How To Scrap Transformers

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If you haven’t read my post on optimization, please be sure to check it out. It helps you determine how much money you are making vs how much time you are wasting. Definitely useful when you are trying to find the best way to make money.Scrap transformers. Until not too long ago, these things would get thrown in along with shred steel. Now, because of the rising price of copper, transformers along with other types of copper breakage (motors, alternators, magnetrons ect) are slowly becoming more and more valuable.Transformers effectively, are copper wires around a steel or ferrite core. The value of the transformer comes from the value of the copper.

Many yards will buy them at a special “Copper breakage” price, but that will not always get you the most bang for your buck: Let it be known that transformers out of microwaves have value to repairmen and DIY microwave owners. Some scrappers will save and sell this scrap metal online at auction for over 6x the scrap price. I usually find it to be a bit more hassle than I’m willing to handle.


Where to Find Scrap Transformers

  • In power supply boxes: Power supply boxes are a thing of beauty. They change the voltage, amperage, and often invert the electrical power being supplied to a device. Power supplies are commonly seen at the end of power cords, aka wall wart chargers pictured below at right. The computer power supply is pictured at left. It is much bigger, but has more than just a transformer in it. If your yard is a little more relaxed when it comes to copper breakage, they will take these. If not, then they will not.

 

mobile phone charger How To Scrap Transformerspower supply 768753 How To Scrap Transformers

 

  • Power Line Repair and Manufacturing: This may seem like a completely moot point, but remember that power lines have transformers EVERYWHERE. These transmission lines step up and step down electrical power many times before getting them to out home. The key here is to find an untapped resource in the power line manufacturing business. (I admit, that will be a tough thing to do.) Just one is very valuable, so make sure you go after these if possible. I got a transformer from a man who worked at a power company, and it had $200 of metal after I broke it apart. Below is the transformer.

 

IMG00214 20100823 1233 How To Scrap Transformers

 

  • Small transformers can be found on low grade Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) like those out of VHS players or CRT computer monitors or Scrap Televisions. These have a large amount of small transformers. In all honesty, they are usually not worth pulling out, so don’t go out of your way to scrap them.

 

How To Break Down Scrap Transformers

Once you have determined weather or not the transformers are worth the time it takes to break them apart (optimization) you need to find the most time effective way to do so!
METHOD ONE: When pulling apart a transformer, people often make the mistake of trying to attack the STEEL. They will bash and bang and smash the steel; Sledge and slam but only end up bending the steel, then maybe breaking it.
This is a problem. The key to breaking apart a transformer is to attack the COPPER. Copper is very malleable and easy to cut. You can shear or saw through the copper at one end of the transformer coils, then pull or pry the rest of the copper out the other side of the coils. This method works best for larger transformers, similar to microwave transformers.
METHOD TWO: Method 1 doesn’t always work for whatever reason, especially if the transformers are very small. That is when you should apply the next method.
The next method for scrapping transformers is to harvest the copper by attacking them with HEAT!
  1. Build a nice hot fire
  2. Fill a metal bucket with transformers
  3. Set the bucket above or in the fire
  4. Heat the transformers until they are nice and hot, about 20-30 mins, maybe less.
  5. Fill a bucket with ice cold water.
  6. Carefully pull out the metal bucket with transformers out of the fire
  7. Very quickly, pour the ice water into the metal bucket, cooling the transformers very quickly.
  8. Pull out the transformers, and they should be very weak. Many of them will just fall apart in your hands.
This method takes a little more time and effort, so be sure it is worth it!

METHOD FOR TAR FILLED TRANSFORMERS/BALLASTS:

  1. The tar in these transformers adds quite a lot of weight
  2. Each transformer is different, so you will not know how much copper is inside of the transformer
  3. You can heat these on a burner or over a fire until the tar is melted
  4. Pour off the tar to get to the insides.
  5. It may be worth your while to just turn it in “as is” as mixed metal, as you will be getting paid for the tar as well!
  6. Don’t do  this. It is not a good idea to mess around with tar. Just sell it “as is” for mixed metal
Please comment with any questions, or join or Forum

{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous March 5, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I gotta reccomend to be careful with this…
transformers are generally made in foreign countries without the toxics laws we have, import scrutiny is not nearly enough,
PCB's are present in transformers. These are extremely toxic and accumulate in your body over time. They can give you cancer. Please think of your health!!!!
just scrap "as-is" and it will save you $ in hospital bills in the long run

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ironman August 25, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Is there dangerous PCBs in the Copper Yoke at the end of the Cathode Ray Tube? It has a ferrite core so I am not sure if this is a transformer.

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David Cathey July 16, 2013 at 9:10 pm

NO PCB in a TV Yoke or Computer Monitor

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The Irrationalist March 5, 2011 at 1:25 pm

When it comes to small transformers, I will agree with you. But anything that weighs more than 30 lbs is worth taking apart, especially because you don't find things like that very often.

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relectric-joe March 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

PCB's are only contained in older oil filled units. Dry type CT's have no Oil.

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Carl June 11, 2012 at 9:57 pm

If you see a transformer with a CLEAR type oil in it or leaking out of it LEAVE IT ALONE because that is the type that has PCB’s. I ran across one the other day like this inside an old florescent light fixture. It was NOT leaking when I found it but when I CAREFULLY cut it open I saw the clear oil inside.

I don’t exactly remember how I cut it open but I did it to where if there was oil in it it would not leak. I did not use a sawsall because I was afraid it would spray oil all over if I cut into where the oil was. I think in this case I used a pair of tin snips to carefully cut and pry back the metal. I was lucky in that the case was a thin metal.

I’d say that if you are not sure of the age of a transformer just be sure to use your own version of what I mentioned above. I try to do things in such a way that I don’t turn my home into a toxic waste dump. I don’t want my family or my pets contaminated and I don’t want future generations of people affected by my present day activities.

If I run across any future transformers like this I will partially fill a plastic container with new cat litter drop the transformer in, fill it up the rest of the way with cat litter, put a lid on it and then take it to my nearest hazardous waste facility. Cat litter is the less expensive version of what they use to soak up spilled oil. Actually I believe it is the same thing.

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Loren Harder April 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Don't forget industrial lights. (H.I.D. or High Intensity Discharge – these include metal halide, high and low pressure sodium and mercury vapor) A lot of these are being replaced now days with high-output fluorescent.

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n8 October 3, 2011 at 2:56 am

Is it better to take the computer power supplies apart if so what do I take aprt. Or should I take off the case and sell as is?

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ScrapMetalJunkie October 3, 2011 at 3:41 am

Unfortunately, this is not a question I can answer. The scrap metal industry is not very “standardized” (at least, not yet it isn’t) and every scrap yard will buy different types of materials at different prices.

A power supply, for example, contains s small amount of aluminum, some copper wiring, some copper windings and a few small transformers/inductors. You could separate all of those individual metal types, and clean them all up. But that would be very time consuming, and tedious work. This is too much work in many people’s case, so they don’t bother separating out all of the metals. They will simply sell the whole unit, as-is, as “mixed metals” or “shred metal”

Some scrap yards, however, will buy a computer power supply as-is for a “transformer price” – which is to say, they know it is worth more because of it has a high copper content.

The difference in price between computer power supplies and shred metal is about 2x-3x as much. So, if you have a hundred pounds of power supplies, it would be worth finding a place that buys them for “transformer price” and not “shred price”

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n8 October 3, 2011 at 5:22 am

Thanks for the advice

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ScrapMetalJunkie October 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm

No problem. It’s hard to be moe specific because every scrap yard is looking for things to be done “their way” so you need to first consult with them.

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n8 October 5, 2011 at 1:00 am

Do most scrapyards accept the power source computer board or just through that away because try don’t accept them as transformers?

Wolter Bijleveld October 8, 2011 at 6:13 am

On the flourescent light ballasts (tar) the way I cleaned them was to open them up, you’ll have to pry them apart in a vise. When you get a bunch of them you just wack them till the tar breaks up. It’s not easy but when copper hit 4.oo several years ago I was doing a lot of things I never did before.

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Carl June 11, 2012 at 10:09 pm

The transformers I dealt with were held together by pieces of thin metal that were bent over to hold the two pieces together. I unbent them with a pair of needle nose pliers and the thing came apart easily. I could have gotten by with a pair of standard pliers. I do like your idea of whacking them. I used an old screwdriver and held the unit over a trash container to break mine up. That way it’s a bit easier clean up and I did not get tar all over the place.

One of those old transformers yielded a softball sized ball of copper. Actually it was a bit bigger than that but a softball is a good comparison.

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n8 October 16, 2011 at 5:28 am

I have found a soure of scrap called irony alluminum what is the actual term and price of this metal

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ScrapMetalJunkie October 17, 2011 at 4:00 am

Irony aluminum is a type of scrap aluminum that contains iron bearing rivets, screws, bolts, other fasteners, or small iron attachments. The value of irony aluminum depends on how your scrap yard defines irony aluminum, and what their maximum allowance of steel is. A fair price as of today would be ~40¢ per pound.

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rob December 8, 2011 at 2:39 am

what are the round black battery looking parts on the boards of tvs? are those capacitors? are they worth anything?

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ScrapMetalJunkie December 12, 2011 at 7:38 am

These are flyback transformers. They are worth copper breakage price/motor price to some scrap yards, but others will just buy them at regular shred price.

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rob December 14, 2011 at 3:58 am

flyback transformers are what you are supposed to discharge? there are like 10 on each board varying in size and different colors. im trying to make sure i dont get shocked and have read the posts but still new to this. are there capacitors in a tv?also what are the black square chips connected to the boards? what are they made of and value? what are the black metal rings that are found around wires and printer tape connectors?look like magnet or carbide material.ive torn down about 3 printers, 4 tvs and have 4more to go at the present time. i love this site and love all the info. the scrap yard near my house takes mostly everything but their prices arent near the ones you know but location matters to me seeing i only do it on the side so i like to get as much as i can out of each item.

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Scarecrow April 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm

“flyback transformers are what you are supposed to discharge? there are like 10 on each board varying in size and different colors. im trying to make sure i dont get shocked and have read the posts but still new to this. are there capacitors in a tv?”
NO. Flyback transformers are one per CRT. (The picture tube) The things you are seeing like 10 of, THOSE are capacitors, and you should use an old screwdriver or the like and short across the terminals to make sure they are discharged. Some can hold a charge a long time, but because of this, these days, most have either a diode or a resistor across it to slowly bleed off any charge. But never trust these to do the job, do it yourself, and be prepared for a loud SNAP, and there can be more than one SNAP in each. So use a clip lead, shorting across the caps leads, and that way, your gonna stay safe. And no, they have little value. If you burn them to try to recover the Al, you’ll generate a nasty smoke from the caustic paste in them. Don’t do it.
“also what are the black square chips connected to the boards?” Silicon chips. Worthless unless you can shred tons of them. On the outside, they are a plastic, with metal leads, and inside, is the silicon ‘chip’ it’s self, with tiny fine gold wires, way finer than human hairs. Some specialty houses can recover the metals and silicon, plastics, but you can’t. To you, they are worthless unless your into building your own electronics, (Like a HAM radio operator, like myself) and even then, most are worthless.
“what are the black metal rings that are found around wires and printer tape connectors?look like magnet or carbide material”
Your close. Those are called ‘ferrite beads’, no matter the shape, which is usually a torrid, actually. (Doughnut shape) Their purposes vary, from suppression of electrical noise, (like the click you can hear in your amp when the fridge kicks on) to transformers. They are made of powdered iron, under intense pressure to form their shape. (Smash one with a hammer, you’ll see! I warn you, they are hard, and don’t smash that easily) Hence the name, Ferrite. They may or may not have wire wrapped around them, or may just have the wire passed through them a couple of times. When used as transformers, they are efficient, and will be covered with the wire. You know them by shape. Always a torrid, when used as a transformer. They cost more to make, but are far more efficient than the ‘E’s and ‘I’s of conventional transformers, so we are seeing more and more of them. I don’t know the value, when clean. I should think that they would bring top price for iron, which they are, but you’d need like a ton of them to make anything.

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Mark January 2, 2012 at 8:32 pm

I’m scrapping several power supplies from PCs. Each power supply contains one large transformer, a number of small transformers and several cores around which copper wire is wound – looks different to a transformer in that there is no yellow tape wound around it.
A photo here: http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/822/dsc0147bz.jpg/
The copper wire around the core – there are 2 colours here, standard copper colour and a red colour cable.
What is this red copper cable? Is it pure copper or copper alloy?

I separate all my scrap into small bins, these are brass, alum, steel, copper, transformers, chips, goldfingers, fans, motors, batteries, ferrite cores. You can see a photo here:
http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/215/dsc0148b.jpg/
when these small bins are full, I empty them into my large outdoor bins. As you can see, I need to empty my bins for wire, alum and fans. Thought you might like to see.

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ScrapMetalJunkie January 3, 2012 at 1:28 am

Thanks for the cool pictures!

Those round shaped coils are not transformers; they are toroidal inductors. The red colored wire wrapped in your first picture around the inductor on the left is red-enameled, 99.9% pure, copper wire… The only difference it has with the other wire is that instead of a clear enamel insulator , it has a red enamel insulator. The reason it is a different color is so that it can be distinguished from the other wire, similar to white and black insulated wire in your house. The red colored copper wire is the same value as the clear colored copper wire.

Keep up the scrappin’! You should post some of this stuff in our free Metal Recycling Forum!

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bill March 29, 2012 at 8:12 pm

what grade of copper is the enameled type. Should I keep it separate from shiny bright?

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scrappy888 January 11, 2012 at 4:01 am

Mark… what is the value of fans inside the power supply…ripped one open n nothing..always thrown them away…plz explain if there is a market

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ScrapMetalJunkie January 11, 2012 at 4:43 am

The fans are electric motors. They are worth electric motor price.

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SKURDOG February 10, 2012 at 3:47 am

I recently scrapped a few PC towers. Pulled all the transformers,processor,ram,etc.To my surprise the scrap yard gave me $2.25 a pound for the motherboards.Thanks for this great site.Lots of great info. SCRAPPERS UNITE!

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ScrapMetalJunkie February 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm

No problem, Skurdog, I hope you keep coming back and using our forum!

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Aaron montgomery February 12, 2012 at 12:42 am

Hi i work at a trash company and recycle weekly. I make around 250 a week but after reading this i feel im getting ripped off. If i have pc towerz they pay 16 cents a pound for should i break down/ go sumwhere else? I also had 300 pounds n breakage, mainly electronics i cut cords from. I get 16cents as well should i get more? Transformers as well 16 cents.. I get like 8 a week too should i start seperating them? The motors as well

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bill October 1, 2012 at 5:17 am

if u make 250 fulltime gross, look for another job.

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Dan March 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Exellent web site with terrific and well written advice. I am writting a business plan now to begin an electronics recycling/refurbishing business in the Washington D.C. area. This has given me superb insight and I appreciate the knowledge that you possess and share with us all, Thank you and Regards, Dan

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ScrapMetalJunkie March 4, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Thanks Dan! Please come back to share your experiences and learn more in our Metal Recycling Forum.

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Scarecrow May 15, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I haven’t yet asked my local yard about toroidal inductors, and related items, such as the ‘yokes’ around the necks of Crts. (Which will have rather a lot of fine copper wire wrapped around them) The color of the insulating enamel may fool you. though. ESPECIALLY in microwave transformers. Old ones may be copper, newer ones, Alum. And as soon as you cut into it, you’ll know. And so will the yard. The varnish might make it LOOK like Copper, but hide Alum.
The ferrite cores, whatever the shape, are all nearly the same material, powdered iron. With slight changes in the actual makeup, and a little binder added. Shatter one with a hammer, (Put on your safety glasses!) and they shatter. Almost like glass, but not as easily. They break into chunks, not powder, though. I see no advantage to breaking them. I DO separate them, as they are pure iron. (Discounting the tiny bit of binding agent) But as noted, every yard is different in what they call each item.

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Carl June 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm

This has been one of the most helpful websites I have come across. I am a retired and disabled old man who has the time to break stuff down for recycling. I am also a newbie in spite of my age. I was always told that a computer monitor was not worth recycling. The info I got from what I call safety weenies said that if you open one up you’ll die of electrical shock or you will immediately drop dead from all the toxic chemicals inside. Then they usually had the list of chemicals used in making a monitor. I suspected they were using fancy names to scare people into leaving them alone.

My first project was an old CRT type monitor. I’m going to leave the flat screens alone. I opened it up and made sure it was discharged. I did make a few mistakes but i was pleasantly surprised to find a LOT of good bare copper. I did clean all the glue off it and any paper residue. Once I got it to the facility they deemed it number 2 copper. I did have it mixed in with some copper that came from an old tar transformer.

I want to keep up with this site. I did leave some replies that I hope were informative and helpful but if they are not please delete them. I’d love to find a way of quickly and easily removing insulation from copper wire. Right now I use a pair of electrical wirestrippers but if i use them too much the arthritis that disabled me sets into my hands terribly and makes them hurt for days afterward.

I want to eventually set up a small recycling business at my home to supplement my small retirement income. The way the economy is I would not be surprised if they did not take that away from me eventually.

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Kansas June 15, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I scrap a lot of transformers broken down to steel and copper. The recycler I sell the #2 Copper to insists that the enamel be burned off. This may violate the Federal Clean Air Act, you tell me. I have found no mention of ways to deal with this enamel on your website. For that matter, no mention of the enamel being a issue with other rcyclers. Thank you in advance for any input.

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ScrapMetalJunkie June 18, 2012 at 3:18 am

The enamel is not an issue with other scrap yards; enameled copper wire is worth copper #2 price at every scrap yard I have been too. I would suggest you try bringing your scrap metal to another scrap yard.

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slydog July 18, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Hi,im currently scraping an old mig,it has a large transformer and a smaller one.
The cores are defo copper but they are contained in a square made of lots of thin pieces of what look like copper stips compressed together.trounle is they are magnetic…any idead,your jelp woild be great as you know your scrap…great website!
Thank
Slydog

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jim August 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm

is it worth tearing apart apole transformer how much copper is in them ? and are there any risks ?

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nebrscrap August 28, 2012 at 6:34 am

Been reading this, very interesting yesterday i scrapped 4 servers
Today i tore down 33 pcs, and cut cords from pwr supplies from
11-7pm with maybe 1/2 hour break, and man are are my fingers feeling it lol middle finger and one over near pinky 2 huge blisters, and a busted knuckle on index lol

My ? And then ill throw some input in, can mini speakers be thrown with elec motors?
How hard is the copper to get out of some hp/ dell heatsinks

Are boards from keyless automotive remotes worth anything?

I believe some laptop monitors, the clear piece behind the screen is stainless

My story i first started scrapping round 07-08 by selling 2 cats from a old vehicle i had and havent looked back since :)

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nebrscrap August 29, 2012 at 4:50 am

Came out pretty good paid for my time n labor, though
Next time ill buy a electric screw gun, so i dont have 2 blisters , and
maybe some bolt cutters for my pwr supply cords

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nebrscrap August 29, 2012 at 4:51 am

Other ? Tantium resistors, are they just the brown ones ive seen on other boards or are they any resistor in a pc also

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Mi January 7, 2013 at 3:31 am

You can sell transformers on eBay or even adapt them into projects. I don’t think this is th way to make some extra cash. MOTs and Pole pigs can be used for high voltage projects but those will get you some money.

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daniel February 5, 2013 at 1:38 am

Alguem sabe me dizer, se é verdade o q eles dizem q nos transformadores de alta tensao contem prata???

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M March 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm

don’t tell people how to do this stuff we have enough johnny come lately peons in the scrap business leave this to the big scrappers and go get a job

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ScrapMetalJunkie April 8, 2013 at 8:58 am

Uh oh, all the Johnny come lately peons better watch out!

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cassandra ruppert August 25, 2013 at 2:16 pm

ok I have a question I used to work for a guy that had his own scrap yard and he told me that the end pieces (plastic) on the wires I want to say the connectors are gold is that true and would scrap yards take that

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Shannon December 28, 2013 at 11:47 am

Ive been scrapping for little while now, worked my ass off actually pretty much this whole year, nothing new in my life lol, and cant really say my hands are what girls hands should be but I had a few questions, Ive been tearing apart some old CRT monitors and hard drives along with some tvs and such, and I knew before there are thin strips of gold on the motherboards themselves, whats an easy way to separate this and how can it be sold? Also I was recently told there is actually quite a bit of gold and silver in the old electronics, Do you know what pieces these are? And where and how can I sell them?

Also the ” boob tubes” themselves as in the glass are they worth anything? The ring around the inside seems to me what looks like iron but there is also an almost chameleon looking metal attached as well what is this? Very curious to what my many injuries later has brought me. I tend to take the time to pull out every piece like some would say use every piece never waste lol,

Thanks for the helping out a fellow scrapper, I may be a girl but work just as hard as any thanks guys

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Michael Nagrurny April 17, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Id just like to say to the transformers, I do attack the metal – and some fall apart easily. what you want to do is when you get the ones where the metal plate is welded to one side, Saw about a half cm into the weld on one side and pop off the plate with a screwdriver. How you have an M shaped chunk of metal with wraps of copper wrapped around the middle rod. hold the transformer by the copper and smack the center metal rod with a hammer, Hard. It will pop out when you get it around 2 cm out, you can stick a screwdriver under it and pry it out. Now just unwind the copper. One thing that sucks about them – they are often covered in glue that comes off in hard sharp shards with the copper – wear glasses and gloves while unwinding the core if it does have that.

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thomas August 2, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I have some non PCBs transformers and I was wondering is it worth to break them down to get the cooper or just sell to the scrap yard as is I also want to send u pic of the transformers if u respond. Thanks

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ScrapMetalJunkie October 5, 2011 at 2:31 am

Your local scrap yard would love to buy it from you! (I’ve never heard of a scrap yard turning down something that has metal in it.) But the price they are willing to pay you for it is determined by them.

As noted above, they should pay you at least 10¢ per pound, as that is roughly the current price for mixed metal scrap in the US. If they are trying to appeal to the scrap computer crowd, then they should pay you more like 20¢ per pound. Call a local scrap yard to see what they’re prices are.

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