Coping: With Cheap Things that Break

OK, no “making stuff” article Sunday, because I was spending time in my shop because I have a new project going on in background…blah, blah, blah.

Except, that in the process, I got terribly peeved when my THIRD damn paper towel holder in the shop BROKE.  Right after I took a picture of the last “survivor.”
I just HATE things that break too easily in normal use.  Other than being a somewhat brutish galoot, I don’t bang on  things with harmful intent, honest!

OK, so what if the paper towel holders involved have been in the shop for 4-years  and yeah, so what if it’s a hot/cold tough environment.  Big deal.  The holders should last…know what I’m saying?

But wait!  Paper Towel Holders are a MONSTROUSLY BIG business!  Do you know AMAZON has over 1,000 choices?  OMG, run the numbers.  7-billion people in the world, maybe half work so 2.5 billion households?  (I’m throwing a dart here)  And now replace two paper towel holders per household every four years…and the average retail looks to be $10 – bucks, so do the damn math!

(Continues below)


Planned Obsolescence is the Never-Covered Corporate Crime.

Don’t mean to sour your Monday, but the GYNORMITY of the paper towel holder industry gob-smacked me silly.

ISYN:  You can spend from about $4.50 on the low end to almost $800 on the high end for a paper towel holder.  Although for $764.68 you get the highly-stylin RTHC1 17″” Stainless Steel Paper Towel Holder with Two Drawers Combo – and then all you need to have is the cabinetry built for it to mount in… Jeez…what planet did you say this was?

I’m getting off.

Started with a sketch while the blood pressure came down: I selected a single, reasonable 2-by-4 from the wood pile.  4-feet of dowel about the size of Ure’s thumb.  Then off to the chop saw…setting up a jig so if I wanted, I could make 10,000 identical parts.  Like so…

I put a little angle on some of the wood and pushed off the sharp edges on the belt sander.  Nothing beats the smell of fresh pine being sanded, except cedar, of course.  (This shop operation is called “breaking the edges” in metal work.  When you get carried away while forming wood, it’s called design and you can charge a butt-load for it, lol.)

Then it was off to the drill press – where my fancy drilling jig (10,000 holes in the same place anyone?) was nothing more than a piece of scrap set up to the “eyeball standard.”  Thusly:

Say, nice Porter-Cable Forstner bits, huh?

Once all were drilled? Over to the main bench for final assembly:  Four 2-inch screws (2 for each angle piece) and some glue that’s waterproof…

Last, but not least, all three went into position: 35-minutes of work, not counting sweep-up of the shop which is just going to get dirty again, anyway.

Is it a work of art?

Are you hung over?  Hell no.

But here’s the numbers:

Cost in time:  40 minutes (including the pictures)

Units made:   3

Cost:  $5.00 call it.  Wood’s cheap, dowel’s not.  Glue and screws?

Durability:  You can park a car on these and they will work.  Short of a tug-o-war team, they’re never going anywhere.  They will out live me.

And in a way, there’s a perverse sense of “getting back at The Man” and going him one-better.

Could I have done fancy?  Sure.  But, in a shop?  Hello?

Truth is, I considered slapping a coat or five of Cabot’s gloss spar varnish on them, but like I said, they’re for the shop. WGAS?

Since there’s no nails showing, if I had finished that sand blasting cabinet project that’s on a list somewhere, I could have run them through that for an “exposed grain” look – maybe a pass (or five) with a welding or propane torch…hmmmm the cactus burner would work, too…Or maybe some bleaching oil for a driftwood look – and hit it with some chain for a distressed finish and…STOP!

It’s only a shop for crying out loud.  Focus on the money.

Had I bought three units from Amazon, of the $8.00 class, there would be only one minute of time, but it would mean $24-bucks. Since mine cost $5-bucks, the savings (in 40 minutes) is $21-bucks.

Make my labor rate work out to 52.5-cents per minute, or $31.50 per hour.

Ah, that is after tax.  If I happen to be in the 20% tax rate, that would be like getting a part-time job at $39.375 per hour…and I assure you, part time jobs at that rate don’t grow on trees.

Yes, it takes a modest investment in tools:  Chop saw, a few clamps for sawing and drilling jigs, and of course the drill press and bits.

That’s the kind of basic shop equipment you can find all day long on Craigslist.

“Making” is a Mindset

I’m  not a particularly good “craftsman” on projects…more a dilatant, I s’pose.

But here’s the door handle for the screen porch that I cut out of a piece of scrap wood back around when we had just moved here — 2004, maybe:  Nothing special, just a hunk of a 2X8, a wood rasp and a minute or five at the belt sander to buff out the evidence.  And here it is, 15-years later and STILL no rust and no replacement needed.

That’s the “joy of making.” and people today are only beginning to get a “taste” of it.

To my way of thinking, a great starting “maker’s kit” of power tools would be a Harbor Fright (sic) 12″ chop saw.  10-inch saws don’t cut a good 45-degrees on a 4-by-4. Get a good stand to put it on, too.

Then I’d buy a jig saw.  I bought a fresh one, recently.  With laser-track light, that you don’t need it until you’re over 50 and eyes aren’t young. Or, you can show off with better cuts – your choice.

A combination belt and disk sander will work miracles… WEN tools seem to be decent reviews so maybe a $100-bill for a WEN 6502 4 x 36-Inch Belt and 6-Inch Disc Sander with Cast Iron Base is an idea.  You do have a birthday coming up, right?

Drill press WEN puts out looks OK, too: $75 for a WEN 4208 8 in. 5-Speed Drill Press.

Assorted brushes, sandpaper, sanding belts, screws…and you’ve got the world by the tail.

Toss in that Hitachi drill and impact driver set (you need another birthday?) and now you can almost build a house.  Framing nailer and roofing nailer…but someone to do the foundation and concrete.  An electrician for the final connect and…..

MAKING is an attitude.  Really helps if you’re a serious prepper to develop this side of your brain.  Plan, measure, cut, join, finish.  If it was hard, Ure’s truly wouldn’t be able to do it.

Wait!  Prepping and Power Tools?

Oh, sure.  The sun came back to East Texas this weekend.  And for those who don’t know, I designed and installed a 3.5-kW grid-interactive solar system back in 2008 and it’s been working mostly grandly ever since.

The system is a stacked pair of Outback Power 2500-watt sine wave inverters.  These are driven by a pair of their FlexMax 60 Amp charge controllers.

There are two racks of panels:  10 panels each. 170-watt panels on the south array and 180-watt panels on the north.  The “fancy” solar panel rack is something I welded up out of  4-foot T-post fencing and 5/8th’s in rebar.

All of it is protected with transient suppressors which ought to keep EMP away.  But, if the news flow looks like something might really happen, the solar will go off-line and wait for the news flow to improve.

One of the oddities of East Texas is that this time of the year, the big Loblolly and southern pines blow off more green pollen than you san shake a stick it.  So much, we have to wash the car or truck off before using ’em.  Here’s what it looks like on the panels:

Even with this much pollen on them, however, we just keep on making power:

When  the panels are clean, we can sell a bit more than the 2.6 kWhr rate, but most of that doesn’t really leave the property.  This is only the excess from the shop/office where Urban and Peoplenomics live (and the associated gym and “thinking room.”

But it does put a very good dent in the power bills and it surely gives us options and accounts for why – even when we have hard major and sometimes long-lasting power outages – we haven’t missed a beat here, or in the shop.

Hopefully, we never will.  But we do have slower manual tools for that eventuality, as well.

Things to think about as you go to work:  What would it really take to live outside the coop-ville and be out in the country?

Garden, shop, and enough time to sink into both.

All depends what you figure to be most important in your life.

I assure you, in ours, being on a fast social connection or reading tweets isn’t on the list.  Digital crack is what social amounts to – a damn waste of time when you could be making things.  Building value.  Planting time-seeds to harvest later.

Your own future and a well-planned life, for instance.  FB does make them, do they?

Write when you get rich,

20 thoughts on “Coping: With Cheap Things that Break”

  1. George:

    OK. Been a very long time since last post, but just could not miss the opportunity.

    Totally agree with the intent of the posting today. What a racket. Actually had this conversation with corporate people and the responses all hinge around we couldn’t afford to buy the products, US wages are too high, cannot compete, American workers are lazy…etc., blah, blah and more blah. I have my dad’s Eddie Bauer sleeping bag and jacket from the 60s still! Give me a fregging break. Drill bits. Steel for knives, for wood froes, files, nothing is as good as it was. How about a stinking re-cycled plastic extension cord! I have a set of clippers from my dad 55 years old. As sweet and as supple as…well…you get the idea. Not a crack or chip in them and still works like a charm. Just oil occasionally. So it costs more! What about the environmental degradation for all this useless junk?

    Anyway…Chronicle project, Age of Deso, NWO, markets all that stuff. Appreciate the web site.

    Hate to diss but…Dude! Oldguy!

    The paper towels are coming off the back of the roll!

  2. George, I have been giving Serious thought to the whole back-out-into-the-country thing for some time now. And with the latest shenanigans here in Austin, it seems I need to speed that up somewhat. I do miss making stuff. With 11-12 hours a day spent at the office/commuting, a few hours for upkeep and sleep, that’s the day. I should sell all this city crap, get back out into the country then write about it. :)

    I miss being alive.

    • The big culture shocks for me were a) going from the 930 whale tail to the Dodge p./u/farm truck
      b) not having a grand selection of restaurants. I kinda liked no parking meters, few speed tracks, and people who actually talk at the store and expect an answer to “How are you?”

      • Regarding ‘b’ – wouldn’t that mean that one could learn how to fix the dish that they really liked at the restaurant?

  3. Your towel holder project got me thinking…Once I am out of the rat race, (soon) I would like to find a nice plot of land in the rural, but somewhat populated California regions…I still like the weather here way too much to move anywhere else….and keep myself busy with various projects by keeping my wife and I
    1. Fed…by farming/fishing (we are partial vegetarians…we eat fish),
    2. Housed…by buying something that needs work and building that never ending remodeling project…
    3.Entertained…by getting involved in community projects, organizations..
    4.In touch…by traveling to western large cities up and down the Pacific coast for our own sanity. We are very social and love the energy of large cities too much to totally go cold turkey on them…likewise…long periods of isolation will drive us batty…

    That seems to me to be the perfect balance of life for us…Many of our friends have expressed the same desires…Even our 27-34 year old kids have talked about a change like this. The overload of materialism seems to be taking its toll and maybe we are in for a societal transition/revolution of sorts.

    • You will enjoy fish farming I did it for ten years. My problem was they became pets. Keep prawns away from the fish and build a nesting area so the other larger animal

  4. As I was scanning down I saw a picture of you with your wife. Wow! She is beautiful!

  5. I started my “husband and father” life by buying (over about a two year period) a Taiwanese generic table saw and chop saw from Lowe’s (they cost $39 each), a Delta sander from a rummage sale, and a small Rockwell drill press that a shop had tossed.

    The table saw lasted about 4 projects, the other three — still going. I had to change over the wiring on the press from 220 to 110, and the chop saw sounds like there’s metal bits in its motor (there aren’t), but they still function. They’re not as nice (and that chop saw certainly doesn’t cut as smoothly) as the DeWalt tools I’ve given myself since da kids done got growed, but they’re faster than a crosscut saw and a brace, and I could afford them.*

    *One of my “Life Axioms” is:

    You can have money, or you can have kids. You can’t have both at the same time.

    Even for someone who’s in the top few 10’s of a percent in income, it is damn’ near impossible for Junior’s “Needs and Expenditures” to not expand to the point they eat up a family’s discretionary income. For instance: Johnny Everykid gets a used F150 (for which he has to pay the parents back), Jimmy Snootykid is gifted a new F350 Powerstroke in King Ranch or Platinum trim; Jane Normal gets a 6yo Chevy, Jenny Richkid is given a new Mercedes, and so on…

  6. As for cheap paper towel dispensers, the pinnacle was the ScotTowel heavy polystyrene dispenser, made in the 1960s (I think they cost 50 cents + two Scott Towels labels.) The one which was hanging in my kitchen when I bought my house is still there, and perfectly functional.

    Dad made my Mom a combo towel, foil, wax paper dispenser when I was about 10. He used half-inch pine and 1 inch dowel, bored into, but not through the pine, installed spring-loaded end caps from Polaroid film rolls to lock the dowels, and the saw-tooth serrated cutters from a couple wax paper boxes as tear-offs. I told myself at that time if I ever needed a dispenser, I’d copy his work…

  7. regarding roll holders……
    Oh George,
    So much effort dissipated, oh well, guess it was fun.
    i always use just a scrap of conduit or pipe and hang it anyway from a shelf above. one can the put multiple rolls of all that stuff like tape, wrapping, etc. etc. on it. simple. all in one place.
    my time and creativity is of somewhat more value to me.
    oh well, Enjoy!

  8. Well I’m not hung over, but yes, it IS a piece of art! Utilitarian, functional ‘shop-art’. I have the cheap plastic kind in the kitchen. I have a nicer looking wood one with a spring dowel, but that one got installed in the laundry where it holds up to more abuse. Now I know what I’m going to have to make when the plastic in the kitchen finally breaks. :-)

    • Amen, Dave, been using one for fifteen years. Brought it to Ecuador with us. The envy of every visitor to the kitchen.

  9. Pretty much all plastic gets brittle after a couple of years. If it flexes, it ain’t gonna last.

  10. Hope you have some backup panels in case that baseball sized hail seen in other parts of Texas this month shows up. Maybe a section of chain link fence that flips into place when a storm threatens.

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