Prepping: Creative Recycling 101

Recycling is a lot like going fishing.  You are never sure what you’re going to land, but it’s always fun.  Besides, why send perfectly good parts to the land fill?

One of our heaters died recently.  (You saw the rap of winter and small electric space heaters, I hope.)  The san thing to do would be toss it in the back of the old farm pick-em-up truck and tote them off to the land fill.  Should have been the end of story.

But, while lots of people  talk the new way of living (carbon lite and such) we have actually been doing it since 2007 when the first part of our grid-tied solar came up.

To be sure, the recycling and project-orientation does take up room – lots of it.  But, there’s a reason that “good ol’ boys” have countless old appliances around is because they are a never-ending source of parts.

Even an old fridge can be a source of stainless wire racks that would set you back a fortune.  And if one of your friends has an a/c kit, you might be able to safely get a compressor motor and…well, you get the idea.

So this week’s quickie is two-fold.  First, I disassemble the broken heater and do a post-mortem on it.  Second step is to strip off anything that’s useful.

Upon opening, there were two problems found:  the power switch was broken (no control over high, medium, and low).  In addition, one of the elements was broken and I’m not wanting to buy either a new switch or new nichrome wire to fix it.

THAT said, if times were already into the coming Depression, then the utility value of a working heater would have been higher so a switch and maybe ordering (and winding) a new set of nichrome (resistance heating wire) elements would be worthwhile.

I started by disassembling the basic box, collecting the parts as I went.  On top was a stamped metal (but padded) handle. No telling where that will end up.  On a new wood tool box, a one-off door handle where things don’t have to match….things like that.  there were two “tip-over guards” as well and these could be light duty handles or whatever strikes one’s fancy.

Also, there was almost 6-feet of good electrical connection to the wall.  That kind of this always comes in handy.

The most interesting (and still working) part was the small 110V fan and housing:

I wanted to show you this part because if you’re under 40, or so, you may not be familiar with cutting old rivets out in order to save some assembly (or sheet metal) you may have use for down the road.

The way to get most of these out is to put in a 1/4 drill bit – something a good bit larger than the small rivet.  Begin drilling at an angle (which reduces the tendency of the rivet to spin, instead have having its “shoulder” cut off by the drill bit.  When it gets loose, go vertical but not with too much force.  What you’re trying to do is cut through the rivet and only enough of the other sheet metal to clear the rivet.

And angle about like so…

Notice at the top of this picture, you can see the fan box rivet cleared in a previous drilling operation.  (Don’t forget to wear eye protection when you’re doing this kind of thing!)

A few more minutes (nail-pulling nippers make short work of wiring and tie-wraps) and we have a pretty good collection of goods to deploy in new projects.

Oh boy…what a haul…and we haven’t even gotten to the fun part yet.

  • A dozen small (short) sheet metal screws
  • Four rubber feet with sheet metal screws (which will work on wood just fine, too)
  • Two heat guards (metal, above)
  • One handle with padding (off camera)
  • Lower right is a thermostat with anti-tip over weight
  • And the dial for that
  • Plus the power cord
  • And of course, the fan box assembly with fan

Wow!  All for 5-minutes with a drill and a power impact driver. Not a bad haul.

What’s This Crappe For?

For me, this is really the fun part.  I love creativity probably more than  anthing else (except Elaine and cocktail hour!) around.

As I was working on this my mind was already considering what to be done with the fan.  Wanna listen-in on my “slef-talk?”  OK, but don’t laugh…

“…hmmm.  Fan, fan.  Where can I use a fan like this?  Not real tight tolerances, so no high pressure uses like air cooling for a high power linear amplifier project…wouldn’t put out enough air to make any Eimac tube socket happy, let alone something with SK_406 chimneyss….

Wait!  What about the new time sink for winter, the 3-D print project?  Sure, we’ll be running mostly PLA to begin with, BUT when we start rolling into thicker builds and using ABS, that’s going to give off styrene smells…and nothing that smells like that can be good for you…yeah, that’s an ideal use.  Enough air to push through a buiild enclosure, shove it outside with a $10-dryer vent and some 4″ tubing…and I think I can use 4″ PVC though the wall no problem…OK, that’s decided… fume plume for printing doom…oh yeah…”

Sick, huh?  But that left the brain with more creations to come up with…

” You know, that thermostat doesn’t look like it will handle a lot of power, but it would sure power a couple of box fans to take the hot air ouf the top roof vents of the shop and that would turn the swamp cooler airflow into a push in and pull out affair.  Yeah, remember to look for a couple of cheapy 20-24″ fans on sale in the off-cooling season.  No one’s going to be buying a lot of fans come January…”

At at, there was only one thing left to do: multipurpose on more thing…

“…you know, I bet most people don’t take their broken stuff apart like I do.  We still have the microwave to turn into a spot welder like that guy in Poland did on Youtube, right?”  (I’m totally in awe of this fellow’s work and my own stuff pales in comparison….gotta study his stuff more…)

I resolved to snap a couple of quick pix and share.  Since even though we could afford to buy thousands of brand new whatevers, only fools waste money and don’t engage their creative Higher Self.  Feel sorry for people that don’t.  Maybe this’ll help, yah think?

Write when you get rich

author avatar
George Ure
Amazon Author Page: UrbanSurvival Bio:

30 thoughts on “Prepping: Creative Recycling 101”

  1. It’s columns like this one that make us love you george, It’s nice to know there are old fashioned, save it for later types still among us. Are you SURE you’re not a yankee? You should see some of the “might need it later” stashes I’ve seen up in the hilltowns of western mass. TRULY inspriring. OUR “for later” pile is the slackers’ version, some spare lumber, some spare polycarbonate green house panels for window replacement in the barn… Extra tarps and hardware, we PALE in comparison to your ingenuity, still learning from you george, always learning. Keep up the great work! e.

    • “It’s nice to know there are old fashioned, save it for later types still among us. ”

      Lol lol.. I do this to there are more of us creative recyclers out here than anyone is truly aware of.. disassemble and store for a later date a common practice among the catfish at the bottom of the pond..

      She doesn’t use the title creative recycler though she has a completely different name for me..

  2. Lol lol OMG.. watching a Christmas movie on UP…
    Sort of reminds me of myself in a way lol lol . Guy wins money and then when he sees things that need attention uses what he won to make the needed changes lol lol lol..
    It’s pretty cute lol…

    • “The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him – it cannot fail.”

      — Walt Whitman

      You know that quote says it all to.. in all the tears I’ve only had a couple of miss interpretations..

      May everyone’s holidays be filled with love,happiness, contentment and joy..

  3. George

    I have an old 1500 watt strip heater. The controls are dead but the heating element is still functional. Could this be repurposed into a dummy load for a ham rig? I could save about $80 by not buying a cantenna type load for calibration and testing if it could be effectively used. Don’t know much about Dummy loads except what I see on the news out of Congress!

    I once repurposed the stainless steel barrel from a dead soldering iron into an ac shield in a computer chassis. It even came with it’s own ground lead. Worked great and cost zero!

    • Two thoughts
      Put an ohm meter on the heat el strip. If it’s 1500 watts and 220, then we know from Ohm’s law that P=ie, that 1500/240 is about 6.25 amps when heating. Then since e/i=R (240/6.25 leaving R to be 38.4 ohms, so you MIGHT be able to repurpose as a ham radio dummy load with a string of caveats.
      1. You would have to figure a way to mountain it so it’s not a fire hazard.
      2. Unlike the Cantenna types which are 50-52 ohms, your built-in SWR would be somewhere around 1.3 to 1.
      3. And we disavow any knowledge of reactances and weird shit

      You could for $15 bucks by a new thermosatat at Lowes…measure element with ohm meter…

    • 1500w @ 120vac = 9.6 ohms

      A gem from my Dad, told me when I was seven, and which has stuck to this day: “A 1000w heater is nothing more than a 14.4 ohm resistor.”

      Old nichrome wire is steel nickel chromium alloy, the same as a wire-wound resistor. Newer nichrome wires may be alloys of up to about 15 different metals. Some may not be very RFI-friendly…

  4. Recycling machines on eBay can be a side gig to earn some cash.

    Timely article. I just donated an old Brother ink jet AIO printer to Goodwill and was having a hard time determining its market value. The printer was about $130 brand new (plus another $100 for ink cartridges). It’s obsolete now; Brother won’t even provide a photo of it online. I did find a guy on eBay who took one apart and was selling the individual parts for replacement/repair. Adding his listings together, the total came up to $290 and was far from a complete machine. I claimed $290 for the market value.

    Did something similar with my Grand Cherokee a few years ago. The heater core blew up and it was going to cost a fortune to take the dash apart to get to it. Discovered the car was worth more for its parts than it was whole. I traded it in for a new vehicle.

    And I just took a 55″ TV to the landfill because it up and quit after about five years. It wasn’t a surprise. I kept wondering if it was worth troubleshooting and repairing, and if so, by whom? Or better, who would buy it for parts?

  5. Mike, the heater coil would probably NOT make a good dummy antenna. The reason is the coiling of the element, which gives it a lot of inductance. You do not want a highly inductive dummy load. The ideal dummy load is a pure resistance at 50 ohms. The ‘Cantenna’ uses a non-inductive ceramic resistor immersed in oil for cooling.

  6. Re: Repurposed Dummy load. It is impedance of the heating element that determines if it could be used as a dummy load at a ham frequency. For 120 VAC @ 60Hz impedance is (Voltage * Voltage) / Watts, (120*120)/1500 or 9.6 ohms. Of course that is at 60Hz, not at 3 MHZ, the material element is constructed from will determine impedance at ham frequency. Simple rule of thumb, attach element to 50 ohm line at a low power operating frequency, measure VSWR and record values for ham frequencies. Load impedance can be calculated from VSWR.

    “Relation to Load Impedance” section formula can be use to figure out dummy load impedance for various frequencies.

  7. …Looks like a “milk barn heater.”

    1000/1250/1500 watts?

    Note the wires are marginally adequate for 1500w (16ga, 13A) and I’ll bet the switch is rated for 10A.

    If it is necessary to fix such a heater, I would do so by hardwiring it to 1250w, and I’d fix the heating element by sanding the area until clean, then overlapping the break (burn) by 1/2″ and winding or crimping with steel wire or a steel crimp. I’ve not done it, but I have seen Depression-era heaters repaired in such a manner and they were functional. It may or may not be grossly unsafe, so it’s not something I’d advocate, but desperate times…

    BTW, I’m currently restoring a ca.1932 General Electric space heater…

      • Because everyone would buy one, sales would dry up, revenue would drop, and GE would go out of business. See, I have been paying attention, LOL!

        And for extra credit, it’s a gov’t conspiracy. If everyone were using GE electric heaters all of the time, Gaia would get a fever, the icecaps would melt, the cities would flood, and the heaters would short circuit and burn down the houses they are heating. Can’t be havin’ that happen, can we?

        I don’t know anything about radios but it seems to me homemade test equipment would be risky unless you had the know how and parts to undo any mistakes…

      • speaking about that… I have been trying to solve a problem..
        I have six AED batteries.. they run about four hundred a pop.. but the batteries inside are at full capacity.. the difference is there is a count down chip in the unit.. and a diode..the diode prevents it from being recharged.. ( basically because of the batteries they use in the unit..) and the count down chip gives it x days then shuts off.. there are brands of televisions that have the same chip in it.. after you watch x number of hours you go buy a new tv.. not the old tube type that ran forever..and could be replaced..
        the case is a sealed unit.. you just don’t pop the top off.. and put a jumper or remove the chips.. add a recharge port etc..
        hmm.. I thought about making a case or finding the manufacturer that produces battery cases….

      • Nope. I’ll send you before and after photos, as soon as I source a proper cord (it’s currently wired with a 10′ piece of commercial 12/3 extension cord — overkill for its 1000w load, and fugly as all get out…)

        The ones that “run forever” don’t, actually. They have an open bronze (or brass) sleeve bearing on either side. When the lube dries out or flashes off, the (steel) motor shaft rusts inside the bearing and the rust eats the shaft. I’ve repaired two, one with silver solder, one with acetylene, a 00 tip, and a junk Pakistani wrench (as rod.)* They’re much better motors when someone drips a drop of 3-in-One on them, every couple of years…

        *So, why would I repair a $1.99 motor? To see if I could, of course…

      • LOOB, I’ve often wondered about countdown timers in cheap LED bulbs and other products. My (“Sunbeam” brand Chinese bulbs from Dollartree @2/$1 seem to run just over a year and all fail the same way. I had two in one fixture and they both failed within hours of each other. I sawed one open and the electronics are potted. At the time, I didn’t have time or inclination to dig through the potting. If new electronics are being packaged with countdown timers, it would seem to be a violation of fair trade practices unless disclosed in advance. This could easily be done covertly with computers or other VLSI in cars and other durable goods. I wonder what the regulators would have to say, if anything.

        I’m sure that most or possibly all of the actual LED chips in the bulbs are still good. This all reminds me of the “Dragon Day” movie and its message!

  8. Hey – in case it ever matters – I might know where you can get a replacement element for an open-element heater… Try

    • That IS a good resource. Duralite has been around forever and supplied sundry nichrome to appliance repair shops all over NA (while they existed…) My folks had rentals. I can remember Dad repairing oven elements several times, by stitching in new (Duralite) coil from the local appliance parts store…

  9. I had to laugh at this column. I thought I was the only one who did this sort of thing. I accumulate more stuff than I actually use but something gets re-purposed often enough that it reinforces the behavior. Must be due to growing up on a Great Plains farm where everything was saved “just in case”.

    • LOL Gleaner.. my wife calls me a rodent.. for doing the same thing…. LOL
      Of course we have the good china LOL LOL… and why in the world did you toss out my great grandpa’s solid gold rolex watch and put toilet paper tubes in its place LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL….

      • she denied it.. but that is ok… not upset.. ITS A THING… and THINGS can be replaced…

  10. George – I couldn’t help but grin reading your article. Sounds like me. I like taking stuff apart and figuring out how to fix it. Must have started when I stuck the pin in the electric outlet when I was 3. “Mommy, go poof!” I’ve fixed everything from retractable dog leashes to the blower motor in the van. It is a heck of a lot of fun, makes me feel useful and saves money! I finally took apart the 3 steam irons that I’ve collected over my life and saved the parts. This was good!

  11. I just finished a 2K mile drive in an “undriveable” car. I visited my dearest female friend and helped her transition to a newer car that fits her current mission profile. It was a gift from her relative who had too many cars. She gave me her old one since she didn’t want to bother finding a junkyard that would take it, and she needed it out of her garage. I flew to her with a starter motor and valve body for her transmission, based on phone conversations. As expected, the starter was toast, and the new/old one from my parts supply got the car started quickly. I tried driving it and the transmission bucked like a wild bronc. After changing the valve body and solenoids, it started learning to behave. Now it’s smooth as silk. Then came resetting the exhaust system that was loose and checking motor mounts. There was definitely a problem and I ordered brand new from Ebay since the local junkyard wanted to more than Ebay for used ones. A set of four mounts came in a day with free shipping and I replaced the easiest and most suspect one. The car now drives reasonably. It still needs the other motor mounts installed, struts, a tuneup, a steering rack and front end checkout, but it’s a good, nice looking car. I have all the other parts at home(and they’ll fit) on an old car I didn’t have the heart to send to the scrapyard. So far, it’s cost about $50 in parts, including transmission fluid and filter. The trip and visit were far more than worth its cost for the quality time we spent together.

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