Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Simple Things

Simple Things
By Greg Larson

     The clothes dryer had been dismantled by the repairman, and parts were strewn about the basement washroom.

     While he efficiently replaced the broken belt and pulley, I commented, “Looks pretty complicated to me.”

     “Actually, you have one of the simple older models,” he replied.  “The new models have a lot of electronics, and they are much more complicated.  They cost more, too.  But the crazy thing is people are buying them like hotcakes.  Go figure.”

     Whatever happened to the simple way of doing things?  Electric dryers didn’t exist for centuries.  You know, the sun does a pretty good job of drying clothes.  I guess I could stretch out some wire in the back yard, as long as the neighbors don’t complain.

     Simple tools, simple solutions, simple designs . . . I like things with few moving parts, especially those tools or appliances that don’t have a motor.  Clearly, there are motorized gadgets and electronic inventions, computers included, which help us complete our tasks more quickly and efficiently.  I’m all for that.  But sometimes we become slaves to their operation and maintenance.

     I’m sure you can think of those simple things to which you’ve become attached: an apple slicer handed down through generations, or a saw or chisel which fits like a glove when you grasp it.  I get a Zen-like feeling when I’m using a simple hand tool in the kitchen, the yard or the quiet of the workshop.  While working on a task, a functional and emotional bond develops between me and the tool.  We become one.  Maybe it’s the cave-man genetics taking control.

I wonder if the patent is still pending.

     Since man began using his brainpower, there have been those inventors out there in the far corners of civilization who experienced revelations of utter simplicity; solutions that were far from being complex. There is a functional aesthetic to these conveniences.  The inherent beauty shines through because there are no frills, no wasted parts.   Someone was confronted with a problem to be solved – such as hiking in snow – and a solution of necessity was created:  wood and leather foundations strapped to the feet.

A functional aesthetic

     Another simple device is the wire candle-holder.  The curved and spiral shape is pleasing to look at, and the wooden plug and pin at the base of the candle allow the user to raise the candle as it burns shorter.  This function keeps the flame at its high point.  Another version of this candle holder was used by the gold miners.  It had a horizontal spike at its base for anchoring into the walls of the mine tunnels. Of course, now we use electricity for light bulbs of every size and shape imaginable . . . another complex subject with political overtones that I’ll not tackle here.

     One of my favorite tools is the patented Stanley saw-blade handle that hangs on my shop wall. It is one of my most valuable tools, and it’s worth its weight in gold.  There’s not much to it.  You won’t see any multi-million dollar marketing campaigns to sell it, because there’s not any profit to be made.  I think it came as a freebie with a more expensive purchase.  But it is one of the best problem-solvers that I have.  I can trim metal, wood, drywall, caulking . . . you name it.  The saw blade fits into very tight locations, and it is possible to use very short blade strokes while sawing.  Try doing that with a power saw. 

Worth its weight in gold.

     I appreciate good design, but I don’t want to try and overthink it.  Then it would be complex instead of simple.  After bonding with the tools, it’s nice to relax and have a beer.  I like the old ales that have bottle caps which require a tool to pry them off.  The twist-off caps are ingenious, but I’ve cut my fingers on them.  The wall-mounted bottle opener leaves nothing to chance.  The bottle opener which I’ve mounted on the wall has instructions on how to use it, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.  That’s the beauty of the design . . . it’s so simple.

It's so simple.

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