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Local News

Turning trash into treasure

Carpenter from Geneva prefers to use scrap wood

Jeff Walsma uses recycled wood to create custom furniture out the basement workshop in his Geneva home.
Jeff Walsma uses recycled wood to create custom furniture out the basement workshop in his Geneva home.

GENEVA – Jeff Walsma has a hobby in carpentry, but instead of buying his wood pieces at a hardware store, he scavenges.

Because of what he describes as an environmentally friendly approach to his work, Walsma, a 20-year resident of Geneva, said he likes to use scrap wood that otherwise would be thrown away. He said he is on the lookout for this wood all the time, whether it's "dumpster diving" or stopping to pick up a piece on the side of the road, though he said he doesn't take anything without asking permission first.

"There's not a piece of wood I can't do stuff with," Walsma said. "Most of my thing is oriented towards showing people what they can (make) out of trash."

As time passes, Walsma, 57, is growing his hobby into a job, with customers and craft show appearances. Two weeks ago, Walsma delivered his latest product for Geneva resident Mary Pat Wright. It is a 7-foot outhouse, complete with a recycled toilet seat on the inside.

"(The outhouse) just makes you smile," Wright said. "It reminds me of being in nature, and you can smell cedar on the inside."

Wright is now a repeat customer of Walsma's. She describes his work as "marvelous" and likes to spread the word of his work.

Walsma markets himself as "The Dutch Carpenter," on his Facebook page. He said he might make a YouTube page in the future because he would like more online traffic.

"It's hard getting noticed to the point where people understand that I'm trying to cut back on things ending up in landfills," Walsma said. "That you can make a simple birdhouse out of one piece of scrap wood."

Rich Brown, Sugar Grove resident, received a custom couch table from Walsma.

"(Walsma is) a go-to guy," Brown said. "I use him for things that I definitely can't or don't want to do. He has a full recommendation from me."

A retired firefighter, Walsma said the job duties sometimes called for him to cut down trees and destroy wildlife habitats. He also would have to clean out campgrounds, where he found a lot of wasted scrap wood laying around.

"The environment can't take what we're giving to it," Walsma said. "I try to use every scrap of wood I have."

When he comes across a piece of warped wood, Walsma said he cuts it up into bits, since the piece is too damaged to be used as a whole. He also sometimes uses plastic products that have been discarded.

In addition to carpentry, Walsma teaches woodworking and participates in an open woodworking forum on Facebook.

Walsma likes to project his "goofy" personality into his work. For each piece, he writes a whimsical short story about "lonely" scrap wood taking journeys to become the finished product.

"Do what you like to do because it isn't about the money," Walsma said. "I always tell people to keep an open mind, think of crazy stuff and enjoy what you're doing."

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