Jerry Blanchard: Changing World


On Craftmanship  •  by Jerry Blanchard  |  The shop at the high school in town burned earlier this school year and I have been helping with inventorying the many items and setting a replacement value on them. This work has been an eye opener because so many of the things are no longer made , even though some are not really very old.   The big 12 - 14 inch Delta table saw and the 24 inch scroll saw are no longer available. It seems much, if not all of Delta equipment is made overseas now. The replacement Delta drill presses are made in China. Powermatic has sold out to Jet, which is Taiwanese. Even the Lincoln and Miller electric welding equipment companies have changed models of every machine we had in the shop.

Shining exceptions are Baldor motors, grinders, buffers, and sanders, which are as solid and strong as ever and still made.  Victor brand welding torches are the gold standard just as they were long ago. Pexto brand sheet metal equipment is still available. Starrett precision tools remain the best. These brands and a few others remain like old friends, constant and dependable.

I hate to see so much of our good American industrial manufacturing moved to China, Taiwan, Mexico, India, Etc., and it has been a shock to see how much of the equipment in the school is now only available from offshore countries even though there may be formerly American brand names on them.

Don¹t get me wrong; I am not a hater of foreign products; quite the contrary. I have fine Japanese hand made wood chisels, English, Belgian, French, and German tools, and use rare woods from Africa and South America. We all know of Irish linen, Belgian lace, and Scottish woolens. No one has ever made finer porcelain than the Chinese.  German leather splitting and skiving machines are superb. Most countries in our world make unique and wonderful things and it is one of the great joys of life to seek them out.

What bothers me is to see products we have long manufactured very well in America, now being made in China , Mexico, Taiwan, Korea, or other offshore countries so some  American corporations can make higher profits.  This puts Americans out of work and in my opinion is very wrong.  I won’t  go into the obscene salaries, perks, and retirement benefits many top executives here are getting while selling out their loyal workers: you have read the news.

A few years ago the post office in our town computerized their system. It works well but on the back of the computer unit sitting on the counter of our good old United States Post Office is the label , “Made in Taiwan”.  It seems to me our own government should be spending our money keeping Americans working rather than making Taiwan rich.

We in the United States have collectively wrecked many American industries and put millions of our own people out of work by buying cheaper foreign made goods when we could have spent a little more and supported our own country.

I remember a bumper sticker: “Hungry, out of work?  Eat your Honda”.   Remember the words of Walt Kelly in his great cartoon, Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he are us.” No one held a gun to our heads and forced us to buy cheap foreign made goods. Think about this the next time you go to the hardware store to buy bolts or pipe or whatever. Are you doing the right thing if you buy the cheaper foreign stuff instead of some good American products made by a company you have heard of?   Remember the foreign counterfeit bolt scam a few years ago in the aircraft fastener business? Do you want to trust your life with off shore bolts?

Many of us appreciate and look for fine older things like best quality Stanley hand tools that were once available new in all the hardware stores. Ever wonder why they stopped making them? I realize for many folks power tools have taken over the jobs once done by hand tools, but part of the reason the top quality Stanley hand tools vanished is because most folks stopped buying them and started buying something cheaper.  Sure, you can buy a new jackplane with the Stanley name on it but compare it to one of their best grade tools from the 30s or 40s and you will realize how far things have slipped.

I am not saying buy only American made products. Within budget limits, my philosophy is “buy the best”.  If there is a fine American made product, then that is my first choice. If an English or German, or other foreign made product is clearly superior, then get that. Just think about how your buying choices affect our own people, our economy, and what kinds of things will still be available for you to purchase in the future.  

After much grousing to myself about how the equipment world has changed, I realized that the older well-made American machines of a few years ago have really become more valuable in a sense. My beautiful old cast iron Delta Rockwell 24 inch scroll saw from the 1960s may no longer be made but it should run practically forever. I completely rebuilt it in the 1980s and installed the improved needle bearing rotating knuckle unit that some brilliant engineer at Delta designed to fix the problem with the original sliding block-reciprocating unit that was the only weak spot in the original design.  My 16-inch Powermatic wood planer from the 1950s is a solid cast iron and steel behemoth that should be running fine a hundred years from now.

The industrial world has changed and more foreign made goods are increasingly the norm. Most are certainly not better made, but are less expensive to produce and buy. When they break you throw them away and buy new ones, rather like cheap cars or house appliances.

There is something very pleasurable about owning items that are rare and not easily obtained. Perhaps you have seen some of the recent retail shops specializing in the 1940s and 1950s furniture, radios, and decorative items. These things that were so ordinary not long ago have become highly sought after and valuable, just as true antiques from far older times continue to increase in value. Those days will not come again and owning things from earlier times can enrich our lives and help us understand those periods in history.   For those of us who love mechanical things, our old cars, machinery, and tools have moved into the category of useable collectors items.   If you have some of this great old stuff, take good care of it, use it, appreciate its quality, and consider yourself a lucky person.