There are several things that you will want to research BEFORE you take apart any vintage electronic item.
As we discussed before, research Completed Items on EBay, and determine which components are worth selling. Again, you should know ahead of time which assemblies are better sold whole, and which assemblies should be broken down into even smaller components, or individual parts.
I have also provided you with an excellent free resource in the Links which describes in detail how to disassemble many different large electronics and appliances for scrap value.
Once you have an idea of which parts you will be removing for sale, take your item to a location where you can make a mess, but not lose any small parts. A large table top or countertop works well.
Gather your tools. The tools you will use most often are: both types of screwdrivers, needle-nose pliers, wire cutters, an adjustable wrench, a hammer (Oh, yeah! Breaking’ stuff is fun!), a magnet, several large vinyl trash bag, and safety glasses and gloves.
You can expedite the process with a cordless drill or power screwdriver with both driver bits. A power rotary tool (Dremel) with a supply of cut-off disks and a drill bit is well worth the investment, if you do not have one. I use mine constantly.
You may also need a set of sockets, and you will occasionally find exotic screw heads like star bits and Allen wrench heads, but if you have a Dremel, you can cut off the screws, or make them into standard screwdriver heads by slicing them with the cut-off disk. You will also use the Dremel often for cutting off rusted or stripped screws and bolts. It also cuts through thick copper cord insulation like butter, saving you tons of time!
Please heed a word of caution. Before you start breaking stuff, make sure you know what you are doing. Remember, in the 1950s and 60s, nobody even knew what a ‘health code violation’ was. Old electronics and appliances can contain some nasty stuff. There is mercury inside some old glass switches and components, for instance. You should not open anything that is sealed in glass, or welded shut, unless you know for sure what is inside.
OK, now that we got that out of the way, let’s break some stuff. Start on the outside and CAREFULLY remove any decorative items, advertising badges, knobs, feet, etc., that you can sell. Remember, the plastic is going to be old and brittle on vintage items. If you snap the emblem in half, it is worthless. Believe me, I have broken some, even though I was being very careful. Even the glass in the display covers is more brittle in many older components.
After the outer pieces are removed, check eBay Completed Listings to see if the outer shell of your item can be sold. Often, the shells and cases of audio components, and even rotary telephones can be sold.
I usually start by using the cordless drill and unscrewing all of the screws that I can see on the outside of the device. Remove the outer shell, or the access panel to get at the interior of the item. If the shell is going to be sold, put it in your ‘Sell’ pile. If it is not going to be sold and it is plastic, throw it in your trash bag. If it is metal, hit it with a magnet. If it is ferrous, throw it in your ‘Steel’ pile. Sometimes the shell will be aluminum and should be saved in its own pile with other aluminum.
I save all of my screws, bolts and other connectors, as well. I put them all in a large coffee can. When it’s full, I intend to sell the lot on eBay in the vintage electronics category for about $20. I also sometimes use various screws when I need them for household repairs, or sometimes screws are sold with components, and I need to replace a couple that I lost. Occasionally, you will find screws and bolts made of solid brass or aluminum. Save these in their respective scrap pile.
Now that you are into the interior of the item, find the components that you are looking to sell, and remove them. Put them in your Sell pile. Save the screws and attachments that affix the items that you are going to sell if possible and sell them with the component. If you lose a screw, do not worry about it. The screws are just for insurance, in case the buyer needs them. They are not required.
Try to avoid clipping wires connected to components that you plan to sell. Carefully pull wires that have jacks or plugs from their ports using needle-nose pliers. Remember, your buyer is going to be hooking the component into his system, and is not going to want to splice wires, if it is avoidable.
If there are multiple components available to buy on eBay, and some of the listings have the entire wires, with the plugs, and yours have clipped ends, your item will not get many bids, or will not sell if it is a fixed price auction.
Once all of your sellable components have been removed, the fun starts. Take one last look, and see if there might be anything else that you could sell that you did not find on eBay before. When you are satisfied that everything that could be sold has been removed, you are ready to start scrapping.
You should realize that there are also whole components that can be sold as scrap, on eBay, via an E-Scrap website, or at your local scrap yard. Internet sites such as Boardsort.com offer fixed prices for items such as computer hard drives, circuit boards, cellular telephones, and computer power supply boxes. You should check these sites so that you know what you will be saving, and the prices that are offered. Several of these sites are listed in the appendices of this document, with hyperlinks to their websites.
Now that you know what you are looking for, get out your USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes. Label the boxes with the materials that you intend to place in them. In addition, you will need extra-large boxes or totes for ferrous steel, and medium and low class circuit boards. You will have a lot of these materials.
I normally collect a fair amount of vintage electronics and appliance parts before I have a disassembly session, so that I can get a lot of scrap to sell at one time.
When I start scrapping, I always have the following Large Flat Rate boxes ready for material collection: Bare Copper, Insulated Copper, Bare Brass (It is OK to have copper attached to brass, and most scrap yards allow chrome covering over brass, as well), old aluminum, shiny aluminum (often aluminum heat sinks), and a smaller box for silver and gold contacts and components I intend to break down for precious metal content.
If there are computer hard drives in the pile, they usually require their own special boxes for material that will be sold separately, or sent to Boardsort.
I usually keep another box of copper / aluminum heat sinks, and later take the Dremel to the copper wire. If you use the cut-off disk on the Dremel, you can slice the copper all the way down to the spool, and then peel off the copper. Place the copper in your shiny copper box, and save the heat sink bases. They are often stainless steel, and can be sold separately at scrap yards for decent money. You will find a lot of large heat sinks in old electronics and appliances. I found a heat sink several days ago in a 1950s industrial washing machine that had ten pounds of copper spooled inside it. The stainless base weighed 18 pounds.
I also save all of my plug ends from electrical cords in a box, and later peel the prongs off with pliers or cut open the plug end with the Dremel, and remove the metal. Older plug have brass prongs, and most newer plugs are made of shiny aluminum. You are required to cut the plug ends off of copper electrical cords before you can sell them at the scrap dealer, so you will be cutting off the plug ends, anyway.
Boardsort also offers a fixed rate for wire and cord connectors that contain gold. Many computer connectors that resemble bristles at the ends, or have many tiny holes contain small amounts of gold and silver. Ribbon ends also frequently contain precious metals. You may decide to save these connectors in a box, and sell them on eBay, as well.
Most scrap dealers also buy components containing copper as ‘Copper Breakage’ or ‘Electric Motors’. Save components containing copper in a box. Many of these components can also be easily broken open with a hammer or cut open with a Dremel, and then you can remove the copper and brass pieces that are inside to maximize your profits.
Make sure that you are keeping an eye out for precious metal contacts while you are scrapping. Old electronics and appliances can have relatively large contacts that are often pure silver, and sometimes gold. Look on the ends of brass and copper fingers where wires are connected, inside all electric motors, and inside any components that spin at high speeds or generate a lot of heat.
Contacts can range in size from the width of a pencil lead all the way up to the diameter of a large watch battery. Many gold contacts will be bright and shiny gold-colored buttons. They are easy to spot, as gold does not tarnish. Silver contacts can be more difficult to find, as they are often dulled and tarnished with age, and can blend in with the base material.
If you are unsure if the contacts are silver or gold, lightly scrape them with a screwdriver, or hit them with the Dremel disk. The will be bright and shiny under the exterior coating of grime. If you’re still not sure, test with your gold tester, or throw them in your ‘Gold and Silver’ box and refine it with the rest of the material in the box later.
When you find good contacts, clip the button of silver or gold off, and then keep the base material for brass or copper scrap. Don’t waste the whole brass or copper finger by refining it in your gold and silver material.
When you fill up the Flat Rate boxes, photograph the materials inside, weigh the box (take a photo of the box with the scale read-out), label the box with the weight, and then list the material on eBay, or save it to take to the scrap dealer.
The last step is the most important. Make sure that you clean up your mess after you are done bashing electronics! If you do your business inside, your significant other will not be happy with the end result of your destruction. If they are not happy, then you will not be happy either, right?
If you have an outdoor shop or disassembly area, you should still clean up the mess. Metal pieces can be sharp, and kids or pets can get cut on them