Trash into Treasures

March 14, 2009 02:55 PM

Who doesn't love free stuff? The furnishings in Brian Andrews' shop demonstrate the Rossville, Ill., farmer's creativity and his knack for finding materials that are not merely free but also useful.

A 10'-high swinging crane, carrying a chain hoist, is mounted next to the shop door, where it can swivel outside. Andrews built the crane from scrap metal. For the crossbar, he used a 6" I-beam. He attached heavy-duty door track to carry the rollers for a chain hoist. The crossbar swivels on an angle-iron upright, which is bolted to the corner post of the door frame.

For night work, Andrews mounted an old 100-watt trouble light on the crossbar. He wired it in series with two 4' fluorescent bulbs so all the lights come on together to illuminate the welding area just inside the door of his shop.

The chain hoist is rated at 1,000 lb., but Andrews limits his lifting to 500 lb. After injuring his back years ago, Andrews lets tools do the heavy lifting. "If you bull your way through, you'll pay for it 30 years later," he warns.

When he couldn't find a cherry picker crane built heavy enough to suit him, Andrews made his own, with 20,000-lb. capacity. "It's more lifting power than I need, but I wanted to use a hydraulic unit I had," he says.

Andrews used a 5" H-beam for the lift arm. The bottom legs are 4" I-beams, on steel rollers. The upright is made from 4"x½" steel plate, braced with 2" angle iron.

From desk to caddy.
In Andrews' hands, an old steel desk—the kind your fifth-grade teacher sat behind—became a toolbox caddy. He set two toolboxes on top and uses the drawers to store parts and manuals. A piece of ¾" plywood mounted on the bottom creates a shelf. 

The front wheels swivel. "Despite the weight, the caddy pushes easily," Andrews says. "And the top is heavy enough that you can pound on it."

Wire racks that Andrews obtained from a video store made cheap storage when mounted along the wall. "I use them to store blocks from my hydraulic press and drill press, lengths of steel and other supplies," he says.

Andrews made shallow drawers for his workbench, using scraps of 1"-thick fiberboard with Formica on both sides (used in racquetball courts), with angle iron for the sides. The drawers rest on rails made from galvanized angle iron salvaged from an old windmill. "Both Formica and galvanized iron are kind of slick, so the drawers slide easily," Andrews says.

Double tubs from an old wringer-type washing machine proved just the right size to house a parts washer.

Andrews set the pump and washer inside one tub. He dries the parts on a grated shelf from an old refrigerator, which he laid over the second tub. The shop also includes wooden shelving and metal card-file drawers salvaged from old post offices.

The moral of the story: Bargains are all around you, just waiting to be discovered and repurposed.

You can e-mail Darrell Smith at

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