By Don Cantrell (ND6T)
TW, K9AC, once told me “There is no such thing as e-waste”. That about says it. All those broken and obsolete gadgets are just storehouses of interesting and useful parts for your next project. Aside from the parts there is also an education about how things are built and how they fail. Free.
Power cords, resistors, capacitors, heat sinks, screws, speakers, microphones all free for the few minutes dissassembly. Sometimes whole sections of boards can be re-purposed for other projects. The trick is to separate it in a logical fashion and store it so that you can find what you need later. Those little plastic trays with separate compartments work well. The larger cabinets with tiny parts drawers lend themselves well for resistor and capacitor assortments if you take care and label them extensively. Speakers, meters, knobs and such need larger drawers or small boxes.
Don’t turn up your nose at surface mount components. Frequently computer systems are upgraded and provide big boards densely populated with easily obtainable parts. Your tech friends in IT always seem to have piles of these boards free for the asking. To remove the parts from these boards just wait for a sunny day with a nice light breeze, take a heat gun and an old cookie sheet outdoors, play the heat gun (on “low” setting) on the board until the solder begins to melt. Tip the board over the cookie sheet and give it a sharp tap. The parts fly off the board into the cookie sheet where you can collect them. Some parts need a further assist and you can accomplish that with something like a popsicle stick to scrape them gently off.
Those parts were made to endure the heat. That’s how they were soldered on in the first place. You will be amazed at how closely they measure to their labeled values. You might need a microscope to read it, but yes, they often are labeled. Measure them anyway. Sort them into their little drawers for easy use later on. Notice how they don’t take up any space? Just wait until you see how easily they fit into your project.
Bigger stuff, with though-hole goodies need a more conventional approach. Use a solder-sucker and desoldering braid. Those dental picks in your tool kit make nice prying tools. Needle nosed pliers can lift the leads from the molten solder.
Check everything before it goes into the trash. The little hardware, itself, is invaluable. The stuff that you cannot categorize goes into what we like to call the “Hell Box”, that wonderful repository of orphaned parts. You will always need to replace some fool thing that escapes the workbench, nevermore to be found. Some screw that is missing, an odd bracket to hold something in place that is just impossible to fabricate. Spread the contents of the Hell Box in that old cookie sheet where you can poke through it leisurly and BEHOLD, your solution awaits!