Strip down scrap tools and strip down your repair costs.

During the past, many of the precision tools and gages that were used every day would be used until an engineer retired and then some. Not any more. Some tools are so cheap they're considered disposable and are treated accordingly.

This change in attitude is a matter of economics. It's cheaper to make many tools offshore rather than at home. The initial purchase cost is more important to many people than is the cost of owning the tool over a long period of time. Using a micrometer as a typical example, I know retired toolmakers and inspectors who still have the first micrometer they bought 40 or more years ago, and it still works fine. During the years they may have had to get it repaired once or twice, but repairs were cheaper than buying a new tool.

Throw-away tools may be cheaper to purchase initially, but they can be more expensive over the long term, because they will be replaced many times over someone's career at ever-increasing costs. Still, with today's tools, it's often cheaper to buy a new one than to fix an old one. Few importers, if any, carry parts for them.

If you're like me, and hate to throw good stuff away, here's how you can save money, aggravation and help the environment.

Many tools are sent for repair because a knob fell off, a screw is missing or a battery cover is in places unknown. Someone with simple tools can replace such items in 5 minutes and without graduate-level schooling. If the bits and pieces are on hand and they can be installed in 5 minutes or so, that's a viable option. The need for quick fixes like these tends to occur Friday nights on the last shift before a long weekend. If such a fix is possible, everyone is saved aggravation, and no costs are incurred writing up an order and shipping tools to an outside source.

The secret to success is having the parts on hand. And, the secret of having the replacement parts in the first place is the scrap bin.

Let's use a micrometer as an example. There's one that is calibrated but headed for the scrap heap. First, strip the micrometer before it gets tossed in the bin. Remember the 5-minute comment I made? If more than 5 minutes is spent stripping the micrometer for future use, too much is being saved. Don't save anything that has a direct affect on accuracy, such as a micrometer spindle. But, locking levers or rings, ratchet or friction stops, barrels, sleeves, insulating grips and battery covers are all fair game.

Avoid going off the deep end in scavenging by keeping too many parts. When cataloging scavenged parts becomes an option, too much is being saved. Most manufacturers have two or three brands of small tools they use. The makers of those tools use many common parts across all their products. Thus, a half dozen ratchet stops from Brand A micrometers will ensure that there are enough parts to service all, or most, of Brand A's small tools. Tool cases are worth keeping as long as there is the space to do so. Remove any calibration stickers that are on them. Keep in mind that the idea in this part-replacement scheme is not to stock a warehouse. Not many parts are needed-except for the battery covers, of course.

The parts need to be organized so that they can be easily found when needed. No software is needed. What you need are baggies! Plastic resealable baggies that can be written on. Write on the baggie, or include a note in it, that the baggie contains parts for Brand A micrometers, calipers, etc. Close the bag and keep it with the others in a box-that's all. The overriding consideration is to keep it simple, and to always keep an eye on the battery covers.