So Jay mentioned that the Horadric cube will most likely not be in D3 but there will be a way to craft items. So here is my idea:
You collect regular weapons/armor and magic items and take them to town. There will be a merchant who you can pay to breakdown the regular weapons/armor into materials. Steel, leather, cloth, wood, etc. In addition to this you go to another merchant to remove magic abilities from other weapons/armor that you are not going to use or have replaced. (These magic attributes would not remain the exact same as they are on the current item but in similar attributes such as + magic effects, + melee effects, etc..) these "magic essences" could having varying degrees similar to gems from D2. After you have each of these item broken down you could go to another merchant and pay them to create new items from these materials.
I take a damaged broad sword and have it broken down into steel parts. Then I find a piece of armor with low defense but +plus to strength and + to life (melee attributes), I take it to a merchant and obtain a "magic essence" Then I go to a third merchant and have them make me a new axe that would have + to damage from these two parts. Tada, a useful new magical item for me to equip from a broken sword and armor I wasn't going to use.
This would not only create a viable gold sink but there could be some really rare items you could craft. Also, I don't think Diablo needs professions but this could be a way to craft without it being character specific. You would not break down items that wouldn't benefit you so you still don't have to pick up everything or you could still vendor trash a lot of items.
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I like the idea of sacrificing some old junk to create a new weapon with the magical properties you want. This will also create a small goldsink, as you said.
What I do think is that it is quite a long road before you actually have the item, which breaks up gameplay. I think this whole process could be done at a master blacksmith. You give him the old weapon, the magic thingy and some gold and he gives you a new weapon with the properties you want.
Again I do like the idea, especially having some influence in the end result of the item. I do think there has to be a chance it won't be exactly what you are looking for. Maybe part of the magic's essence is lost so only 50% is on the new item, or a random number between 50% and 100%.
I could go on and on, but I'll stop for now. Nice idea, but like all ideas it'll need some refining.