Composting Sawdust And Wood Shavings

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Are you working on home renovations or woodworking DIYs and wonder if you can add pine shavings in compost safely?

Yes, you can compost sawdust and wood shavings when you follow the guidelines in this article. Inside, I detail if sawdust or wood shavings are good for compost, pros and cons, and the best way to compost sawdust and wood chips.

So, don’t toss that bothersome wood waste. Put it to good use making rich compost for your garden!

Is Sawdust Good For Compost?

Yes, the sawdust from most types of wood is safe for composting. Since sawdust comes from trees, the material is a natural source of carbon-based, or brown, ingredients to add to your composting system.

Sawdust makes a perfect addition because it’s airy nature helps keep the texture of the compost loose yet still wicks up excess liquids when necessary. Both of these tendencies help keep the microbes feeding hungrily within the pile, which increases the decomposition process.

I don’t advise using large amounts of sawdust from treated wood in a single batch of compost, as the chemical residues can remain high in the finished compost and possibly kill your garden plants.

Adding in smaller amounts per batch allows any harmful chemicals to leach out or break down without detracting from the safety of the completed compost.

Are Wood Shavings Good For Compost?

Just like sawdust, wood shavings are good for compost since they are a natural carbon ingredient. 

The shape and texture of wood shavings provide plenty of small spaces within the pile, which increases airflow and heat production. The shavings also absorb liquid, which helps maintain a proper moisture balance inside the compost.

While wood shavings are a perfectly safe ingredient to add to your composting system, they are not as practical as adding sawdust because of their size. Larger chunks of wood will take longer to break down, so you need more patience to let it happen.

Many people who compost a lot of wood chips or shavings prefer to screen out any large pieces of material from their otherwise complete compost and toss it back into a new batch. 

Following this method is an easy way to continue the decomposition of wood shavings without disrupting your system. Adding this material back into a fresh compost batch is hugely beneficial because the partially broken down wood shavings will bring along all the essential microbes from the old batch, which will jumpstart the decomposition process.

Pros And Cons Of Composting Saw Dust

Sawdust brings both good and bad aspects to your compost, such as:

Pros:

  • Provides a carbon ingredient
  • Is already broken down into tiny particles
  • Acts as a sponge to wick up moisture from overly wet material
  • Improves the texture of finished compost
  • Environmentally-friendly way to discard wood waste
  • Creates a barrier that holds in odors and deters pests

Cons:

  • Must take extra care when adding sawdust from chemically-treated wood
  • Sawdust pulls a lot of nitrogen from the compost during the initial breakdown

How To Compost Sawdust

Step 1. Think of sawdust as a brown compost ingredient similar to shredded dry leaves. A ratio of 4:1 is about right when mixing it with nitrogen-rich “green” ingredients. Add in the appropriate amount of sawdust to your composter, using a bit more if the other ingredients are very wet, or less if the material seems dry.

Step 2. Before mixing the sawdust into your compost, spray it with water until it absorbs a fair amount of liquid. 

Wetting the sawdust will keep it from blowing away, as well as provide critical moisture inside the compost, which microbes need to thrive.

Step 3. Turn and aerate the compost often. Sawdust texture is fine, which means it can compact down fairly quickly and cut off the air supply inside the pile, which will cool it down and retard the decomposition process. 

Turning the pile with a garden fork or rolling a compost tumbler every couple of days is the best way to keep the sawdust and other ingredients breaking down as fast as possible.

Step 4. If you have plenty of sawdust and worry about pests, you can add a layer two inches thick over the top to seal in odors. In colder temperatures, a thick layer of sawdust is also ideal for holding in heat. 

Pros And Cons Of Composting Wood Shavings

Wood shavings bring both good and bad aspects to your compost such as:

Pros:

  • Provides a carbon ingredient to balance nitrogen material
  • Absorbs excess moisture within the compost to prevent rot
  • Texture helps deter compaction and maintain airflow inside the pile
  • Recycles the material instead of adding it to landfills

Cons:

  • Takes longer to break down
  • Pulls more nitrogen from the compost during breakdown, which could increases the acidity of the compost upon completion
  • Will absorb more water than other carbon ingredients like leaves
  • If shavings come from treated wood, you may need to soak and rinse the material before adding it into your compost

How To Compost Wood Chips

wood chips in hand

Wood chips and pine shavings in compost require a bit of tweaking to make them break down properly since they are thicker than bits of sawdust.

Many people opt to make a separate compost pile that is strictly for wood chips when they have large quantities. A dedicated wood-chip-only pile is best for direct ground composting because the bacteria and fungi found naturally in the soil can quickly spread up into the chips and begin breaking down the lignin and cellulose in the wood.

Using Wood Chips In A Traditional Composting Bin

Step 1. Pre-soak wood chips in a bucket.

Step 2. Add the damp wood chips in the proper carbon-to-nitrogen ratio to your composter. I prefer to go heavier on the nitrogen ingredients in compost batches with wood chips or shavings to boost the speed of breakdown.

Step 3. Turn the compost every four or five days, increasing the turning as you see the wood chips breaking down.

Step 4. Watch the moisture levels in the compost. Using too many wood chips may wick up more moisture than you expect, leaving your pile inactive. Mist the compost with water regularly if there is no rain or you see the inner material getting dry.

Step 5. As an option, if you prefer your compost more refined when adding it to your garden, sift out larger chunks of wood chips that haven’t broken down enough and add them back into a new compost batch.

Composting Wood-Chip-Only Piles

  1. Dump a pile of wood chips directly on the ground in a spot that receives around six or so hours of direct sun a day, which will help keep the compost hot. 
  2. Mix in an equal amount of fresh grass clippings, scraps of vegetables, or a good helping of manure. Another easy option is to toss on some 10-10-10 granular fertilizer. All of these mixers will rapidly start breaking down the wood chips until the soil microbes make their way into the pile.
  3. Soak the pile with a hose until all the wood chips are moist.
  4. Heap up the pile into a compact shape so the center can build up heat. 
  5. Cover the pile with a tarp to keep in moisture and heat.
  6. Uncover and turn the pile every couple of weeks, making sure to work the outside of the pile inwards so all the chips have a chance to break down more fully in the interior.

Wet the pile again before putting the tarp back on. You can also toss in more fresh grass or vegetable clippings if you don’t see a quick enough break down.

TIP: During the winter months, do not turn the pile. Doing so will release all the heat and slow down the composting process.

In Summary

Doing your part for your garden and the environment by composting sawdust and wood shavings is a smart way to dispose of the waste that accumulates when working on projects around the home.

I hope this guide shows you that incorporating sawdust and wood chips into your composting system is not difficult, but rather a safe way to recycle woodworking waste into helpful compost that makes your garden grow!