Cheap China-made crap in a throw-away country

Posted On: Wednesday - October 18th 2017 9:08AM MST
In Topics: 
  Cheap China-made Crap  Curmudgeonry

This post is not particularly about China, but you may have noticed or be perturbed about, or will, that Peak Stupidity is all Marsha, Marsha, Marsha! China, China, China! Well, there is important stuff to think about regarding that important nation, but this one is all about cheap China-made crap again.

Not Cheap-China-made Crap... running for 23 years with only 3 oil changes!

A subsequent post to be written about the “human capital”, or “technical infrastructure” will relate the amazing ways in which China has pulled ahead of America in some aspects, and the junky stuff is related. You may read here about the frustration with the cheap stuff which is almost all you can buy now in the realm of consumer goods. Funny stuff aside, the reasons for the poor quality are not all on the Chinese end (there’s another post - they are stacking up!)

Here’s where the curmudgeonry tag must be attached to this post: I hear all the time that there is no point in fixing small things up. “It’s a throw-away society now.” For some small items there is no recourse; they are cheaply made items of cheap materials using cheap fasteners and glue. Just toss it. I like to stock up to decrease all the shopping for junk, but shelf lives aren’t infinite either (found that out with my supposed 10-year supply of sneakers). On the bigger items (below the level of cars, I guess) it’s another story. There are a number of reasons I DON’T WANT to throw it out and go shopping again. Two examples will follow. My reasons are beyond the “mountains of trash” problem. Another post on recycling/landfills with the Treehuggers and Environmental Stupidity tags attached is coming - spoiler alert: there IS still plenty of room for our garbage, but it just costs more to bring it way out of town.

Here are my problems with the throw-away society: a) As the subsequent China-related post will discuss, fixing up mechanical/electrical things helps us learn how things work. That’s a big advantage. I’d rather be doing that with the sense of satisfaction it brings than heading out to Target. If I can fix the item, now I know what I may need to do next time on at least this weak point, and it’ll be much quicker then too. b) The older the stuff, the better made it is. I am finding that even if the older item was Chinese-made, sometimes, but mostly it’s the older still-American-made stuff that I want to keep. Once you get the new item, you can just see that much of what was sheet metal is plastic, the older item’s plastic parts are even thinner on the new one, the fasteners are cheesier, and parts are just left out in hopes they are not really necessary. The interval between shopping gets shorter and shorter. Have you noticed yet that I don’t like shopping?

On to my 2 examples now, the desk lamp and the lawnmower seen above - 2 out of many:

1) Desk lamp: This desk lamp (not shown) is made out of mostly steel. The blue paint looks good 25 years or so after purchase though it was only in use about 15 of these years. It's got quite a few moving parts, and one of those is the rotating light switch. It got harder and harder to turn and finally jammed (was that switch the one China-made part? Ha, maybe somewhere else, as not much came from China yet in the early '90's). What do you do, buy another lamp? You might, but I just know the next one will be COMPLETE TRASH compared to this one. As I started taking the head of the lamp apart for the switch, I did think of all this. How much is my time worth? 1 hour would pay for the new lamp, but I wanted to see if I could keep this one that otherwise was working just fine.

Disassembly was a little bit tricky, but not nearly as it would have been with more plastic snapped-together parts. I was at one point close to figuring this desk lamp was trashed, switch or no switch. I got the switch out and took it apart. This is where it could have gone bad 3 ways: a) I had broken enough parts out of frustration to prevent re-assembly - that happens a lot! b) Whatever was broken inside could not be replaced without basically doing engineering work. You can't go that far with just one lifetime, if you keep that up. c) The part broken could be replaced with something close, and I would carry it around in my pocket for a week or two until I might have found something to work. That really doesn't pay. However, none of these options prevailed. This switch worked via a rotating pin that rode on some circular-sector ramps that made or broke contact and allowed the detented "clicking" motion. I put in some lube. Wow, it worked like a charm, and the lamp head did go back together. 1 1/2 hour shot, but I was left with a lasting GOOD desk lamp.

2) Push lawnmower: This has also been with me over 2 decades, back when the stuff was made to last. Yes, it IS shameful that I have done only done 3 oil changes! The Briggs and Stratton engine is still running. Now, it hasn't been without a few minor problems (2-5 dollar fixes), but the mower was made with the ability to be worked on. I'm no welder, so I needed to put a bolt or two to keep the mower deck together. Here's the funny story, though. The engine had been revving really high a coupla' years back. I mean like, just by ear it sounded like 50% faster. Not good at all! After 20 years, if this thing was going to seize up, I could not blame it one bit. Near the end of the summer, thing thing just stopped dead. OK, I've got another brand-new one for free coming from a relative, if I want. The yard was about done too!

I pushed this mower over to the side of the road where it'd get taken for scrap or repair within 3 hours, which is nice. I decided to turn it over to just look for a second. Wait, the circular clipping guide had broken at a weld, and that's what had stopped the blade. What do you know, it hadn't seized up! I drilled a whole and bolted it near back in place, got a friend to take 10 minutes and fix the out-of-control engine speed problem, and more years have gone by mowing grass. Try that with the new stuff!

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