Monday, January 31, 2011

Stockin' up...

I just recently returned from my local-friendly-neighborhood furniture industry dumpster with a new load of goodies. Sometimes I have to wrestle large, awkward peices of jagged and splintery woodwaste while precariously surfing a huge pile of the above-mentioned material stuffed into an open-top, 20 foot industrial waste container. Plenty of twisted ankles, smashed fingertips and harrowing half-inch deep splinters to go around.

I developed a certain proclivity for this type of scrounging when I first moved to Greensboro in the Autumn of 1997. Teaching myself the basics of metalworking, I didn't really have the budget to buy new mill-grade steel for work unless I had a commission lined up. Fortunately, I didn't really need the new stuff since I had access to the coolest metal resource in Greensboro: The Myers Brothers Scrap Yard. It was a young metal sculptor's playground, with literally mountains of sheet steel cut-outs and stampings, twisted structural beams, retired industrial machinery and GOBS of residential detritus like rusted barbeque grills, ancient lawnmowers and the occasional Ford Pinto.

To say that this type of activity was dangerous would be a gross understatement. The entire scrapyard was a sea of rusty, tetanus-drenched steel shards. There was a railroad track that came into the yard to carry off bulk steel that had been reduced for recycling, and when you weren't dodging the speeding forklifts carrying 15-ton steel beams, you had to come to terms with the notion that you could actually get run over by a train in this place. The whole joint was one big noisy, belching diesel engine, so literally no one would hear you scream for help if a train car full of scrap metal was backing over you.

Despite the inherent occupational hazard present in my chosen profession, I still very much thrive on dumpster diving. It is not for the timid, and it often results in a net-loss. I've always compared it to mining, though I have no real experience looking for precious metals, with the exception of panning for gold with my dad and brother at one of those mines that seed the dirt with gold dust so everyone gets to experience 'gold fever'. My dad lost his wedding ring in one of the panning troughs that day. My mother, by her own admission, was naturally disturbed about the entire debacle, but that's a story for another day. Needless to say, rummaging through a dumpster full of plywood scraps and lumber cut-offs is not completely unlike scouring the North Carolina clay for bits of gold. And much like fishing and tradeshows, the key to success with the whole thing is location, location, location.

I enjoy it because it makes me feel good to fashion useful and value-added objects from waste. In one form or another, I've been doing it for years. I repair my own tools, bicycles and cars whenever possible and I am always adopting bits and peices of leftover furniture from this college town's roadsides. The dumpster in the photos is just the latest (and most productive) chapter in my book about the 'upcycling' of furniture industry waste and attempting to make beautiful objects with it.

I also enjoy it because there are very few trains in the dumpsters I frequent.

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