Tuesday, January 4, 2022

American Craftsmanship

Almost everything you buy is crap. Crap and garbage, slapped together from the cheapest material possible, made by low IQ virtual slave labor in third world nations. People with no ownership in the company or the product, often probably not even understanding what the product they produce is used for, are going to churn out an inferior product. What is worse, most of that inferiority is by design, all part of the cycle of buying new crap to replace the crap you bought six months ago and already broke. Designed obsolesce and intentional overcomplexity are hallmarks of modern manufacturing. 

Case in point. I am no one's idea of a mechanic. Even the basics terrify me. I can change a flat tire and I know how to change my oil but I still go somewhere to get it done. But I try when I can to do little stuff. We had two simultaneous tail light issues on two different vehicles, one due to me backing into something and breaking the taillight fixture on my truck and one thanks to a burned out rear turn signal on our big van. On the big van, it is (hopefully) just a burnt out bulb but on the truck the whole thing was cracked. Still worked but it looked bad. So here is the repair process on both:

The truck is a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500. I ordered an entire taillight assembly, brakes/running/turn/reverse lights in the frame. To replace it I dropped the tailgate, pulled out two bolts, popped a retaining clip holding the power source, swapped the light assembly and put it back in place. Two screws back in and done. The whole thing took maybe 5-6 minutes from start to finish.

The van is a 2016 Chevrolet Express 3500, the big one ton 15 passenger van. To replace the turn signal on the rear you need to get the taillight assembly off. There are two 10mm bolts to remove. Simple, right? Not so fast. There is a third bolt to remove. But to remove that, you have to pull off a piece of the plastic trim held in place by yet another bolt. And of course the plastic assembly doesn't come all the way off so you need to swing it out of the way as best you can so you can jam the socket under the plastic and unscrew the bolt. Now the taillight assembly is loose but it is set on a pin so you have to wiggle it around until it comes loose. Then and only then can you access the bulbs and the first time I did this I found that the bulb Amazon said would fit did not in fact fit my van so the new one comes today and I have to do it all over again. It is at least twice as cumbersome and difficult to replace a single bulb as it was to replace an entire light assembly. 

An 11 year difference in manufacturing resulted in a far more complex process. This is true across the board. Look under the hood of an older vehicle. You usually can see everything you might ever need to work on right in front of you and easily accessible. Opening a hood on a newer car and you find everything is assbackwards and requires a mechanic to fix. 

People get a little thrill from buying stuff so feeding them a steady supply of cheap crap to buy gives them that same little dopamine fix every time. So they feed that urge with cheap consumer goods that we all know will need to be replaced quickly. 

It wasn't always this way. For example, lots of old appliances still work after many decades of service. One thing that Americans and Europeans have always done well and still do is making guns. Lots and lots of them. I saw this video yesterday and found it absolutely fascinating....


According to Wikipedia, over 2.3 million American made M1917 rifles were produced and presumably were all made just like the video shows. No computers, no CNC machines. They were made by hand by craftsmen. It cracked me up that some of the guys working were wearing ties to make rifles. Millions made, by hand, and they had to be uniform and reliable enough to use for combat purposes and to fire mass produced ammo. That is harder than it sounds. I don't know why but that old timey manufacturing just really fascinates me. I was born a century too late.

We still make guns in America. Virtually every AR-15 is made here and are made of interchangeable, basically universal parts. The volume is staggering. Anderson Manufacturing makes around 800,000 stripped lower receivers every year (as of 2017, it is probably much higher now), using state of the art CNC machining. I have shared this video before but I really liked it....


Say what you will about Poverty Ponies but Anderson makes solid stuff, like Palmetto State, Ruger and Smith & Wesson, and of course the higher end places as you go up the line to Aero and Rock River, Stag Arms, Adams Arms, Daniel Defense, Colt and Sons of Liberty Gunworks. That isn't to say there aren't crappy manufacturers in America, there certainly are and there are some brands of AR I won't stock, but generally they are very well made. This is another cool video I just ran across today from Mrgunsngear at DRG Manufacturing. They make AR parts, the one robot they show makes 13,000 bolt carrier groups per month.  ....



Americans don't have a monopoly on firearms of course. The Chicoms make some crappy guns, the Japs made some shotguns and rifles for Browning for a while, and of course Mother Russia cranks out Arsenal AKs and others that will last long after I am dead. But Europeans and Americans are the best in the business by an enormous margin. My boys at Beretta in Italy have been doing it for over 500 years and their double guns are second to none, the higher end ones being literal works of art like this one 


Magnifico! That video gives me chills every time I watch it. 

Still there is a unique culture when it comes to firearms for heritage Americans. Guns are what won our revolution and the conquest of the North American continent. They protected our homesteads from Indians and put food on the pioneer's tables. Fathers teaching their sons to shoot and hunt was a rite of passage for so many American men and those homegrown marksman then went on to use those skills in Europe and the Pacific. Our guns are part of who we are and the craftsmanship that goes into making those firearms is as much a part of America as the Constitution, apple pie and Chevrolet.

That is what the gun-grabbing neo-Bolsheviks don't understand. It isn't just "a gun", it is a physical manifestation of who we are as Americans, the true Americans who are descendants of dissidents and pioneers from Europe. It represents to us liberty and independence. For me to relinquish my firearms would be to voluntarily enslave myself to the whims of tyrants. I won't and tens of millions of heritage American won't either. It will mean bloodshed to try to make us. From my cold, dead hands isn't just a bumper sticker slogan.

While we don't make nearly as much as we used to in the U.S. and what we do make is of increasingly dubious quality, one thing we still mostly do in America and do as well or better than anyone else is make firearms. Whether the craftsman forged receivers by hand or use CNC machines, it is still a craftsmanship to be marveled at and accorded honor. 

13 comments:

  1. The throw-away world is a curse. I cannot tell you how many things I've taken the time to repair over the years. Stuff most people would not have a clue to even try.

    Example. Nice lady friend from our VFW post broke an ear off the lettuce drawer in her fridge. Manufacturer wants $174 plus shipping for replacement drawer.

    20 mins measuring and CAD design made a part to sister onto the drawer. 30 more minutes to 3D print in a durable plastic.

    Drill three holes. Secure with stainless hardware. Done. Less than an hour total time. Worked perfectly.

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    1. I remember the stuff in our house as a kid, from laundry baskets to the lawn mower, that lasted for my entire childhood. Now you get a laundry basket and it breaks the first time you put more than a pair of socks in it.

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    2. I get ya on the laundry basket thing. The plastic weave stuff on mine went kaput so I started looking around for bamboo or willow people left for trash day. I used a thin veneer plywood for a bottom, split the bamboo ( I found a boatload) and burned holes in it then laced it with old electrical cord. My aunt paid off her mortgage many years ago weaving baskets and I'm glad I was paying attention to what she was teaching me while she was of this earth. I believe long term the old skills is where we're headed on down the road.

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  2. I have a perfect example. NOw that incandescent lightbulbs have been legislated out of existence, we have LED's. Which honestly for most things are pretty darn good. (CFL's were awful). So for a 100 years, you burn out a light bulb, you get up on a ladder and screw in a new bulb. Now that bulb is a LED edison style bulb. no big deal. EXCEPT most of the new fancy light assemblies are all LED one piece. There is no replacable bulb, it's all custom LED to that particular light (which is of course already out of production). So now, when your lightbulb goes out in 15 years instead of 5 minutes and $4, you have to install an entirely new light fixture. ($100 plus (or not) electrician.

    Most people buying new houses/fixtures aren't even thinking of these things.

    and those STUPID touchscreens in cars. (I know, let's take your eyes off the road to read the screen instead of tactile switches and knobs). What happens to your car (and all it's systems) when that dies?

    As an aside (and proof that some things do still work) this product (made in USA can opener) https://www.amazon.com/Made-USA-Can-Opener-Black/dp/B007DK6SG0 is $20 and is 100 times better product than the usual $10 made in china can openers. This one will outlast me. Most of the other ones won't make a year.

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    1. I hate electric can openers, always have. It is a labor saving devices that makes things worse. We have a kitchenaid manual can opener that is rock solid and have been using it for a decade or more.

      Those touchscreen panels in cars? What a freaking insane idea all around.

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    2. No argument from me about the curse of crap quality. But one thing we must keep in mind is that it wasn't a completely one way profit grab by the sleezeball corporations. China gave us 25 years of mostly inflation free consumption. I know, two of one thing means you spent twice as much. But in reality few of us just keep buying the same broken stuff. It becomes obsolete or we own so many different kinds, being so cheap, we rarely use it enough to break. All in all, I'd say for the most part I've been able to save far more than I spent, even buying crap. There are a few things you just don't touch after the first time, like WalMart clothing or shoes ( actually, I swear by the one piece plastic soccer slides or generic Crocs. But not their regular shoes ). And you stock up on cheap quality, like Sportsman's Guide used to carry, when it was real surplus, to avoid the worst crap. I don't have new Detroit auto's, though, so I avoid the worst cost/extreme crap quality. Household goods though the above usually applies. I rarely have issues with Chinese knives. The make most of the worlds socks and underwear, and those are okay. Especially for the price ( hope everyone stocked up. Not only is it from Enemy China, 10% of the worlds cotton was coming from a Chink desert irrigation region, surely depleting by now ). I think very soon we will be looking back in envy how good we had it with our shopping these last decades.

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    3. No doubt, we all for the most part were happy to eschew American made stuff that was more expensive for the cheap crap, sealing our own manufacturing demise. You can get New Balance shoes made in America but they are literally twice as expensive and I am not sure they are twice as good. Not anymore.

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    4. We best get busy making our own banana boat thong undies and breechclout out of animal skins. Oh, and throw in some handstitched moccasins with poly belted tire tread soles. Shoe Goo is a god-send but pine pitch as a sealer (labor intensive) works well. I open cans every day with either a P51 or P38 and it's surprising how many 'kids' do not understand that process. At the 5:20 mark Cody uses just a concrete section as a can opener back before all the 'guru's' happened along.
      https://youtu.be/Mmmpg-XCU-k

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  3. For me, the relative heft of a piece of hardware provides hints about 'quality'. Not universally, of course, but very, very often. Last week I had an opportunity to compare the ancient 60? year old classic Coleman camp stove that my wife's father probably inherited from HIS father with a brand, spanking new one we bought from the 'zon for our son. The look and operation of the two units are very similar, down to the classic green enamel. But just holding one in each hand damn near broke my heart. The new (Chinese) unit is so effin' flimsy I nearly changed my mind about gifting it. I could crumple its side wind baffles like an aluminum can if I cared to. Coleman? Really?

    You can still buy good quality, sturdy products made in America if you hunt around for them, and if you are then willing to part with some serious coin. Martin Furniture makes some badass office pieces, of which we've bought several. Their solid wood bookcases lining my office wall cost about $900 each, or roughly 4 times what a comparable Sauder fiberboard unit from Staples runs. But we will be handing down those exquisitely crafted, manly hunks of wood as family heirlooms after we get our 30 years of use out of them.

    TBC

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    1. My bookcases were made by my dad by hand, they will outlast me and likely my kids.

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  4. a long time ago, when I was still in high school. I bought a craftsman table saw for 80 bucks from a old lady on my paper route. I had the cash, but she wouldn't sell it to me without my dad. he was tired from work and I had to beg him to come with me. got a ear full of how much I didn't know about table saws and stuff. once he saw it , he stopped birching at me. got some books thru book of the month club about woodworking and ran up dad's electric bill and notched a thumb. 2 years later we made the kitchen cabinets for mom. with real white oak wood and brass hardware. they are still in the house today, just as good as we made them over 50 years ago. I still have the saw, had to replace the bearing twice now and still have a spare set round here. there is a lot of old USA made machine tools around here and they are working just as well as the day they where made. the new stuff. I not so sure they last as long as the old cast iron ones did. a lot of my hand power tools are the "new stuff" but I still have my old router from way back then. all of my big base tools are cast iron ones made in either the 1950 or 1960's and they all work well and will out last me by years if kept in shape and cared for like I have done the time I owned them.
    about guns, look at a old mauser rifle and compare it to any ones made today. big difference in them. I like my old mauser rifles more than I do the newer ones I have. there still is a lot to be said for old world wood and blue steel. plastic doesn't have the same feel to it.

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  5. I think cars peaked between 1997 (or so) and 2010 (or so). Too much complexity, too many regulations.

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  6. If you like the M1917 video, you'll also like this about how flintlocks were made in Colonial Williamsburg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTy3uQFsirk

    -Brutus

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