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Archive for May 4th, 2011

Parts is Parts

Posted by Dirck on 4 May, 2011

I can’t actually remember the item of long-dead North American pop-culture from which my title is drawn?  I assume an ad of some kind, and if that’s the case I’m pretty pleased that my memory doesn’t retain the product.

I was tinkering with a Parker Vacumatic this past weekend, and found that the filler was rather messed up.  “Well, I’m going to need to get another Vacumatic filler unit,” said I… and then fell to pondering the increasing prevalence of replace as opposed to repair.

I once again hold forth on a bygone day I was not actually present for, but leaving aside my lack of direct experience, I think it’s safe to say that the Industrial Revolution has incrementally undone our collective sense of both maintenance and repair.  If something breaks, we are more inclined to look for a new one rather than a way to recreate it.  My own response to the Vacumatic issue is to start plowing through my parts bin to see if I can find an undamaged example.  There are some people who have the skill to fabricate the part in question, but this is an extremely unusual thing to to.  Most who offer pen repair tend to rather have will to find replacement parts and the patience to put them in place– the fabricators are few, far between, and pretty expensive (rightly so).   We try, though, to work in parts rather than components, the difference being a part is usually a single material while a component is set of parts that don’t really work in isolation and which are sometimes impossible to come at.  A lever-filling pen’s filler is made of parts (lever, the pin or ring it hangs from, the pressure bar), while the Vacumatic filler has a single component (threaded collar, shaft, spring and cup, all glued together and sometimes open to dismantling).

Pre-Industrial Revolution, people would not generally discard things, but rather found someone with the skills actually re-fabricate the item.  The best example I can think of is in the early parts of the film Master and Commander; right at the beginning of the show, HMS Surprise gets horribly torn up an enemy warship, and before the half-way mark she is restored to her original shape (including the figurehead and the decorative posts of the railing).  This was more possible before the Revolution, because pretty much everything was technically hand-made.  It’s beaten up?  Get the man who built it to put it right!  Note, too, that a 28-gun frigate has a vast complexity of components, but the repairs are almost all at the part level because those components are reducible– a gun’s carriage is shattered, so some wood is shaped to the purpose, rather than hauling out of the hold a crate labelled “Carriage for 18 pound cannon (rope and cannon not included)”, and the component gun is back in business.

As we enter the 21st century, we have an awful lot of stuff that is absolutely immune to repair.  An iPod is the smallest component of an iPod– if it breaks, you fling it and get a new one.  TVs are much the same, and while it’s technically possible to replace some internal parts of a DVD player the economics of getting the part and paying the labour to have it installed militate towards just buying a new one.  I have no cure for this, but it makes me sort of sad.  We’ve moved from knowing how things are made (or at least, knowing the guy who knows) to more or less praying to the magic juju of the distant factory to send us useful items.  We’re a cargo cult with a complicated supply chain.

…apparently I’m still a little down.  I’ll see what I can do about repairing my mood, because replacing my mood generator is not an option I wish to pursue.

Today’s pen, an amalgamation of 17 distinct parts (or 6 components): Parker Vacumatic
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Éclat de Saphir

post scriptus– Who says synchronicity is just  a rather good album?  Not long after writing the above, I am shown the site of Surgu, a material aimed at letting people back into repair and fabrication in a very low-grade way.   I’ve not tried it, I can’t endorse it, but I am entirely behind its spirit.

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