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How Many Nuts, Bolts And Screws Is A Person Worth?

June 2, 2020



I dropped it!

Do you have another one?

My son-in-law and I were working on my daughter’s car. We were replacing the alternator. I was doing the disassembly. Car repairs take place in three steps.

1. Disassembly
2. Repair
3. Reassembly

Step 2 is by far the shortest step. Often Step 1 takes the longest. Even if you are working on a car you’ve worked on before, lots of times it’s a new part of the car. I was removing a bolt that held the alternator. At least I thought it was a bolt, all the way up until the nut that it turned out to be came loose from the bolt and dropped into the hidden bowels of the engine compartment.

It might have dropped into the fan housing. It might have dropped into a spot under the alternator. It also might have fallen all the way through the engine into the loose gravel that covered his driveway.

I didn’t give up, of course. It was 45 min each way to the nearest hardware store. And it was a critical nut. We got magnets and mirrors and went over every inch of the inside of the engine compartment. It was nearly an hour before we finally admitted defeat.

Did my son-in-law have an extra one? Every DIY repair person has a jar, or a can full of old nuts and bolts. But, matching up a particular bolt to the right nut isn’t as easy it seems like it should be.

See, there’s fine thread or course thread. Metric or SAE (that’s inches and fractions.) There’s left and right hand threads. There’s steel, brass, even plastic nuts and bolts. And, of course the actual size of the bolts. And bolts come in different lengths. All those choices mean that finding the exact right match isn’t always easy.

Sometimes you have to head to the hardware store. But, even there, the choices can be overwhelming. You are confronted by all these choices.

It’s kind of like looking up a word in the dictionary to figure out how to spell it. You can’t find it unless you already know how to spell it.

Okay, kids, this was before Google let you type in the letters

vetranarian or leutenent

And figures out you meant

veterinarian and lieutenant

(Why, yes, my daughter is a second lieutenant and just became a full-time Army veterinarian, but that has nothing to do with my example.)

Anyway, the point is that if you don’t already know what you are looking for, it’s a frustrating task.

The picture above is the screw aisle at a local big box hardware store. I don’t go there anymore for screws. Instead I go to our local Ace Hardware store. It’s Allred’s Ace Hardware in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Here’s a picture of their screw aisle.

Other than the color red rather than green, they look a lot the same. Here’s the difference.

That guy in the red vest is helping those people find exactly the bolt they are looking for. Any idea what a typical 2″ long bolt costs? About $0.87. How can it possibly cost effective to have a guy dedicated to hunting down eighty-seven cent bolts?

It’s not. And it totally is. I know if I walk into Ace with my old bolt, or with a bolt/nut/screw question, that guy in the red vest is going to spend as long with me as I need to find exactly the right part. The kid at the big box store not only isn’t going to help me do that, but he doesn’t know how.

Cost of the bolt: $0.87
Finding the exact right bolt: Priceless

Oh, and my son-in-law had a spare nut that was the right size.

Buy local when you can.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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