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The Art of Salvaging

Work in Progress One of the long standing traditions of electronic tinkerers is the practice of salvaging junk and putting it to use. Lets think on several aspects of this practice: "Why salvage?, "How to salvage?", and "What to salvage?"

Purpose of salvage

Salvage is not just collecting junk it is finding value in that which is not needed. To what ends do we salvage.

  • Economical reasons-Parts are expensive and can prohibit the completion of projects. What better than finding a $10 motor for free.
  • Educational-Salvage is a learning process.
    • By taking things apart, we learn how others have engineered solutions to various ideas and problems.
    • We can tinker with the objects to get unexpected results. This is called bending circuits when with use existing circuits to obtain unusual results.
  • Creativity-Playing with different parts gives expands our creative process and will lead to new projects.
  • Ecologically-salvage is reusing what would just be thrown away. Just because a device is broken doesn't mean the individual parts are broken.
  • Practically-We can find parts that cannot be found in a store.

Process of salvage

  • Finding-You have to be on the lookout for useful parts (we are not interested in collecting junk).
    • Let people know that you are interested in any junk that they might want to throw away. Its not something to be embarrassed about. You are just the guy who likes to build cool stuff from various parts. It's your "mad-scientist" persona.
    • Keep an eye on the dumpsters. You don't need to go digging but if you see something setting beside or easy to grab, consider its usefulness.
    • Watch the street sellers. Sometimes something we need can be had cheap.
    • Of course consider your own junk to be reused.
  • Identifying what is useful. (this will be covered in next section).
  • Separating what is useful from what is not needed.
    • Break things down to their biggest useful part. If it is just a speaker remove the speaker, but if there is a connected usable amplifier circuit or nice speaker box, than just leave it together.
    • Unscrew, de-solder and break apart.
    • Don't spend much time on parts of little value.
    • Keep it organized. We don't want a pile of junk. Our goal is an inventory of useful parts.

Objects to salvage

What do we salvage? We need to be selective in what gather. Lets start with some of the key parts to look for.

  • Project boxes. Look for nice boxes metal, plastic, or wood that could house our present and future projects.
  • Chassis-A broken remote control car that still has working wheels and motors is perfect. But likewise even just a good platform would be good.
  • Battery holders-AA battery holders can be good to reuse. Look for 9-V clips to snip and save.
  • Transformers of various voltages and amps can always be handy.
  • Motors-We are looking for electric motors. Tips, must useful are motors in pairs (two identical motors). If gears are attached consider if their output could be reused somehow.
    • Straight DC motors of various sizes and volts.
    • Stepper motors can be found in various devices.
    • Big electric motors may give rise to cool projects like a remote controlled lawnmower.
  • Wheels-Usually in sets of four and that can be attached somehow.
  • Relays are useful.
  • Sensors that could be reused.
  • Speakers-Alone or with accompanying amplifier circuit or diodes. Consider the usability of the case.
  • Ports and jacks might be useful.
  • Certain IC-chips (integrated circuits) that we use and can be easily removed. (I don't think it is much use messing with surface mounted chips.) Motor Driver chips, Darlington arrays, and such.
  • Some MOSFET chips or Voltage regulators.
  • Displays that could be reused. If you cannot solder the part it is probably not of much use if we cannot connect it.
    • LED readouts
    • LED displays
    • Simple LCD displays.
    • LED Bar meters.
  • Heat sinks
  • Screws
  • Antennas
  • Wire and cords that are in good condition.
  • Brackets

In short keep your eyes open for parts that could be useful in projects. But don't collect junk that cannot be used or spend time on parts of little value.

For more ideas, watch Junkyard Wars. :)