The joy of being a reassembler and why we need them more than ever
Ilike learning, looking, puzzling, inventing. I’ll happily re-visit something to iron out the bugs, once or twice, but then I want to move onto the next challenge.
There were not many challenges awaiting me when we returned to our Dunedin block after cruising the Pacific.
It had me worried. I am 63 now and starting to feel time-poor, which tends to exaggerate the fear that you’re wasting it.
But then our Corolla blew a head-gasket and the family-heirloom MG lost its clutch. Our youngest son’s wedding required both to be going.
I then discovered a whole lot of other things which needed fixing. For a while, life consisted of eating, sleeping, overalls and tools.
An astute friend gave me a book called The Reassembler, written by UK TV star and the mechanically-fastidious James May. A penny dropped. The activity of fixing things can be mentally stimulating, cognitively therapeutic, aesthetically pleasing and – if it succeeds – intensely satisfying.
May points out that re and re-re and rere-reassembling is entirely legitimate and can be done for the sheer fun of it. That’s good, because my sons and I are now revisiting the MG’S clutch for the third time.
It’s also good because it took stripping down an old ratchet hoist (pictured top right) three times before I even figured out how it should work, let alone how to fix it. Half-a-dozen reassemblies later it now moves with a silky purr. As a result, so do I.
I have benches, vices, tools and time. I’d rather reassemble than become rich or renowned. I’d rather refurbish something several times over than buy
Reassembly is going to be an in-demand skill in future. Perhaps THE in-demand skill. Fixable machines, from blenders to chainsaws to washing machines, will be in more demand than their unfixable, throwaway cousins. That’s something to bear in mind when choosing your next one.
We came back from the Pacific to find our washing machine leaking from its rubber bellows. It’s a machine we refurbished several years ago and my instinct was to refurbish it again. I even had a spare, sitting under the trees waiting to be stripped for parts. Our sons pre-empted the move and bought us a new one. I was spitting tacks. I was also impressed that we had offspring who would do this for us.
But we can’t go on consuming as we are. Older machinery is easier to maintain than programmed electronic stuff.
There is a good counterargument. Without people buying new products, neither our old washing machine nor the new one would have been developed.
James May addresses this discrepancy by circumventing it. He likes new products and sees his reassembly urge as somewhere between therapeutic and fun.
I’m a bit more serious about it. I don’t regard either of our washing machines, nor the system which spawned them, as sustainable. A fix-it approach extends the life of something which already exists. There’s no need to dump the old one or manufacture a new one.
Cynically, you could say that all I do is buy time. But when (and it is when, not if) the combination of debt, growth and drawdown known as the global economy falters, I’ll have useful skills. The kind of skills currently being lost to an increasingly specialised and throw-away society.
I’m reacquainting myself with some forgotten tools and techniques and feeling good about it. There are judgement calls to be made. How many washers do we pack under those tired 82-year-old clutchsprings? Do we replace those too-oftentightened old bolts?
Much of the process is satisfying and some of it is genuinely fun. There are enough things needing fixing and reassembling on our block to keep me going for some time.
Reassembly isn’t as much fun as sailing, snorkeling over a coral reef or my previous hang gliding hobby, but it sure beats vacuuming or doing the dishes.
This is a disassembled Yale & Towne ¾ ton hoist, British patent No 469967, that once belonged to Percy Lupp. Percy was married to Sybil Lupp, a famous Mg-jaguar racer and mechanic. My dad was pit mechanic and navigator for Sybil, and built and repaired machinery with Percy. The hoist is heirloom, history, nostalgia and patina all rolled into one. I first used it in 1976.