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Old 03-10-2011, 09:26 PM   #1
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Default Cost/Availability of parts

WARNING: This is a rant.

So I'm a pretty handy guy. I am good with my hands. Do some woodworking. Was a pretty good machinist in a previous life. Was also a mechanic for a while.

When it comes to homebrewing, I am gung-ho about making the things I need to save some dough. I figure I can make many of the things I need:

1. For quite a bit less money
2. Exactly how I want it
3. Of comparable or higher quality that similar items I can purchase

So I live in a po-dunk(ish) town. But I have easy access to Home Depot, Lowes, Ace and Radio Shack.

Issue #1
When I built my stir plate, I happened to have nearly everything I needed - the enclosure, fan, magnets, on/off switch, power supply. The only thing I needed was a rheostat (potentiometer) for speed control. So I go to Radio Shack. It's a small one, but this is the only thing that Radio Shack is good for, right? They have one tiny isle for electronics components and the rest of the store is for cell phones, remote control cars and other toys and stuff. No potentiometer. I asked an employee for help and had no clue what a pot or rheostat even were! He suggested that I go to Target. Gah!

Issue #2
I am going to build an immersion chiller. So I go to HD. The closest place that should have everything I need. I make my way to the plumbing section, find a roll of 3/8 soft copper and park myself in front of the fittings. I'm not seeing any 1/4 elbows or m/f hose adapters so I look for someone to help. After hunting someone down (HD employees flee like mice when they see someone who looks like they may need something) I ask and she says that they don't sell copper. Huh? They do - see? It's right there! She says "Oh. You should ask Buck about it, then. He's real good with that stuff." Okay. Who the crap is Buck?!? She's already trying to get away and I push back and she leads me to a guy a couple isles over. She generously repeats my question to Buck who answers without ever looking in my general direction that they don't sell 1/4" copper. I start to ask if he has any other suggestions (stepping to a different size, even - I'm all ears) and he says no. Suggests that I hire someone because plumbers can get the parts.

So now I'm off to Lowes! I get there, find the roll and - holy cow! They have 1/4" elbows! But only 3 of them. So I decide that I'm not in the market to use a 1/2" coil so I can get 3/8" elbows. So I grab the elbows, the copper roll, bushings and couplers to step up enough so I can attach the M and F hose ends. Check out. $95 bucks. $95 for the parts to make a modest, 20' 1/2" immersion chiller. I'm not saving anything! I can buy a prefabbed one for that and it will be good quality.

Issue #3
MLT. So I got a suitable cooler, already had a stainless braided hose left over from a bathroom remodel I did a few years back. Just need a 1/2 stainless ball valve, barb to MIP fittings, etc. Just for the barbed fitting for the output. That one piece is listed for 6 bucks in the store (but 2.61 online). I just left at that point, knowing that I'm going to spend an hour digging though their stuff to find the bits I need (which are in the wrong place half the time) and end up with another $60 purchase for something that should be 20 according to everyone else online who seems to be able to make these things for less than just buying them.

I am cheap. I know I am. But what the hell is going on?!? Do I live in the twilight zone or something? Some alternate world where plumbing supplies are worth their weight in gold?

Argh!!!

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Old 03-10-2011, 09:29 PM   #2
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Wait until you need a SS Elbow Joint or 6.

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Old 03-10-2011, 09:35 PM   #3
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I hear ya, even when you have access to a million different stores being in a big urban area like I am it's still hard to find the DIY parts you need at a good price.

Stainless fittings are tough to get at big box stores.. you're going to have to look online for those. For the 3/8" copper, you could have just used 3/8" compression fittings right? Those are readily available at HD or Lowes.

On the electronics stuff, I live in the electronics heart of America (Silicon Valley) and even I have a hard time finding parts sometimes. I'm lucky enough to have a few electronics surplus stores nearby that carry alot of this stuff - but for some odd reason I was having a really hard time finding green 10AWG copper hookup wire for my electric brew panel. No problem finding black or red, but green was nowhere to be found. Sheesh.

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Old 03-10-2011, 09:39 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bruin_ale View Post
For the 3/8" copper, you could have just used 3/8" compression fittings right? Those are readily available at HD or Lowes.
I considered those, but for an immersion chiller and its bit temperature swings, I was nervous to use a compression fitting. If a fitting failed, it would end up wrecking a batch.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bruin_ale View Post
On the electronics stuff, I live in the electronics heart of America (Silicon Valley) and even I have a hard time finding parts sometimes. I'm lucky enough to have a few electronics surplus stores nearby that carry alot of this stuff - but for some odd reason I was having a really hard time finding green 10AWG copper hookup wire for my electric brew panel. No problem finding black or red, but green was nowhere to be found. Sheesh.
I used to live close to a Fry's... Oh, those were the days...
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Old 03-10-2011, 09:42 PM   #5
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yeah Fry's is awesome, but even they didn't have the stupid 10AWG green wire. They did have some tempting deals on blu-ray players though.. Had to get out of there before I wasted more money on something I don't really need right now.

BTW, on the compression fittings - yes, they can leak so I hear you on that. I wrapped mine in duct tape and covered with plastic and made sure that when the immersion chiller is in the boil kettle the fittings are bent over the top of the kettle and any leaks will go on the ground and not in the kettle. Just bought a plate chiller though, so no more of that mess for me

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Old 03-10-2011, 10:10 PM   #6
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Look, Home Depot and Lowes are warehouse stores basically for the homeowner. Home Depot is not a plumbing supply store. Home Depot, or for that matter, any brick and mortar operation, has alot higher overhead costs than any internet operation. You pay for that higher overhead by paying higher prices for the convienence of having it now. Because Lowes and Home Depot are basically warehouses that allow the public to help themselves, you are going to find things out of place. Home Depot or Lowes also can not afford to hire plumbers to man their plumbing section, so all too often you will get that deer in the headlights look when asking a question. It is what it is.

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Old 03-10-2011, 11:15 PM   #7
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I am a motivated DIY'er when it comes to homebrew stuff, but admittedly I'm not all that handy with your typical around-the-house repairs or remodeling. Where I see the biggest savings is by doing my due dilligence to shop around for the best deal. I invest time instead of money (I work 40+ hours a week for the money, this is a hobby).

Sorry you didn't have good luck/experiences at your local retail stores but Sawdustguy is correct - retailers already paid for the freight, packaging, etc and now have to cover overhead like paying the morons working behind the counter. Even if you live in a po-dunk town, UPS or USPS should still deliver there. My recommendation is to start shopping online and only run to the retail stores if you have as "oh s**t!" moment and need something urgently.

I built a 50' CFC for $75, my weldless brewstand for <$150, my pumps, fittings, hoses etc would not even have been available at the store, and my (3) 25gal kettles with lids were $70/ea. It can be done, and cheaply.

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Old 03-10-2011, 11:20 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike_A View Post
I am a motivated DIY'er when it comes to homebrew stuff, but admittedly I'm not all that handy with your typical around-the-house repairs or remodeling. Where I see the biggest savings is by doing my due dilligence to shop around for the best deal. I invest time instead of money (I work 40+ hours a week for the money, this is a hobby).

Sorry you didn't have good luck/experiences at your local retail stores but Sawdustguy is correct - retailers already paid for the freight, packaging, etc and now have to cover overhead like paying the morons working behind the counter. Even if you live in a po-dunk town, UPS or USPS should still deliver there. My recommendation is to start shopping online and only run to the retail stores if you have as "oh s**t!" moment and need something urgently.

I built a 50' CFC for $75, my weldless brewstand for <$150, my pumps, fittings, hoses etc would not even have been available at the store, and my (3) 25gal kettles with lids were $70/ea. It can be done, and cheaply.
What $70 25 gal kettles do you have?
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Old 03-11-2011, 07:25 AM   #9
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What $70 25 gal kettles do you have?
They can't be stainless for that price.
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Old 03-11-2011, 12:53 PM   #10
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For potentiometers, you might want to try a guitar parts supply, such as Stewart-MacDonald. I'm not sure if a guitar pickup pot would work the way you need it to, but I figured I'd toss it out there...

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