Everything Old Is New Again

By Diane Schlindwein

March 25, 2011 4 min read

Though many of us faithfully fill our recycling bins with paper, plastic and glass, some artists and crafters rather would use discarded items to make something that is both attractive and useful.

"I like to feed the birds, and I have always liked unusual rustic-looking birdhouses," says Michele Hieb. "I started making them about seven years ago. Back then it was mostly because I didn't want to pay someone to do it for me. Now I make several of them at a time."

A registered nurse by trade, Hieb has turned her craft-making hobby into a small business. She sells, donates and gives away unique birdhouses that she builds in a shop on her 35 acres of land.

Hieb spends almost nothing when making her birdhouses, because she uses old items and gives them new life. "My friends and I go out and salvage items from old barns or ranch dumps," she says. "We call it 'junktiquing.'"

Hieb uses several types of saws to cut recycled barn siding or fencing, which becomes the bottoms and sides of the birdhouses. The roofs sometimes are made of discarded ceiling tins or old tin that Hieb's husband, Darren, cuts with a grinder tool. If she finds a particularly unusual piece of wood -- for example, a natural knothole in a tree -- she may leave it "as is" and design around it.

As a crafter, Hieb gets creative when it comes to bird perches, using old rakes, doorknobs, gas stove burner covers and even horse combs for the hardware. Some parts of the birdhouses are nailed together, and sometimes she uses a hot glue gun.

Saws should be used with caution, Hieb says, speaking from experience. During the early years of her making birdhouses, she broke two fingers and cut off the end of her wedding ring finger, which required surgery.

"I didn't sell that one," she says. "My mom has the infamous 'chopped-off finger' house." Crafters who are working with saws and old materials should have a current tetanus vaccination, she adds.

Hieb makes about 15 to 20 birdhouses a year, building several at a time. Recently, one of her "log cabin" birdhouses was auctioned off for charity for $320. She doesn't use patterns, so every crafted piece is unique. Sometimes a customer will ask her to duplicate a birdhouse that someone else has purchased. "I tell them I'll make it as close as I can, but sometimes I don't have the exact same materials," she says.

She also crafts rugs, angels and other items that she uses to decorate her large old farmhouse. Outside she displays rustic-looking scarecrows made from logs. To make them, she simply shaves the top layer of the log away to uncover a "face" area and adds tin for a hat, old bolts for the eyes, a nail for the nose. She finishes with an old wrench for a tie.

Cyndee Kromminga is another crafter who believes in making something new out of something old. Kromminga, who owns her own craft store, suggests using an old damaged garden hose as a cheerful summertime wreath.

Kromminga cuts 10 to 12 feet of garden hose and coils it into a wreath shape, winding craft wire around the hose to hold it together. She then decorates the wreaths by gluing on silk ivy bushes and silk flowers and tying on a pretty bow. Other decorating options are in keeping with a gardener theme, such as adding garden tools, a small watering can or gardening gloves to the wreath. The hose also can be painted with spray paint meant especially for plastic.

Hieb concludes that by salvaging old wood and hardware and using it to make something unique and decorative, crafters are doing their part to help the environment. "I like to repurpose things, so in a decorating sense, I am recycling," she says. "It works out well all the way around."

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