Product Review

Thirstystone Coasters

Posted on

The ubiquitous beverage coaster.  Tossed with abandon as kids, set liberally about the newlywed’s new furniture.  Their use tends to lose urgency as my go-to table begins taking on the characteristics of my wooden floor.

In climates with near-zero atmospheric humidity to condense, yonder glass of iced sun tea with mint still rests upon a handsome coaster.  Decorative, maybe protecting … something.  Maybe from habit?

Made in the Southwest, cores of solid sandstone are cut to discs of this absorbent rock.  Then shaped and polished.  Natural cork backing and any logo or design you choose.  Painted and packaged in Gainesville, Texas.  

The perfect gift.  An unopened boxed set discovered at an out-of-the-way thrift store?  Definite collector’s item.  Stock up!  You’ll be retiring in style!

Kansas Grasslands

Posted on

The prairie is an ocean on which no oar is dipped.

One in a continuing series of Road Trip essays . . . Taking a diagonal cue from the atlas, we look at I-35 thru Kansas en route to our intended two-lane destination, US-400 / US-54.  And discover the Monarch Highway.  Not asphalt, grasslands. The I-35 as Monarch Highway initiative is an example of a recent coordinated effort across six states – Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota – to provide habitat for the rapidly declining monarch butterfly.NWF

Camping is permitted.  Next time we’re entertaining area stretches of two-lane  relaxation, we’ll plan to pull in closer to dusk.  A piece of rough linen as sleeping cocoon with a seat cushion for our noggin, and we’ll slumber under the stars ’till dawn.  On part of the original prairie.

Kansas was a pleasure.  Kingman Kansas deserved more time.  Taco Delite in Pratt, locally owned and surrounded by chain fast food, Six Thumbs Up !!!  Grassland to the horizon dotted with cattle.  Wheat!  Corn, soybeans, milo, hay.  And of course oil, pronounced awwwlllllll, with a capital $$$$ at the end  🙂 

We continue 2-lane magic upon US-60 into New Mexico and Arizona, rediscovering Ira’s Bar and finally stopping for a perfect enchilada-stype burro in Globe, Arizona.

RO-ARK Leather

Posted on

Romance, Arkansas  From the beginning Man has used animal hides to improve his life.  The Art of Tanning is developed.  Jerkins, leggings, boots, gloves, satchels, and iPhone cases quickly follow.  The best of crafters are elusive.  These crafters bridge income disparities, turn trade to hobby and back again, set down needle and thread when returning to a previous career or duty.  Full-time production shops?  Not the same as a one- or two- person operation.  When you find a stand-out product, stock up for a lifetime of gift-giving!

A year back we covered the work of Michael Hicks Design, when they created the perfect minimalist wallet.  A business card case which accommodates my DL & CC, CIA ident’, and all-hours White House Pass.  Very handy bit of stitching, thin as a whisker.  Now a year old, hardly broken in at all!

With growing nephews sprouting like summer corn, I figure to start them out right in their early teens, and present another favorite after college.  Stack’o’leather, please, Mike!

Ro-Ark Leather obliged and made me eleven different bifold card cases.  I chose seven.  The fun is just beginning.  I’ll get the two boys to choose their favorites in turn.  Years down the roads, these adolescent decisions will come back to them as milestone gifts.

Lenox Saw Blades

Posted on

In the food services industry, you never know what you’ll run into.  Standard tradespeople avoid working on restaurant equipment.  Those few specialty service companies have huge service fees (the local branch of a national company bills $174 for the first ½ hour, $104/hr after that, invoiced in ¼ hour increments).

Specifications are always changing, equipment gets handed down through subsequent owners with no service manuals, identifying plates are obliterated by heat and abrasion and cleaning agents.  At death, you’re left with a hulk of smoldering stainless steel, a few greasy bent knobs, and frantic kitchen staff winging it with other equipment.  The restaurant owner, upon seeing just the material cost of new components (which will not mate up with his existing components), asks hopefully, Can it be repaired?

When the original manufacturer went out of business, they politely left behind a zero-database for others to maintain their commercial kitchen equipment.  A Bricks-N-Mortar shop promised OEM replacement parts.  But the Infrared Element for Brian’s essential cheese melter came in a wee bit on the big side.  The appliance’s I/R element mounting shelf will require discrete modification.

My metal nipper is lent to the big church job up the street.  Grinder with thin cut-off wheel?  Mmmmm, maybe too much dust.  I’m thinking jigsaw.  Lowes has the blades.  And would’dga lookit that!  Made in USA, both the Lexox and the DeWalt.  

Most of the small blades seem to be USA origin, or USA/Swiss with global components.  A few packs of Asian remain, but their reputation seems entrenched:  they are cheap and burn out far too quickly.

I went with a 5-pack of 24 t.p.i. Lenox over two 2-packs of the Dewalt in 18 tpi and 24 tpi, figuring 18 teeth per inch is more than I want for thin metal.  Two blades later, I’m back to fitting the I/R burner into place.  In short order, Brian’s cheese melter, mounted above his main grill, is again toasting meatball mozzarella grinders and nachos.  Yummm!

Stuarts Draft, Virginia

Posted on

Amid a cacophony of tectonic activity there lies a valley of peace and tranquility.  Prosperity, jobs, and amazing opportunities for outdoor types.  Nestled here amid the Allegheny, Appalachian, and Blue Ridge Mountains,  NIBCO manufactures world-class copper plumbing fittings.

Brian’s sports bar in University City is a hopping success.  Near three colleges, it is de facto dorm room to scholars and athletes alike.  But by the northern battery of beer taps, what is that smell?  The beer tray indirect trap had issues.  Nothing the right plumbing can’t fix.  Brian will tell you, for great food, it starts with quality ingredients.  Likewise, for plumbing parts, I turn to the leaders. NIBCO.

With the right fittings and tools, Brian’s longstanding issue disappears.  After a little all-purpose cleaner mixed 50/50 with hot water and a heavy scrub pad, his floor tiles are back to Union Specification. 

The fittings came to me from the supply house in pristine condition.  Blessedly with no gooey stickers affixed.  Deeply and proudly stamped NIBCO.  Country of origin?  A call to NIBCO’s general number immediately connected me with Susan, who zapped me onward.  In a flash, Jem in Technical Support looked up the fittings, confirmed origin, right as I was viewing the Stuarts Draft article on NIBCO’s webpage.  Sunday morning calls to area businesses confirm the vibe:  Stuarts Draft is a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter

Posted on

A typical love story.  The small town girl loved the idea of a big city.  A city filled with arts and liberal thinking and culture and men.  She moved herself across country.  From the hot arid Southwest to the Ice Capital of the Mid-Atlantic States.  Two items did not make the trip:  1] heavy winter coat, non-existent back home, and 2] satisfyingly thick blanket for comfortable sleeping (same reason).

With negative percentile body fat, her blanket had to be the best a department store within walking distance could offer.  Wanamakers?  Precise provenance is blurred in a haze of Philadelphia smog.  But a thick attractive comforter was purchased.  Durable, with excellent stitching, it probably cost a week’s salary.

Philadelphia is a cruel mistress.  Some are taken to her bosom, nurtured, and blossom to fulfillment.  Others, disillusioned, return home, leaving coats, boots, and blankets for other’s hopes and dreams.  In time, the comforter was inherited and stored.

While I’ve never been a blanket guy, barely wanting even a sheet on cold nights, advancing age means thinning blood.  The abandoned Laura Ashley comforter found new purpose.  What a lifesaver it turned out to be this frigid April!

Now in its majority, the stitching remains tight.  Its strong fabric is a little faded but wearing gracefully.  

Whether enjoying your comforter trdelník-style or indulging full-court burrito, the vintage Laura Ashley makes every dreaming session a Top Hat affair.

Laura Ashley USA is headquartered in Fort Mill, SC.  Revman International made my comforter decades ago for Laura Ashley.  They continue to provide quality merchandise Laura Ashley customers want. 

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter   74″ x 86″   5.7 pounds.

Irwin Taps & Dies

Posted on

A box of cheap spool clamps unearthed at the closing violin shop seemed a deal.  Spring clamps and forty pounds of lead bar were getting me only so far.  Centenarian violins streaming to my luthier table deserve better.  Proper violin spool clamps it would be!

After every full face lift, a violin top is reunited with its body with 33 spool clamps about the perimeter.  Quickly installed, as hot hide glue cools quickly.  Adjusted, glue cleaned from seams, ribs, and behind clamps, but in general, they stay tight on the violin for a good hour or so.

My clamps were arthritic.  Or constipated?  Binding issues prevented spools from moving freely upon their shafts.  I’d wrestle with one, make it work, maybe have better luck with the next.  Eventually I was back to vintage Pony spring clamps and lead bars.

Winter brings time for the fisherman to repair nets.  Likewise, the luthier may catch a break to refurbish tools.  After the triplets were off my table, I closely examined the clamps.  Some shafts were threaded a bit haphazardly.  There was glue in the threads.  Spools were mis-drilled.  Hmmmm . . . one man’s trash is another mans . . .

Clyde’s Hardware Store had a complete display of tapping tools in neat order, being overlooked by the casual weekend tinkerer.  I found the correct die head, ¼” x 20 (threads per inch), and with a wire brush and Liquid Wrench Silicone Spray, went to work.  Disassembling each spool clamp, wire-brushing its threads clean, sometimes running the die head all the way down the shaft, tidying up the threads.  Occasionally drilling the spool’s hole a tad wider.  Thirsty work, indeed!

Fifty clamps refurbished, enough for several ongoing projects.  With the right tools, restoration work made easy.

Editor’s note:  Irwin Industrial Tools makes their products all over the world and are currently owned by Stanley Black & Decker.  Irwin’s most identifiable product are Vise-Grips.  In 2008, Irwin announced the closing of its DeWitt, Nebraska plant, ending 80 years of American production for Vise-Grips, citing a necessity to move production to China “to keep the Vise-Grip name competitive.”

Today, this Easter Sunday morning, I visited a Lowe’s Home Improvement store.  Within the tool aisles, examining Irwin products, most were made in Asia, China primarily.  Most, but not all.  The taps and dies are still USA production.

The USA-made Radiator Specialty’s Liquid Wrench, used on the threads? Since 1941 Liquid Wrench® has been making premium lubricating, penetrating and protecting products for people who know that their choice of tools can make all the difference.  rscbrands