Introduction: How to Scavange for Free (or Relatively So) Parts

Picture of How to Scavange for Free (or Relatively So) Parts

Okay, so you have got a whole bunch of great ideas of the next cool gadget to build, but have little or no funds with which to buy parts.

Fear not! Free stuph is easy to find all around you, you just have to look on odd places.

Step 1: Where to Look

Picture of Where to Look

1. Old projects.
You already bought the parts once, why buy them again? If it doesn't work, cannibalize it!

2. Recycling drop off sites.
Sometimes, if you ask nicely, they might give you old donated items to tear apart.

3. Goodwill.
It may cost a little money, but it is a repository for cheaper alternatives.


Remember, there are no guarantees that you will get what you need, but it is a place to start.

Step 2: What to Look For

Picture of What to Look For

Well, waddya want?


I usually go for, in this order:
1. Capacitors
2. LEDs
3. Buttons/ switches
4, Resistors
5. Speakers
6. Motors
7. Whatever else I can get my usually grubby hands on.


Your results may vary, satisfaction not guaranteed

I recently got a free computer tower. It is a treasure trove, but alas, I can only grab certain things.

Step 3: What to Get at It With

Picture of What to Get at It With

Okay, I need some help here too.

I usually have with me at all times when doing this:


1. Wire cutters
I detest cutting wires, it usually means splicing later on. But it is a necessary evil.


2. Multimeter
I love it. Continuity, voltage, resistance, yay.


3. Screwdrivers
For prying, poking, prodding, levering, and occasionally unscrewing.


4. Soldring iron & desolder bulb
I love to solder and to get at things involves meling some metal. Otherwise, parts don't come off boards.


5. Tweezers
For dinky screws, wires, parts, splinters...



If you don't know how to solder at this step, go learn. Seriously. I believe it is the single greatest skill to pick up.

Step 4: Digging In

Picture of Digging In

What you will find will vary and I cannot give a "how to" for every scenario. Just remember, if you break it, it stays broken so choose wisely.

For things stuck to the board:

Through hole - Press your iron to the leads on the bottom and try to push them through. Work one lead at a time and rock the component in the opposite direction. If it doesn't go al the way, stop and work on the other lead. Keep working, it will come off...or break.

SMT - suggestions? I'm a little inept at this and would gladly accept help.

Wires - They are generally either through a hole or in a clip. If through a hole, press and pull it out. If it is in a clip, look for a clasp that keeps it in. If there is one, unclip it; if not, try gently tugging.


Screws:

If you have a driver, great! use it.
If not, try and improvise, like using a flat blade diagonal, or a phillips head may work. If push comes to shove, try driling it out or using a screw extractor.


Plastic:
I hate it. It breaks, it looks bad as an exterior, and has a myriad of little clippees formed into it that make disassembly a pain. Look carefully to find the clippees and gently unclip them.

Step 5: Physical Parts

Picture of Physical Parts

Get your mind out of the gutter!

Actually, Gutters and downspouts may make a neat case.


Frankly, anything that can hold your project could be a case.

I hate to say it, but even dumpster diving can uncover neat cases. Anytime something breaks, save it. It may make a neat enclosure. Tins, plastic tubing, other cases, anything.

Be thrifty! It's cheap!

I'm thinking of using an empty 2 pound goldfish box for something or other.

Caution. Some cases will not only be cheap, they will look it too. If it looks like you just slapped it together, it will earn no style points.

Step 6: Imagine

Picture of Imagine

The rest is up to you. build your own things now for free (or nearly so).

Comments

davidbruington (author)2009-07-05

some good solder wick/braid would work well for removing surface mount components that have lots of little pins... such as that DIP switch. :)

Bigev (author)davidbruington2009-07-07

mmm... good to know, but i scrapped the board in April. darn, too late.

Goodhart (author)Bigev2009-11-19
Yes, and a tiny touch of flux on that desoldering braid can do wonders in needing less heat to remove the solder.  Too much and you have a mess.  Too much heat and....well you already know what happens then :-) 
 
Spaceman-Spliff (author)2009-04-02

I`d add a cart of some sort to the list of handy tools... sometimes you stumble across a couple of old cases on a heap - would be sad to just take home one ;-)

Bigev (author)Spaceman-Spliff2009-04-03

Very true.

bylerfamily (author)2009-02-06

Nice!