Confessions of a Thrift Store Shopper (photos)


Confessions of a Thrift Store Shopper or Sources of Inexpensive Shop Supplies
Once or twice a month I make the rounds of Denver area thrift stores. There are dozens around town, but I usually restrict my looking to the main charitable organization chains -- Association for Retarded Children (ARC), Goodwill Industries, Salvation Army, and Disabled American Veterans. I always go on Tuesday -- Tuesday is Senior Day at the ARC stores and seniors get a 50% discount from the already low prices -- other stores usually give seniors a discount anytime.
Before I describe the items that I look for, let me define the 95-4-1 rule. 95% of what you will see is junk, broken, doesn't work, etc 4% is OK, not great, but OK 1% is really nice, high quality stuff It is interesting to me that the prices on items rarely reflect quality -- the really nice items are the same price as junk. A pine box of a given size and nailed together might go for $2, a well constructed box of the same size made from rosewood would also be $2, don't ask me why.
Another rule goes like this -- if you go looking for a particular item, you won't find it -- but two weeks later you will see 2 or 3. I think this is a variation of Murphy's Law.
Here are some of the things I look for:
*** Wooden items of sufficient size to yield useful stock:
Wood is where you find it! I often find usable amounts of excellent hardwood in thrift stores. Book shelf units are good sources. Oak is common, but walnut and birch can be found sometimes. I once found some beautiful Hawaiian koa, and having worked with the wood before, I recognized the distinctive depth of color and grain. Prices vary, but usually a fraction of lumber dealer pricing. I have made a number of shop jigs and fixtures from cutting boards, miscellaneous round items, and lazy susans. Make sure the cutting boards are not split at the end. A couple of passes through a thickness planer cleans them up nicely.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/cutting_boards.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/round_pieces.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/lazy_susans.jpg
I have made many lathe jigs partially or entirely from hard maple rolling pins. There are several examples on the "Lathe Page" of my personal website. The most common form is drilled completely through its axis, but many of the older solid maple rolling pins can be found. Prices vary from a dollar to up to four dollars. These are so common that I won't pay more than a dollar unless the rolling pin is solid, very large, or made from another hardwood, such as beech. Often these are missing a handle and priced at 25 to 50 cents. BTW, the handles make great handles for files.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/rolling_pins.jpg
Another item to look for is wall plaques. These have the following traits in common. They were given to someone you don't know, By an organization you never heard of, And they are made from black walnut (bingo!) I once found a stack of 6 -- given to the same person 6 years in a row. I ran these through a thickness planer to remove the shallow screw holes where the brass is attached and used them to make some small boxes. These plaques have no value to most shoppers and are often less than a dollar. I also cut out blanks for turning plates, platters, or other flat items on the lathe.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/walnut_plaques.jpg
You would be amazed at the variety of exotic hardwoods found in thrift shops. Items made from teak and Indian rosewood are extremely common but seldom yield useful sizes or shapes. I look for carved items, often animals or fish, carved in Mexico from desert ironwood. These usually have a fragile piece broken off and are priced very cheaply. Ironwood is extremely hard and heavy (won't float) and makes premium turning stock. Smaller items yield pen blanks and larger items yield sufficient wood for a variety of lathe projects.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/exotic_woods.jpg
*** Wooden boxes and other storage containers:
Wooden boxes are found at every thrift store. The 95-4-1 rule applies. Some are incredibly well made and were previously used as jewelry boxes, humidors, or storage containers for scientific instruments. One I found had been a container for a large rifle scope judging from the name on the box. I have several that are so nice that I can't bring myself to make something from them.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/misc_boxes.jpg
For many years the Lane company, best known for their aromatic cedar hope chests, gave away miniature cedar boxes to prospective buyers as advertising. The name of the furniture store which presented the gift was printed on the inside of the lid. These are a convenient size and well made. I buy them whenever I find them for $2 to $4 and use them to hold frequently used screws and fasteners. Somewhere a little old lady with a stack of love letters is very unhappy with me.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/lane_boxes.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/lane_box_stack.jpg
Empty silverware chests can be easily converted to store router bits or 3-wing shaper cutters.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/router_bit_storage.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/quarter_inch_bits.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/half_inch_bits.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/shaper_bits.jpg
Audio cassette storage cases are no longer popular and can often be picked up for a dollar. I use them to store a variety of items in my shop.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/cassette_boxes2.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/sanding_pads_box.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/jam_cup_box.jpg
Another storage container idea is metal file folder boxes. They stack easily and make excellent storage containers for infrequently used tools, owners manuals and sandpaper.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/file_folder_boxes.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/file_box_storage.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/manuals_sandpaper_storage.jpg
*** Clock works, weather station instruments, pepper mill grinders, etc:
If you like to make wall or desk clocks you will find an endless supply of battery operated clock works for one or two dollars. The battery is almost always dead or missing, so I carry a good AA battery in my pocket to test them.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/clock_movements.jpg
Weather station instruments. Most are junk, but you will find some quality instruments if you look long enough. Make sure the instruments can be adjusted from behind to calibrate relative humidity and barometric pressure.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/weather_station_instr.jpg
Humidor instruments are less common, but I have seen a few. This European Walnut box is a Savinelli pipe tobacco humidor made in Italy and is so nicely made I will certainly not do anything with it. I paid $3.60 for it!
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/humidor_works.jpg
And speaking of high quality works, look at this Swiss music box which plays two different songs and a high quality German barometer.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/instrument_works.jpg
Pepper grinders are also very common, and conform to the 95-4-1 rule. European grinders are usually pretty good, but less common. I made a small walnut salt and pepper set for daily table use from one such mechanism.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/pepper_mills.jpg
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/salt_pepper.jpg
*** Shop rags
Most thrift shop bundle unusable T-shirts, clothing and towels and sell the bales to rag merchants. One store I visit also sells a few in plastic bags which make excellent shop rags.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65k/shop_rags.jpg
I have purchased a number of other items for one-of-a-kind uses, but hopefully the pictures shown above will give you a few ideas.
Ken Vaughn Visit My Workshop: http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65 /
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Wow! A well-organized and informative post! Thanks.
As far as clock mechanisms, the AA battery-powered quartz movements are cheap. Do you ever run across old clocks with mechanical movements? In something like the Clockit catalog, they're pretty spendy.
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Yes, not often, but not at bottom feeding prices. And the quality of the movement is unknown, so I pass on them. I found a nice electric movement two weeks ago. It was in a "regulator" style wall clock and with electric chimes and was only $4 so I picked it up. These often have nice face plates and hands, but cheap molded plastic cases.
Ken
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On Sun, 16 Oct 2005 21:41:09 GMT, "Ken Vaughn"

100% cotton teeshirts pinned 5 shirts to a bundle for $1. per bundle. Bought 5 bundles and have shoprags for the next year or so. Kid's pigskin leather skirt, $5. Made 3 strops so far and could probably make a dozen more.
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Fantastic post, Ken. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.
djb
--
Life. Nature's way of keeping meat fresh. -- Dr. Who

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[snipped excellent post for brevity]
Thank you, sir, for this very useful and informative post.
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Sun, Oct 16, 2005, 9:41pm (EDT+4) snipped-for-privacy@earthlink.net (KenVaughn) who candidly admits: Confessions <snippty snip snip>
You are a despicable human being, a cheap bastart. And, my new hero.
JOAT Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
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Ken Vaughn wrote:

snipped
If you get to the area of South Broadway near the Overland Gold course take a look in the antique consignments. I was there for a day at my sisters and found a nice Millers Falls block size plane and a push drill for a decent price. I'm still kicking myself about not getting the set of 12 Buck Bros socket handled chisels they had in one for $240. Joe Goodwill and Flea market shopper, adding SA to the list now
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Thanks Ken for a good bit of information. I would have never thought of looking in a thrift store for materials!
I have haunted them on occasion for old 33 and 1/3 rpm lp's for trips down memory lane.
Good Hunting!
RonT
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Waterbeds frames can also be a good source of large pieces of thick wood cheap. Many people give them away for free on freecycle lists.
Alan
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Good thought. When my son was a teen we made a waterbed frame from hard and stable Southern Yellow Pine. After he moved out and no longer wanted the bed, I made several things from the lumber, including fences on two different table saw sleds.
http://home.earthlink.net/~kvaughn65j/big_sled.jpg
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Good point, Alan... I've made several set of very heavy looking shelves out of what's usually 2" thick pine boards...
mac
Please remove splinters before emailing
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Ken Vaughn wrote:

[snip]>
You should talk to Larry L'Hote, the king of the dumpster divers.     j4
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