband’s father (who passed away about a year and a half ago) lived in their home for many years and had acquired a lot of furniture that was stored in their basement.  She needed to get rid of this furniture before moving.  We’ve acquired some of these items from her and have been having an interesting time figuring out how to fix them up and reuse them.

One such item is an old pedal sewing machine.  My MIL has two others, both of which work, so we didn’t feel like this one needed to be saved for actual sewing.  All summer it served as a plant stand in the garden, but the summer rains warped the cabinet badly.


This fall, Phil removed the old wooden cabinet and we used it as kindling during a backyard campfire.


He sanded and painted the metal base and used some salvaged wood that he sanded and stained to make a table top for it:


I may continue to use it as a table and plant stand, but I’m also thinking of moving it into the kitchen as a stand for the bread machine, bread box, cutting board, and bread knives.

I liked the look of the old sewing machine and it was heavy as can be – very well made – so I decided to walk out near the woods and place it on an old tree stump just as a kind of woodland garden art:


I will probably dispose of it eventually, but for now it reminds me of the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska, which is considered an outdoor museum; all along the trail you can see abandoned items from the Gold Rush years in the late 1800s.  It’s a neat hike, and it is fun to discover all the old items – from prospecting pans to old steam engines – hiding in the woods and on the rocks.

My mother-in-law also gave us an old magazine rack:


It’s nice heavy wood but we didn’t need it for this purpose. What I did need was some place convenient to put baking sheets and cooling racks, so my husband cut the legs off shorter for me so that it could fit on a shelf, and then I used spray paint primer and then two coats of glossy black spray paint so that it matches the black granite counter tops in the kitchen.


I thought it looked pretty good for a freebie!

We also received a VERY beat up painted wooden table with a white enamel top.


It reminded me of a table my parents had when I was little, so I didn’t want the top refinished, only cleaned, but Phil stripped and sanded the wood and then repainted it with watered-down light grey latex paint to make a sort of grey “white wash” effect.


We already had the paint, so again this was totally free and is now used as a kitchen table where I can keep the fruit stand, my aloe vera plant for treating kitchen burns, and as a prep surface.  The drawer has cutting boards stored in it.  I may grow a winter herb garden here if I get out to the garden and dig up some things; most of the herbs survived the last freeze, but it won’t be long now before they’re gone for the year.

Got some old leftover roofing shingles hanging around?  They can be laid out overlapping to make a walkway!  As I’ve mentioned before, I put this one in a place where we wanted a walkway but which we could not install a cement or paver pathway because it’s over our septic drain field (most people don’t realize that septic drain fields are only located about a 6-18 inches below ground).  I just laid the roofing shingles right over the grass.  For the first season, you might catch your foot on the overlap, but after that, the grass will have grown over the edge a bit and will hold the walkway down securely.


Also, I’ll probably separate this one out into its own post, but old wood pallets also make nice walkways through the woods, especially if there are soggy, mucky areas.


I’ve mentioned this before, but we are always on the lookout for pallets that are being thrown away, and I’ve been working on a pallet walkway since we moved in.


It’s pretty long now and both the children and the dogs like to walk on it.


I put old cardboard under the pallets to keep weeds down, but I also use old paper bags full of junk mail, newspapers, and the like under the pallets.


Fallen leaves eventually cover the cardboard and paper bags so that you can’t even see they’re there.

The next one was a wobbly old side table, absolutely filthy and painted with peeling bile green paint.  The lamp was just the base and so dirty you couldn’t tell what color it was underneath.  But they were free and we needed a table and lamp for the guest bedroom which we had just painted a sort of New England grey.  After lots of scrubbing, the lamp proved to be a bit, how shall we say…well, tacky…but with a new socket and lampshade, it serves its purpose just fine.  Phil tightened up the table to eliminate the wobble; it wasn’t worth his time to do much more to it, but I gave it a good scrub, two heavy coats of primer, and then three coats of whimsical purple spray paint.


I added a cloth made of hand sewn lace and embroidery made by my great-grandmother.  And then one day that…um…unique little glass bird figurine appeared there.  I don’t know exactly where it came from, but I suspect it came from my husband’s grandmother’s house and probably holds some kind of nice childhood memory for him.  And all I can say is thank goodness this is the guest bedroom. 🙂


Most of the stuff we save and refinish isn’t quite this kitschy, but if you ever come spend the night here, you’ll repose in a room that will remind you of your great Aunt Helen’s sitting room, I guess. 🙂

My husband has a bunch of other salvaged furniture in the process of or waiting to be refinished in his workshop:


With as much as we both enjoy salvaging, refinishing, and upcycling (this word annoys me for some reason – it sounds too hipster maybe – but you get my meaning), I’m almost beginning to think this might be an enjoyable and profitable side business for us.  Modern furniture is of very poor quality, which you know if you’ve bought any made-in-China particle-board-n-veneer crap recently.  But older, better-made pieces are often either rather beat up (and not in a cool “antiqued” way) or badly out of date (and not in a cool “retro” way).  Fixing them up gives good quality items new life for a fraction of the price of new stuff and helps us all extricate ourselves a little more from the anti-family hyper-consumerism that grips our modern culture.

I’ll end with one that is awaiting refinishing and mechanical repairs.  This one actually caused an argument between Phil and me, as I seriously questioned why he brought this home from his dad’s old shop before the business was sold last year:


“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I complained.  “What on earth do we need an old, broken refrigerator for?”

Then I learned from Wikipedia that these models are antiques from the late 1920s/early 1930s, and you can find them on ebay selling for around $1000.  So that pretty well shut me up. My husband is planning to fix it up and is debating whether to sell it or keep it as his beer fridge in his workshop.  I told him I voted for the former, upon which he informed me that I don’t get a vote in this matter. 🙂


11 thoughts on “Reusing everything (old roofing shingles, pallets, sewing machines, magazine racks, and more!)

  1. I will admit that your reuse of the sewing machine did bother me a bit at first (I paid a fair amount of money for a sewing machine pretty much identical to that one a few months ago), then I read that this was an extra and I calmed down.

    I also dislike the word upcycling. I think it because I’m a “rural person” and I get annoyed when “city folks” need to coin fancy words to describe things that are so ubiquitous rural communities that no one feels the need to call them anything. Especially since in this case people do it not out of any necessity, but rather to feel better about themselves. I used to work in a very backwoods community and you would see all sorts of strange items being reused for all manner of purposes, but no pretended it was for any reason other than to save money.

    Anyhow, my grumbling aside, that shade of purple is certainly whimsical.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that may be why the word bugs me, too. We aren’t poor now, but I grew up *dirt* poor rural – as in, no electricity, eat what we can grow, government cheese kind of poor. Upcycling? lol Ask me how I know mullein leaves make great toilet paper. It had nothing to do with upcycling. 🙂

      But now we reuse/repurpose stuff for different reasons. One is to save money, of course, another is to have better quality stuff than we could afford to buy new, a third reason is to try to keep God’s earth less polluted with new crap from China, and a final reason is for the skills development aspect. We like learning how to use various tools, how to make something old (and sometimes ugly) look beautiful and usable again.

      But you know what? Even in the urban hipster mode, “upcycling” (or just fixing and reusing stuff) is something we should encourage. Even if the urban lumberjack types are sort of pretentious, I think it’s a healthier pretentious than limp-wristed, useless effete males (or more commonly, the hyper-consumeristic shop til ya drop! sex and the city type of urban female). A step in the right direction should always be encouraged.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I like upcycling when it legitimately turns something useless into something useful. I’m not going to make “cultural appropriation” style complaints because I know my annoyance with the word is silly. I will praise people for doing legitimate upcycling. I won’t praise them for spray-painting thrift shop animal toys gold and calling it upcycling, that’s just being materialistic on a budget.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ha ha, I know the look you mean. Some of the stuff on Pinterest, too…it’s like “Turn your old jars into apothecary jars!” Great, but when you look at the “how to” you end up having to buy (new) $20 worth of stuff to make them over. It sort of defeats the purpose if one’s goal is frugality. But I suppose as a fun creative outlet, it’s just fine. No different than buying any art supplies for any creative project, I guess.

        Though last Christmas we did a gift exchange at work and one girl took an old rubber dinosaur toy, cut open the top, filled it with dirt, and planted a house plant in it to give as a gift. Of all the meaningless crap one gives and receives at work gift exchanges, I thought that one was kind of cute.


  2. I used to do a lot of fixing up and refinishing furniture. It does make sense if you’re doing it for yourself. What I think ended the whole thing was that I realized I was a bachelor, so accumulating stuff didn’t make sense. I still like to see things fixed up.
    Congratulations on the robot refrigerator find.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. On the sewing machine issue, I do have a sad story of loss. Now the old machine in this post wasn’t worth saving as a working sewing machine to us – it didn’t work well, my MIL has two more in better shape, and my father has my mother’s, which belonged to her grandmother. These old sewing machines seem to be a dime a dozen in these parts; you can find them out with people’s trash if you look long enough.

    Plus my MIL has two nice sewing machines from the early 1960s that she still uses to this day; she is a gifted quilter and her quilts are real works of art.

    But I used to have a nice old electric sewing machine, probably circa 1950, that came from my great-great Aunt Helen (I really did have an elderly Aunt Helen 🙂 ). I went through a phase in my early to mid twenties where a couple of my friends were sewers, so I decided I would be, too, and my mom gave me my great, great Aunt Helen’s sewing machine. I used it diligently, making my husband hopelessly badly done shirts and myself crooked dresses. I had no talent at all for it and couldn’t seem to pick it up even with some coaching.

    I finally gave up and stuck the sewing machine in the basement. One day in my early thirties I was cleaning out the basement, came upon the sewing machine, this wonderful old made-in-America machine made of metal that will probably last for ever, and decided I would never learn to sew and therefore would get rid of it. We sold it for $20 to a woman who gives group sewing lessons.

    Man, am I kicking myself over that now. No, I’ve not gotten good at sewing, but I would like to have that machine to practice on and to let the girls practice on. But you know, if you keep absolutely everything, you end up on that TV show “Hoarders”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There are times when I regret having let go of things but, how could you possibly see the need for t then ans you do when you regret? In the meanwhile your cave would start looking like a thrift store’s bargain basement.

      Liked by 2 people

    • It’s worth noting that making clothes for adults is one of the hardest things to do–unlike quilts and pillowcases, people have these interesting curves that require a lot of work to fit. Or, put differently, there is a reason that Laura Ingalls was started on quilts and not corsets!

      That said, love the point about reusing things. I can also state that most of my family’s furniture is of the same provenance; inherited from others.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Most of these ones are. We got them from behind a plastics factory in Saline, and they are SUPER heavy. The boards on the bottom that make up the frame are like 2 by 4s. Phil struggled to lift some of the bigger ones, even with me helping.

      Some of the smaller ones are flimsy and won’t last long though. But so far we haven’t broken through any of them! 🙂


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