Dear Umbra,

We recently replaced the doorknobs in our place, so we have a fistful of old yet working doorknobs I’d hate to just toss. What to do with this and other perfectly good hardware?

R.B.M.
Arlington, Va.

Dearest R.B.M.,

This answer goes out to you, but also to all your fellow home remodelers out there. One person’s old doorknob is another’s period-restoration item, as the adage goes.

Don’t knock it.

You can, of course, try to sell your knobs on the internet. I just amused myself by looking at doorknobs on eBay. Is it truly worth the effort to list, monitor, and ship a $6 doorknob? Your call, but I wouldn’t bother. Take the knobs to your closest architectural salvage or used building-materials business. And be sure to allow extra time for mesmerized wandering — these places are addictive, and dangerously tempting. (Last time I was in one, 3,000 miles from home, I slowly became convinced that a six-foot-long, four-foot-deep Coca-Cola drink cooler was just the retro touch for the Grist office.)

You know I love the Three R’s, but with home improvement and repair, it isn’t always possible to Reduce — there is a good argument for the necessity of kitchen sinks. Salvage joints, however, provide fabulous opportunities for us to Reuse the refuse of others, and leave our refuse for others to Reuse. A typical salvage business not only accepts the random doorknob, but actively participates in saving usable objects from homes, hotels, and schools. My local salvage joints have usable windows, doors, kitchen cabinets, sinks, hinges, and heat registers; pressed-tin ceiling panels from the opera house, entire porch dormers, light fixtures, and hot tubs; massive bookshelves from an elementary school, re-milled tongued flooring, and scrap quarter-round molding. Among other things.

So who knows, you might walk in with your old doorknobs and walk out with a new door. It’s not always cheaper to shop at these stores — and after hard experience I do not recommend buying old plumbing fixtures — but I always think it’s worth keeping an eye out. The best way to begin exploring your area’s excellent building-salvage businesses is to ask a junkhound friend. If she doesn’t know, there’s always the yellow pages — under “Building Materials-Used” — or the internet. One general site I found had a short national list of architectural salvagers, but I think you’ll turn up more with your own specific search. After all, now that the remodeling is done, you’ve got all that spare time on your hands.

Joyously,
Umbra