I was at my moms yesterday planting some annuals. I didn’t have my own tools with me and found my dad’s shovels and hand shovel.
The first thing I noticed was the weight of the hand shovel. Twice the weight of the home depot special I use at home. It was made of the same steel as a full size shovel. Pretty sure the Home Depot special is some pot metal mix of aluminum and gosh knows what else.
Dad’s had a hickory handle. Home Depot a plastic handle.
Ok, a little gardening hand shovel doesn’t have to be that good. I’ve never bent my home depot cheapo special in a flowerbed. But I’m impressed with 1950’s craftsmanship. They built stuff to last. Pretty impressive for such a trivial and easily replaced item.
Anyone think of other examples like this? Where you’ve run across older tools or other stuff that was made so much better?
If they both perform their appointed tasks without breaking, why is the other one “made so much better”? It sounds like the Home Depot cheapo special is made better, since it’s evidently cheaper but does the same things without failing.
When I was a kid our house had old GE fans that had been running for twenty years. Now you’re lucky if they last two.
Whenever I shop for metal kitchen utensils I look for stuff where the metal is one piece and the tang extends to the end of the handle. Most of the cheap crap today is stuck 1-2 inches into a plastic handle and has the working end riveted or shod-welded onto the shaft.
Very few hand tools today pass my gold standard: are they too sturdy for me to break?
Nylon stockings are one example I’ve often heard come up in discussions like this. The first nylon stockings lasted a really long time, so they made them much thinner and started the whole advertising campaign for “sheer” stockings in a successful attempt to make flimsy, inferior stockings stylish.
I still find tools that seem well made today. You can find flimsy and sturdy shovels at the big stores like Home Depot. You can also seek out places that sell to heavy users.
One thing that makes it hard to compare is that materials have gotten better over the decades. Steels available today can be sturdier than those from 60 years back. I know this has changed quite a lot in car bodies, and imagine these steels have found their ways into other products too (but I don’t know).
The weight of a small gardening tool isn’t much of an issue but as you get to larger tools I prefer the lighter materials. Every pound less a shovel weighs is extra dirt I can be moving. Also the newer handles have better grip so as I sweat I can keep a better control of the tools. They also just feel more comfortable in my hands. In some cases, such as axes, the fiberglass handle is significantly safer than a wood handle.
I replaced a furnace that was installed in the 40’s. It lasted about 55 years. The new one is warranteed for one year.
My first laptop worked fine for six years until I dropped it. My newer laptop - the hard drive had to be replaced after two years.
All of my electronics are clearly manufactured to be disposable - repair? No way, cheaper to buy new.
Things are made more cheaply every day, mostly because there’s no reason to make them last. Most people can afford something new. We’re actually at the point that planned obsolescence is celebrated (take a look at Apple Computer – they don’t even let you replace a bad battery, expecting that you’ll buy something new from them once they can’t hold a charge).
I’m with Chronos on this. Much of the stuff made today is superior to the older stuff. I’ve recently purchased some tools from Knipex that simply could not have been economically made back in the day. These unusually hinged cutters, for example. I can cut hardened piano wire with one hand, and as a test I cut a mild steel 1/4" bolt. Because of their design and CNC machined forged steel construction, these are just one of many examples of consumer products that far exceed the performance envelope of the the older versions of the same product.
Same with motorcycles. Sport bikes today are faster than actual race bikes of 30 years ago.
If you are willing to pay for high quality, most of the stuff available today is superior to the “old school.” Remember, they made crap as well as quality back then, too.
When I developed osteoarthritis (no heavy use of shoulders or anything else), I needed astand mixer.
The original Kitchen-aid products were made by Hobart = the people who OWN the commercial mixer market.
They eventually sold the line, resulting in the stuff at Wal-Mart.
I searched ebay for months, but now have a real mixer, Same with other electrical kitchen tools.
A big difference was that back in the 1950s the hand shovels and other tools they sold were for everyone; now they market different products to consumers vs professionals. Consumer products are flimsy but cheap; professional products are well-made but expensive. If you want a well-made hand shovel go to a farm supply store (or buy a used one at a garage sale or auction).
I prefer the stuff made today, as a lot more attention is paid to ergonomics in design. For example, Oxo Good Grips makes kitchen tools designed to be easier on arthritic hands, but they’re also easier for the healthy to use. (And I find that they’re very well made.) And a lot of things are made to be corrosion and rust-resistant.
When we first moved into our house, there were very old window air conditioners. All metal, ran great, kept the rooms ice cold, and were very quiet. Eventually, they gave up the ghost and we replaced them with all that was available, big, noisy, plastic units that broke down constantly.
In 1973, I bought a Kitchenaid portable dishwasher that I took with me to six different residences over the next 30+ years. I finally replaced it in 2005. When I bought the new one, the salesman told me, “Don’t expect this one to last as long as the other one. They really don’t make them to last anymore.”
One classic example is the original Corning Ware. I still have mine AND my mother’s. Not a chip in anything. These can go directly from the freezer to the oven if you want, and are microwave safe (even though they were manufactured before microwave ovens existed). I am a complete klutz and if a thing can be broken I will eventually break it. I’ve broken all but one of the glass lids for the Corning Ware, but the pots themselves still look like new.
That’s kind of a weird example, though, because it’s a specific product made specifically to be unbreakable. And people still specifically buy it today and it still works the same today. When Corning Ware was first introduced there was shitty non-Corning glassware that people could buy, and today there is shitty non-Corning glassware people could buy.
You can’t really say “Oh, you can’t get good non-breakable freezer-to-oven dishes today like you could in the 50s!” because…you can. It’s Corning Wear.
I agree. If you read books and articles from that era you’ll find plenty lamenting how crappy consumer goods had become.
A couple of current examples of consumer products with quality far superior to what was sold in the '50s: TVs and cars.
As for gardening products - there’s plenty of cheap breakable stuff sold now, just like there probably was in the '50s. The difference is that there’s a lot more good stuff available now (for appropriately higher prices). I have a “hand shovel” (trowel) that is a single piece of heavy gauge metal with a rubber grip. Taken proper care of it should last me for many years. On the other hand I bought a 99-cent special that bent the second time I used it. I am about to retire a large heavy-duty plastic watering can that has lasted me at least 15 years.* I doubt there was anything as lightweight and serviceable that was sold in the 1950s.
*I just received its replacement via mail order - a British-made plastic can that looks to be of similar or better quality.