To invent, you need a good imagination, and a pile of junk. -Thomas Alva Edison-
"Junk is Gold"
Get to know your local Salvage & Junk Yards.  I like visiting a nearby Recycling Center and Lumber Mill regularly.  Nice folks, cool stuff, great prices, or just plain free!
-Allen Keehall-
Goal:  I wanted to post some junk-food for thought.  I want those of you with an interest or hobbies in metal working, gadgetry, or general mayhem to appreciate the savings and creative benefits of using discarded products.  It's for the good of the planet, your wallet, and can unleash your AlKeehall-Lab spirit. So do something nice for mommy nature and don't mess her up! Look for the Keehall Green Projects, they're about helping mother earth fight the human menace. 

Background: Nowadays the Junk Yard has become known as the Recycling or Reclamation Center.  In some places it's a Salvage Yard.  But I still prefer to call it the Junk Yard and have no shame in liking "junk". Junk is not trash, it has only lost perceived value; other than potential for reintegration into the new material chain. I find it interesting that people consider glass bottles, plastic jugs, aluminum cans, and paper as recyclable; but not an old car, washing machine, dishwasher, or refrigerator.  A visit to the modern Junk Yard will surprise you.  An old washing machine can potentially have $20 or more of metal.  That's a lot of aluminum cans to collect!  Same goes with a refrigerator and its freon. 

I'll concentrate more on raw materials from local manufacturers, lumber yards, and scrap turnings and junk barrels from machine or welding shops.  They can't economically utilize all their scrap, but you can.  Time is money when you punch a clock; but what we want to do is trade time for value and not cash-in yourself like a boss does.  So take some time to look for useful things and you can save a bundle in the process.  I often opt to upgrade tooling with my material savings.

Al Does the Math, Trading Time for Value

If I have to buy a manageable 1.5" diameter x 12" rod of 6061-T6 Aluminum for $15 with miraculously free shipping & handling and no tax, it costs roughly $7.50/lb.  At a high-end price of $1.00/lb for scrap, I save $6.5/lb.  One swing-by on a trip from the hardware or grocery store costs nothing except time.  If I typically spend $20 on a 45 minute visit, that's around $27/hr out of my pocket, so to speak.  It's a pretty decent wage if I had to pay somebody to work for me looking around a Junk Yard.  The lumber mill is an even better deal, I get 2 to 4 foot cutoffs for free, all grades and sizes.

So what can a 1hr unit of my time buy?  It's $27 or 27lbs and more of aluminum 6061-T6.   And what would the 27lbs cost me at my 12" retail rates?  About $202, which leads me to the general point.  My project value is the $202 less $27.  That means that I just got paid $175 for my time.  Granted I can't generally find a scrap 12" rod, but can find 2.5" to 6" pieces, which I typically use.  Moreover, for wood scrap I average about $20 in value for less than 20 minutes of digging around. 
Even if you don't agree with my thinking, you have to admit that projects are many times as economically viable.  You can typically produce a project for less than 15 to 20% of your initial budgeting, or instead upgrade other design areas.
 
Both You and Mommy Nature Wins

Consider that the $1/lb for aluminum I pay is what a metal caster pays the Junk Yard in bulk.  It's a fair deal for them and me.  But the casting/alloying/extrusion/distribution/wholesale/delivery process adds back $6.50/lb.  That's a part of the chain that recycling can't eliminate and where the AlKeehauler saves the day.  Consider the environmental benefits!  Then there's the bonus of finding your next cool project on a heap.  Trust me, if you have a good brain, the creativity, time, and desire, they just grab at you.  I go nuts that I can't bring a flatbed and more money!  I once passed up a bin of 6"diameter AL-6061 cutoffs in 1"-3" lengths.  And without a foreseeable need or having equipment or storage limitations, you pass.

True Story

I once worked at a very profitable $65 Million per year manufacturing company.  I estimated they put $2-$3 Million each year in the scrap bins.  I said at the time that I could run a $4-$6M per year company on their trash, and still think so.  It's just how things are.  Once in a while I would pick up a few things, but generally I passed them up.  Plenty of folks built go-karts, off-road buggies and other cool stuff from those scrap bins; but sadly, at that time I had no storage and equipment capabilities.
Recycling1
Example$:

Day 1        3lbs- AL 6061 cut-offs 1"Dx22" total, 1.5"Dx3.5" tubing (2ea.), 2.5"Dx1" misc.
                
Total retail ~$20        As scrap $2
                
Day 2        5lbs- AL 6061 cut-offs, 20lbs- cold-Rolled Steel Rod, misc. sizes.
                
Total retail ~$50        As scrap $7

Day 3        15lbs- AL 6061 cut-offs; 6"Dx1", 6"Dx1.5", 1.5"Dx2" (4ea.), 4"-3"Dx5"; misc. AL sheets.
                 9lbs-Stainless Steel (304L?) Ground Rod 0.75"x75"  Excellent Condition.
                
Total retail ~$110        As scrap $25

Day 4        Treated and regular lumber; 12ea. 2.5'-2x4, 5ea. 2'-2x12, 6ea. 3'-1x4, 2ea. 4'-1x6, misc. 4x4 & 2x2.
                
Total retail ~$25        FREE and they helped me load, nice people!

Conclusion:  One of the things that you'll experience as you begin to think Keehall Green is remorse.  That's right, the fact you passed up something that you just didn't have a real need for but shouldn't of passed up.  I remember them all, like girls you never asked on a date.  And it can be very painful when your need does arise weeks or months later (bearings, pillow blocks, cogs, etc.).  What you do is go buy some Pringles and beer, make a side trip, and hope it's still there waiting for you.  Otherwise you have the Pringles, the beer, AND you find something else in a pile to ease the pain.

Also, always keep in mind projects you've always wanted to do but nixed.  Like a LOX generator, laser cutter, pumpkin shooter, Bunn coffee-maker rain gauge, turbo-charger jet engine, propane tank kiln, or whatever else tickles you fancy. 
Be advised, half to three-quarters of that dream project may magically appear before your eyes.  And at about a fifth the price!

A Few Notes:  Be prepared and bring a buddy!  Two sets of eyes can scan for twice as much stuff.  Bring your own containers (consider an "identical extra" to tare the scales), and an appropriate vehicle (truck, trailer).  Wear tough shoes, preferably nail proof boots, nitrile or leather work gloves (my faves are Perfect-Fit knit Atlas-fit, nitrile palm gloves), ANSI approved eyewear, and tough clothes or overalls.  I prefer cool weather or early mornings and a day after a light rain.  Toxic dust can be overwhelming, so consider a mask.  Wearing a mask won't get any points from the yard crew and they can be your best friend!  Be patient if you ask for something in particular, and respectful for the difficult and important job they do. -6/1/2007-
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