Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Fix or Toss?

120 year old pulley and chain

Rotted timber

Repaired timber

Repairability: to restore to a good or sound condition after decay or damage; mend; to renew by any process of making good, strengthening. Fixing stuff has been replaced by buying new stuff. But it’s not because we don’t want to fix things, they just can’t be fixed. Injection molds, fused seams, weird screws make dismantling a once fixable object impossible. We have even lost the places that fix stuff, like cobblers, lock shops, sewing machines, and vacuums. But you know what the worst part is? We are losing practice.

Crafts are dying. While the clamor for more tradespeople is a common thread, the deeper concern is the crafts trades are replaced by assemblers. Not that there is anything wrong with assemblers; we have had them from the very first structures humans have made. But what makes a structure sound and thoughtful are the crafting of them. You can design the greatest building in the world but headless hands cannot build it. Taking things from ideas on paper or screen to life requires a team of balanced trades, from those sweeping floors all the way to the graying master. Without this balance there are voids filled with workers without passion, seeking only to assemble the parts and not consider the assembly. And without anything to fix, there are few practicing or willing to do the job.

Tossing it. The past 30 years have seen many products come on the market that are one and done. This is possible by the age of plastics and refined manufacturing and distribution. While I may sound like I am pining for a time lost, this is more about replacing a piece than a whole unit. Take windows for instance. I love the renewed smooth action of a 150 year old weight and pulley window, where all of the parts are still available by salvage or buying new. I get enraged over having to throw away a 20 year old window because the glass is foggy. It goes on though. Break a window cable or string? Toss it. How about some rot on the unit? Garbage. OK, how about a missing lock? Maybe. Loose or bad weather seals? Time to replace.

Many things today are made to fail, rather than being designed to last. Well yea, junk has been made and sold since the first human transaction, but the objects that are still here have something to learn from. Every time something is taken apart there is a lesson of failure. Each part can be observed and judged by its performance, and a new part, or better part, can be introduced. And this isn’t exclusive to historic or old buildings. This is your microwave, cell phone, tv, door, window, frying pan, power tool; whatever you invest in thinking it is “quality”. So when the salesperson tells you their thing is better ask them straight up, “Can it be fixed?”.