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.
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.