Frackers: Inside the Mind of the Junk Hacker

Hackers can be a diverse bunch. My old hackerspace had folks ranging from NSA employees (ahem, independent security contractors) to space-probe pilots to anarchist vegan punks. And we all got along because we shared a common love for what we’re doing. One summer night we were out late in Adams Morgan and my vegan-punk friend reaches into the trash can and pulls out a discarded pepperoni Jumbo Slice.

“Wait a minute! Vegans don’t eat pepperoni pizza with cheese.” But my friend was a “freegan” — a vegan who, for ethical reasons, won’t buy meat or milk but who also won’t turn it down if it’s visibly going to waste. It’s actually quite a practical and principled moral proposal if you think about it: he’s not contributing to the use of animals that he opposes, but he gets to have a slice of pizza just the same. And fishing a slice of pizza, in a cardboard container, off the top of the trashcan isn’t as gross as you’d imagine, although it pays to be picky.

A Fracker is Born

That was the night that we realized we all had something deeper in common: we were all “frackers”. If you’ve been around hackers long enough, you’ll have noticed this tendency, but maybe you’ve never put a name to it. Tearing something apart, even if you might break it in the process, isn’t a problem if you fished it out of the e-waste stream to begin with. If you’re able to turn it into something, so much the better. It’s all upside. Need practice de-soldering tricky ICs? Looking for a cheap target to learn reverse engineering on? Off to the trashcan! No hack is too dirty, no method too barbaric. It’s already junk, and you’re a fracker.

internet_radio_wrt54g-shot0008_featuredDo you have a junk shelf where you keep old heatsinks in case you need to cut some up and use it? Have you used a heat gun more frequently for harvesting parts than for stripping paint? Do you know that certain satisfaction that you get from pulling some old tech out of the junk pile and either fixing it up again or, better yet, making it do something else? You might just be a fracker too.

Yes, I know. The word means a bunch of other things now. But this was back in the day when the only other rival connotations were a substitute swearword on Battlestar Galactica. We decided that was OK. As hackers take back “hacker”, we’d take back “fracker”. Well, it went nowhere. But if you’re out there reading this and you’re a fracker, maybe you can help.

A Field Guide to Frackers

There are many types of fracker out there, and many motivations for fracking. Let’s look at a few of the obvious ones:

  • The Eco Fracker: Some frackers have this feeling that there’s something wasteful about throwing so much good tech away. PCBs and ICs are very resource intensive. Recycling is better than not doing so, but even that’s imperfect. The best way to keep something out of the landfill is to keep using it.
  • The Poverty Fracker: Maybe you don’t have money for a streaming media station, but you know you can make one out of a trashed router. That’s poverty-fracking, a noble tradition.
  • The Parts-is-Parts Fracker: This fracker has an extensive junk collection and knows where to get something when it’s needed. Pulling a heat sink off an old power supply to use for an audio amplifier is parts fracking.
  • The Fixit Fracker is often a poverty fracker or an eco fracker in disguise. But hacking on broken junk just for the challenge of making it work again can be quite rewarding in its own right. Even if you don’t know what you’re going to do with the microscope you hauled out of the trash, you make it work again.
  • The Art Fracker: They like the way old junk looks. When you find a cool-looking instrument panel or an old mechanism in the junk, you pull it out and house some other gear in it, that’s art fracking. Think Rasbperry Pis in Macintosh SE cases.
  • The Reverse Fracker: These folks primarily like to figure out how stuff works. After pulling some techno-trash out of the bin, they learn a lot from taking it apart and mapping it all out. It may work again, it may not. Knowledge was gained.
  • The Virtuoso Fracker: The virtuoso is a lot like the parts fracker, only for the virtuoso fracker, it’s an intentionally limited set of parts. What’s the coolest thing you can make out of an old CD player and some popsicle sticks? With one hand tied behind your back? That’s virtuoso fracking.

Of course, in the real world, every fracker is a mix of all of the above. Sometimes you’re looking for inspiration, sometimes you’re just looking for a power supply. But as long as you’re letting me taxonomize here, let’s look at a few exemplars.

Three Inspirational Frackers

[frackingMatt Evans] started off as a fracker of necessity: he was a poor student. But by the time he was giving this fantastic talk at a Linux conference in 2012, he had a decent job paying him enough money to buy whatever he wanted. Nonetheless, when he needed a JTAG programmer to break into some other motherboard from the trash heap, he of course had to build one himself out of a discarded router by writing some kernel code and tapping around the board for GPIOs.

In [Matt]’s talk, he goes through all his reasons for fracking, and it’s fairly clear that he’s at least an Art-Fixit-Eco-Virtuoso Fracker. We’ll call [Matt] simply a Renaissance Fracker. (Not strictly fracking, but neat nonetheless is his cutting up STM32F0 Discovery Kits with a hacksaw post.)

IMG_2270_thumbnail[Sprite TM], who graces our pages frequently, is mostly a Reverse Fracker. Who else takes apart a hard-drive to see if he can reprogram some of the chips that make up the controller? A bunch of his projects display the minimalism and re-use of the Virtuoso. And I have no idea what to make of the Tamogotchi Singularity. Is that Art? It’s awesome…

[The Post-Apocalyptic Inventor] has a YouTube channel where he displays his particular blend of poverty-fixit-reverse-parts-fracking. When he takes apart a welder, it’s partly to get a working a welder, but also to learn about the designs and improve them. And you can be sure that he gets every last stepper motor out of a copy machine.

There are many other inspirational frackers (and their fracks) out there — let’s hear your favorites in the comment section.

A Fracker Manifesto

So are you a fracker too? It’s not official until you’ve at least skimmed through our manifesto.

  1. Take stuff out of the trash can!
  2. Make it do something else.
  3. Don’t worry about breaking it.
  4. Fixing something is good — changing it is better.
  5. Appreciate the design of the original, but don’t be limited by it.
  6. Vintage hardware is beautiful.
  7. Building something for $0 is inherently cool.
  8. Let the constraints be a source of inspiration.

Fracking is much harder than buying modules on eBay, but that’s part of the point; you push yourself and you learn. On the other hand sometimes a challenge can turn into a frustration, so there’s no sense in being fanatical. Any fracking you do is good for the environment, your skills, your aesthetic sensibilities, and your pocketbook. You don’t have to delete your profile at Mouser or cut up your credit cards. You’re probably better off just buying capacitors and LEDs rather than scavenging them off of old motherboards and trying to measure them all for instance. (Don’t ask me how I know this.)

But when you do make that scroll wheel out of an old hard-drive platter and motor assembly, you are going to smile just a little bit wider because the surface-mount comparator that detects the phases came from an old iMac that your neighbors pitched. Being a fracker is its own reward. Frackers of the world, unite!

116 thoughts on “Frackers: Inside the Mind of the Junk Hacker

  1. Every. Single. Day.

    I’ve apparently built up a reputation on this kind of work.. I’m more likely to go dig through the e-waste trash to find a solution to a problem than I am to buy something off the shelf.

    Case in point: built a drive mechanism out of old printer parts and some laser-cut acrylic for a custom glass polishing fixture. When you are require to remove 50 microns from the edge of a 1 mm thick piece of glass, and there’s no tool currently available to do this, then you build one.

    1. .. or that time I build a shutter for an ultrafast laser from an old discarded oscilloscope camera and a dead HDD. Used on old SUN workstation pizza box for the controller enclosure, complete with indicators and switches scavenged from other dead lab equipment.

    2. At a previous job, the lab manager / rework guru hated when people scrounged from the trash because hardware he threw away for being broken would get “rescued” and eventually make its way back into the “good” pile in the lab. Work hours are wasted when engineers keep debugging the same problem because a scope probe that went into the trash for an intermittent in the coax and ends up back onto the rack next to its replacement, or a deprecated rev of a dev board ends up in someone’s cube for development.

      So we had an agreement: he would save some hardware from the trash for me, while the rest would get “marked as bad” which involved a hammer or diagonal cutters.

      1. Well that sort of thing can reach criminal proportions in aviation maintenance when parts deemed not airworthy get back into circulation. One firm I worked for that overhauled jet engines took a plasma torch to every part they scrapped before sending the metal off for recycle just to make sure they weren’t diverted.

        1. In this case, nothing was being made for production in that building. The chance that anything would make it to a customer was nil. However some of the work was for datasheet characterization, so a out-of-cal piece of test gear or flaky support hardware could have legal ramifications later on if we sold parts with unrealistic operating parameters in the docs.

          1. Great counterpoints!

            And I’m totally down with cutting bad probes in half to make sure they don’t get accidentally used again — intermittents are the worst. But if it’s failed at the probe end, you’ve got a nice BNC-terminated piece of coax. And vice-versa, a probe that just needs a new BNC. :)

            But seriously good point about safety-critical environments, and even just about the time/money tradeoff. It probably only makes sense to be a fracker off the clock, or when time (even time spent learning) is relatively cheap.

          2. I once talked with a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic who replaced the rotor blades when they reached the maximum amount of hours allowed.
            He suspected some of the replacement blades he was receiving were probably EOL.
            So he started marking small scratches on the out going blades, and when one came back as a replacement, he took a sledgehammer to all out going blades after that.

          3. I work in a datacenter: We have big disk arrays each one with ~300 disks, for a total amount of 2400 disks. We pay huge maintenance fees (more than $50 per disk) to each of the companies that made these arrays. Some of there arrays are more than 4 years old, and each week we have at least 4 drives dead: We send them, and get replacement… As I noticed these ‘new’ disks do not last as long as expected (some failed one month after being replaced) I had a look at the SMART values: The disks they send are already 4 to 6 years old ! In fact the disk manufacturer the sell disks to the big companies that make / resell arrays only reset some SMART errors and send them back… It is a really dangerous behavior for us because with these ‘bad’/old drives we have more chances to lost many drives in the same array and then lost very important data…
            I also learn that two resellers of LSI (now netapp) arrays modify the firmware of the drives they distribute so that if you want to move a drive from one array to another brand array (even if it is the same drive, just a diiference in the serial number): You cannot !
            As a consequence, we ended paying maintenance on older arrays and use them for prototyping. When a disk is in predictive failure (smart errors), I take the serial adapter I made and reset the smart errors once like the big manufacturer disk did. Those ‘homemade’ ‘repaired’ disks last longer maybe because they did not travel the world, or because our disks still work in good conditions (low temperature, no vibrations and regulated humidity).
            If recycling is a good thing sometime, in this case its really dangerous for the client: If we had lost data, none of these big companies would have paid a single buck for the valuable data our customers store on these arrays…
            Now every drives that come is inspected, and all of their parameters are stored in a database for future use. This way we are more or less confident in a giving array.

          4. The temptations for this sort of thing are huge and they don’t necessarily reflect a company’s policy as it can be going on at lower levels in the chain without management’s knowledge. That’s why aviation maintenance had to institute frankly draconian measures to put an end to it and with considerable success. But rooting it out was not easy or pleasant for anyone working in the industry at the time.

      2. I had the same problem in my old lab during my PhD.. we were given a whole rats nest of BNC cables from a lab that was being closed down, which at first seemed like a blessing. That was until I realized that the cables were at least 30 years old and had definitely seen better days. I kept having issues with the cables and throwing them out, until I realized the other guys in the group were pulling the cables out of the trash and adding them back to the stack. I finally had enough and started cutting them into pieces for the same reason!

        1. This is the proper way to manage this, there is a fault somewhere in the cable, or on one of the ends, cut the cable so it cannot be reused or will take work to do so. (recrimping a new BNC end etc) At my work place if we find a defective RAM stick we take a hammer to it or snap it on half, prove a cable is bad we cut it. Solves a lot of basic ‘salvage’ issues of defective parts sneaking back into production.

  2. The question is – how do you _stop_ being a fracker. My house is full, my garage is full, my desk drawers (both work and home) are full, and yet I don’t have the time any more to actually do anything with the jun^W goodies :(

    1. Get girl friend/marry. The nagging from neat freak, need for more space for her stuff and lack of time would make you stop. On the other and, you know you got a keeper if she tolerates your hobby.

      1. That’s not a guaranteed plan for success. My wife is a fabric and yarn hoarder and understands the logic of future potential of a well stocked stash.

        Now if you have kids and don’t plan to move to a bigger place… We’ve both had to significantly thin our junk boxes in the last few years as the guest bedrooms have been repurposed.

      2. When I met my wife her apartment was full of furniture she had found curbside, and refinished. She also drove an F-150 just to make picking easy. I wasn’t going to let that one get away.

    2. I am not alone ! My wife understand me (and see the benefits when I am able to fix my mother in law motherboard computer with the caps I scavenged before ;)
      For my pleasure: I like to repair computers (found at the landfill) and give them to the infant school, this way children are able to learn computing (it also a way to “spread the word” (linux) when they are young ;).
      I also like to build “free” things: frankenstein CNC with scavenged stepper motors, a work plan with metal tubes and pallet wood, … as said: I learn a lot with this “free” materials, and this is eco-friendly.
      The problem I am facing is organize all of these things and keep an eye on my stocks: I currently use a spreadsheet (openoffice calc) to store all the ICs references but it’s not really practical… If someone has a better idea …

    3. You might not be able to.

      That’s not to say that you can’t mitigate the problem through donations to hacker&maker spaces/school electronics&robotics classes clubs/Ham Radio groups/Tech Shop, or if you have some friends who can spare the time you can try having a garage sale to get rid of some of the worst clutter.

      1. True — having a nearby hackerspace means you don’t need to store IEC cables or older computers in your own basement. You can store it at theirs. :)

        Limited space can be a solution. When it’s full, it’s either new stuff displaces old, or out it goes to the recycling. At the hackerspace, we’d put excess “material” into a bin. It was gone in a week or two if nobody pulled it out. This had to happen monthly or so.

        Try a version of this with yourself. Make a “hack now or forever hold your peace” box and empty it once a month. It’ll either get rid of stuff or motivate you. Either way is a win.

    4. Move to a small rural KS town where houses and buildings are cheap. Don’t worry about have time, just keep buying buildings w as yo fill them up; your survivors are going to love you for it. One caveat though while the building are cheap the property taxes aren’t.

      1. Start a freebay forum over at http://forums.hackaday.com/ to make more room for newer treasures (FOB so to speak). You can’t take the shit with you, and your family will appreciate having less they have to haul when you kick the bucket. In the event any of your family would want it just give it to them now. Try local consignment actions if you don’t want to mess with E bay.

    5. Why doesn’t Hack-a-day have a “Like” button? Because I need to press it a few million times for this post.
      It is true, my house is full, mostly with stuff pulled from thrift shops, from the “purgatory” bin at 23b Hackerspace, and from curbside. Some things I get to, some things I never do.
      I do so many different things, that I have justification to collect a wide variety of junk. Anything electronic could be salvaged for parts. Old sewing notions could be used for making stage clothes. Old video stuff could be security, visuals for shows, recording gear for shows, or maybe just for watching things on. Any tools, hey, I might use it someday! Don’t throw away the boxes, you might want to sell it one day! (Except that I never actually sell anything.) Surely I’m gonna fix that old video game system! And those old computers… those were thousands of dollars new!

      Yes, I have a problem…

      1. “Why doesn’t Hack-a-day have a “Like” button? Because I need to press it a few million times for this post.”

        As Foghorn Leghorn would say, “I say, I say, son, ya got it all wrong, I say ya got it ALL wrong!”

        As a reader of HaD, you will be expected to write a script that will press the “Like” button a million times for you!

        B^)

  3. I’ve picked trash all my life – it was a very rare thing for me to buy a component for an electronics project – old TVs and radios were my primary source when I was a kid. Even today all three of my computers are road-side salvage.

    1. All 3 of my Homelite string trimmers were obtained for the purpose of tearing them apart just to see how the work. But they each turned out just needing several dollars of parts to get running.

  4. not to be confused with unscrupulous mining of shale gas and oil through hydraulic fracturing. Also known as frackers :s

    I’m so grateful my company recycles ewaste. We have a pallet load of goodies which I’ve stripped all sorts of neat stuff from :)

      1. You do realize that there are multiple ways to do things right? Disagreeing with one of the methods used does not warrant that garbage.
        I guess you are one of those people that support kicking and beating animals in farms then.

    1. That’s just it. it will be confused with gas and Oil production fracking, just like hack had negative connotations long before computer hacking was thing. Evidence is that there may be problems with hydraulic fracturing in some cases, but that doesn’t mean that the technology it itself is unscrupulous. However how the players in the industry and agencies that regulate it to insure our safety may be unscrupulous.

  5. The bit about keeping old heatsinks is tremendously accurate! No way am I going to throw away a big lump of copper or aluminium when there’s a possibility I could use it on a regulator in 5 years, or melt and re-cast it in 10!

  6. Yup, sign me up as a fracker.
    I’ve pretty much picked the e-waste bin clean here at work.

    When I saw this article I was fixing (mostly cleaning) an old microsoft wireless mouse that someone tossed away. I’m gonna use it in my arcade cab that I built from scrap here at work (I did it on my lunchbreaks). The only thing I needed to buy was a couple of screws and some paint. And of course arcade controllers.

  7. Ohh, there’s plenty to salvage from trash bin parts.
    -Transparent acrylic and some plastic sheets with funny optical capabilities (free laser cutting materials!) from LCD panels and monitors
    -USB WiFi or GPS boards, vibromotors, pogopins from broken cheap tablets/phones/laptops, oh, and antennas!
    -PSU boards (repurposed a PS2 PSU myself, gives at least 4A at 12V)
    -Mechanics from CD drives/printers/copiers (their enclosures are also nice for re-using, for example, to house a PC in. There are also ATX PSU enclosures)
    -Working computer parts from broken laptops/computers – I have 2 PCs in my room built that now, one is for Linux experimentation and one is a workdesk PC for CAD/schematics/pinouts, as well as some fingerprint readers/PS2 touchpads I’ve yet to actually make work. Also, IDE/PSU/LPT/USB cables are great to re-use.
    -Lots, lots of misc repair parts – cords, sockets, various plastic parts, connection cables, fans, button&LED panels…
    Also, being the ‘repair everything electronic’ person at a local flea market in the electronics section goes a long, long way. You see a different value in things, and you get a better price. Also, you get things gifted sometimes =)

  8. I’m for sure a fracker. Recycle, re-use, and rebuild. A lot of the stuff I use now is either cheap junk modified for my purposes, junk I got for free and fixed or modified, and just straight up saving e-waste in general. My keyboard was free. Had to fix it recently. My 3rd PC monitor came from an old under-powered laptop I added a cheap Chinese LVDS adapter board to. That was $25 USD. A LOT cheaper than getting a full LCD and I re-used a part that would have been trashed otherwise. The laptop base still worked and I gave it to a cousin to use as a cheap low powered “PC” with the video port to external display. Got a Logitech Driving Force wheel from a city landfill. It still works to this day. The list goes on. I guess that looking at the types of frackers I’m all minus the Virtuoso Fracker. Done things that fall under all the other categories. I’m a fracker at heart and won’t stop salvaging e-waste.

  9. Elliot always writes interesting articles. A fracker is usually a ‘hoarder’ (not sure it’s an American word, but it means “saving lots and lots of stuff). That’s because EVERYTHING is useful! With that problem, moving house is useful every now and then, to distinguish between various levels of usefulness.

    1. Yeah…. there’s a thin line, isn’t there? A friend at my old space was getting his hoarding under control — which meant free awesome laser tubes for all of his friends because he had way more than he’d ever find projects for. (And it was significantly easier on his psyche knowing that the tubes found good homes / got others suckered into his high-voltage lasering hobby.) Good times!

      Make time to strip the good stuff and recycle the rest, is all I can say. Some hoarding is parts-fracking. If you’ve got more than four of any big item, it may be time to limit yourself.

  10. I am so proud to be all of the above.

    I am redoing my my work shop.( Not by choice.)

    But here is what I have so far.

    OK I do not know everything but a lot.

    I NEED HELP HERE…… How do you add pictures here..

    Please help.

  11. Let us not forget our honorable ancestor many millenia ago who made the first tools out of dead animal bones or the other guy who ate and enjoyed wet moldy discarded grain and gave us reason to cultivate wheat. Let us one day every year replace one of the spanners ln Hackaday banner with a bison femur. Frackers are fathers of civilization.

  12. So I totally agree with the comments, and love this/ do this. I do have:

    ONE BIG QUESTION:

    What do you do with the rest of the stuff you /don’t/ use? The enclosure, ribbon cables, metal pieces, the rest of the circuit boards.

    I’m concerned that while a lot of these items are “saved” from the ewaste stream initially, I often see the ‘scrap’ end up in the trash, and not back on it’s way to ewaste. I think the Manifesto should include ‘recycle what you can’t use’. Because that’s a great way to make something new with old ‘junk.’

    1. Yup. I’m probably a borderline hoarder — I certainly recognize the tendency in myself. (Looking at the sexy but dead monitor whose power supply I’m going to fix “any day now”.)

      Things that help me:

      1) Abundance of raw materials nearby, but not at home. See “hackerspace”. Someone always has the cable I need when I need many — so my basement only needs to have one of each.

      2) If I pulled it from the trash stream, I don’t have to feel bad about sending it further along its previous path.
      2b) If I pull a couple choice parts off something, and recycle the rest, it’s a strict win.

      3) Using something in a project makes space for higher-value junk. I try to continually build stuff or a least swapping/recycling/upgrading the hoard.

      4) Ration yourself with incentives: I’ve got ten sexy surplus-store gearmotors in my motor box. If I build with two, I’ll buy two more. But not until. Same goes for LCD screens. And CMOS logic chips. And potentiometers. And NiMH phone batteries…

      5) When my finished projects take up more shelf space than junk / parts, I’ll get another shelf, but not until. I’ve got a ways to go.

    2. I hate the e-waste “recycling” locations (for reasons I won’t get into here) and amassed quite a bit of junk until I realized my city picks up e-waste three times a year from your curb. So I set the stuff aside in boxes and buckets labeled as such and set it out to curb at the appropriate times. I leave a note for the bottom feeders to keep it clean and I let the garbage handlers figure out how to sort it.

  13. Any body else troll the local thrift stores for useful junk? I cant count how many time I have walked in, with the express intent to purchase some one else’s ‘junk’ for the purpose of tearing it down to get some particular piece of custom kit for use on what ever my next crazy project happens to be… I have also been known to knock on a complete stragers door when I see something they are getting rid of that might be useful. Microwaves are easy to get if you ask around… The looks and questions are often priceless too… ‘You want my what? Why? It doesn’t work anymore…’

    Also, I think it has been at least 10 years since I actually paid for a new printer… Why bother when I can get compatible ink or toner for pennies on the dollar, get 3 to 4 years of use out of the device, and then when it finally gives up the ghost, tear it down and add it to my parts collection…

    1. Yes. Straight to the electronics section.

      I have a giant (colour!) laser printer in storage with loads of extra toner someone gave me just for the purpose of replacing my current free laser printer when its toner runs out (which I will part out and trash the rest once that day comes)

  14. Why do people feel the need to bastardize the word ‘hacker’ even more?
    Why can’t hacker just be what it’s always been, I mean ffs why in this day and age is it appropriate to shit words out of our asses?

    This isn’t the only case of course, take hacktivism for example…. This crap isn’t necessary.

    1. It’s marketing. People are trying to make money by creating niches and branding.

      By the way in these times being critical earns you the title of “troll”. Don’t disagree or criticize anything. It’s not politically correct..

    2. Good question. I always chuckle how a lot of people like to argue for no labels or stereotyping, yet we come up with all these ways to label and classify people like this. Oh well. Invariably, the new label gets hijacked by some group or organization, and warped into something awful, for better or for worse!

    3. The term “Maker” makes me want to punch kittens in the face. There was a time, maybe in the 90’s where someone saying “I’m about to “make” in my pants” is them saying “I’m about to shit myself” or other more (somehow) vulgar pretenses. Now you have people that were still in diapers in the 90’s saying “I’M A MAKER!” – no you are a douche nozzle. If you are from Germany, saying maker is ok, because it sounds like something a German person would say. or if you attach WATCH or some product to the front. But “maker” on it’s own? kitties going to get it….

  15. I definitely fall under the ‘poverty’ and ‘virtuoso’ categories most, but I see a bit of all of them in myself :P Such fun seeing a bunch of printer parts and CD drive junk wobble its way down and pick up a chess piece or whatever. Moving to a tiny dorm room, one of my two suitcases was all climbing gear and electronics junk – couldn’t bear leaving such useful parts behind!
    While I’m learning to ignore PCs and such unless I need the power supply, I can never pass up a chance at my favourite source of parts – old printers. Sooo many goodies!

  16. For my parents the Depression was the defining mark of making do and repourposeing.
    I caught the bug early. So I had a console color TV in the basement before we did upstairs in the living room. It was a porthole RCA. Sold it for $100.

  17. hello, I’m John and I’m a fracker.

    I’ve been a fixit fracker since it was called ‘cant afford a new one’. Bin dipping and free stuff are my dealers of choice, but if I cant find a score there, I’ve been known to pay money and buy stuff. (never sell it obviously, but buy it? hell yes.)

    I was clean for three days and I was doing ok but then I was offered a Dewalt battery / mains wet /dry vacuum and a paddle mixer that had both sat in a leaky shed for 5 years. I just couldn’t say no… A £3 set of carbon brushes from ebay and a strip and clean, (resolder a broken wire), I couldn’t help myself, I had to get them working. I put the vacuum with the 4 dysons and two no name hoovers that I’ll get around to making into a a dust collection system real soon… I dont need another paddle mixer. Probably don’t need 3 surround sound systems either (bad solder joints / blown caps / bad voltage regulator.)

    Todays fix? Mother in law had an old Walnut table lamp that was in need of restoring. So, strip it, mount it on the lathe and polish it from 1,000 to 16,000 grit until its like glass. Replace metal bulb holder and rewire, test and return, smiles all round, but I know I’ll need another fix tomorrow..

    Birthdays and xmas are wasted with tools and equipment upgrades, I spend time cramming more tools into less space. I drive an old car, happily shop for 2nd hand clothes, just to feed my habit. Nobody I know will take anything to the tip without checking if I want it first….

    I’ve tried therapy, but ended up living with a hoarder. (She’s no help there then.)

    When I was a kid I knew that when I grew up I wanted to be able to fix anything. I’m nearly there, I’m just about to start growing up…

  18. Ya lightweights! I must shuffle sideways through my old dbl-wide Boeing classroom due to the stacked old gear. The bldg is 40’x30′. My friends & family consider me “very odd man”. I keep telling them it’s my retirement pkg. Whatsa Matta, you no understand Papas needs? Don’t touch my old Macs, get outa da ISA & PC cards pallet! Hey, dem transformers be heavy, dude, stop playing! The shelving won’t fall, spilling the motors, guide rods, & old printer control panels cuz I screwed em to zee 11 GA steel interior sales. Most oddities like my 8-bit XT MOM HDD on card, most late-model Geeks haven’t seen. Tandy 1500 laptops, 200 lb UPS, I get hot just opening the door & smelling the stuff.. Ahhhh! My Shangri-la!

      1. Inre: the other meaning of fracker
        I saw a bumper sticker 30 years ago on the back of a beat up pickup.
        “Please don’t tell my parents I work in the oil patch.
        They’re better off thinking I’m still playing piano in a whorehouse.”

    1. I prefer the term “DIY recycler”. I mostly do it for the purpose of environmentalism, along with getting parts that are hard to find for reasonable prices in stores (either physical or online).

      On a side note, is there a term for those who often search for really cheap (e.g. on clearance) yet interesting devices to buy for the purpose of hacking them? For example, I recently found some LG wireless HDMI kits for $10 each.

  19. Ahhh… the company e-waste pile. For the price of 3-4 capacitors every computer in the house is now equipped with a 22″ or larger widescreen display. Need a reliable storage server for home, grab the 10 year old netapp. Patch cables galore. Keyboards, mice, wireless routers with blown power supply caps. 4-8 port desktop switches by the gross. Need to upgrade the printer you scrounged last year with the duplexing feature – grab the parts before they are recycled. Need to learn cisco commands? quite likely you will find a decommed 10/100mbit router waiting for you. Need an old machine for your home pfsense router? grab that desktop. Dig some more to find additional NICs, RAM, better cpu, case fans. If you are lucky a raid controller or two might show up. Or a video card for your first generation Intel MacPro that you found last year… yes, yes, the very same one head office will no longer support because it does not run Yosemite… but you know better!

    That’s not fracking! You’re a GoldDigger!! :)

  20. A medical equipment company down the road from my office had a skip load of old gear sitting out the front waiting for pickup. I salvaged a bedside drip pump. Inside was a Portescap DC motor complete with a 128:1 gearbox and position sensor. It is so beautifully made (in Switzerland) that I get it out now and again just to look at it. It almost makes me weep to consider how many others went down the tip to get driven over by a front loader…

  21. Taking Steppers from copy machines is the best thing. I found 7 on the street but i couldn take them home, so i dissasemble each one on the spot to take the steppers and some other things.
    Ones even had paper inside (like 500 blank sheets)

  22. I’m a for-parts fracker. Luckily in my job I have a seemingly unlimited supply of huge motor start capacitors and other caps the size of coke cans, various microprocessors, heatsinks, voltage regs etc.

    Depending on what board I am given I will strip it down, or get it working again and sell it on ebay after a 24 hour testing cycle in the workshop at my work, my techs also but every board and motor they were going to junk into a special bin for me.

    It really helps me in my work knowing what goes wrong on certain bits of equipment. Especially if I have a client 1000km away phoning in an issue, I know which board gives false error codes (on one machine it will present a ‘bad solenoid’ error but in fact it is the 12/24V (depending on revision) voltage regular feeding the solenoid). I know not to worry about sending a solenoid kit and just send the main board after getting the client to check the resistance over the solenoid.

    It saves me time and my boss time and money in incorrect diagnosis of issues. Also gave me brownie points by being able to resurrect a particularly touchy old CNC machine for a friend of my boss.

  23. The field of industrial electrics can be a frackers heaven. In the last 4 years I’ve saved a company over $60,000 just on their lithographic printing line alone, by reverse engineering dying systems and replacing it with cheap off the shelf parts and fixing dc motor drives by recycling the good parts off old faulty ones.

  24. I’m glad they have a name for my hobby now. The monitor I’m using is a 24 inch wide screen that a neighbor tossed because a couple cold solder joints and a popped cap killed it. It replaced a twenty inch I got the same way, though that one had one green pixel in the lower left hand corner. I have android phones, tablets, laptops, computers, and tv’s all just sitting around waiting for somebody in the family to need one.

  25. Fracker? Seriously? This is the worst name you could choose. “Fracking” is a well known method for extracting hydrocarbons from the earth, which is also known as a very negative thing because it causes water table poisoning, earthquakes and health problems. Now you want to rename “hackers” to “frackers”? It ain’t gonna happen. You should give up on “fracker”. It’s not going to be a thing.

  26. Hi! I’m Al and I’m a Post-Consumer-Consumer.

    Been trashpicking since grade school and my motto is “If you can’t fix it, don’t buy it.” Didn’t get seriously into dumpster diving until I discovered a local arcade operator was tossing logic boards and such back in the mid 1990s. Picked tons of stuff out of their garbage and I’ve been repairing arcade games using those parts since then.

  27. We throw away tons of good parts all the time. Either as part of “assemblies” or individual parts. From actives to passives to switches to relays to bud boxes with a single hole or two drilled in them, all kinds of LEDs and industrial indicators, 1/4″ shaft knobs with set screws, hardware such as machine screws and nuts and washers. All of it perfectly fine, good, practically new or brand new. I nearly had a fit the first time I witnessed this as a “new guy” – but as it was explained to me, it costs more to pay one of us to salvage the parts than to just order new stuff as we need it… The only thing that ever gets salvaged is an IC or two that might be obsolete. And don’t dare think about filling your pockets, because then your stealing… It makes my head hurt to this day. But thems the rules.

  28. If you live in a city with Goodwill stores, they have something called an ‘outlet’ store. It’s where all the stuff that didn’t sell at regular Goodwills, plus the stuff culled from donations, goes. They sell it by the pound. I just took my blood pressure with a wrist-sphygmomanometer that I picked up for pennies. Just needed batteries, although it no longer beeps when it’s finished. Small price to pay. I get small LCD panels from seat-back DVD players all the time…again, literally for pennies. It’s hard to describe the variety of stuff. You like old printer parts? Scads of them. Sometimes there will be tube-type or other vintage gear. You just have to scrounge through dozens of bins to find it all–sort of like dumpster-diving, only you don’t have to dive.

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