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First off, thanks so much for all the thoughtful responses to my post last week about artificial frugality and tool hoarding. I started to reply to some of the comments specifically, but soon realized that there’s so much interesting information there that the subject really deserves a follow-up post to dig deeper into the areas of scrap storage, what tools to keep, and for how long.

Scrap Storage

I realize that I wasn’t extremely clear about the fact that I do indeed still have scrap storage. I have a pretty good stash of commonly-used wood (a sheet or two of 3/4″ and 1/2″ ply, four or five 2x4s, and some various smaller sizes of dimensional lumber) and metal (probably 30-40′ of 1″ square tubing, about half a sheet of expanded metal, about half a sheet of 12-gauge, and an assortment of short lengths of various-sized tubing, sheet, and plate). What I dumped was bins upon bins of short lengths of steel and wood that I judged was probably 20% or less likely to ever see use.

I come from the idea that you keep pretty much any scrap that’s possibly useable again, which is how I got where I was — with at least four large bins of steel and two or three of wood, all in a relatively small garage shop that also needs room to work, store cars and bikes, and not become a damned obstacle course every time I carry in groceries or go out for a ride. Now I have a wall rack full of wood and tube/sheet steel, a small bin of short-length steel, and a small bin of short-length wood. In my particular exchange, I’d say I got back a lot of usefulness in the shop for very little lost potential “free” material.

Tools to Keep

I’m a freakin’ tool fiend. I have a lot of tools. A lot lot. My attitude has always been that the more prepared I can possibly be, the better. As others have mentioned in comments on my original post, it’s easier to start a project when you can just stroll into the shop and get to work than when you have to consider investment (or re-investment) in tools and supplies.

That said, the crux of my argument on artificial frugality is that we often ignore the other side of that coin: the cost of keeping all the tools and materials we need to be prepared for those projects. Each side offers benefits (having the tools/materials makes it easy to get started, having a clean shop and an unjunked work/lifespace makes it easy to do projects and live your life) but each side also weighs you down (not having the tools/materials makes it harder to get started, having a ton of “stuff” limits your life options and prevents you from starting other potential projects).

The key is, in my opinion, to keep both sides in mind and strike a reasonable balance. This is, however, especially hard when it comes to tools.

For example, I have a 50-gallon air compressor in my garage. It’s awesome. Nicely switch-wired into 220V, it’ll drive air tools forever and pretty much do anything you’d ever want an air compressor to do. Also, it’s huge, loud, and massive overkill for airing up tires and blowing out dirt, which is what it ends up doing 90% of the time. It’s also probably worth at least a couple hundred bucks and would probably cost $500 to replace, should I find myself stuck in the other 10%. Of course, 99% of that 10% is stuff that I can do without it; it just makes those things easier. So, I’m giving up a good chunk of garage for what? As far as I can tell, my upside is that I’m prepared for the 10%, about .1% that I might actually need. This is a good candidate for sale.

On the other hand, I also have a Millermatic 250. I use it probably once every few months, and I seriously underutilize its potential. It’s probably worth a grand or more, and it takes a lot of space up in the garage as well. (It’s on a sweet cart that carries the bottle and everything.) But it belonged to my father, and I’m not in a hurry to get rid of it. I’ll give up that much space.

A harder one is my Smithy. For those of you unfamiliar, the Smithy is a non-BS lathe/mill/drill. Think ShopSmith for metal. Mine is in incredible shape and includes some very savvy modifications by the previous owner that makes it more accurate and easier to use. It takes up a ton of space, and I’ve used it probably once in the five years or so I’ve owned it. I got it because I had to sell my father’s Bridgeport mill and lathe (they barely even fit in the garage) and I really wanted to learn more about machine work. I’ve always been disappointed that my father and I never found the time to talk more about it before he died. (He was a great machinist.) So I picked up the Smithy as a learner tool.

But here’s the deal: I’m not a machinist, and I don’t honestly have time to become one (as much as I’d like to). I have businesses to run, work to do, Toolmonger posts to write, and a ton of other projects. I’ve been putting off the decision for a long time, but I’m going to sell the Smithy. It should really live with someone who will lovingly use it — instead of sitting in my garage. Crap, I have no idea how I’ll find a worthy home. Maybe I’ll list it here.

Anyway, hopefully this clears up my original point a bit. As always, I look forward to your thoughts, and I hope whatever decisions you make about what to keep, sell, rent, or buy work well for you and give you a good situation in which to live and make great stuff.


20 Responses to Frugality Follow-Up: Hoarding vs. Preparedness

  1. Dave A. says:

    Scrap storage filter criteria –
    I came up with this handy decision maker. Every piece of scrap that is taking up space in my garage has to have a value greater than $1 for me. So, when going thru my wood, deciding on what becomes firewood, I ask this question of every piece.

    “Would I rather have $1 or this piece of wood?”

    If I’d rather have the dollar, then the piece has no business being in my scrap pile. I worked thru a couple of hundred pounds of scrap this way.
    Worked well.

  2. Dave A. says:

    There were some pieces that took very little floor space, so I forgave those.

  3. gary z says:

    Use or lose, is how I look at things. I do have some sentimental attachment to tools used by my Grandfathers and my Dad, they’ll stay. But I was going through my power tools the other day and found three corded drills that have not been turned on for at least three years. I kept one that I bought in 1976, just because it was my first power tool buy. The others, a Hilti and Craftsman were what I needed before battery drills made it to my shop. Now all three are going. I have three sanders that are going because of non use for at least two years, and maybe a new PC circ saw (I picked up at Lowes as a good deal when I worked there)that was used to make sure it worked three years ago. With all of those gone I pick up a 3×4 area in the shop that is badly needed, a good trade in my book.
    I have to say my shop has always been clean, now I’m working on work flow to make my woodworking more enjoyable. Use or lose.

  4. davesander says:

    Sorry, off topic so you may end up deleting it. You ought to sketch out your workshop floorplan. It would be cool to see how the pros behind Toolmonger lay out their shops and it might give ideas for newbies how to lay out their shops.

  5. I’ve a ended up with rather a lot of wood on my pile due to some workmen leaving me a load when they did some work on the house. One of my New Years resolutions is to sort through and either send to freegle or the recycling centre, however half of it is currently covered in snow so I’m going to wait till the weather gets better.

  6. craig says:

    i needed to make a jigsaw blade chuck…to the pile i went, not ace.

    i needed to make a roof for my wife’s platform birdfeeder…to the pile i went, not menards.

    i needed to cooble up a dslr shutter release… to the pile i went, not radio shack.

    even though a person’s garage may seem as primary evidence of psychopathy, it’s not it just smart.

    perhaps exercising a will to pare down is admirable. in my case, at least, it has necessitated another retail adventure every time.

    however if you’re doing all this to provide the justification for a future “upgrade” in equipment, i say go for it!

  7. b. foo says:

    I don’t want to read this stuff… I have way too many tools and save every last bit of scrap wood thinking “I can turn some things on the lathe with this…” or “hey that will look awesome as a 1/8″ dot when working on an inlay project…” -facepalm-

  8. James C says:

    I think it’s human nature that if you have the space, you’ll somehow find enough crap to take it all up. I find that if I limit my space, I somehow manage to limit the amount of junk I have. Easier said than done, of course.

  9. Ironherder says:

    Thanks to those who cut to the heart of the matter, which is that the space that is allocated for hoarding, I mean, judicious, and very slow, recycling, is the limiting factor. If someone doesn’t want much junk around, they should just limit the storage space. After that, the most valuable pieces will be retained at the expense of the least valuable pieces. I suppose that the bottom line is to use the allocated space efficiently, not like me, who has a pile of (really great) stuff to deal with, someday.

  10. I’m going through that same exercise myself. I’ve got tools from generations of family plus a lot of my own and some salvaged from my wife’s failed business. Some I’m keeping for my kids, some for sentimental reasons, and some because I can’t figure out who would buy a 1′ Gurley transit or a bunch of pipe wrenches. I’m not going to throw them away, and I give them to a good home, if once close by could be found. Sor for now I sit on them.

    I like Dave A.’s idea on the scrap. I can see a fresh supply of kindling in my future.

  11. Jimmy says:

    Chuck do you have a post explaining that sheet goods storage? I have a similar space and I’ve build the dimensional racks up top but I haven’t built sheet goods storage. It’s all kind of laying there. I almost built a roll out cart but decided it was too much.

    Is that square tubing? How is it attached? Hard to tell from the pic.

  12. Dr. Bob says:

    Since the last post, I have acquired another new mess. As part of our tornado recovery efforts, the metal roof of the granary and machine shed were replaced and I have a large number of white steel roofing sheets that are severely dented – baseball size hail will do that. They’re going to the scrap metal recycler in the spring.

    I think in the last post, I mentioned a whole bunch of aluminum storm windows. Was thinking about making a small green house with them, but I’m now thinking of scrapping the glass and recycling the aluminum frames. And there are a lot of window sashes with double pane insulated glass, but the plastic sides were destroyed during removal. So they aren’t terribly useful. Will check with the recycling center and see if they want them.

    So, the reconstruction debris goes first.

    When spring comes, we’ll be going through all the paint cans, stripper, thinner, brush cleaner, caulk, wood filler, roller covers, old brushes, wallpaper, etc. inside the house and outside in the shop and recycle if possible, trash if not.

    While it’s good to start with the shop, this “problem of hoarding” goes far beyond that – if you hoard in the shop, odds are that you hoard other things and it’s very possible your significant other also hoards.

    So, the cleanup here is not limited to the shop or shop-related stuff… it’s quite literally everything we have – including too much furniture, books, canning jars, old clothes, vacuum cleaners, old computers, a complete set of Saturn S-series shop manuals – you name it.

  13. Toolfreak says:

    Saving those small wood pieces, or at least storing them up on the shelf, isn’t going seem like such a good idea when they fall down and ding the car underneath.

  14. Bob says:

    My father passed away the last day of last year. His life and shop situation would give any of you pause. We will be clearing at least 6 outbuildings and porches of scrap metal, rusted tools and debris. Dad never had what I could call a working shop because he kept everything. If you recognize this in yourself, do some major cleanup right now and get your life back before you gift this to your children. They will not thank you.

    • Bob, sorry to hear about your dad. I (and people close to me) have been through that, too, and it’s one of the last things you want to deal with when you’re going through the loss of the person in the first place. All our best to you and your family as you sort everything out. Hang in there; you will get through it.

    • Chuck Cage says:

      I echo Audra’s thoughts. Sorry for your loss, sir.

      FWIW, I had a similar experience. My father had a beautiful 40 x 40 shop building — which I couldn’t keep. He had awesome hoards of (very useful and valuable) materials as well as tools, tools, and more tools. Those who haven’t been through this won’t understand (though you will, I think) when I say that you’re just not in your right mind when you’re trying to deal with all the stuff. You want to keep everything. You know you can’t. You’re rushed, because finances never work out to allow you unlimited time to sort everything out. You make decisions — some good, some stupid — and you do your best. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

      I still wake up sometimes and realize that I’m holding on to some item that belonged to him that I have no special attachment to, and often I’ve hung onto it at great expense. I kept his truck for years, even though I knew I needed something slightly different. I had to give away tons of aluminum and copper because I just couldn’t process all of it in the time allotted. I let some of his “friends” talk me out of key tools which I now wish I had.

      One last thought: I remember bringing home a rollaway of his (which you may have seen in TM pictures from time to time). I opened it up, and it contained full sets of standard and metric Craftsman full-polish wrenches. I bought all of those for him. He always wanted them. He didn’t need them as he had zillions of others (which I now have, too), but he just loved the shiny full-polish ones. So I bought them for him a number of christmases in a row ’till he had a whole set. That was one of those moments where I lost it completely and just cried. Shit.

      Things are better now, though. I use the wrenches all the time, and I have happy memories instead of sad ones. I take care of them, but if something happens to them because of use, so be it. They’re tools — meant for use, not display.

      It’s a mess, and I’m really sorry you have to go through it, too. Your comment is insightful. Thanks.

      • Bob A. says:

        Thank you for your story – it was very heartfelt and I am sure true for many of us readers.

        I myself have some tools inherited from my grandfather and even though I have bought better versions of many I keep a few old ones around. Every once in a while I come upon them when searching the shop for something else and it makes me stop and remember that all of us come from somewhere, that I am only one link in a long chain of men who have passed down the knowledge of craftsmanship, and that I am responsible for passing this along to others. It is like a mini-lesson in humility in the bottom of the tool bin.

        I also find is very interesting that the concept of cleaning out the junk ends up with a discussion of the emotional reasons we keep things. I think we are all closer to those people on the hoarding shows that we might like to admit.

  15. D. Erickson says:

    There are lots of potential sources as for why hoarding begins. In my case, those tendencies come directly from being a son of a man who was raised as a boy in the Depression era on a farm. My father (and his father before him) would regard throwing out *any* potentially useful tool or scrap material as both a waste and as sacrilege.

    I’m not saying that is necessarily the case today. (Should the virtues of the parent be recyled as the sins of the children?) But, on the other hand, while I could sure use the space that a particular toolbox is taking up I also know how very quickly fortune can reverse itself and if I found myself unemployed with a plumbing problem I’d self-righteously and rightfully kick myself.

    Take that compressor…. if you were out of work tomorrow, would you still part with it? The Smithy?

  16. Fred C says:

    Hoarding? I have a summer home in an island community reachable only by private boat or ferry…so,if you dial in the roundtrip it’s probably 3 hours to the big box stores.
    I rarely throw anything out,and we all have an exchange program going…if I have it and you need it take it…just bring it back on your next trip off the island.

  17. Scott Miller says:

    I have a small shop, and therefore am enamored with my shopsmith and similar tools. That limits my tool space in a good way. Scrap storage is the hard part. Plus, my parents were baby boomers but I was mostly raised by my grandparents who lived through the depression. My grandfather would straighten nails on an anvil and re-use them. Old clothes had the buttons and zippers removed and saved. Definitely not the way we live now.

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