Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tool Repair VS a Disposable Culture

Ah, utility knives. They're an essential tool for any DIYer or professional. Perhaps the biggest benefit they provide is their use of replaceable blades. With most knives, certain cutting tasks, like drywall, can quickly dull a good blade. The same holds true for utility knife blades, but when they get dull you can just toss them and get a new one. Plus, the blades are cheap!

Actually, this post isn't so much about utility knives as it is about the concept of disposable items. I see disposable items, such as utility knife blades, as having a place in a handyman's arsenal; however, the knife itself shouldn't be disposable! Case in point, I got my first folding utility knife (like a folding pocket knife but takes utility knife blades) about 8 years ago as they started to get popular. I liked it due to the smaller profile and being able to clip it onto a pocket or utility belt.

One day, I was using my utility knife to cut wood to trim up a dovetail joint for a good fit. Well, I guess it was more than the knife could handle. Two of the tiny screws on the blade holding mechanism completely stripped out under the pressure and shot clear across the room! Considering I was in a messy garage and these were practically the size of eyeglass screws, finding them would be hopeless (I doubt they would even work if I could find them).

So, here I am left with a pretty much useless tool. Without the screws, the knife couldn't hold the blade. I contemplated tossing it in the garbage like I've done with so many old worn out blades, but I decided to keep it instead. Sure, I could go buy a 5-pack for $20 a the local big-box store, but I'm the kind of guy who likes to fix things instead of tossing them out.

I guess I'm glad I kept it, because I eventually did fix it. About two years later, I was learning to weld with my future father-in-law. I was having tons of fun welding old horseshoes into wine racks when it dawned on me I could take a shot at fixing this old knife I had been hanging on to. The next time I visited I took the knife and hit it a few times with the welder. It worked!

I didn't bother doing a very good job of cleaning up the welds, but it's held up fine in the last two or so years I've been using it. Plus, no more screws to break and throw away!

I could probably dedicate a few series of posts to the saying "they just don't make it like they used to" or the concept of a disposable culture that we've largely become here in America. I could also probably do a few posts on made in China items and how that's often associated with cheapness (it's not so simple, but China just happens to be the place where the cheap, disposable things we buy can be made the cheapest). But I'll leave those for another day.

I don't want to be preachy, but I think there's a lot to be said about the ability to fix something, especially tools, as opposed to throwing them away and buying a new one.

Oh, one more thing. Aside from those of you who have been around tools for a long time, how many of you knew hardware stores sell replacement hammer handles for use when they break? They do, and they're cheaper than a new hammer (well, not always I guess)!

Here's my post on a broken hammer repair.

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