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Anvils in America, THE book about anvils

Junk Yard Construction

A Philosophy, a Way of Life, a Religion

Original EC-JYH
Building from junk is an art, a philosophy and a lifestyle. Part of the art is obtaining the junk by wheeling and dealing or scrounging for it. The other part is having the imagination and talent to use the junk. The philosophy is doing as much as possible with as little as possible. The hard core junk builder would be embarrassed to have to buy so much as a piece of wire or a cotter pin. Others are happy not needing to buy new steel or at least pay no more than scrap price. And the least religious are happy to supplement anything that helps the cause.

The purist junk builder is the thriftiest of thrifty. These folks don't have credit cards or a mortgage and fresh road kill is treated like a night on the town (or a new hat or windfall trade goods. . ).

A true junk builder is a FINDER and when they find what they want they find the cheapest way to obtain it. A junk builder is efficient enough in his endevours that no time is wasted on wild goose chases.

This part of our article is about the junk yard philosophy and the tools. This article is about general methods and their application. Not about building a specific machine.

The junk builder may be rich OR poor, well educated or not, young or old. Often the most prosperous are the most hard core about not spending cash.

Patience: Part of the junk builder mentality must be patience. If you have a time schedule or are in a hurry you pay a price, usually in cash. An example is my EC-JYH above. Most of the machine was built from parts and pieces I already had. That included all the steel, the V8 engine block, the motors and one small pulley, the large pulley (off the engine block), the oilite bearing for the crank, the grease cup and all the high strength bolts. What I bought due to time constraints was the rear axle for $50, the shock absorbers for $14 ea., the wire, switch, box and fittings. Oh, and paint! The electrical supplies were half the cash outlay. The vanity paint does not count. . .

I spent a little over $100. But my old pickup truck had been sitting in the yard for a couple years and was eventually scrapped. . I could have used its axle, and low use shocks and saved the $78. The electricals could have been lower duty, not so pretty and worked just fine. I had some old leftover machine tool gray paint. And Voila' no cash outlay. I would have also had a lot of nice heavy duty parts and pieces left over for other projects. Too much sentimental attachment. . .

I could have also arc welded most of it together and reduced the build time to about one third. On the other hand the machine can be broken down in minutes due to the bolted construction. Yes, I admit, I am not a faithful junk yard builder.

Born to it. . . I do not think being a hard core junk builder can be taught. I think it is a personality trait one is born with then develops over a life time. It is possible to learn the techniques and try to follow the rules but it is a difficult religion.

Junk Yard Construction Rules The 15 commandments of the Junk Yard Builder.

Critical Mass: At some point one's scrap pile or personal junk yard reaches a critical mass where you can do almost anything you want with what is on hand. For some folks the critical mass is when the neighbors or local authorities complain about it. . . This is also the time to start making a business of it. Either use it or lose it.


This is one thing the junk yard builder will spend his precious cash on (unless he can trade or barter for it). A truck and welding equipment. Hand tools will be found, purchased or traded for at a boot sale or flea market.

The most important tool of the junker is a truck. In a third world country it would be a hand cart or jitney. . . Without a truck those great opportunities may slip away. The size of the truck is not so important as the fact that it works. A decade or older truck is just as good as new. Older is often better. A junker's truck is a working truck, not a Saturday night cowboy's weekend sports vehicle that is kept washed and waxed. A junker's truck is never empty. At the least it loaded with rope, chain, rollers, ramps . . . and some recent prizes.

Everyone specializes to some degree. Along with that specialization comes the size of the truck and the type of tools in it. A strong back only goes so far. Those who move heavy items carry some sort of rigging, rope, chains, slings, come-a-longs, rollers, pry bars or wrecking bars. Rigging is often jury rigged from scrap or junk picked up somewhere. Pipe is used for rollers and for cheaters to increase leverage on load binders, wrenches and pry bars.

24 inch crescent, 6 in. channel lock, Vise-Grips.

The needed hand tools are varied. The minimum are a pair of Vise-Grips®, a Crescent® wrench and a heavy hammer.

Size Matters:The heavier the target scrap the bigger the tools. While Vise-Grips® are limited in size, Crescent®, pipe and wrench Channelock® pliers come in huge sizes with spans of 6".

Having been a professional mechanic I believe in the right size wrench for every job. "Universal" fit tools are not used unless there is no other choice. . . But the junker's creed is the opposite. One tool fits all -- if possible.

The Oxy-Acetylene Torch

Once called a "Forge" because you could heat, cut, weld and braze with it, similar to a blacksmith's forge, it is also popularly called a "fire wrench" by many because it can loosen rusted bolts and remove them if necessary. A cutting torch can be used in the field to reduce structurals and plate to transportable size. For this reason alone anyone doing serious metalwork needs one. For the junker and scraper the torch is the ultimate disassembly tool. For anyone building with steel the torch is often used to cut plate to size and shape. With a cutting capacity up to 6" hand held this is definitely a one-size-fits-all tool.

The oxy-acetylene torch set is half of the universal fabrication set, the other being the arc welder.

Oxy-Propane: This is often more economical and more available for heavy cutting and heating but does not weld well. It is a handy option in the shop with propane heat or forges in the even that one runs out of acetylene.

Plasma: In many cases the oxy-acetylene torch is being replaced by the plasma torch. The advantage of the plasma torch is it will cut stainless and leaves a cleaner cut than oxy-acetylene. The disadvantages are its high-tech and requires electricity thus a portable generator. It is also limited in thickness of cut compared to oxy-acetylene which can easily cut 2 to 6" (50 to 150mm) using a hand held torch. But in very remote areas the generator is easier to maintain than oxy-acetylene cylinders.

The Arc Welder

This is primarily an assembly tool and probably the most important invention of the 20th Century. It is cheap and efficient, working anywhere there is electric power or a portable generator. Some are even designed to operate off auto/truck electrical systems (or replace them).

For its productivity an arc welder (either AC or AC-DC) is one of the most cost effective tools in any shop. It can be used to weld, wrought, carbon steel, alloy steel, stainless steel and ductile iron.

A MIG (Metal Inert Gas) or "wire" welder is faster and cleaner but requires clean metal to weld and is a higher maintenance tool having more to go wrong. In a shop that does a lot of welding they are a necessity.

A TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) or "HeliArc" welder is primarily needed for aluminium and small welds in stainless and alloy steels. This is a hard core welder's tool used in shops that work all types of metals. It is rarely a junk yard builder's tool.

As a minimalist and for efficiency the junker scrapper carries few tools but may have a vast collection. In their efforts they may also have a collection of machine tools and full collections of mechanics tools. Since many are involved in heavy equipment they may have socket and wrench sets up to 3" or more. This doesn't mean they are not as hard core as they come. This means they are FINDERS and have amassed a lot of equipment to maintain.

Part 2 : Junk Yard Construction Methods Techniques for Building with Junk and Scrap.

Part 3 : Suggestions for Repurposing Junk

Junk Yard Construction Rules The 15 commandments of the Junk Yard Builder.


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