Scrap Pile Tools 101

Stuff To Look For - Where To Look - Gingery Tools - Projects - Links

I was fortunate to grow up in the fifties on a farm with a dad that spent most of his free time either building things from his scrap pile or going to auction sales. He would buy piles of junk for next to nothing, haul it home, sort through it and set things aside for his next rainy day project.

In those years following the second World War building tools from the scrap pile became very popular for two reasons, production of tools for the domestic market was limited during the war, and a vast supply of cheap surplus material hit the market when it was over.

With the amount of tools produced both domestically and from off shore today it is generally not worth either the time nor money to build your own if one looks at it with a practical view. Not everybody takes this view, some of us still walk through life with our eyes open looking to find just the right part to build a new machine around.

This scroll saw was built in the 50's for me by my dad, an air-cooled engine was the heart of the saw. He drilled a hole in the top of the piston for a rod with a slot to hold pin blades. The table was a seed drill disk, the tension spring for the blade came from a mattress box spring, if I broke a blade the whole top assembly flew across the shop until he modified it.

Take a trip to the farm to see more of his projects.

Stuff to Look For

The beauty of building from scrap is that you end up with a tolally unique tool, one of the drawbacks is that it is sometimes impossible to find replacement parts, keep this in mind when considering components.

Electric Motors

You can't have too many electric motors on hand, every machine likely needs at least one. There are plans here for a simple disk sander made with a 1750 rpm motor. Check the phase, only single phase will work on home wiring.

Pillow Blocks, Shafts & Pulleys

Pillow blocks, shafts and pulleys of any size are always useful.

Speed Reducers

Speed reducers are always handy, great for infeed tables, there are two kinds to look for, gear boxes and split pulleys. Gear boxes are good because they usually give a large reduction in speed in one simple unit, eliminating large pulleys and jack shafts. Split pulleys allow for fine tuning, there are two kinds, spring loaded and fixed. The spring loaded type allows for adjustable speed on the run by sliding the motor back and forth to loosen or tighten the belt so it runs higher or lower in the pulley sheaves.

The ultimate find is an electric motor with a speed reducer attached, I made a router feed from a small one I came across.


All kinds of steel comes in handy, angle, flat and channel iron in any length will eventuall be used for something, especially if you have a welder.

Switches and Controls

Switches and controls are expensive to buy new, most have wiring instructions on a label inside them somewhere, otherwise an electrician friend or the internet can help you out.

Used Machines

Sometimes it works out better to alter an existing machine to perform another function, a small bench top table saw can be converted to a disk sander. The head from a wood lathe can be added to a custom bed, there is an example here.

Where to Look

Salvage yards have always been a good source of material, I have found that attitude in these places will get you anything or nothing. Most owners of salvage yards are unique characters, I will never forget the time I was at a yard and a customer was arguing about paying a couple bucks for a dryer control. The owner asked him if it was yes or no, when the customer started to protest again the owner threw the control on top of a huge pile and remarked, "You should have paid the two dollars".

Often machinery sitting outside in the parking lot behind a business is junk to them, ask, they will probably be glad to get rid of it and will likely give you some history as to what, if anything, was wrong with it.

Let the maintenance people at your work and companies you frequent know you like tinkering, lots of valuable parts go in the trash.

Garage sales are a gold mine at times, spend a bit of time talking to the sellers, sometimes they have things they want to get rid of but didn't consider putting them out because they were junk.

Short lengths of steel may be available from the scrap bins at fabricating shops, always ask before helping yourself.

Dumpster diving is another valuable source of materials, just know the kind of waste being dumped, watch for broken glass and other sharp objects.

Sites like Graigs List often have used machines or parts of broken machinery, sometimes worthwhile if price is right.

Gingery Tools

When the topic of scrap pile tools comes up one has to mention the late David Gingery and his son Vincent, their books are the ultimate guides to building tools from the ground up. A complete workshop with a lathe, metal shaper, milling machine, and drill press can be built. The foundry is used to build a metal lathe, it is used to build the other tools, then improved with the new tools. The seven books are listed below in the order required to build a shop.

Charcoal Foundry by David J. Gingery

The Metal Lathe by David Gingery

The Metal Shaper by David Gingery

The Drill Press by David Gingery

The Milling Machine by David Gingery

The Dividing Head & Deluxe Accessories by David Gingery

Designing and Building The Sheet Metal Brake by David Gingery

Other Gingery Books

Build a Gas Fired Crucible Furnace by David Gingery

- This book may be substituted for The Charcoal Foundry

Build a Power Hacksaw With Vise by Vincent R. Gingery

Working Sheet Metal by David Gingery


Like most things on the web these projects should be carefully checked out before proceeding with them, I try to only post links to plans that look like they will work, I have not personally used all of them. When you buy a manufactured tool by law safety features are built into it, shop made tools do not have these controls so beware of any dangerous situations and alter the tool if necessary to make it safe.

A Homemade CNC milling machine

Build Your Own Metal Detector

Building A Phase Converter

Building a Hot Wire Foam Cutter

Building your own generator (on the cheap).

Building Your Own Wood Lathe

Homebuilt arc welder

Simple Coffee Can Foundry

Thickness Sander for Model Ship Builders

Interesting Links

A Woodworker's Bench Notes

Absolutely Free Plans

Bruce Metzger's homemade Gingery Miller

Building My Gingery Style Lathe

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