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Mobility makes almost everything better around the shop, which is why it’s always good to know where to find a cheap set of casters. More to the point, it’s not a bad idea to have a few of ‘em sitting around in a box just in case you get inspired or decide to add mobility to an existing project.

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My first port of call for cheap-ass casters is usually Harbor Freight, where you can get a set of 3″ poly casters (soft enough to avoid marring floors but hard enough to support a bit of weight) for just $4.50. They offer lots of other options in the same range, too, like a 3″ hard rubber version with a swivel and brake for $6¬†and a rubber-tired cast-iron model for $6 as well. They also offer larger casters, like this 8″ cushion tire (read: not pneumatic) for $18. My father chose that 8″ model for his roll-around welding table, and they worked great.

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A commenter after a recent Toolmonger post about French curves complained about the cost of 3D software, which is a very good point. Retail copies of software like SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, or CATIA can go for ridiculous amounts. No, seriously. Their markups can make Snap-On reps run for cover.

But, as is the case with basically every rule in human history, there’s a loophole. An online retailer called JourneyEd offers software at educational prices, which are massively less than retail. SolidWorks, my graphics program of choice, sells for $140 through JourneyEd, but full retail is $2995. 95.3% off, anyone?

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General Motors’ recent financial problems have really rocked the boat for U.S. industries and financial institutions, to say nothing of everyday households. However, the court-ordered sale of many of GM’s assets has created a windfall of high-quality machinery on the open market, and much of it is being auctioned by industrial liquidation specialist Maynard’s.

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A recent foray into DIY composite parts has led me to the doorstep of Applied Vehicle Technology. They retail everything you need for at-home carbon fiber lay-up, including the fabric itself, various resins, vacuum-bagging materials, and of course, tools, all at very good prices. Thanks to interest from the industrial sector, carbon fiber keeps getting cheaper, inching closer and closer to becoming commonplace. Surprisingly few people know how to work with the material, and only a few more are even interested, which is a shame.

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Carbon fiber is quickly making its way into everyday devices, thanks to widespread research into industrialized production and cost reduction. Universities and companies the world over are throwing incredible amounts of money and effort at turning this modern wonder into a commonplace material, and retailers like Dragon Plate are making carbon fiber available to the masses.

While it’s tricky to work with, carbon’s light weight and high rigidity make it ideal for a wide variety of applications. Dragon Plate retails carbon sheets, veneers, tubes, rods, angles, channels, and even some swanky flame-retardant PRC. Of course, this stuff isn’t exactly cheap. A 6″ x 6″ sheet of their cheapest 1/16″-thick “Economy Plate” costs $23.25, and prices go from there… well, into space. A 48″ x 96″ sheet of their flame-retardant plate costs $1,515, and that’s only 0.025″ thick.

Making your own composites is certainly cheaper, but if you run across a small-scale problem carbon fiber can solve, Dragon Plate could be a silver bullet.

Dragon Plate carbon fiber [Dragon Plate]

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(Thanks to Flickr user moyix for this great CC-licensed photo.)

Everyone here has probably suffered the plight of searching through a high-volume store which may or may not have that fiddling little part you need to finish up a project. A can of stain, a loose bolt, or a bit of sheet metal can be devilishly hard to find, especially in massive chain stores with their wares stacked forty feet high and maintained by salespeople who may not have any idea where to find what you need or what you’re talking about.

The answer? Most toolmongers probably know it: the local hardware store. Though they won’t be able to sell you enough drywall to put a second floor on your house, that little two-room hardware store at the end of the block is a great way to find what you need. The owners are usually the ones manning the counter, and tend to know their inventory inside out and backwards. You enter with a question, leave with a solution, and your money stays close by.

(Thanks to Flickr user moyix for this great CC-licensed photo.)

 
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Berkeley, California’s always-forward-thinking library offers a lot more than books — and we’re not talking about medical weed. In fact, their Tool Lending Library offers hundreds of tools which Berkeley residents can check out just like books and videotapes.

The library’s tools range from simple fare like staple guns and drill bits to more difficult-to-find items like a surform plane and a spokeshave. Would-be gardeners without a tool budget can also borrow lawn mowers, garden spades, and even pitchforks.

Just remember to return everything on time. Holding on to the library’s 50′ electric drain snake beyond your allocated three days will run you $15/day — still cheap compared to rental, assuming you can find one.

(Thanks, Ingorrr, for the great CC-licensed photo.)

Tool Lending Library [Berkeley Public Library]

 

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If you don’t know, ask. I ask lots of questions — because I don’t know everything — and my inquisitive nature recently led to a badass experience at the metal yard we frequent.

Last week I started chatting with the the gentleman working the counter at the steel yard. When I mentioned we were building a rig to break some tools, he told me the steel yard crew is really hard on their tools, so they’ve found a great supplier for big ticket items like magnetic drills. I immediately asked, “What’s a magnetic drill?,” and he rewarded my question with a delightful demonstration of the tool.

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The casual griller often picks up whatever makeshift tools he finds lying about to conduct the summer’s grilling operations. Toolmonger, of course, supports grilling in any manner, with any tools you deem worthy. However, sometimes you want more — sites like barbecuegrilltools.com can help you gear up for those special meat-cooking occasions.

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I pick up a lot of my tools secondhand — garage-sale specials — and those slick molded cases are usually long gone by the time I get my hands on ‘em. But if I ever want a case, Carry Cases Plus offers plastic, blow-molded cases in a variety of sizes. They’ll protect anything from high-priced power tools to your collection of antique hand planes.

The cases come in three levels of quality: Standard, Infinity, and Defender. Build quality and internal protection increase with price. Sizes range from the smallish 7.5″ x 8.125″ x 3.53″ to models that are 26-inches long. You can order cases either empty or with your choice of internal foam padding. For a fee, they’ll even custom-cut foam inserts from submitted CAD files.

Prices range from about $10 for the smallest cases to $80 for large models with well-protected insides.

Carry Cases Plus [Official Site]