For this edition of Maintenance Monday, I decided to go over a few well-made household items that can still be found at Walmart. I suppose today’s installment is my own version of a prudent product buyer’s guide. Maintenance Monday is about keeping your possessions in good order, which starts with buying high quality stuff to begin with.
Today, most reasonably priced products and appliances are total garbage. I’ve covered this in one of my earliest articles on this blog. Fortunately, there are still a few mainline manufacturers who produce high-quality items for Walmart and similar big retailers.
This is not a paid post or advertisement. I’ve personally used all of these items, and I believe they’re excellent. In reality, I’m pleasantly surprised to find them at Walmart at all. Not everything at big box stores is rubbish; it takes a bit of time and experience to discern the good from the junk.
The Iconic Lasko Box Fan
Blake Shelton summed up the American experience when he sang,
“[mama] put a hundred thousand miles on a Sears box fan”
Sears isn’t what it used to be, but a quality box fan can still be had at Walmart: the Lasko fan! If you live in America and breathe air, you’ve certainly come across some variant of this classic square fan. I live without air conditioning, and many hot summer nights have been made tolerable by this old-school air mover.
Box fans are an excellent choice for budget summer cooling, as they fit perfectly on the window sill, floor or table. The sheer volume of air displaced by this cube is truly impressive. Remember, not all box fans are created equal. Lasko has been building fans in the United States since 1906, and I own three that date back to the 1970s. The new Lasko box fan is (apart from minor cosmetic changes) pretty much the same fan as mine, built almost 50 years ago. That’s incredible, and the mark of an excellent machine.
Summer is approaching fast. This year, save a buck on A/C and get a box fan like this. I’ve relied on Lasko fans for a long time, and with so few moving parts, it’s hard to go wrong with one.
Classic Rubbermaid Coolers
This item is more a matter of preference. Coleman invented the rubber cooler, and continues to produce them today. In my honest ‘internet expert’ opinion, Rubbermaid is a better choice. Rubbermaid’s cooler is also a product of the good old USA, and sports the traditional red grooved plastic construction.
If you’re not a styling puritan, don’t worry, there’s more to be said in favor of Rubbermaid. In my experience, Rubbermaid coolers are the most unbelievably durable ice chest ever produced; they look better for longer, and seem to cool beverages more reliably. But, it’s a cooler, not a rocket, so it could just be me. My parents still use a small blue Rubbermaid purchased sometime around 1991.
When I saw this classic plastic cooler at Walmart, I couldn’t help but smile. It brings back memories of long days at the beach and camping trips in the Sierras. Even if you don’t like to camp or tailgate, it’s still a good idea to have one around in case of a power outage. Or maybe to use as a portable beer fridge when you’re too lazy to get off the couch.
Lodge Cast Iron Cookware
I absolutely LOVE cooking with cast iron. The flavor is better (especially with meat) and makes it worth the extra work. For those of you who’ve cooked on cast iron before, you know what I mean. For the rest of us who are new(er) to this, let me explain. Cast iron cooking equipment needs to be ‘seasoned’ to work correctly. There’s a great video on YouTube showing how to cook with and maintain cast iron properly.
These sorts of traditional cooking products are not ubiquitous as they used to be, and many modern manufacturers never knew the manufacturing techniques required to produce them properly. Centuries of production experience have been passed down for generations, and Lodge is one of the few real foundries still utilizing those skills. Overseas manufacturers produce cast iron cookware that looks the part, but often doesn’t stand up to basic quality tests.
In 1896, Joseph Lodge founded the ‘Blacklock Foundry.’ The company began producing cast iron goods at their plant in Pittsburg, Tennessee that year, then changed their name to Lodge Manufacturing Company in 1910. The company survived the Great Depression and continues to produce all sorts of high-quality cast iron cooking products to this day.
Cooking with cast iron is fantastic when your pots and pans are properly made. I speak from experience when I tell you to choose the right cast iron pans to cook with. A good set of cast pots and pans is essential to any kitchen, and can likely be passed down for many generations (if properly cared for).
The Vaughan & Bushnell Manufacturing Company started producing tools in the 1860s. Vaughan builds excellent general-purpose household hammers, some of which are available at Walmart. It may seem silly to suggest that one hammer is superior to another; after all, it’s just a slab of metal attached to a wooden stick. Once again I speak from experience when I suggest buying a good American-made hammer, here’s why:
I’ve seen low-quality hammer heads split, chip (and send debris everywhere) and even fly right off the handle. The last thing you want is an airborne hammer-head. Vaughan hammers are forged from hardened steel that won’t shatter like cast pot metal, and the head is fastened to the handle (specifically wood) using metal wedges and is far less likely to separate and cause a dangerous situation.
Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl
This is probably the most useful repair tool I’ve ever owned. The Speedy Stitcher is a waxed-thread sewing awl, used for leather, canvas, vinyl, or any other thick fabric-like material. This is the original Speedy Stitcher, which dates all the way back to 1909!
I could write an entire article on this tool. A sewing awl is basically just a sewing machine needle with a handle, and it’s great for repairing leather. I would highly recommend this tool if you own a sailboat, as it’s especially useful for mending sails. I’ve never seen a sewing tool that’s so universally useful for so many things. This sewing awl comes with a roll of waxed thread, two needles, and all the parts shown below. And, you guessed it: it’s made in America.
In another article, I’ll get into sewing and how to repair leather and canvas. But for now, I’d recommend picking up a Speedy Stitcher at Walmart or online. There’s a few different sewing awls available, but this is my personal favorite. Overseas manufacturers have been knocking off this tool for decades, so I was genuinely surprised to find a genuine Speedy Stitcher in the sewing aisle at Walmart.