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Making do vs buying new

One of the most difficult decisions that we small-farm para-permaculturalists have to make when we need something is whether to make it out of materials that we already own, or should we buy/make something new that is designed to do the job at hand?  From a permaculture point of view, we should be minimising our inputs and using materials that are recycled or reused.  But so many times we have decided to make do and ended up creating huge amounts of rework for ourselves.

For example, our constant renovations of the chicken run before we decided to just build some decent movable pens.  At one stage we were even using the top of an old horse float as part of the chicken nest box/roosting area, with old bits of corrugated iron screwed into it, it looked AWFUL and was the first thing you saw from the kitchen window, we were both so pleased to take it to the dump (added to the scrap metal heap of course).  Another example is my husband's welder, he put up with using his 15 year old welder for home jobs (it was bought during his apprenticeship!) for many years until we decided to buy a new one.  The new welder works so much better, it is more reliable, uses less consumables and causes much less frustration.

Having put up with constantly fixing bodgy make-dos for several years, we made a new rule - buy/make/use the right tool for the job.  If we can manage ok with something that we made from recycled or found material, then that's our preference, but if it just causes us to struggle and waste time and effort, when there is a perfectly suitable and reasonably priced alternative option, then we will buy it!  Especially if we can support a local business or tradesman.

However, we have on several occasions fixed things and found that we still use them.  I have numerous garden tools with broken wooden handles that have been replaced with a stainless steel tube handles, and they are better than ever (although heavy!) especially good around campfires.  We have built our own cattle crush and yards and saved several thousand dollars as well as being able to customise the design to our needs.  For our cheese making, my husband made a cheese press from box section, rather than buying one, and I think its as good, if not better, than any design I've seen advertised.  So its not all about buying new things, just identifying when to spend time and effort making do and when to spend the money on the "proper" tools.

More recently we have been debating the same issue in regards to our BBQ.  We have dreams of owning a nice BBQ and having people over to enjoy our numerous home killed beef sausages, but unfortunately we inherited my husband's parents' old BBQ, old as in from the 70s, and this has prevented us from buying a new one without feeling terribly wasteful.  The thing is, it does work, it just looks hideous and the paint is peeling off into the food.  We'd like to cook roasts outside, but it has no hood.  My husband could make a hood, but without a sheet metal folder at home to make it, it won't look very nice and it would take a lot of effort that might be better used to achieve something else on the rest of our to-do list.  We only use it a few times a year because its unpleasant to use and difficult to clean, not a nice BBQ experience.

The nasty OLD BBQ
Finally finally finally we both accepted that the old BBQ could go to the dump (on the scrap metal heap again) and we could buy a new one.  However, the new one wasn't going to be a cheaply made BBQ that would only last a few years, if we were going to buy a new one, it had to be made to last and it had to be fit for purpose.  After much research we settled on a Weber Q 320.  Some might find that a little extravagant, but we were impressed by the workmanship, its all made from cast iron rather than sheet metal, the trolley is plastic, but that can always be replaced with a metal one, and we hope that it is the only BBQ we ever have to buy.

And, as advertised, and now proven by us in our own test kitchen, it is capable of roasting a turkey (we happened to have one in the freezer that we grew/killed/prepared earlier).

raw turkey

cooked turkey :)
How do you decide when to make do and when to buy new?  


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