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Like a lot of you, I’m springloaded to build things for myself. So if, for example, I need a bracket to mount a TV on the wall, I’m more likely to hit the shop and fab something up from scrap metal than I am to head down to BestBuy. But is that always the best idea? Check out the mover’s dolly pictured above. It’s nine freakin’ dollars. I couldn’t even buy a couple of casters for $9.

It’s sorta like the folks who insist on telling you how they “change their own oil.” If you just enjoy the hell out of bonding with your vehicle, I’m all for changing your own oil. But (in most cases at least) it’s not going to save you money. There’s probably a place down the street that’ll swap that oil and filter out for $15-$20, and you’ll likely pay $10-$15 (if you’re lucky) to do it yourself. From a cash perspective, it’s a wash.

Then again, sometimes it makes sense. Take the dolly again. I know for a fact that Sean has a beautiful dolly a lot like the one pictured above, but it’s built out of white oak. But I also know that he had the white oak sitting around the scrap bin — AND the casters AND the carpet — so his grand total cost was a whopping $0.

So here’s my question: What kind of stuff have you built/done for yourself? And afterwards were you happy about it or do you wish you’d just bought your way out of the issue?

Mover’s Dolly [Harbor Freight]


30 Responses to Build It Or Buy It?

  1. Eric says:

    The Oil argument doesn’t really apply if you use synthetic (recommended by manufacturer). Doing it myself is about $30. Every mechanical, quick oil, and dealership around is $50-$85.

  2. Philip Maynard says:

    At $9.00 they are an excellent buy. Your time to make one is worth more than $9.00. Time is the cost factor that most people leave out of the Make/Buy decision. How much is your time worth? When I was a consulting engineer, the hourly rate was $130.00 per hour. Personal projects around the house aren’t charged at that rate; but still time costs money.

    When we moved last year, I bought four dollies. What a back saver and sometimes you need more than one because of the size of the item to be moved.

  3. DeadGuy says:

    I agree with Philip. I’m an IT Consultant, so I really hit my clients for each hour I work. Yard maintenance is worth about $200 of my time while I end up paying only $45 per cut – plus I’m supporting the local economy. BUT, you can’t honestly include your time unless you are skipping billable work to do a project. So, you have to be careful about including it.

    A good example is my computer table. I could have bought a perfect table at Wal-Mart for $120. But, I had all the materials I needed in the shop, so I built one for zero dollars in materials. If I were to include my time in that, the thing cost me about $1000, but I wasn’t going to be billing anyone for that time anyway, so it isn’t realistic to include it. Therefor, the table was “free.”

    My knee jerk reaction is to determine whether I have to give up billable time to build/fix something. As long as I’ve got down time and feel like spending it in the shop, I’ll do it myself every time – just for the fun of it. Yeah, I built two dollies almost identical to that one. The casters cost me $40 per set and the lumber was about $20. But, I know mine are solid and won’t give out on me and I had fun doing it, so it was worth the price.

  4. Eric says:

    When I was in college, I “discovered” that the wash-n-fold place just off campus was only abut $2 more in cost to have them wash, dry, and fold 3-4 loads of laundry, compared to the campus coin laundry. And I didn’t have to do it. And it could be done while I was in class. The $2 was well worth it. Since then, I have often done the buy/DIY analysis. Often, buying is worth it.

    But… sometimes you just *can’t* buy EXACTLY what it is you want. I wanted a mobile cart for my compound miter saw, with some specific requirements. What I wanted didn’t exist off the shelf, so I built my own.

    For $9, though, it might be worth buying the dolly just to have a set of (4) casters….

  5. dreamcatcher says:

    I just went through this same “buy or make” scenario for my new-old jointer. The base size would’ve dictated that I buy 4 HF dollies at $9 each ($36) or buy four HF casters at $5 each ($20) and make my own from scrap 2×4’s, 2″ screws, and 2-1/2″ lag bolts that I had laying around.

    I built my own.

    I posted a pic of the jointer (prior to making the dolly) in the ToolMonger photo pool.


  6. Steve says:

    There is another option. Buy the 9 dollar cart and use the parts to make a custom cart. Modification of cheap or old stuff is one of my favorite projects. I have a steady supply of old stuff that I can rip apart and repurpose for nearly nothing. The time equation is always an issue, but people have to remember, If I am worth $100 a hour (nice round figure) and I buy everything, then I spend some of my very pricey time sitting on my ass watching tv. So its not always straight cost, its cost vs. the alternative. Its only a pure cost calculation when the alternative is an hourly job where you miss time to do the project. How you use your time can always be equated to dollars, but its an individual function. Sometimes, for me, sleep is worth every penny.

  7. Toolaremia says:

    WARNING: The dolly pictured is not the same one HF sold a year ago despite the same part number. The new one is not even worth $9 because it is crap. The casters do not caster with any weight on them, the wood is thinner, and the carpet is thinner and poorly assembled.

    Hold an older one (the one with chamfered corners) up to one of the new ones and it is night and day. The old one had thicker wood and carpet and the casters actually castered. The casters also had tighter tolerances on the bearings and a plastic dust boot/retainer around the bearing. The wheels were also hard rubber instead of hard plastic.

    In short – Caveat Emptor. The old ones were a hell of a bargain at $10, the new ones are overpriced at $9.

  8. PutnamEco says:

    A $9 dolly is scary, wheels caster will probably lock up as soon as it gets any real weight on it. Decent furniture dollies start at around $30. They have bronze wheel bushings rather than plastic and decently sized ball bearing races in the swivels. With four good dollies you can get a car up on them and push it in directions it was never meant to go(not to give you guys any ideas, LOL).

    I usually end up making things that can’t be bought easily. Custom height saw horses, odd sized or shaped tables, cabinets, stairs, etc. I’m prone to perfectionism and tend to find all the flaws in my work, but in general most of it turns out satisfactorily and the customers are most often happy, which is what really matters. I often buy things that are not practical for me to make, like circular saws, wrenches, drill bits etc.

  9. Fjr says:

    I change my and my wife’s oil. Not because of time or money. But because I used to work at a dealership and I don’t trust the employees. Even at luxury dealerships they are pushing the techs to finish as fast as possible and they consequently cut as many corners as they can. Our customers were paying over $40/oil change an I regularly brought cars to the front where the tire pressure had not even been checked.

    It’s really a pain. It used to not be so bad when I worked at a dealership(using their lift and oil disposal). But now I have to do it in the driveway. Luckily I know what I’m doing and what to look for in maintenance.

    The same applies to this dolly. You get what you pay for….and you don’t always get that much even….

  10. Kevin says:

    My best DIY yet? Built a 3-axis CNC router. Complete game changer for me, it’s put a lot of projects within reach for me that I would never have attempted otherwise. The part quality is incredible. Worst part? It’s an addiction!

  11. Steve says:

    @Kevin, I want to do the same very soon. Any advice? any link you used or guide? Did you get a kit or cobble together the parts?

  12. JeffD says:

    What a timely topic. I just purchased 2 of the big dolly’s @ HF. Like you, I couldn’t build 2 of them cheaper.

  13. Adam says:

    I’m with Fjr on the oil thing. I just trust my work way more than any oil change place. Now, I know there is a first time for everything, but I have never messed up any work I’ve done on my car and it’s most likely because I’m not trying to bang it out as fast as I can. I’ve seen more than a few mistakes come from garages and dealerships.

  14. Moco says:

    i built a speaker enclosure out of a shoebox and a speaker i found in a dumpster. it actually sounds great. and about the oil. yes its cheap but sometimes they use crappy fram filters. if u want it done right do it yourself

  15. Pezdad says:

    Both! That is, I bought that dolly at HF a couple of years ago, and used it as a base for a sweet clamp stand I built to hold every clamp in the shop (loosely based on a design from the new yankee workshop). Maybe the quality has gone down like Toolarema said above, but at the time it was bulletproof and the casters would have cost more than the dolly did.

  16. Jack Turner says:

    I build my own shopcarts. It’s always worth the time because the wood is already laying around; I usually just have to buy casters. If I build it myself, then I determine the height. This is especially useful if I want to use it as an extension table for my tablesaw, workbench, etc.

  17. Patrick says:

    I always raise an eyebrow when someone says I had that “lying around”. Where’d you get it? What I have lying around, I bought and it turned to waste. I still spent something on that white oak, just not a full board foot or whatever.
    Now at work – that stuff counts as “lying around” – I build out of recycled materials nearly exclusively, so “Lying around” counts as truly free there.

  18. dreamcatcher says:

    The stuff I have “lying around” my shop are usually part of my fastener inventory or job scraps. Either way, my clients paid for it not me. They don’t want it, can’t return it, might as well make something out of it.

    BTW: Does anyone really believe those HF dollies have 1000lb capacity? I recently blew out those same [looking] casters when I tried to move a few bags of concrete in my shop. Maybe only 600lbs I would say. The casters I got at HF instead are made of cast iron and rubber and while they are only rated 275 lbs each, they are holding up about 1500lbs right now. No joke.

  19. Travis says:

    Here is the situation I often find myself in:
    The store is selling something for $100 that I know I can make for $50. But to make it, I’ll need some new tool that costs me another $50. So I have to wonder – will I ever need this tool again?

    I tend to err on the side of buying the tool. 🙂

  20. Brau says:

    I recently thought I’d build some cupboards for our “new” laundry room. After pricing out melamine MDF sheets, handles, hinges, and a Forstner bit for hidden hinges, I found suitable RubberMaid cupboards on sale for about half the price of the raw MDF stock alone. That sucked all the DIY wind right out of me. I bought four units and had them all in place within 3 hours.

    On cars and oil:

    I now change the car oil and maintain most things myself because it’s cheaper and forces me to keep current on the condition of my car and engine. Most owner’s manuals are very good at telling you what’s necessary and how to do it right. A car is one of the biggest drains on your expenses, and dishonest dealers/repairmen can quickly swallow a ton of your money if you allow yourself to be ignorant, as I once did:

    Chrysler Dealer #1 – Over-torqued and stripped the oil drain threads on my brand new PT telling me it would cost $1200 to lift out the engine and replace the oil pan. (I tapped in a larger plug for $10 and took my business elsewhere).

    The next Chrysler Dealer – Snapped off my dipstick top and told me they’d need to disassemble the engine ($1000 est.) to get the rest of it. (I got it with a magnet and stopped taking my PT to Chrysler dealers.)

    Starting to see a “make work” trend here,

    I tried Mr Lube – 16yr old “tech” left the old filter gasket stuck to the block and screwed the new one on top. Filter blew out a few miles down the street leaving me having to pay for towing. No savings there.

    As it turns out, when I finally stuck my head underneath, the PT is one of the easiest cars ever made when it comes to changing the oil and filter. The drain and filter are side by side at the bottom and placed to be within easy reach.

  21. 99octane says:

    Well… I built myself a hand cranked coal forge.
    Don’t know if it was worth it in monetary terms, but it was from a “get what you want” standpoint.

    I built it exactly how I liked it and modified it along the way to suit different needs. It’s built from an old truck brake drum, fitted with a 1/2″ plate at the bottom, slotted for air. Some old high pressure water plumbing ended up as the tuyere, I used one of the flanges to fix an old hand cranked squirrel cage air blower, and used 1/2″ steel round bar for the legs and some scrap rebar for braces and struts strengthening the legs and propping up the blower, and for two side handles to carry it.
    Then I lined it with refractory concrete, 2″ thick.
    Most of the material was found at a scrap yard, the blower cost me 50€ and was the most expensive piece of the forge. I regret paying so much for it (it functions, but it’s in need of a serious rehaul) but it was the only one I could find around here.
    All in all, I don’t think it cost me more than about 80€ to build, including welding rods and power for the welder.

  22. 99octane says:

    I then used the forge to make me some smithing tools I didn’t have and didn’t want to buy (or didn’t know where the hell to buy :P)
    I’m now customizing a hammer to my needs. Hell of a work, though, without a power hammer. Have to do it by hand and a 4# hammer head is REALLY a bitch to forge by hand (and I’m dreading the moment I’ll have to round up the hammer eye again… I don’t even have a drift that size.)
    Anyway, it’s fun. 🙂

  23. Mac says:

    Someone touched on it already, but scraps have a cost if you bought them for another project. You still bought them.

    What are you guys putting on these dollies that weighs so much?!? My fridge doesn’t weigh that much full. 🙂

    Oil changes: cost may be a wash, or probably even a loss to do it yourself, but like others, I trust me way more than I trust anyone else. It’s a bit of a pain, and I’d be happy to outsource it, but not at the potential quality sacrifice. I have half a dozen oil-change-gone-expensively-wrong incidents at shops with friends that I will not subject myself to. Not that I don’t make mistakes – I can screw up with the best of them. I’ll continue to take my chances with me for the foreseeable future.

  24. G says:

    I also tend to build things when I want something specific and can’t find it.

    I do find that in some cases I can build myself exactly what I want for a fraction of the cost of the commercial part (like this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Cargo-area-platform-slider-for-SUV-truck-station/ or this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Portable-Standing-Laptop-Stand/). Someday I’ll have my own welding equipment and be able to build even more for myself.

  25. Texan says:

    Be careful with some of those casters. I recently had my floors refinished and used a combination of HF and home-built dollies for furniture movement. It turned out the seam on the rubber caster wheels has the ability to leave a visible dent in 60 year old oak hardwood floors. I found 3 places in the house where it happened, done by 3 different caster sets. Trying to find seamless casters is very tough but lesson learned.

  26. Fjr says:

    Hey Kevin,
    It would be cool to see you cnc machine do have any pictures or a link where we can see it?

  27. zoomzoomjeff says:

    Travis Says:
    So I have to wonder – will I ever need this tool again?
    I tend to err on the side of buying the tool.

    Well done, sir!

    Brau Says:
    As it turns out, the PT is one of the easiest cars ever made when it comes to changing the oil and filter. The drain and filter are side by side at the bottom and placed to be within easy reach.

    I changed a friend’s LeBaron recently and believe they may use the same engine/platform. I AGREE! I couldn’t believe it at all when I crawled under there. Like I wanted to hug an engineer instead of curse them.

  28. Fred says:

    Around the shops we have rigger’s dollies – some that use wide roller chains – to move machinery, We would not think about bringing these onto a residential jobsite to move furniture. Not only would they be overkill – but would likely mar our client’s floors. What we do bring – are regular mover’s dollies with decent rubber casters and what I beleive are oak frames. We have several dozen – but these are so old – as to not be listed in our depreciation schedules or priced inventory. They may have been constructed in our shop by one of our predecessor companies – but I bet they wre bought from a firm that made them commercially. We find that its better to stick to your knitting – that we are more productive doing what you do best and not trying to make everything from scratch. Could we have our master carpenters or plumbers paint the offices – or service our trucks? Sure – but we find it more productive to leave those jobs to others who do those tasks professionally. We offer the same tradeoffs to our clients – do they want custom cabinetry made in our shop to exactly fit their space? Or would they like us to install good quality – but stock sized cabinets arranged to fit their space? and so on.

  29. brew says:

    I tend to lean more towards just buying it, instead of making it myself. But the oil thing I do myself. As others said, I can do my own with Mobil one for about 1/3 the price, plus I know it is done correctly and only takes about 15 minutes if I don’t daudle.

    My FIL was a big dealer type guy until recently the dealer wanted to charge him $900 to fix a stripped oil pan plug-that they stripped. BTW, he was being charged $45 for every oil change with conventional oil.


  30. BikerDad says:

    I’ve got some of those HF dollies, bought them specifically because of the time/cost tradeoff. In my case, I’m not concerned about whether they can support 1000 lbs, or 500lbs, or even 250lbs. Their mission in my shop is to allow me to move stored modules in/out of the shop. Since a coffin of modules only weighs about 70lbs max, load capacity ain’t an issue.

    As far as the oil changes go, I do my own as well, but that’s because an oil change at the dealer will be $60+ for dino, $80-120 for synthetic. And if they screw up badly, the result may not be a $1,200 bill, but death. Blowing a filter off and spewing oil on your rear tire can seriously ruin a perfectly fine ride on a motorcycle ….

    I can do the oil change for as little as $20 myself, but more often it’s along the lines of $30-35.

    The one I’m having trouble with is the tool cabinet. Build one out of wood, or buy a high quality import? I’ll probably end up doing both, buying the import for the mechanical/electrical/plumbing/miscellaneous tools, and building for the woodworking tools.

    I know that I have done a few projects myself and known later that it would have been a better investment of my time and money to have simply purchased.

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