Keep Scraps Around

When I’m building something, I like to have a decent-sized scrap pile on hand. Because when I’ve got to test something out — does this glue adhere to this fabric, how much force will this hold if I tap it and put a screw in, will it snap if reinforced with carbon fiber and epoxy — it’s nice to have some of the material in question on hand just for experimentation. So I pull a chunk out of the scrap pile!

But scrap piles can’t expand forever, and we all know that “too much of a good thing” is a thing, right? Scrap piles require constant pruning. You don’t really need more than a few aluminum extrusion cutoffs, so when you start building up excess inventory, it’s time to scrap it. I mean, throw it away.

A corollary of this, that I’ve only recently started to appreciate, is that if I limit the number of materials that I’m working with, it’s a lot more manageable to keep the scrap pile(s) under control. It’s simple math. If I’m working with twenty different materials, that’s twenty different heaps of scrap. But if I can get by with one weight of fiberglass for everything, that one pile of scraps can do double or triple duty. There is also the added benefit that I already know how the material works, and maybe even have old test samples on hand.

Indeed, I’m such a scrapaholic that it’s almost painful to start working with a new material and not have a scrap pile built up yet. I’m always loathe to cut into a nice square piece of stock just to test something out. But this too is part of the Great Circle of Life. By not testing things out beforehand, I’m almost guaranteed to screw up and create scrap out of what I had hoped was going to be a finished piece. See? No problem! Next version.

What do you think? Are scrap, offcuts, and their close cousins — test pieces and samples — worth keeping around in your shop? Do you have a disciplined approach, or do you just throw them in the corner? Purge per project, or only when the mountain of XPS foam gets as high as your head?

30 thoughts on “Keep Scraps Around

      1. Scrap piles are great provided they’re sorted well enough that you can find what you want, and you’re not too attached to them and can chuck out huge piles without getting separation anxiety about it.

        Reducing the number of types of material you use is a great idea – not just for the scraps pile but also the new stock pile.

      2. Agreed, happens to me every time…

        But you generate so many of the smaller scrap blocks with every time you have to cut into the new stock its often not a major bummer, just an “oh bother, if only I was lazier with my tidying up I wouldn’t have to mar this bit of new stock moment”…

        The times it really gets you are those rare occasions you dump something more unusual on the principle its been there 10 years unused, and it is completely impossible to just buy a replacement if you wind up needing one, and that happens often enough too…

  1. “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” (Thomas Edison)

    Unfortunately, unless you live on a farm with room for yet another storage shed, the limiting factor is either voluntarily limiting the amount of “stuff” you keep or the arrival of the “Hoarders” TV crew on your doorstep. A good principle for this is any sort of container – if something new goes in, something else goes out and no cheating. Sadly, with the demise of Radio Shack and others, we’re back to increasing our store of “stock” materials a bit so it may take several containers….

    Oh, wait, is that a knock at the door? A TV production van? Hmmm….

  2. Never scrap all the scrap at ones… If you need to make room for something and scraping scrap is your choice to recall that space, then make sure to scrap only the less interesting parts of scrap, also always ask your buddies if they don’t need some of that scrap.

    There are several scrap categories: Good as new; Barely scrap; Small scrap; Total crap (this last category should get binned)

    Having a scrap inventory is a little to much, but pictures of piles are quickly taken and shared.

    Easily liquefied metal scrap such as tin; aluminium and copper, never reaches the total crap stage, if you don’t have a foundry yourself you will not have to search very far to find someone that does. Worst case sell it to the metal recycler.

  3. I’m probably a hoarder, I guess(scrap management by necessity rather than design). I do winnow the scrap pile. But. I think it always falls out that whatever I toss is the next thing I want. Oh, well, such is life. It may just be me, and perhaps I am not discriminating enough with my collection, but I reckon the ratio of stuff I manage to use is about 10/90. 10% gets used for something and the 90% gets stirred, sorted, and will likely never be used; by me anyway. The thing is if you find treasure, it is mighty hard to pass on it, even if the chance of using it is remote. I doubt there is any perfect way to manage a scrap pool anyway. Having said that, you gots to sort out the nuts, bolts, screws, rivets, and what have you or life is not worth living.

    He who looks with the eye of a hawk, finds what a hawk would find. He who looks with the eye of a clam, finds what a clam would find.

  4. I’m wonder what all these “different types of materials” are. I know of woods, plywoods, acrylics, aluminums, steels. What else?

    Also, slightly related, is to know/remember where to get scrap when needed: metal recycling place that lets you take, construction sites with permission, cabinet shop cutoffs.

    My inside storage is limited so copper, steel, aluminum, marble, granite can be stored outside in sunlight.
    Outdoor, in shade, I can store plastic buckets full of stuff (use the tall 7 gallon buckets from swimming pool chemicals, they have easy locking lids). I have places no-one can see, but live on acreage.

    1. About right. I’ve been doing some model airplane stuff, so a couple types of foam and various things to reinforce them: carbon-fiber, kevlar, and fiberglass.

      What inspired the article was realising that I made up four different test pieces like that within a weekend. Playing around with a mounting option for the wing, the question was would balsa or fiberglass be better to keep the foam from deforming. It’s the kind of thing where either would have probably worked, but if I can whip up some test pieces real quick, I can actually find out. And I wouldn’t have done that if I had to cut up stock.

      I have some fire-brick offcuts from our fireplace that come in handy now and then — again, you don’t need a whole 30 cm x 50 cm block very often and it feels stupid to buy one.

    1. I have a well-organized scrap pile, but it’s hidden away so well I don’t use it.

      I live in a small appartment and my scrap pile is on a cart with eooden base on coasters under the guest bed, but to get to it I need to move my office chair, then one big cabinet on coasters out of the room, trough the hallway and into my bedroom (over two doorsills) to have the space to get out the scrap cart, with some movement. To get to it takes about as much time and way more cursing than a (bicycle) trip to the hardware store.

      I might not have used the scrap pile in a year and a half.

  5. The only way I could afford to get started in electronics was by salvaging the parts out of “curbside surplus”. The older the equipment, the easier it was to remove valuable components, hardware, wire, etc.

    Getting the parts for free meant I could build more projects. I also learned by trial and error. What happens when you don’t have exactly the right resistor value? Tweak things until it works anyway. What if you over-voltage a capacitor? *BANG*!

    The key is organization. It’s of no use if you can’t find it. So I have boxes, coffee cans, milk jugs, and scads of little plastic storage drawers full of neatly organized salvaged parts. I just about always have the parts I need. The article is right about pruning. When a drawer gets full, I throw out the worst of the grot and keep the best of it.

    The main problem is to fight my perfectionist side, which keeps moaning that the screws should match, and the LEDs should be the same color, etc. :-)

    1. I did my share of curbside salvagng in the mid to late 90’s, looking for a 386 PC to install linux. My daily driver was a 68k Mac. Cleaning it all was a major preoccupation, though, and I took over the guest bedroom to dissassemble and reassemble, to her horror. I had some nice functioning 8086s, 286s, Laser (Apple II clone) but then I got a divorce before finding the prize. I think back at multiple Model Ms, among other things that got thrown out, and the fact I never got that tech job. and I feel like I was a useless part that got thrown out too.

      1. Damn dude! Like the rest of us, I’m sure you had and are having fun puttering around with all that stuff. Work is just how we do our bit for eachother. Its not what defines us. I, like you am not doing what I dreamt of as a kid, but I still am having a lot of fun. Am I going to hit send and crack open my new book on ABEL PLD programming after hitting send? Hell yeah! Is it useful for my job… nah. Just a nice way to spend a Sat afternoon.

  6. The thing I have found as I grow older is that the original format of a thing is often times the most efficient for storage as well. So I keep scrap but I tend to keep it on the bone so to speak, and just pull the pieces I need as I need them. It is amazing the way a 3.5″ disk drive can fill a shoebox with bits and pieces and a lawn mower engine can take up a large tub. But left intact they take up a lot less space. I also have space from indoor to indoor but not real temp controlled to out buildings no temp control to sheds, to stuff under tarps to stuff just out in the elements.

    One of my favorite surplus places ever and I think it is long gone was a place called surplus aircraft in Tucson Az. Jerry I think his name was, had a couple of hangers full of industrial shelving with the “good stuff” in there. He had rows of shelving out back under a lean too for the not so prime stuff, and what seemed like acres of shit just scattered out in the desert beyond the shelving. As a kid you could always go in with a few bucks and find something fun to play with. Just walking around there was fun. One of the few surplus places that did not see to think everything they had was made out of gold.

    1. TheRainHarvester on YouTube says:

      A agree with leaving the parts in the item! The components are so much easier to find too, when you know what’ll be inside! It’s like a filing system!
      The only gotcha is that you won’t know what’s in, for example a dvd drive, until you take a few apart.

  7. I do (basic) woodworking and sometimes make jigs that are specific to one workpiece, usually out of some scrap or less-usable material.
    I often throw these into a scrap bin after useful life, either to reuse them as base material for another jig, or sometimes I can rebuild them into their original shape and make another project based on the same jig.

  8. I used to build radars out of scrap (other old radars). We collected parts that were expensive and hard to get. One day they decided that was too messy and we had to get rid of it all. We went from being a lab to an office.

  9. What about big pieces of equipment like dead dehumidifiers, dead CRTs, dead ACs, etc? Technology improves and it’s better to just send them to the recycling center unless you treasure a particular one. One large scrap I trashpicked and plan to hold on to is a Cadillac Powerwheels – I plan to outfit like a Powersheels racer for trips to the grocery store (why drive a large vehicle when you can use a mini one on a battery if you can’t afford a regular electric car yet).

    1. > Technology improves and it’s better to just send them to the recycling center unless you treasure a particular one.

      Sad but ultimately true – short-term pandemic impact aside, we are in the post-scarcity era where anything we can want from a handfull of components to a full CNC machine or widescreen TV is available to us for commodity pricing and next-day delivery.

      This is often true of other raw materials too – I’ve just ditched a big pile of scrap wood because I live near a DIY store so can go and buy a new piece of wood for a project cheaply and easily if I need it, and tripping over a precarious mountain of offcuts that “might come in handy” just got annoying.

      Hoarding old junk feels like a good thing but the reality is it’s eating into our useful space and often mental space too, I’m a hoarder like a lot of us, but I’m trying to minimise it.

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