Chris Schwarz's Blog

A Tip that’s So Stupid…

While I was on staff at Popular Woodworking Magazine, all of the editors had to read through all of the reader submissions to “Tricks of the Trade.” This was generally drudgery that was punctuated by little nuggets of brilliance.

Here’s what the drudgery looked like:

“A coffee mug makes an ideal place to store your pens and pencils in the workshop. Just don’t tell the wife that you stole her good china! Ha ha.”

“Baby food jars are excellent places to store small bits of hardware and pieces of string that are too small to save. And you can even label the lids with the contents inside. And it’s a great excuse to have more children!”

Or there were the tricks that involved using a mass spectrometer, dial calipers, rubber bands and an electron microscope – you know, the stuff around the house – to make a center-finding gauge.

So because I had to read so many of these tricks, I hesitate to post the following hint. To me it seems something I have been doing constantly since I started woodworking. It’s completely obvious. But anytime I discuss it, people look at me like I have two heads.

So here it is.

If you can’t find the hardware you want in a catalog and you can’t afford blacksmith-made stuff, buy it off eBay, at flea markets or at places that reclaim old doors and windows.

You will be shocked at the quality vintage hardware on eBay. Strap hinges, locks, knobs, you name it – some of it still wrapped in its original paper from 100 years ago.

Every antique market I’ve been to has a dude that specializes in old hardware. It’s usually doorknobs, but he always has hinges and drawer pulls.

Every decent-sized city has an architectural salvage store. These are a good source for hardware, tiles, glass, screws and even wood.

I’m not saying you’ll get a bargain. Sometimes you will win (I just bought all the brasses I need for my next campaign chest for $100 – a $600 savings!). Sometimes it will be as expensive as new stuff. But looking in these non-traditional places will greatly expand the kinds of hardware you can use on a project, though you might have to scrub some of the odd crusty bits in the kitchen sink.

So just don’t tell the wife.

— Christopher Schwarz

Read other articles I’ve written about hardware on the blog here.

22 thoughts on “A Tip that’s So Stupid…

  1. Barquester

    I’ve been doing this since the 60’s. I have found the most valuable currency in the world is six packs of beer. I once traded 4 six packs for enough roll insulation to fill a city bus. It was new and they were taking it to the dump anyway, right past my house.
    When you are in the country, take beer for barter, you never know, you might just break down and need it.

      1. Jonas Jensen

        I agree too on the beer currency. In some countries like e.g. Norway and Sweden it is even better than normal money.
        Especially if you are able to bring the beer from a cheaper country such as Germany or Denmark.
        Some people find it akward to sell for cash, but beers are just a trading objectm so that is OK.

  2. ecafsub

    I’ve been using Habitat for Humanity’s Restore here in Austin for years and years (I am not associated with them in any way.) It’s a great place to find all sorts of things from small hardware to construction material. Plus, buying there supports a great organization. They may not always have what you need, but the danger is that you may find something you didn’t know you needed and can’t live without (such as the leaded glass front door I snagged a few years ago for a mere $175)

    I’ve also used it to do furniture-bashing–a takeoff of model kit-bashing–where I’ll pick up some truly fugly (but actual wood) pieces for cheap and reassembled their mixed-and-matched parts as a prototype for something new(ish).

    http://www.habitat.org/restores

  3. John Hutchinson

    I’ve found that you can save a lot of wear and tear on your power tools by allowing “the wife” to use your shop for overflow clutter storage so that you can never get to them in the first place. Simple! Where’s my prize?

  4. Eric R

    I’ve been finding some gems by using the back roads to get to my mother in laws place in Kissimmee Florida.
    This one area I go through is kind of economically depressed and the residents just line stuff up in front of their place for people to see as they drive by.
    It’s amazing what you can get for four or five bucks, and they are happy to sell it.

  5. Bill Lattanzio

    I’ve sent a few tips into PW. I think one will be in the next issue for that matter. I certainly hope that they weren’t in the drudgery column. But….You have to answer this question for me: Did somebody honestly submit a tip suggesting using a coffee cup to hold pencils or were you taking artistic license? Because if it’s true this leads to several things…First thing is that I felt several brain cells die just contemplating somebody suggesting that as a “tip” and secondly, if you actually have to sift through those things, I will never, ever, ever, apply for a job as an editor to Popular Woodworking…like ever.

  6. jimbotheconflictor

    What flea markets/antique shops are you frequenting? All the places I’ve been in Central/Southeastern Ohio only seem to sell particle board furniture, old broken blenders, precious moments statues, and novelty knives. I have yet to score a good deal on a tool at one around here.

      1. Cosmo

        For those in the Cincinnati area an additional resource is Building Value in Northside. i have found large solid brass hinges, door hardware, drawer hardware even an old box of cut nails.

    1. esincox

      Doubtful! I’ll never buy anything I can’t see and touch first anymore. There are too many dishonest people out there who try to sell you junk.

      Besides, eBay forces you to use PayPal now. I’ll never buy from someplace that forces me to use the payment method they own just so they can continue to profit from my sale or purchase.

      I’ll just stick to paying full retail for well-made contemporary hardware. It is the safest bet. No need to look anywhere else…

      *shifty eyes*

      1. Cosmo

        When Chris published The Anarchist’s Tool Chest it seemed like all the vintage tools on eBay and at flea markets went through the roof. i was looking at a dovetail saw on eBay where the winning bid was over $400. Looks like the collectors are buying up all the quality vintage tools and i’m not willing spend the hours and hours needed to restore the junk that’s left. This is great for the saw makers out there and it’s where I purchased my new saw and for a $100 less. And that’s for a custom made saw.
        I know this isn’t Chris’ doing, but it sure seems suspicious.

  7. tms

    Hey Chris,

    That’s a very thoughtful suggestion, and one that would not have occurred to me. Thanks.

    Did you know that if you save used paper coffee cups from your morning latte that they make great glue mixing cups? I also save the stir sticks. ;-)

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