Back to the Basics – Tips for Picking Good Junk

Did you catch the first post in the Back to the Basics series last Sunday? If not, you can find it here… This new series takes a look at all things upcycling and heads back to the very beginning to help get you started.

Last week I shared some of my very favourite spots to find junk and this week I wanted to give you some tips on what to look for when you are picking up junk for projects. No matter where you find your junk, these are some things to keep in mind.

vintage wares and finds Finnegan's Flea Market Hudson Quebec

Lead Paint

Many old pieces of furniture and home decor that you might pick up could be painted in lead paint. Anything made before the late 1970s may very well be painted with lead paint. Since lead paint can be harmful, especially to children, it is a good idea to check what the paint is made out of. There are handy test kits you can get now if you want to be certain that your item doesn’t have lead paint on it.

Rusty Nails/Screws/Metal

When you are looking for junk or old wood, always be careful that you don’t cut yourself on any rusty nails, screws, or metal. Be prepared as well that if you take home something with old hardware you will have to find a way to safely remove it and this can sometimes be tricky the old a piece gets.

rusty nut and bolt on old wooden spool

Pressure Treated Lumber or Pallets

If you are a lover of pallet projects or love to use old wood, be careful to choose wood that is natural and not treated. Pallets come with codes on them that will tell you if they are safe for use or not.


This one is more common than you might like to think when picking up old furniture or home decor. Many old pieces have, at one time or another been home to something furry and small. Telltale signs that it has been a home for something are chew marks, dropping, and nesting material. If you want to read about my first-hand experience with this one LOL, check out this post here!



A good rule of thumb when picking out junk for a project is to do a little smell test. No matter what anyone tells you, smells are incredibly difficult to get out. If it smells before you take it home, odds are it will smell no matter what you try to do to remove the smell.

Wear and Tear

Always do a check for wear and tear. This can be anything from missing trim and/or veneer to drawers that don’t slide smoothly to warped wood. While you can compensate and fix missing trim or veneer (see here) it is difficult to fix broken drawers and even more difficult to do anything with warped wood. If a piece is cheap or free these things may not matter but if you are thinking of forking out some serious money for something and any of these are a problem, you may want to think twice.

missing trim on a vintage buffet

I hope this gives you a little list to think through the next time you are hunting for treasures and junk. Most things are fixable but you will have to consider how much time and elbow grease you want to put into a piece to fix these issues. Don’t let them hinder you though if something speaks to you and you can’t live without it ♥

vintage finds from the ottawa Valley

**Please note that this post includes affiliate links. By using the link, the cost does not increase and a small portion of the sale is given back to help fun this blog. For your convenience, you can also find all of my favourite DIY products here. Thank you and Happy Creating! **

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tips finding junk

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