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Where to Find Good Items to Hoard


     As promised last week, here is a list of stores and places where I find most of the items I like to hoard for later projects. This list is built off of my personal experiences, results may vary for you. I tried to keep the list focused on places where things are cheap because unfortunately budgets are never infinite. To kick it off, I will talk about my favorite type of stores, thrift stores.

Value Village, Goodwill, and Thrift Stores in general

     There was a time when I would go to Value Village a few times a week. The employees there even started to recognize me, that is a little bit scary. None the less, Value Village for a long time was my source of random things to hoard. It is where I got a number of the consoles in R2D2, dozens of cables, video games, a flat panel LCD monitor that is currently my second monitor (only 20 dollars!), and parts to prototype the cryostein among other things.

     Often times the items are priced by people who are not too knowledgeable of an items actual value. I once bought a copy of Chase the Chuck Wagon for the Atari 2600 for three dollars when it is really worth about fifty dollars because of its rarity. A picture of the game cart is shown below. Original Gameboys that work often go for about five dollars. I even once bought an Atari 130XE still in the box for ten dollars in great condition with the original Styrofoam and all.

chase the chuck wagon

     One of my favorite purchases was a set of walkie-talkie watches I bought for three dollars. They are the model you would normally see in the Sky Mall catalog you get on airplanes. They work surprisingly well even through walls, it makes for fun times. See the picture below for what they look like.

walkie talkie watches

     Goodwill is a competitor with Value Village. I do not go to Goodwill very often, but that is only because there never seems to be one conveniently located near me like Value Village. My sister likes Goodwill more than Value Village because Goodwill seems to have better prices for some things. Independent thrift stores can have good stuff too, but for people interested in hacking and building stuff, they don't have nearly as large of a selection as Goodwill and Value Village plus they are often overpriced.

     I have done my fair share of business on, both selling and buying. When I buy things on eBay, I look for things that are broken with problems that I can fix. This can greatly reduce the price of a given product you need. For example, I recently bought three broken original Gameboys. They all had the same issue; rows of pixels on the screens did not work. I know how to fix this issue and therefore I can buy what are essentially good Gameboys for cheap. Plus I only wanted the Gameboy and nothing extra. People don’t bundle games with broken consoles because it doesn’t really add any value to the auction.

     Be careful though, I once bought a broken PSP-1000 with poor results. I was relatively new to fixing broken consoles and I didn't think to ask the seller more questions. When I got the PSP I found out that it had already been taken apart. All of the good parts that there may have been had been substituted with very broken parts. I learned my lesson and moved on, unfortunately I was not able to get my money back because I also prematurely gave the guy a good rating.


     RadioShack (The Shack *facepalm*) is often overpriced for electronic components, not to mention that they have been scaling back that part of their stores. But recently while wandering into one of their stores for fun, I found a battery life extender for $5.45 after tax. They were on clearance from their normal price of $12.99. The device is made by Digipower, it has a charge protector circuit, a lithium ion battery that is 3/16’’x3/4’’x3/4’’, and even an LED flashlight! I am not sure yet what I am going to use this for, but it would definitely be good for a portable device that doesn’t need a large battery. You can see this battery pack in the picture below. For size reference, that is a mini USB connector plugged into the device.

digipower external battery for cell phones

     One thing I will give RadioShack stores credit for is having a huge selection of AC to DC power supplies. While they are a bit pricey, no one else in town seems to have a selection nearly the size of RadioShack’s. It came in handy for me once when I needed a power supply with a specific voltage and current rating but I didn't have the time to wait for one to come in the mail.

Ross, Marshalls, and Similar Stores

     If you prefer to buy things new, Ross and Marshalls often have cheap electronics that are good for hacking. I bought a 12V DC to 120V AC converter for about ten dollars. I have no use for it now, but it’s a cool device to have just in case.

     I also bought an alarm system for about fifteen dollars. It came with four window alarms and a central door alarm with a number pad. The number pad would be neat for a project where I need to have something activated by a programmable code. The window alarms and the central door unit all come with one reed switch each and a big ceramic magnet. I also liked that the window units each came with three button cell batteries, which are normally on the expensive side.  All of that for less than fifteen dollars!

     Ross, Marshalls, and similar stores have a lot of cool stuff if you don’t mind that what you buy may have minor defects or be of less than excellent quality.

Harbor freight

     I have never bought anything from Harbor Freight, but I have perused their catalog with a desire to buy stuff. A machinist once told me that Harbor Freight is a good source for tools if you don’t care about how long the tools last or if you know you will be abusing the tools. The prices are very cheap, but the quality of their products match the prices.

     I have read about people who buy tools from Harbor Freight to salvage parts from them. It is popular to salvage electric motors from cheap drills or salvage batteries from cordless tools. Drills have very good motors for applications that require large amounts of torque in a small package. Plus it is often cheaper to repurpose a drill then to buy a new motor and gearbox designed for custom builds.


     Universities often have surplus sales where they sell all of their old stuff for cheap. I once bought two old computer mice, a keyboard, a light bulb, and a TV remote for one dollar. There are also typically things like old projector screens, desks, office chairs, and filing cabinets. These things are not too exciting, but there are exciting things to be found elsewhere on campus.

     During the last year of my undergraduate degree, the electrical engineering department was remodeling their labs. In the process they had to clear everything out for construction and this involved opening many boxes, some of which had probably not been opened in decades. Piles of old electronics ended up getting put in the hallway with a free sign. That is where I got the HP 612A UHF Signal Generator I mentioned in last week’s article. I also took home a box of capacitors, various logic chips, old Motorola processors and memory, resistors, transistors, and lots of 3.5’’ diskettes. Most of the components were new and labeled. The logic chips were not new, but the internet has supplied me with most of the data sheets.

     The previous year I also found a large pile of free engineering text books which I quickly dove into and pulled out what seemed to be useful books. Books are my favorite source for engineering knowledge.

     As for finding these free piles, I would walk random paths to go between classes (assuming you are a college student) just to check different areas. Often times these piles were unannounced and the good stuff would go fast so check often.


     I worked at a grocery store for more than five years. I had a lot of fun working there and making friends. Management would often let me take display items home for free.  That's where I got the R2D2 Pepsi cooler. It was taking up space in the back room and Pepsi wasn’t taking it back. I think if I didn’t ask for it, it may have gotten thrown out.

     When it comes to the cheap and large displays, distributors often do not want to take them back. So this leaves two options for the store: throw it out or give it away. When I noticed things were sitting around or it looked like the manager did not like having something crowd the back room I would ask if I could take it home. If it needed to stay, it stayed no harm done, but if they did not want it anymore I could take it.

     Besides R2D2, other things I have gotten are an electric cooler for Activia yogurt, an A&W soda shelf, a plastic Gatorade shelf, a few giant inflatable Pepsi bottles, a metal Monster energy drink shelf, University of Washington Huskies tailgate tent, and giant Mikes Hard Lemonade sandals that are about three feet long. It got to the point where people would just ask me if I wanted to take something home without me asking. That is how I got the Activia yogurt cooler.

     The shelves have been great for storing all of the other things I hoard. The Sandals are just a cool novelty decoration for my apartment. I have used the tailgate tent to protect R2D2 from the sun as I worked on him, It can be seen on my PAX Prime 2010 page in one of the pictures of R2D2 being worked on.

     Every once and a while I like to search the free section of Craigslist. Most of the time there is nothing good to be found, at least for me. I have absolutely no use for free dirt. I have used craigslist to find more expensive things for cheap such as the projector in R2D2. If you don’t need something to be new, used is a good way to go because it can save a lot of money which is important for tight budgets.

Frys Electronics

     I love making trips out to Frys electronics. I could wander their aisles for days. I recently discovered though that not all Frys are created equally. My first Frys experience was at the store located in Renton, Washington. This store is large, relatively new, and it has a very high ceilings which give it a nice open feel.

     The second store I have ever been to was the store located in Manhattan Beach, California. This store was not up to par with the Frys in Renton. First, the ceilings were approximately ten foot ceilings at most which made me feel a little claustrophobic and kind of like a store I didn't want to be in. That however is not a very big deal, as long as they have what I want I should not complain. However, what really bothered me was what I found in their electronic components section. A five pack of standard LEDs cost $18.99 … I couldn’t believe what I saw. The LEDS at RadioShack are cheaper! According to Frys’ website, a ten pack of standard LEDs is only $2.99, which is a reasonable price, and I believe that is the price you would pay at the Renton store. I searched the LED section in the Manhattan Beach store trying to find an explanation for the price, but I could not find any. If anyone knows why the LED’s at Manhattan Beach are so expensive, please send me an email, I would love to know the reasoning behind the prices. I didn't bother asking anyone there because I was so confused.

     If you go to a metal supplier’s warehouse like Online Metals' branch in Seattle Washington, you can find a discount section of short pieces of metal sold at a discount. This is a good method to find raw metal for a project at a cheap price. The same thing can be done at hardware stores in their scrap wood piles except hardware stores usually give out the scrap wood for free.


     Tap Plastics is a plastic store that sells raw plastic materials such as large plastic sheets. They too, like Online Metals, have a section for discounted plastic. If I find what would normally be an expensive piece of plastic I will buy it even if I don't need it right at that moment.


     This concludes my list of stores. I hope you found it useful!



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