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Unusual Parts Source: Outdoors Store
Tech Tips, July 2010
Go to camp
Sometimes the best solution to a problem is one that is far removed. As an engineer, you likely spend some time in the electronic and industrial electrical parts stores or at least looking through a printed or online catalog. But sometimes the right tool or the right part isn't the official tool or part. By looking in some unusual places you might find better and less expensive alternatives. One possible source is a camping or outdoor store.
Several years ago, I needed to replace a fiberglass rod that was part of a transmitter loading control. The rod was about 10" long and connected the loading slider to the front-panel knob. After years of heat and use, the original rod had splintered. I called the manufacturer, who was happy to send a 3' piece (the minimum order) at some bargain price approaching double digits. I had trouble justifying the high price, so I looked elsewhere.
There happened to be an outdoor sporting store down the street, and I had an idea. I looked at the store's selection of fiberglass tent poles. There were two diameters available, and both were slightly larger than what I needed, but with a little sanding, the smaller pole fit just fine. My total cost? Less than $10.
How many times have you been working at the transmitter site and the only place to sit is on a box or overturned bucket? It's rarely comfortable. I recently saw a post with a possible solution for a collapsible chair distributed by an online tool dealer. It's a very nice chair and folds down to a compact 16" long in a 4" canister. It also costs $100.
Once again, the outdoor store has an alternative. Inexpensive camp stools can be bought for less than $20.
Bring in the hobby
Camping stores aren't the only alternative source for parts. Hobby stores are another great source, especially if you need small tools. With a little creative thinking, parts for an RC car or plane could easily be pressed into an alternative service. Browse the hobby store the next time and see what you find.
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