“One man’s scrap is another man’s treasure” – Angus Lindsay praises the inventors among us, but gives a fair warning

I doubt very much that anyone reading this won’t, at some point, have come across a pile of scrap, either on their own premises or that of a supplier, contractor or workshop. Machines, bits of metal and general junk all tends to congregate in the corners of the yard, behind a building or under a workbench. Scrap to some, to others it can be an inventor’s toolkit, the place you’ll find that one important component that costs a fortune and isn’t in stock anywhere.
The question is: when does scrap become scrap?

I suppose in today’s world it’s no longer classed as ‘scrap’, but ‘recyclable material’. The days of going down to the ‘scrappy’ to get a part for your car have changed, as the oil-soaked scrap yard patrolled by an angry Alsatian has now become a highly efficient vehicle-dismantling operation. To a certain extent it’s the same with the machines we operate, though they tend to get recycled in a slightly different way – in the case of power tools, stripped down to their component parts to be used as spares.
Take care not to get carried away, though; equipment is changing all the time, and a stock of old engine covers, fuel tanks, pull starts and the like soon becomes obsolete as manufacturers change model types. It’s very easy to hold onto things ‘just in case’, but before you know where you are, you’ve started to hoard junk. You need to exercise an element of control and ruthlessness, even if it’s just to free up some space.

On the other hand, the scrap pile can be a great source of inspiration and material when it comes to an in-house adaptation, or the construction of something that the manufacturer didn’t include in their accessory list. Fabricating storage racks for strimmers, boxes for spare parts, bumper bars, additional carrying frames – all manner of labour-saving ideas usually start life in the scrapheap, following a bit of head scratching and scribbling. The farming press regularly runs articles featuring inventions that have been knocked up in the workshop to save time and labour; in some cases, they’ve even been adopted by manufacturers.

Be careful when designing in-house variations to equipment, though, and in particular any alterations to existing manufacturers’ components, guarding or safety systems. Your novel one-man transportation/cutting/collection/cleaning/disposal fandango combination may save you time, but is it safe and compliant? Have your alterations affected the structure of the machine (which could void any warranty)? What would happen in the event of an accident? A failure attributable to the alteration of a piece of equipment or untested component will not be covered by your insurer, and could land you in serious bother.

I’m not trying to discourage budding inventors – they’re what made Britain great, and we have a proud heritage of inventing many of the things we take for granted today. Just don’t get carried away. Sense check what you’re doing; if necessary, engage a third party to build a prototype, check with the manufacturer or a supplier, or speak to industry bodies such as BAGMA (the British Agricultural and Garden Machinery Association) for advice.

I’m all for saving time, effort and cost by making tasks simpler and more efficient, but not to the detriment of safety, so consider any changes before you get carried away with the gas axe and welder. There may be a very good reason why your time-saving idea hasn’t been done before!

Angus’s blog article is also published in the August 2017 issue of Pro Landscaper magazine.