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Parts kits, recycling, and building an inventory of parts on hand

Lifehacker is doing a poll asking readers about The Best Electronics Starter Kits. David Ashton at EE Times is more my style with Stripping PCBs to Reclaim Parts. He started with a soldering gun but goes the hot air gun route for most parts stripping.

“For some components, like multi-pin headers, I’ll sometimes use a small gas blowtorch. This will quickly melt only the solder, whereas the heat gun will often melt the plastic off the component as well before you can get it off. But you have to be careful; PCBs can emit some pretty vile gases when hot, so I usually do this on windy days when I can get good through ventilation in the garage where I play (the wind blows the vile smells away from my house and long-suffering wife). Some PCBs burn so easily (even with a hot-air gun) that they are just not worth the trouble. I’m much more selective these days, though I’ll still remove resistors that are easy to get out and are at the standard 0.5 inch spacing. As a result, I have pretty well any resistor value I need with pre-formed leads, which is handy when I’m building my hobby projects.”

If your collection starts to get reasonable, organization can be an issue. Akro-Mils 10164 64 Drawer Plastic Parts Storage Hardware and Craft Cabinet, 20-Inch by 16-Inch by 6-1/2-Inch, Black (affiliate link) is one possibility to help out in this. That’s for small parts. There are other versions with larger drawers for larger parts. You might need something more sturdy than a plastic parts box for transformers and other heavy stuff, though.

There are a lot of targets out there. Old computers provide motherboards with lots of connectors, electrolytic capacitors, and some other parts. They also often have DVD or CD rom drives with motors as well as boards for parts. Ink jet printers can provide a lot of good mechanical stuff with some rather decent stepper motors. VHS tape drives and other obsolete media appliances can also yield a lot of stuff. The older stuff is more likely to have discrete through hole (i.e. they have leads) components which are easier to use in DIY projects than surface mount parts. Troll the neighborhood. You’ll likely find a lot of stuff your neighbors have stashed in a closet or the garage they just haven’t got around to trashing, yet.

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