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MAKE Asks: Treasures from the Trash

MAKE Asks: Treasures from the Trash

MAKE Asks: is a weekly column where we ask you, our readers, for responses to maker-related questions. We hope the column sparks interesting conversation and is a way for us to get to know more about each other.

This week’s question: Whether you’re a dumpster diver, keep a hawk-eye for things left curbside, or just make yourself aware of unwanted tools and materials, the art of salvaging can be a maker’s best friend. What have been some of your best finds?

I often keep a look out toward the beginning of every month when folks move out of their rentals. One time I found a big pile of good-looking stuff on the curb. After some digging I found a set of dozens and dozens of jewelers’ rotary bits. There were all sorts of specialty tools that conveniently fit my Dremel, and when I whip one out now I’m often the envy of my geek friends.

Post your responses in the comments section.

18 thoughts on “MAKE Asks: Treasures from the Trash

  1. vulpestruments says:

    Where I work we have an area devoted to things headed for the skip, I’ve rescued all sorts of goodies from there. My best find was an entire rack of piano hammers from a Steinway Grand piano!

    Anything that might have a motor inside I rescue in order to make Pickups. A lot of old furniture is made from good quality wood which makes very nice necks for instruments.

  2. Adam says:

    I’m always trash-picking, looking for salvageable components. Found a beat-up air hockey table and saved the fan and controller. I’m also a member of freecycle, so any items I can’t use I usually find people to pass them on to.

  3. Ross Hershberger says:

    I scavenge the Electronics Trash bin at work. Often I’ll find a repairable laptop power supply or a component I can swipe the cable from for a project.
    Vacuum tube amplifiers from (very) old stereo consoles are good sources of high voltage transformers, sockets and tubes. Often they can be reconfigured with a better circuit to make a stripped down power amp for stereo or a guitar amp. Considering the cost of buying these parts new, it’s worth putting some labor into gathering good used components from castoffs.

  4. Mark mathias says:

    Gosh, good stuff is everywhere. It’s amazing what people throw away. As a result of seeing an upright piano being tossed into a crusher many years ago, I started the Westport, Connecticut chapter of FreeCycle (go to to find your local chapter).

    But things I’ve been the lucky recipient of include TWO snow blowers (both that worked with a little easy maintenance) and a leaf blower that only required some fuel. It’s gratifying when good stuff does NOT go into a landfill.

  5. Ross Hershberger says:

    Knobs, heat sinks, switches. If possible I’ll strip these parts off of something headed for metals recycling before I toss it. You can’t have too many knobs and someone always needs a heat sink. Sometimes I’ll grab the transformer if it’s beefy and has useful voltage windings. I have hoarder-level heaps of this stuff and periodically I offer a batch to a beginning hobbyist to get them started.

  6. Greg says:

    One of my favorite finds was a coin operated breathalyzer. I was just a kid and it was a bear carrying this thing back to my house. You put in a coin, grabbed a drinking straw from a built in dispenser, and stuck the straw into a hole and blew. The machine told you your BAC with a seven segment LED display. The inside was a mess of tarred up tubing and electronic bits. It eventually found its way onto my curb. I wonder if someone else grabbed it…

  7. Dennis says:

    A 1940s Craftsman 18″ Jig Saw Model 103.23150 in decent shape that a guy cleaned-out of his garage. I picked it up for $20. All it needs is a switch, belt, some oil, and a good coat of paint.

  8. Alex says:

    A fully functioning basic oscilloscope! Only single channel, and no probe, but worked 100%!

  9. dattasaurabh82 says:

    I’am a Graduate from NIT Agartala in Civil engineering and from the vary beginning I love the idea of interdisciplinary acts and so currently I’m looking forward to have my masters from CIID in Interaction design. There used to be a portion in our collage where they used to dump of old computer parts. I mean come on- That’s a treasure heaven for geeks like me. I salvaged old printer parts, Hard disks, and key boards for making robots in collage and other projects. Also there’s a place near town where they sell of old tech parts and so when ever i visit that place I carry an extra bag for grabbing useful junks from there and that makes an extra baggage at airport during my return. I remember getting an old tape video recorder of National Panasonic all piled up at that place. I took it from there, got it back at my hotel room, took apart every thing and finally got a old CRT viewfinder on which I’am currently working on to make something like Google glass. that’s a lot trash I love

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In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens' educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program.

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