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Saturday, February 3, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Designing new uses for throwaway things

Seattle Times staff reporter

Steve Dodds is the kind of guy who once was late for work because he spotted something good on the curb.

In Dodds' hands, someone else's trash is converted into something useful and even beautiful. Dodds' salvaging and project skills have been featured in the do-it-yourself magazine ReadyMade, and his new book "Re-Creative: 50 Projects for Turning Found Items into Contemporary Design" (Penguin, $14.95) is packed with home décor projects the New York-based architect designed using salvaged objects.

"Re-Creative" projects are rated by skill level and time, so even the least crafty among us can try our hands at making a little table, a bench or a simple foam frame.

But what's behind Dodds' inability to resist other people's trash? Digs talked to Dodds to find out more.

Q: Tell me a typical found-object story.

A: I was walking to a meeting last winter and walked by a school throwing out old overhead projectors. I whipped out my screwdriver and grabbed the old lenses.

Q: How do you know the lens will be useful?

Record-album mail organizer

Turn old, awful record albums from your attic, a yard sale or thrift shop into a fun, useful organizer.


• 6 vinyl record albums (The project requires four records, but you'll want extras for practice.)

• Small grommets or rivets


• Iron and ironing board

• Old T-shirt

• Gloves

• 1-˝-inch diameter tube, at least 18 inches long (e.g. cardboard packing tube, small rolling pin)

• Electric drill and drill bit sized to match grommets

• Spring clamps or binder clips

• Grommet tool

Step 1: Heat the iron to "high." Slip the record inside an old T-shirt, and place it on the ironing board. Run the iron over the T-shirt and record for 20 to 30 seconds, moving it slowly the entire time. Focus on a line tangent to the record's label. The goal is to soften this area enough to allow it to bend while leaving the rest of the disc stiff and flat.

Step 2: When the time is up, put on the gloves, as the record will be hot. Quickly pull the record out of the shirt and wrap the softened area around the tube to form it into a "U" shape.

Step 3: When you have four nicely bent records, stack them as shown in the photo and clamp them together. Three grommets or rivets are used to join each album to its neighbor. While they are clamped together, drill holes in each pair to accommodate the fasteners.

Step 4: Once all the records are connected, hang the unit on a nail on the wall, using the spindle hole of the top record.

Source: Steve Dodds, author of "Re-Creative: 50 Projects for Turning Found Items into Contemporary Design"

A: If you had an idea and started from scratch and went out to buy a big flat lens, it would cost you a fortune. ... You can use that (lens) as a base, build around it, and create something new and unique that doesn't cost much.

It's part of the game, part of the fun of doing this sort of thing.

Q: Do you always carry tools with you?

A: I've got a little Leatherman tool with a couple screwdrivers and a saw. There have been a few times that I've taken things apart and tossed them in my bag.

Q: What's the appeal? It sounds like hard work.

A: It's something I enjoy doing. Some people sing in a choir. Some people go drag racing. It's just something that comes naturally.

Q: How did you become such a crafty guy?

A: I used to follow my dad around and helped him work on the house. The family hobby was restoring antique cars. I grew up making and repairing things.

Q: When did you start decorating with salvaged items?

A: My college apartment was furnished with leftover furniture. A lot of our furnishings were castoffs. The coffee table was a big chunk of slate I salvaged from a construction site and four aluminum legs I salvaged elsewhere.

Q: Why do you prefer salvaged materials?

A: If you're going to make things and play around like that, use stuff that's already there and already available instead of going out and buying new materials to put something together. The most successful projects (don't) necessarily look like you made it out of trash. It's a nice object in itself.

Q: What's the hardest part about using salvaged pieces for projects?

A: If it's a complicated item, the chance is more likely you'll use it for its intended purpose because it's a specialized thing. But if it's sort of a simple shape ... you have more options open to you on how to use it.

Q: What's your advice to people who have no skills?

A: You can't be too afraid to jump in. If you've got a skill in a certain area, you can find a project that leans toward that particular area, and you can run with that. Or if you want to try something new, go with the simplest one in that category.

Nicole Tsong: 206-464-2150 or

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