Bauhaus of the 21st Century

Back in the start of the 20th century, a school of modern art and design was established in Germany. It had, as one of its underlying principles, form follows function.

In other words, design an item where it is ideally made for the job it has to perform, not for its aesthetic form first. This doesn’t mean the resulting item does not have aesthetic merit, but it has to be designed to work first, before its form is considered.

Many of the concepts that were developed are still seen today, such as this modern kettle, which is based on a Bauhaus design.

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The primary function of the kettle is to boil water on a stove. So maximising the surface area in contact with the element is first giving consideration to the function, before being concerned with the implication of that on the form. (And so on).

It is a very appealing principle for engineers.

Although we are 100 years on, many of the designers out there have seemingly forgotten that function is important, and so we have power tools that look like Cylons, tools designed to appeal to a particular demographic, tools designed for every reason, other than the specific function they are meant to perform.

Tools built as cheaply as possible, because who in their right mind would actually want to pay good money for quality?

This box warehouse concept, these Chinese-made tools, this concept of power tools for $10 and $20 have really destroyed many expectations of tools in a throw-away society. Buy a tool, use it for a few jobs, replace it when it dies. The service charges for repair of appliances is insane. As is the hourly rate that is proposed. More than many people earn as an hourly rate, so why would they spend 2 hours working to pay for 1 hour of a repairman, when for the same (or cheaper amount) you can buy a new, replacement (cheap) tool?

So now we have over priced labour, over priced manufacturing, offset against ludicrously low priced imports.

Never mind the imports are built, not for a function, but a price. Let’s not use real bearings, use nylon bushes. The tool is made to last 10 hours of operation for its life (and no, that is not an exaggeration, some GMC drills were specifically designed for 10 hours use. If one lasted longer, it was considered ‘over engineered’, and was rebranded platinum). 10 hours operation of a drill may last some households a lifetime, so sure, for some people, that is a reasonable purchase.

But what I see when I look at those tools is a waste of resources. A waste of the raw materials that made them, as with the same raw product, refined better of course, and with a much better design, a real tool could have been made. In fact, the minerals would have been better just left in the ground, rather than mined, drilled, crushed, refined, shipped, refined more, shipped again, machined, assembled, shipped, distributed, and shipped again to be sold, in a product that cost $10, and is designed to last 10 hours.

I tried to review a clamping workbench a few years ago. I won’t mention its name, but it was sold through Bunnings for a while. I had a couple of models to cover. The concept seemed reasonable, the sales video looked impressive. I got one model assembled, but the second broke before I even got it fully together. (I had videoed the whole process, and by the end, it was obvious that even if I did use the video, I’d have to over-dub the whole soundtrack).

By the time I had the two assembled, the flimsiness of the material (too thin struts, too weak, too compromised to save a few dollars in raw materials), the overall quality of construction, both models were picked up taken back to the supplier and unceremoniously given back. I wanted nothing to do with them. (The company (importer) hasn’t spoken to me since either). All I could think was “what a waste of resources”. Not there was enough steel used to even make a good boat anchor from it. Perhaps if there had been, it wouldn’t have been such a crap product. About 6 months (or even less) later, Bunnings dumped the range as well. Guess that says something.

So let me introduce a different concept. The Bauhaus of the 21st century.

Instead of “Form Following Function”, I propose that the new Bauhaus is “Finance Following Function”. And one of the big proponents of this (not that I am suggesting they are considering themselves the new Bauhaus, that is just my take on things), comes from the country of the original Bauhaus, Germany.

German engineering. It has long been regarded as the créme de la créme of design and manufacturing excellence, and when building something where Finance Follows Function, means building a tool to the absolute best it can be, to do the job it was intended to do, and then worry about the price.

And there sits Festool. Tools made to be the best, not the cheapest. Other brands also appear: Tormek, SawStop, Woodpeckers, Incra, Teknatool. Tools overengineered, over-speced, over made, to achieve the optimum quality, not price.

The tools last, and really work.
Function √
Justified use of materials √
Longevity √
A pleasure to use √

How much?

I read this on the packet of some premium pizza bases, but it was so fitting:

“The bitterness of poor quality remains, long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten” How true that is.

I know expensive tools are, well, expensive. I know we can’t all afford the very best tools all the time. (Yes, I still have some GMC tools too). But little by little, I am replacing them with the quality equivalent.

The first was my ROS (random orbital sander): when the previous one died, I bought my first Festool – the ETS 150/5. Sure, it was 3x the price of a reasonable ROS, but not once have I regretted that purchase. It is a pleasure each and every time I pick it up and use it. And my hands are not in real physical pain at the end of a sanding session either (from vibrations). I could repeat that same story for a number of other tools as well.

So just something to keep in mind the next time you are shopping for a tool (or anything really). You may well be heavily influenced by price (who isn’t), but give some consideration to what I have said here too, and see if you can choose to allow “Finance to Follow Function”. You won’t regret the decision each and every single time you subsequently use the item purchased.

It is a Bauhaus thing.

WX7 – The Triton Workcentre gets an upgrade

The Triton Workcentre 2000 was launched back in about 1997 or 98 or so (sure someone can confirm more accurately).  I used to have a poster of the Triton timeline that’d confirm some of the dates.

The name was somewhat unfortunate in hindsight.  Having the product named for the millennium meant it became increasingly obvious how old the design was, with people in 2002, 2003 and on wondering if they should buy the 2000, or if another was being released soon.

Funny thing is, a new design was on the drawing board at the time, but the decision to develop the new version beyond the blueprint phase was delayed and cancelled by successive owners of the Triton brand.

The design had an extruded aluminium top, a full mitre slot, and drop-in induction motors.

1 1/2 decades later, and that design has finally been dusted off, revamped, developed, then turned into a new product – the latest version of the Triton Workcentre, the WX7.

There is also a full redevelopment of the Router Table, and an impressive new version has been produced.  Due to the market early 2015.

In the meantime, check out this video compiled from shots from the 2014 International Hardware Fair in Colonge.  It shows not only the new WX7 Workcentre, the new Router Table, but also a bunch of powertools that are being released (some already available)

There are 20V 4AH system tools, including a drill/driver, a combo hammer drill and a 160Nm Impact Driver.

Alongside a reciprocating saw, right angle drill, oscillating multi tool, and a geared eccentric orbit sander.

Some of the other products already available are strangely familiar.  Such as the 180mm power planer. (And the unlimited rebate planer).

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Why does that look so familiar?

Could it be that I have seen it back in August 2008, and still have it sitting in my workshop, coloured blue, but with GMC on the side? Even down to the “magnesium” embossed signage on the side cover and base plate. They still cannot seem to escape that unfortunate association with GMC.

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The T12 drill also bothers me – the Triton drill had one really unique feature that stood it out from the crowd – the plunge mechanism built into the drill.  And despite a strange look, that was the best feature of the drill, which after all is one of dozens on the market.

The T12 has done away with that. T12TP_med_T12TP

The 20V version has a bigger battery, and also follows the Hitachi design concept – if you don’t think it would look out of place in the hands of a Cylon Centurion, you are on the right track. Interesting idea.  Not a design route I’d choose personally, either for tools I was designing, or ones I was planning to add to my workshop, but to each his own.

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Check out the latest catalogue here (but no mention as yet in there of the WX7 or new Router Table)

 

A storm is coming

More precisely, a whirlwind, a tornado, or perhaps that has already arrived looking at the workshop!

One of the opportunities that comes out of such a relocation, is things get reevaluated, cleaned up, and out.

Yes.  A sale is coming.

Not sure exactly what as yet, but there will be some recognisable names and brands amongst the items I have in mind.

Jet
Triton
Torque
Hitachi
Wixey
Carbatec
GMC

It will be interesting to see what comes of it all.

Rediscovering tools

Back in the dim depths of the past, when there was still a company called GMC, selling cheap Chinese-made tools, I bought an air compressor.

It was a direct drive, GMC 40L air compressor, and I thought it might be useful in the workshop, but I wasn’t sure – the compressed air for cleaning up sounded promising.  Well that was then.

These days, I am convinced that compressed air is a great resource for any workshop, and even so I am not maximising how much I could use it. I have used it to clean up (compressed air), inflate basketballs, pool toys.  The impact driver to free rusted bolts from reclaimed timber, and nail guns obviously, large and small.

The one tool that came in the various kits of cheap air tools that I have never used is the paint/finish sprayer.  With 30 metres of lattice to paint (15 m double sided), spraying was definitely the method of choice.  My (budget) HVLP paint sprayer was missing the pickup nozzle (haven’t used it for a few years), so decided to try the paint spray attachment. (Similar to the one pictured)

Sprayer

Worked really well – perhaps not surprisingly, but I shouldn’t have been ignoring it for so long – would make an interesting finish applicator.  (I have 2, so one dedicated to paint and one to wood finishes is easy enough to prevent cross-contamination).

It was a hot day, and although I had thinned the paint right down, it became increasingly difficult as the day progressed.  A few blockages as the paint inside the container dried on the walls, then some flaking off blocked the jet.  The paint that I had watered down (thinned for spraying) was trying to form a skin, so I used a kitchen sieve to capture any lumps of paint as I refilled the container.    The 40L air compressor really struggled to keep up – I could have finished the job in half the time (or better) if the compressor had a larger reservoir, and/or refilled faster.

The heat of the day really did play a part, not only on the paint and the tools, but on me as well.  Hydration only goes so far, I needed to keep the sun under control.  A hat is fine, sunscreen as well, but I needed to really get the sun off me, and my solution would have made Ford Prefect proud.

Still, I am impressed with the air compressor – I have shown it no love for the years it has been languishing in the back shed, pumping away without care or maintenance.  The last time I emptied the tank of water condensation, about 20L of water came out!  I am constantly amazed the whole thing hasn’t failed years ago, but it keeps pumping away.  It wasn’t until near the end of the day that I remembered the compressor was still buried in all that sawdust from the failed dust bag.  When it does finally give up the ghost, I will replace it with a serious compressor with a decent reservoir, but until then, it can keep pumping away!

Back to the spraying, and it really got difficult – it was spluttering, bursting (as in a puff of paint, then just air, then paint), and often spraying so little paint that I was painting with air.  It wasn’t until late in the piece that I realised what was happening.  After the first few fills of the container, paint was building around the upper edge and lid, and it became (semi) airtight.  The air was blowing, but without atmospheric air pressure inside the container, no paint was being drawn up!  I solved it temporarily by opening and closing the container regularly, and finished the job, but in the long term it will need a hole drilled.

But despite the setbacks, and the lessons learned, it worked, and the lattice got painted.  And my sprayer finally got commissioned – only been about 10 years!

Master Lowes

While down in Mornington last weekend, I spotted one of the new Masters stores (Lowes in the US)

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Couldn’t resist a bit of a look around. This won’t be news for everyone, some have obviously had an opportunity to shop there already. Some of us haven’t!

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Racks and racks of tools. A bit of range: 909, xtreme, Hitachi, Panasonic, Bosch, Worx. Some interesting relationships right there. 909 is pretty much identical to old GMC tools, same mouldings, same everything, different name. Xtreme according to one of the staff is the budget range from Worx. Now Worx is owned by Positec, who also own Rockwell, and Rockwell is the budget version (in Australia). Worx Pro is the premium range (and is called Rockwell in overseas stores). So where does Xtreme fit in? Confused? Me too.

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A whole wall of Sonicrafters. Back to my discussion: another tool I saw is called the iDrill. In white or black. Rather Apple-like. But it is a drill people! Had a quick look at it, and took the battery out. Now that is interesting- a very familiar battery shape. Looks the same as my Rockwell Li-Ion range of tools. Wonder if that is a Positec tool as well?

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One or two Dremels (& accessories)

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A whole wall of extension cords

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And good to see I can get some reasonable Bessey clamps from more than one source down under.

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It was really interesting to see some very familiar GMC tools again, now under a 909 brand. The relatively low cost (at the time) GMC thicknesser really opened some interesting new woodworking doors for me back in its time.

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And yet another version of the Triton Superjaws. Boy did GMC really stuff up not maintaining that international patent.

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There were shopping trolleys that looked like racecars, motorised scooters for those tired of walking, but I really found interesting was this rack of plastic. Wrap your project for transportation, line your boot. All really simple, neat touches.

Interesting times!

Colour my (shed) world

Even from early shed days, there was an interesting trend in the colour schemes in the shed, that paralleled where I was at in terms of equipment, and woodworking in general.

From slow beginnings, almost a precursor stage where there was an influence of GMC Blue.  This expanded somewhat, but then Triton orange appeared, and surged.  The amount of large machines grew significantly, as did my capabilities to produce a decent product.

Jet beige tried to make an appearance, but for a number of reasons, never really establised a foothold – it may have been just too early, too pricey (at the time) or for whatever reason it just didn’t catch on.  Don’t get me wrong – good product, but only one machine remains in current use.

The real surge (colour-wise) was from Carbatec blue (and some Tormek blue), and as you can see from the (very rough) diagram, it firmly pushed Triton out of the workshop, each orange machine getting replaced with something blue (and silver).

The workshop has been expanding a little since, with a combination of Torque green, and Festool green (yeah, I know the tools are mostly blue casings, but I still think of Festool based on the colour of the logo, and the colour of the latches on the systainers.)

I’m not sure what point there is to these observations.  If I drew a line through the current point and had started there, I would have saved a lot of buying, then selling of items.  But that just would not have happened – at the start there would have been no way I’d invest that much into a hobby that was not certain.

My introduction into woodworking is easily credited to that spike of orange.  It was a dominant force, and really set the hobby in motion.  That it has faded now only reflects some opportunities I had, and that my requirements outgrew it to some extent.  There is little I make these days that couldn’t have been made back then either (excluding the lathe that Triton prototyped but never released, and the unique capabilities of the Torque).  My ears are probably a lot happier – induction motors are so much quieter!

There is still some GMC in the shop (very little – a drill, a 3 mill. candle lamp, a router) and some Triton (circular saw and routers) but that is pretty much the extent of it.  The lack of Jet is a bit of a surprise – not a reflection on the brand, but some opportunities that were missed that others grabbed.

Are there any lessons in this for someone either starting out in woodworking, or considering doing so?

Woodworking is a very personal pursuit.  Every single person will have a different story, different requirements, different resources (space, time, money), and a different degree to which they want to become involved, so it is very difficult to even make generalisations.

I know a number of years ago (when Triton was still very popular, and readily available), as the influence of Chinese manufacturing was starting to be felt, there were a lot of comments out there about why buy Triton – you could get a reasonable tablesaw for the price.  Perhaps true, perhaps not (at the time).  It is certainly the case currently (but again, that will change).

Triton was very much a feeder brand – it bought people into woodworking that may never have gotten involved otherwise.  And because you could build up your collection of tools, accessories and additions over time, your budget didn’t take the same hit than if you spent it all at once on a dedicated tablesaw. It could be folded away, (and transported) which was another important consideration for those space poor, and not necessarily looking at setting up a full workshop (not at least until the addiction takes hold and spreads).  Many woodworkers to this day are still happy using their Triton workbenches, and may not have invested much, if any more than that.

If asked today, Triton probably would not be the answer I’d first think of, given the price has risen, and even more so compared to the price other brands have come down.  Get a shed, or workspace that is dedicated (if at all possible), some basic tools, and take your time to build from there.  A jigsaw (the puzzle, not the tool!) is completed one piece at a time, each is contemplated, assessed and placed before moving onto the next.  Treat your tool acquisition in the same way.

These days, now I’ve had a sentence or two to think about it, I’d probably say, start 2nd hand.  Acquire, contemplate, assess, place, use, then as your workshop grows you can then look at moving items on and scaling up the collection to bigger, better, perhaps newer.  At least when you do decide to, you will have a much better idea of what the replacement should be, and you should be able to recoup a large portion of your investment to reinvest.

Triton Tools during my Holmesglen courses

In my case I outgrew the Triton range.  However in saying that, the money invested was not a complete loss.  When I on-sold the tools, I still got around a 75% return on my investment.  The money that I didn’t get back could easily be put down as being paid for the use I got from the machines, the education I received in using them, the lessons I learned.  That 25% is not a bad investment!  On top of that, some of the work I did on the Triton saved me a great deal compared to the alternative – buying the furniture items from Ikea and the like.

Without even counting the magazine articles I wrote, the demonstrations I was doing, the courses I ran, once the last item was sold, I could easily say that the Triton made me money.  A hobby that paid for itself!  That is not a bad hobby to get into.

What you need to do is determine what sort of woodworking you want to pursue, at least initially – no matter your choice, you are not locked in.  The way to work that out is quite simple.  When you imagine yourself in 5 years time, a veteran woodworker, what sort of things do you imagine you have made?

Turned bowls, vases?

Penturning?

Fine furniture, Krenov cabinets, Windsor rocking chairs?

Practical furniture, bookshelves, kitchen cabinets?

Scrollsawn masterpieces?

Kids’ toys, dollhouses, marble rollers?

Kids’ furniture, playhouses?

Fine boxes, dovetailed joints, fancy lids?

Pyrography, burning pictures in wood?

What you visualise will determine what path to pursue initially.  You can then find books and magazines on the topic (libraries are a great initial resource, and the price is right).  You could enrol in a course.  You could join a club or get into the woodworking forums (but be aware that everyone has a bias (even me), and they may guide you to what would be best for them and their version of this pursuit, and not necessarily yours).

Whatever direction you choose, if it is something that really excites you, then that is an excellent place to start. Start small, build up your collection, and challenge yourself.  But most of all, enjoy it – life is too short not to really enjoy what you do.

Looking for Spares?

The biggest problem with companies that go under (for whatever reason) is not the loss of their tools on the market, it is the poor existing owners who are screwed when it comes to finding replacement parts for their tools. That issue is exasperated when the tools were made and sold cheaply in the first place, so they have a higher fail rate.

Triton are now back on the market (to a more limited capacity than just before the death of GMC), so parts can be sourced through that supply line again, but still, the current stockist are unlikely to bother to provide parts for discontinued tools (a story I hear on a regular basis sadly from reader contacting me desparate for a part).

The other is of course GMC tools themselves.

The range is going to be limited still, but this company does offer spares for Triton and GMC

Tool Spares Online

They have quite a decent list of old GMC powertools that they carry spares for, and for some tools provide the oerating manual online, and/or the exploded parts diagram to help locate the part you need. They offer to source other parts not listed too….interesting.

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So before you give up all hope for one of your orphaned tools that needs a spare else it will be chucked in the bin (not always the wrong option….), then check out that site. It might help!

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