It's Not Crap It's Scrap! On Perfection and Imperfection

One of my favorite things to do is make something useful out of something useless, whether that be my rustbucket F-100, old wood from broken furniture, or cutting small trees to make fence posts. My latest exploit in this field is turning an old, ugly, awful shelf into a chick brooder box.

I do not have a picture of the shelf before I tore it apart, but it was dark brown with flimsy trim, cheap 1/4 inch OSB for backing, and had staples and nails just about everywhere. It was probably 8 feet long and 6 feet high. The shelf was too weak to be useful as a shelf and too big to fit anywhere anyway, so let not my butchery on it offend you.

First, I cut it in half with a chainsaw: one half became a chicken nesting box with some modifications, and the other would become my brooder. I cut that half even smaller with the chainsaw to achieve a roughly square shape. I removed several pieces of shelving board from the other piece and built sides for the box with the OSB on the bottom using a drill and screws. This part would actually contain the chicks.

Secondly, I fashioned 4 legs out of longer shelving boards and attached them (ironically, this was the hardest part). Lastly, I built a cover out of old 2x4s with chicken wire on top.

To say this brooder is imperfect would be an understatement: it is ugly, catawampus, awkward to handle, completely out of square, and took around 4 or 5 hours to assemble. So why do such a thing at all? There are several reasons: it was free, it was fun, it is useful, and it satisfies my desire to make something out of what I had originally planned on burning.


Though it made for a terrible shelf, it makes a great brooder. It currently has 10 happy little Barred Rock pullets inside staying nice and warm under their heat lamp. Being able to take scrap material and make it into something useful, I have discovered, is a very useful skill, though it requires an open mind and large compromises.

Open Mind

That shelf sat in the shop for many months; I did not know what to do with it, but did not feel right about burning it. During that time, I was close-minded: “It’s just a shelf,” I thought. When I realized that I really needed a better brooder than what I had been using (a wretched giant rubbermaid container), I knew I would need wood. Because I’m a borderline cheap-skate, I had the idea of harvesting from that shelf to avoid buying any materials.


While that was open-minded, one must make compromises when working with imperfect materials. Most of the wood except for the OSB backing board was hysterically warped; a real furniture maker would be offended at the very sight of those bowed shelving boards. But we must remember that I was not building a piano or the Taj Mahal, but a box for baby chickens to grow up in until they got their feathers. If it was out of square they would not mind, and neither would I. If slaved over perfection, like trying to straighten all of my materials, or obsessively measuring down to the 32nd of an inch for precision, I simply would have never gotten the project done. It is far better to create something imperfect than it is to never create anything at all because you obsess over the perfect.

Ultimately, to accomplish my goal, all I needed was the right material, an open mind, and be willing to make compromises. Oftentimes, we have the material already but struggle to see a shelf as anything other than a shelf. In this case, being wood, it could potentially be anything I want it to be with even my marginal skillset.

If this idea did not come to me, I would have done like most people: go out to the hardware store, get completely ripped off with the price of materials, and build the brooder at home at larger expense, all while that junky shelf sat in the shop. This hypothetical brooder would have been prettier and square, but it would have cost a lot more to make and the old shelf would still remain useless.

So consider what can be done with junk: have an open mind, and be willing to compromise to actually get things done. A brooder does not have to built out of the greatest materials.