My spouse thinks I’m insane. Oh, she supports my insanity. But she still thinks I’m insane.
My dad used to use coffee cans to organize things on his workbench. He had a shelf of coffee cans, each covered in red self-stick vinyl, and each with a particular nut or nail taped to the outside, indicating the contents. You could find whatever you needed, when you needed it, pretty quickly.
What fascinated me, however, were two cans that had no item on the outside. These were “junk box” cans, containing nearly every imaginable bit and piece of metal, fasteners and parts of fasteners, nuts, bolts, springs, hooks, washers, you name it. When I was a kid, my brother and I would build gravity-powered go-carts, and a big part of that construction involved diving into the junk cans for parts. I learned to love junk.
When I grew up and had a home of my own, I inherited some of my dad’s junk collection (though he still has a lot). I filled my workshop with his junk and, more importantly, my own. Mine was divided pretty much into two piles: bicycle junk and electronic junk. Sometimes, like when I made an LED headlight for my bike, the two intermingled, forming the intersection in a vast Venn Diagram:
When we moved from Wisconsin to Connecticut, I faced the difficulty of sorting and culling that junk. I ended up selling off some nice power tools, and loading a large box with the junk I gradually realized that I was probably never going to use. It was sad. I still ended up with three or four toolboxes (honestly, I think screwdrivers reproduce in these things), multiple power tools, and three huge totes full of junk.
Well, it’s getting to be moving time again (we hope–and we hope it’ll be a shorter distance this time (we’re about to buy a house). But this also means it’s time to thin the junk herd again. What sort of junk, you ask? In addition the usual small parts found in anyone’s junk box, I have cables, front and rear derailers, stems, handlebars, shifters, an embarrassing large collection of handlebar bags, cobrakes and brake pads, toast wraps, reflectors, brackets, bottom brackets, blinkers, LEDs and lenses, batteries, rectifiers and zener diodes, extension cords, wires, a replacement bottom panel for an Acer laptop, and a handful of frame pumps. To name but a few.
This is not the sort of thing you put on eBay, but it’s also not the sort of thing you want to chuck. This isn’t junk. It’s useful stuff, if it can find its way into the right hands. I’m probably going to photograph all of it, put it on flicker, and then invite people to take a look and if they want something, send me an offer. First reasonable offer gets it.
But still. Sometimes junk is just so useful.
Case in point. Three years ago, I started to use Axiom racks on my bikes. I like them because they’re very sturdy, made of “oversize” aluminum tubing, yet inexpensive. A few years before that, while in Vancouver for work, I had bought a set of panniers that I really liked from MEC. The clips on these were very secure, but unsuited for the Axiom racks due to the size of the tubing on the latter. So I ordered a kit from MEC that contained “oversize” clips for the panniers that would work with the racks. It came with all the hardware necessary, including screws, washers, you name it.
I ended up not using any of the hardware, because I just reused what was already on the panniers. Then I popped the old parts in some bags and tossed them into the “bicycle” junk box.
Fast forward a few years. To last night, in fact. I was putting the finishing touches on my bike–mud flaps. I happen to prefer Planet Bike‘s Cascadia mud flaps, even though I was using SKS fenders. Now, the Cascadias slide onto the plastic section of the fender, and are then secured with these neat little snap-fasteners that go through holes in the fender and the mud flap. Very nice. Except, once I had drilled the holes and everything, I discovered that the SKS fenders were just a hair too thick for the snap-fasteners to close.
What to do? Well, I looked around my workshop and my eyes lit on the MEC update kit leftovers, which I had spied earlier in the week while looking for something else. There, in each kit, were a number of small screws and special washers with sleeves designed to go through relatively thick material and mount securely. Sleeves? Check, that would get me through the inner portion of the mudflap securely. Small screws? Check, they wouldn’t look ugly on the outside of the fenders. The screws even already had blue locking compound on them!
And so, my mud flaps were installed with parts from my junk box. Parts intended for an altogether different purpose. I currently have some plans to repurpose other parts of the MEC kit.
And so from this we learn: save every little piece. You never know when something’s going to come in very handy.
Oh, I’m still going to post the big junk for sale. I don’t need four frame pumps, or all those handlebar bags. But the little stuff? That’s pure gold.