Friday, April 24, 2015


Gardeners and other DIYers grow fond of good tool that do the job well.  If a tool lasts years, however, it becomes part of one's life. For my part, I hate cheap tools like the "Garden Plus" one pictured. This week, the welded-on head the cheaply made Chinese hoe I'd found in our barn broke clean of its shaft. A search at our local Southern States turned up nothing forged except a $50 hoe with the blade attached to the handle by a really flimsy looking metal collar.  I passed. For $50 more, I could have a tool to last a lifetime.

I began learning this lesson from Andre Viette, the famous gardener of Viette Nurseries and the radio show "In The Garden." He gives workshops just over the mountains from us, in Fishersville, and I recall one where he held up an impressive looking shovel.

"Bulldog!" Viette exclaimed, showing us the brand name. This was not the well-crafted British line of forged tools you will find here; it was a relic from a big-box store. Viette's prop for a tool lesson cost less than twenty dollars.

Then he pointed out every detail about the shovel that made it less impressive than its canine namesake. It lacked a forged head, and the collar was merely bent steel. The rivets were wimpy. The handle was not quite long enough. But it was painted a vivid color!

Viette noted, wryly, that men like to buy tough-sounding tools, and he advised us to avoid sidewinders, rattlesnakes, sharks, and lions.  I have followed his policy every since.  I made that choice for a Spear and Jackson digging fork and spade. A local greenhouse stocked them for many years, until they realized most of their customers preferred cheap-ass tools made in cheap-labor nations.

Not me. We only presume that we can infinitely go to buy whatever we need, whenever something breaks.

What if globalization broke? I hope it does not; I'm no "Doomer." My Japanese Yanmar diesel in our small tractor, and the bigger Yanmar in the backhoe, brought the very best international technology to our farm.

Whatever the origin, I'm going to find the right tool and hold on to it. Kudos to companies like Duluth Trading for bringing that philosophy back to clothing and tools. An unnamed cheap-ass relative admitted about my Duluth socks, which are amazing, "they are expensive."

Exactly the point. You get what you pay for in work-socks, mechanical watches, tractors, and garden tools (all obsessions of mine). Incidentally, I never lend my tools, from tractors to chainsaws to garden spades, unless I come along to use them. But that is another post for Tractorpunk.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Old Technologies That Should Go

As Spring comes on full-force in VA, I find time between planting and pruning to get a lot of things fixed that I cannot mend myself. Just today, I picked up two pairs of boots from a cobbler (yes, I know where to find THREE such shops) and a rainproof jacket from the alterations section of my dry cleaners. The jacket, one I have used since 2006, had a ripped pocket-lining.

Other less frugal folks would just buy another jacket and new shoes. They might call me a spendthrift, noting "Joe! you paid $225 for getting two pairs of boots resoled!" Worth every penny, I'd reply. Both sets of boots, ones for the office, not farm, do feel great all day long, and they are in styles you will never find in shoe-stores nowadays. One pair is 20+ years old and drop-dead cool.

Of course, I might fairly be accused of hating change. The John Deere M I will use again this season to mow is 65 years old. The restoration and repaint are nearly done.

Fashion and my love of antique technologies aside, I do find that some older tech needs to perish from the earth. Here are a few examples, randomly.

Sweating Pipes: I never learned this art, one that threatens to engulf a home in flames if done poorly. I have to repair a run of copper in an outbuilding, and it's delightful to do that with push-to-seal copper fasteners that will also work with pex or pvc pipe. I predict that no American will have to melt solder into a pipe in a generation. I also predict the demise of copper pipe, generally. Pex is an amazing replacement, taking below freezing temperatures and offering flexibility that pvc never had.

Using AC fence chargers: I have no  desire to run underground lines to my electric fencing. I had the circuit board in my solar fence-charger fixed last year, after many years of good service. It's ready to go again.  I want things that are sustainable. I understand some systems use deep-cell Marine batteries to charge a fence. That's a better option than a buried line from the house, but I prefer to turn to the sun.

Pushing Around Gasoline-Powered Lawn Mowers: I have a talent for getting old gas mowers working well. I service my little fleet of four (!) annually. Two live here, trimming around walls and other spots I will not take a tractor; one lives at a home we rent; another lives at a country place that our friend Bunny mows for us so I can focus on thrice-annual bush-hogging of a large field.

That said, gasoline mowers are fussy, polluting machines. If one burns ethanol-addictive fuel, they need constant care to avoid trouble; I burn only eth-free gas in our small engines.

Home owners dispose of mowers at the first sign of trouble, unless they own a really fancy model.  With battery charges being what they are, why on earth won't we all use cordless electrics in a decade?

I'll predict autonomous mowers, too, outdoor versions of Roombas that will do work for suburbanites, much to the chagrin of neighborhood kids who mow lawns (do they still exist?), "mow-blow-and-go" services, male waistlines, and the occasional squirrel who fails to escape a lawn robot's blades.

So what other old technology needs to die, because we simply have better ways of doing things?