There is a lot of buzz in the air about upcycling. Upcycling lends a jazzy new twist to the “reuse” part of reuse, reduce, and recycle. From turning old maps into wallpaper or window shades to creating funky furniture from shipping pallets, I’ve found plenty of creative and resourceful upcycling ideas on the Web. It seems that no matter the “junk” material I have on hand, there is a craft that can make use of the refuse to create a functional, fabulous addition to my home. Here are some of my favorite upcycling projects that nearly anyone can attempt. Try them out, and make your home all the greener with some eclectic flair.
You need plenty of pulp to make your own recycled paper at home, but look no farther than your paper waste bin. Recycled paper pulp can be made from tissues, computer paper, photocopier paper, wrapping paper, brown paper, note paper or envelopes — all used on their own or in combination. First, you’ll make a mold for your paper based on the dimensions you want your finished product to be. The mold requires a metal mesh screen, so you can use an old window screen for this (even more upcycling!), secured by a wooden frame. See paper-maker Marianne Saddington’s mold design here.
Tear the paper into pieces measuring approximately 1 inch square and soak in water overnight. Paper-maker Marianne Saddington offers an example: ”Tissues can be torn into quite large pieces and soaked for only 30 minutes, while watercolor paper needs to be torn into pieces less than 1 inch square and soaked for two or three days. If you’re in a hurry, pour boiling water over the torn paper and allow it to stand for an hour or two.”
During the soaking period, you can dye your pulp various colors. (Natural dyes are safe and easy to make.) When your paper is soaked, pour the mixture in a blender and blend for about 30 seconds, or just long enough for the fibers to separate. Figure that one load in the blender will make one thin sheet of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper. Add a little water if necessary to reach a workable consistency that allows you to spread a layer of the pulp over your screen mold. Allow the water to drain and then you are ready to start drying in the sun or wind. On a sunny day with strong wind, your paper will dry in around 2 hours.
Make handmade envelopes out of your paper and you’ll really wow your friends.
Recycled Window Coffee Table
If I had dozens of old windows to make use of, I’d build a recycled window greenhouse. But more often, I fall in love with a single window in a frame that I find at a thrift or reuse store. In this case, I still have several options for upcycling. One of the easiest is to make a coffee table. All you’ll need to add are legs and you are good to go. Either use the legs from an existing table that is on its way out anyway, or you can try this oh-so-easy design that uses legs cut from cardboard boxes. They may not last as long as the wooden legs, but you’ll have your table ready in time to impress a date.
Option 2: Make wall art! If you collect sea glass, glass gems, clear beads or other artifacts that are opaque or transparent, you can glue these bobbles to your window in order to produce a faux stained glass effect. Experiment with colors and sizes of your materials. These window “mosaics” make great gifts that can be completed in little time.
Shopping Cart Furniture
It sounds unbelievable — or at least uncomfortable — to make furniture out of an old shopping cart, but it can be done in a modern, tasteful fashion with a little elbow grease. First, find a shopping cart. Many grocery and big-box stores retire shopping carts long before their useful life is complete. Inquire with their customer service to find out when they will cull old shopping carts that may be rusty or have bad wheels (you can paint your cart and you’ll be removing the wheels anyway). Here’s a plan for an outdoor lounge chair.
First, you’ll use a Dremel or hacksaw (or any tool strong enough to cut through steel) to cut your cart into shape. Remove the front wheels and rear wheel brackets. Bend the side panels into place in order to make armrests. You will bend these side pieces around PVC pipe to give it an armrest shape. Take off the handlebars, sand down the rough edges, and voila! You have a wire chair. But is it comfortable? It will be after you throw your handmade pillows on it!
You’ve already got your steel-cutting tools out. Why not make some oil drum furniture? Yes, it can be done.
Satellite Dish Gazebo
Every now and then, I see an old 1980s-style satellite dish hanging out in someone’s yard. It is clear the thing hasn’t been used for years. Are you one of these people? If so, you can upcycle that dish into a lovely grape-arbor gazebo. Flip the dish so that its convex-side-up. This will form the roof of your gazebo. Lance Larson’s gazebo uses warehouse storage-rack legs for the gazebo legs, lifting it about 10 feet off the ground. Larson used three-quarter-inch conduit as braces, cattle panel fencing for the railing, and 1-inch plastic pipe to top off the railing. He painted the whole gazebo black to give it a unified appearance.
Have fun with your upcycling projects!
Photo from Fotolia
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