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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Built to fail

My weed whacker just died in an acrid cloud of smoke. I had to toss it in the trash, and it hurts me to throw stuff in the trash. Too much of our stuff is built in such a way as to be unrepairable. No doubt it was cheap to build, in some some nameless Chinese factory. Cheap labor, combined with lax environmental regulations, along with inexpensive shipping all add up to low priced consumer goods. Way too much of it is crap.

To be fair, that’s what society demands. How many people lack even basic tools, never mind the skills to use them? It only takes one generation of a disposable society and the skills become rare. There is little demand for products that can be fixed. If nobody is repairing things, then there is no market in spare parts. It’s a vicious circle.

The disposable society is a fluke -the combination of cheap energy low cost labor doesn’t happen all that often or for very long. Workers in China, like workers everywhere, want a decent wage. Energy isn’t at cheap as it once was. The end of this economic model is in sight.

Replacing something won’t be cheap and easy anymore. The fix it guy or gal, will be back in style. Too bad that they’ll be called upon to fix cheap stuff never meant to be fixed. A certain amount of cannibalization of parts can keep some stuff going. I’ll bet older stuff, gathering dust in attics and garages, will be pressed back into service. How often are things replaced because they go out of style? Maybe they work fine, but lack some new whiz bang feature. Better an old tool that does the basic work than a new snazzy device that breaks and can’t be fixed.

It’s possible that if there is any manufacturing going on in the future, it’ll be of tools and machines that can be repaired. Stuff will have to last again. Expensive energy and materials require the best use of both. There’s no sense in using limited resources to build throw away junk.

Since I feel this way, you are probably wondering how I ended up with a cheap Chinese weed whacker in the first place? It was given to me by someone who bought a better one and didn’t want to throw out something that still worked. At least all the useful work was gotten out of in. Now I’ll have to dig out my old human powered trimmers from out of the basement and sharpen them up.



  1. The power tools I own are radial and jig saws, drill, heat gun and grinder. I guess the electrical chain saw counts too. I think the heat gun is the only thing I can't replicate using hand tools.

    I have hand saws, braces and files and they see regular use when I need repairs. I enjoy working without the annoying sounds that occur with power equipment(though I nominate the inventor of the chain saw as a Saint :^)).

    Plenty of tools around here, sometimes too many to keep track of. Look up 'Irish Tool Box' and see what comes up.

  2. reverse engineering of older stuff become a new moneymaker

    of course if you had any older stuff to work with like rotary drills or slide rulers

    or knew where to find me...


  3. The disposable economy was created on purpose, to prop up the Ponzi scheme. Worked like a charm too. But there are folks out there making things by hand, good things that will last for generations. And there are old things around, from when they used to be built to last generations. Folks who can make and or repair such things will become the new "wealthy" class when the Ponzi scheme collapses. A 70 year old Farmall tractor in running condition might well become worth it's weight in gold. Or grain. Or smoked meat. Or beer. Or a combination...

  4. IT becomes just like salt or spices....

    be those after the stocks run low be canning, drying or cooking foods be looking for more salt, spices, canning lids, or tools to process the harvest...

    it could be very simply a grain grinder....
    or a cultivator for the tractor...

    if you find me...


  5. Not only making necessary tools out of crap parts, but what really amazes me is the ridiculousness of crap produced! Ok, a crock pot I understand. Rather than heating a whole oven, heat one pot. Then some people have a rice cooker. I was given one, and used it for a little while, til I realized it was easier to clean one pan from cooking it on the stove, than the whole contraption. Now they have a donut maker (wha???) and an at-home soda fountain and a deep fryer and...WHO NEEDS ALL THIS CRAP!??!

  6. My electric Weed-Eater died this year so we had to but a new one (this time a gas one with replaceable heads). Can't complain though; th old one lasted 27 years!