In pursuit of various diy projects, I often need materials, components or items which are not regularly carried in stores. For example, for a small diy vacuum chamber which I would like to build, I need a 1-2 foot length of 10+" diameter PVC pipe. I know that I can buy 8-10 feet of such pipe at a local big box store, but I imagine that people who regularly use that product, must occasionally have to trim it to length, leaving the part I want garbage-bound.

So what material acquisition life hacks can you offer?

Where do you look for those things which can't be found in (or afforded from) standard retail stores?

  • 1
    If the item in question is something sold by the foot, that big box store will usually cut how much you need anyways. Either from a new piece or some other previous leftover from another customer. – pboss3010 Jan 10 '19 at 14:35

Here are my personal favourites:

  • eBay (in countries where it's big like U.S. and Germany) is a rich source of weird items. For example, I got cut-off pieces of titanium tubes, or mixed lots of A2 an A4 type stainless steel nuts and bolts at ca. 6 USD/kg. There are people specializing in selling cut-offs of wood / metal / plastic bars / plates / tubes etc..

  • Recycling yards for metal etc. are great as well, but since they have a high turnover it pays off to visit frequently. The one I visit sells by weight, and small stuff like computer cables from the big heap is often even for free.

  • Buy a product containing the item if you can't find the item on its own. Especially, think of industrial machines several decades old that might contain it, then look in small ads portals etc. for these machines in used condition. They are often very cheap as people try to just get rid of them.

  • Disassemble broken stuff and store all the parts that are at least somewhat unlikely to ever be reused. I used to store all nuts and bolts, rods, tubes, other metal profiles, sheet metal pieces, wood pieces, plastic pieces that have enough flat or rod-shaped surfaces, foam cushions, fabric parts etc.. This works quite nicely when "needing some part", but only when enough is in storage (>500 kg maybe?).

  • Make it yourself. For parts that are really hard to find, making them could be easier. For example, your PVC pipe could be built from PVC sheet material by heating, bending and plastic welding the seam.

  • Have it made for you. When lacking the tools to make a particular item oneself, sometimes ordering a custom built is not even expensive. For example, I ordered a 3D printed replacement for a broken plastic cover of a coffee roaster I am restoring, using an online platform for 3D print order fulfillment. Cost only ~10 USD incl. shipment. Local craftspeople, workshops and machine shops are also great for some types of custom builds, incl. from wood, metal and clay.

  • Repurpose parts meant for other uses. You'll need to know enough about the physics etc. involved to do this safely, but it can lead to great cost savings. Example: I needed a sturdy, waterproof connector that could do 40 A at 24 V for powertools in my off-grid home. Military connectors are available used but rare and very expensive. I ended up using Neutrik SpeakOn SPX series connectors, originally made for connecting large loudspeakers :-)

  • Alibaba Express is a rich source for parts, especially electronics and replacement parts. Example: I used it recently to buy a roller for a laser printer for ~8 USD instead of replacing the whole 120 USD fuser unit.

  • Military surplus items are a never-ending supply of used but very high quality odd items and components. Either for disassembling and storing as parts, or for buying exactly what you need (if you know what is included where). For example, some German navy trousers are made from aramide / kevlar (love these!) and some German Bundeswehr field-ready cases for electronics are my secret source for Zarges Mitraset Classic flightcases, which are otherwise extremely expensive.

  • Excellent answers! +1 : The second and third are new ideas for me. Will be trying them out this weekend. – Henry Taylor Jan 9 '19 at 23:23
  • @HenryTaylor Just added some more points to my answer. – tanius Jan 10 '19 at 21:40

I would add: HABITAT FOR HUMANITY "RE-STORE" outlets. Excellent prices, and the proceeds support the charity.

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