Last year, due to high energy costs, the price of steel went through the roof. A piece I used to pay $5.00 for was now over $15.00. Although it’s come down a little it’s still exorbitant.

I always have 10-20 projects on the burner here at the Recycle Ranch, and they all require materials of one sort or another. I’ve always been keen on scrounging and barter, so the outrageous prices of materials made scrounging even more important.

When we moved here 15 years ago, I went to a local company that built office chairs and asked if they had any scraps available. They showed me to a huge dumpster full of kiln dried hardwood scraps and said help yourself. They asked if I could use plywood cutoffs and I hauled off hundreds of 12” x 96”, ½” thick pieces of mahogany and OSB plywood. Their machine would “waste” the strips and they simply took up warehouse space. After awhile, they would call and ask if I wanted this or that and I always said yes (much to my wife’s chagrin)

Once they received a bunk of 1”x 1 ½  to 2” hardwood for chairs and the dimensions were wrong. The mill didn’t want it back and the chair company couldn’t use it so I ended up with a huge supply of kiln dried premium lumber.

Where I live, the energy business is a huge industry, and along with energy is a lot of steel fabrication.  I introduced myself to the managers of a couple of fabricators and asked if they minded if I rooted through their scrap piles. The one company generates more steel scraps in a day than I use in a year. I have scrounged literally thousands of pounds of steel for various projects, all of it just for the asking and a little sweat equity.

We recently  picked up over a ton of pipe and sucker rod (1/2” to 1” solid rod used in oil rigs) because as I drove by a pipe company  I saw a guy dumping 15’ sections into a dumpster that had “SCRAP” painted on the side. I went in and asked the manager if he would mind if I scrounged some and he said help yourself.

The dumster is full of perfectly good steel, if I had to buy it, I couldn’t afford it.

I figure in three trips I’ll have enough pipe and rod to be able to build a new corral for our livestock for labor, welding rods and electricity.

Another big score I found out about is tractor skids. I went to a local tractor company to get a part and noticed dozens of crates made out of square tubing, flat stock and angle iron. The tractors are shipped on them and they are scrap. I asked them if I could have some and they said take them all.

When we first started landscaping, we wanted some rocks and found some at a construction site that were being hauled off. They were going right by my place so I asked them if they’d mind dropping a load and I got a free ten wheeler of beautiful rocks.

The same goes for concrete. I live across from a batch plant and they always have extra concrete on bigger jobs. If I need something poured, I make a few forms and ask them to deliver any extra. A soda pop or bottle of water for the driver is nice and I always let them know I appreciate it.

I have a deal with the local propane company (I’ve signed a waiver releasing them from responsibility) for old tanks for various projects. They are great for Barbecues, rollers, lawn aerators, burn barrels, blades and more. (IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE) Make sure the tank is empty, and fill it with water to the top to purge all gas vapors. Then remove all of the fittings and let them set for at least a month before using them.

Fortunately we have enough acreage that my junk (treasure) is located on the other side of my shop, mostly out of sight. However, we built a fence out of free painted steel roofing that was used as cover sheets to protect the paneling under it. It had a few light scratches, but worked great for a fence.

I’ve scrounged empty 55 gallon steel drums, plastic barrels, tree chippings for landscaping, sheet metal by the ton, steel and iron by the tons, railroad ties, timber, lumber and a lot more.

We are a very short sighted, wasteful society.

A few pointers:

Always ask to root through somebody’s scrap bin. I nearly lost my steel rights when some gypsies (true story) came and took a huge load of scrap without asking.

If they are reluctant to give it away, offer to pay scrap prices for it or see if you can do any bartering or offer some donuts for the crew. My wife bakes a lot so we take cookies and rolls to our benefactors.

Be safe. If you get hurt, it’s your own fault. Some things aren’t worth getting because they are too heavy or too dangerous. Use good judgment.

Keep an eye out on items and if they sit there awhile, ask, all they can do is say no. I went to a fence company and they offered me all the cutoffs from the landscaping posts I could haul off. They had to pay to dispose of them. Same with metal roofing.

When the local theatre expanded, they pulled out numerous beautiful trees and we asked for them, hauled them off and they ALL lived and look great! They also gave me the old marquee which is 4”X4” square tubing and 4” angle iron, 18” long. I am going to make an overhead trolley with it.

If you aren’t afraid to ask, chances are you can find some pretty good stuff for just the asking. We even give our various fowl left over popcorn from the theatre.

Nothing is better than a project built out of scrounged material. I’ve saved countless thousands of dollars over the years and  recycled thousand of pounds of steel and other items that were headed for the landfill or scrap yard. I even use recycled steel in my business when it works.

The fact is, on 95% of my projects, you can’t tell that the materials were recycled, but my wallet knows.

1 Response to Treasures

  1. I had a Grandmother who would stop at farms and offer to pick if she could keep it. Usually they split it 50/50. She always managed to can several quarts for her (and our) efforts. She would never been able to afford everything she picked.

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