Ways to save in your workshop

Workshop Money Savers

by Rich Finzer


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Living as I do on an 80-acre farm, it seems there's always something that needs fixing, adjusting, repairing, or maintaining. So when I'm not writing or sailing, I can usually be found in my workshop. And over the years, I've stumbled upon a number of workshop money savers.

Shop Towels: I used to purchase bundles of shop towels. They were handy for wiping up spills, as cleaning cloths, or swabbing off a dipstick. However, their quality was poor. If I washed a bunch, the dye ran. Worse yet, after maybe two or three washings, they shrank to the size of a potholder. So I stopped buying Chinese-made shop towels. These days I use the bottom leg portions of my old jeans. The fabric is strong, absorbent and, because it's already been washed dozens of times, pre-shrunk. Additional cost to me? Zero.

Paper Towels: For wiping my truck windows dry, I used to buy rolls of "mutiny" paper towels. They were expensive, and I discovered I wasn't getting much for my money. These days I buy six-roll bundles of the store brand. On sale, they set me back $5. Total towel area is 396 square feet. "Mutiny" brand, which is often on sale at $10 for a six-roll bundle has a total area of 476 square feet. So that last 80 square feet of towels was costing me another $5. Ouch!

Socket Wrenches: Virtually every household owns a 3/8-inch set of socket wrenches and ratchet. And sadly, every household has at least one very large or very small nut, which does not match the size of any of their sockets. Faced with this problem, many folks buy another complete socket set when all they really need is a set of socket adapters and the one socket to fit that odd-sized nut. Not only would they save money, but they wouldn't have a complete socket set lying around simply to loosen or tighten that solitary exception. That goes double if your primary socket set is a SAE type, but you're contending with a metric nut.

Motor Oil: No workshop worth its salt ever runs out of oil. As I do my own oil changes on my '63 Bonneville, I always have several quarts on hand. I only use Pennsylvania-grade motor oil, which is generally quite expensive, but not for me. I usually pay less than $2 per quart for the stuff. How? It's simple. When an auto parts store has 12-bottle cases on sale, I always buy one, and many of those deals are sweetened even further with a mail-in rebate as high as 10 bucks. For general lubrication, I pick up 10W-30W oil at a discount retailer for around $2 bucks a bottle as well. I would never dump the stuff into my Pontiac, but for oiling the axle on my garden cart, it's the cat's patoot! I always pick up some straight 30-weight oil as well. For lubricating the moving parts on my mower deck, it's just as "patooty" and just as inexpensive. One other thing, if I accidentally run out of bar and chain oil for my chainsaw, 30 weight is an acceptable emergency substitute. It beats wasting time and gas on an extra trip to the hardware store.

Concrete: When I built the loafing shed for my horse, I needed to set a dozen posts. Eighty-pound bags of "U-mix" run about $3 per bag, but I paid much less. At the orange home improvement store (you know the one), I found a pallet load of torn bags marked down to 99 cents. Each was missing some concrete, but certainly not 66% of it. Buying them actually saved me both time and money. In order to use the stuff, I had to tear the bags open anyway.

Lumber: One of my great passions is bluebirds. To me, they're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in the wild. To encourage their nesting, which is how you get more bluebirds, I maintain 17 nesting boxes. The lumber to build them was free. I used discarded red oak pallets. I cut the slats using my chainsaw and accumulated enough free wood to build nearly 40. I kept 17 and gave the rest to my neighbors, which is how you get even more bluebirds. There are dozens of other things you can fashion from free pallet wood.

Fasteners: With the exception of the bluebird boxes, which I constructed using coated nails, I always assemble things with screws. Unfortunately, screws are quite pricey, unless you keep your eyes open. While visiting a lumberyard, I found an incredible deal on three-inch building screws. The retailer had ceased selling composite decking, and was running a close-out deal on the special screws used to attach composite planks. Five-pound boxes were being sold for $4.99, which is about what you'd pay for a single pound of "green screws" at the blue home improvement store. When I planked the interior walls of my horse's stable, the boxes I bought at an 80-percent discount worked just fine. And I've still got plenty left for other projects.

So watch for money savings everywhere. Saving money is just as important in your workshop as it is inside your home.

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