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I will be living in an unfurnished apartment for my final year of college. I'm a pretty handy guy with access to power tools and experience with designing my own basic (cheap) furniture. However, I'd love to save some money this year as I go to furnish my apartment by most any means possible (that are both sanitary and classy).

I'll be looking to find or build chairs, a table or two, a TV stand, and a bed frame at a minimum. So far in college, my default furniture acquisition methods have been building with store-bought materials or buying IKEA style furniture.

What would you all recommend? If I want to be economical and eco-friendly, what types of places should I look to to buy materials or furniture? Is building my own bed frame with 2 x 6's actually sustainable, or is there a better solution out there I haven't yet considered?

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    There are several websites where people offer stuff they no longer need for little or no money. For example http://www.freecycle.org seems to be big in the US and the UK. – THelper Jul 31 '14 at 13:15
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    Be sure to check out the free section of Craigslist, or if you're in Canada, Kijiji as well. Lots of people have wood and even furniture to give away. – tM -- Jul 31 '14 at 14:28
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    Also check out building demolition sites as that's where you'll get free timber. Anything you have to buy will make it cheaper to buy Ikea reprocessed wood-like material already made into furniture. – Móż Jul 31 '14 at 23:16
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Your best bet is already-made second hand furniture, both on environmental grounds and cost. I've been building my own furniture using basic DIY skills for quite a long time and it is rarely cheaper than Ikea-level new stuff. That's mostly because I can't bring myself to build with MDF or other cardboard-like materials, though.

Your first choice should always be free stuff that people are giving or throwing away, balanced against the cost of moving it to your place. If you can arrange to be around a university town at the end of an academic year you can generally furnish your apartment just from stuff that's being thrown out nearby. But failing that freecycle, craigslist and so on are good sources.

For building things, I find that construction sites and especially demolition sites are great places to look around. Many of them are paying to have waste removed so if you unofficially steal it from the skip they can avoid paying to have it removed without being responsible for what you do with it. If you ask they may have to say no just for liability reasons. I have obtained a lot of useful stuff from skips over the years, and on smaller sites they're often very accessible (ie, on the street). Note that legally it's still theft in most jurisdictions but if you're white and well-spoken you're unlikely to have a problem.

The health issues with second hand mattresses and soft furnishings mean that it's usually worthwhile either buying one off someone you know or just buying new. Since you seem to be at a university in the US midwest somewhere resistant bedbugs are possibly an issue, and if there's even a chance of those I'd buy a new mattress and bedding purely to avoid them. The same applies to fleas, unfortunately - if you see pet hair on a second hand couch it's worth avoiding it. At the very least take it home carefully, leave it outside until daylight then check it over when you can see what condition it's in. Getting rid of insecticide-resistant fleas or bedbugs is difficult, and often they will migrate into your clothes and apartment very quickly, meaning that once you touch it it's your problem.

Borer and termites in wooden furniture might also be a problem. It's worth buying a decent torch (easy these days) so you can investigate things on the side of the road before getting too excited about them.

That said, our apartment is largely furnished with stuff that is either second hand or home made. Most of the second hand stuff was free.

One tip is to make your own bed base, so you can make it thinner and higher than standard. That gives you a lot more storage space under it than a normal bed has. You mentioned welding in one answer, and if you can weld an angle iron frame with flooring ply plate sitting in it has worked really well for us for several years now. It has 2" angle with 1x2" square tube welded underneath for strength (so there are only 4 legs on a king size bed) and it's got about 500mm of clear space underneath. Flooring ply for the joining strip and strength - the bed is 2m wide and ply comes in 1.2m wide sheets, so there care two pieces. Also, the legs must be unboltable or you can't move it (trust me on this). We have a long drawer on wheels that runs up the middle of the bed because otherwise there's a dead space in the middle of the bed.

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I have been building bed frames, tables, chairs, wine racks, and many other different things out of old pallets. I look for companies that are giving them away and collect as many as I can store. I figure out what I want to build and the design I want and start taking them apart for some projects while others I'll leave whole or cut like I need. The possibilities are limitless. Not only am I getting free material I'm recycling the wood and the nails. Even the smallest pieces can be use to make crafts for every room in the house.

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We had student tenants for a while. They made their furniture of stacked wine-crates and palettes (the things fork-lift trucks handle). It looked very classy and they said it was comfortable. The sofa was some garden-furniture mattresses on top of crates, and so on.

For a table they lifted the kitchen door off its hinges and set it on two trestles.

In fact after they got money they bought a real bed and said the palettes had been more comfortable.

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As for mattresses, I personally find air mattresses an excellent substitute. They are easy to move, dirt cheap, and a well-made air mattress will last for 6 to 12 months if you don't abuse it.

You can also find bean-bag chairs and end tables for around $10 each at IKEA.

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