Sometimes, too cheap is a barrier you don’t want to cross. Let’s talk about our new barbeque. The old barbeque was working fine except for the burner shield, a tent of flimsy metal that protects the food from the flame, and vice versa. You’d think to make this metal, that’s getting a regular rain of fat and food drippings from one side and a blue-flame onslaught from the other, from something other than untreated steel the thickness of a butterfly wing. But that would cost ten cents more, so you go with the cheap stuff and in five years the barbeque is in perfect shape while the burner shield looks like something a diver would pull from an ancient Phoenician dive site. This replacement part costs about twenty bucks and my wife found a whole new barbeque for thirty.
Imagine this: a new gas grill for thirty dollars, complete with a side burner. It looks almost identical to the first grill, except the burner shield is not a rust-perforated scrim. When I opened it up I found three manuals in different languages (four if you count the twice-translated version of “English” used) and a packet of screws, washers, and screws so numerous and tiny that I could build a perfect scale replica of the Eiffel Tower that would fit in the palm of your hand. Not a good sign. Three hours later I had most of the grill together except the handle that lifts up the lid. Let’s consider this. A barbeque has no moving parts other than a hinging lid. The handle is your sole interface with that lid. Maybe the screws going into that lid should be thicker than a toothpick, and engage more than a single thread into something more substantial than plastic. The provided screws would not attach the handle. A quart of epoxy, a stream of profanities, and a Hogwarts spell book would not attach this handle. So I did the mature thing and left the handle off, wheeled the ‘cue out beside the old one, and hooked up the tank to fire it up. I opened up the valve on the propane tank and heard a steady hiss. Wait…the burners are off, right? Shut the valve, check the burners. Off. Turn on the valve, listen to the hiss, turn it off again. Half an hour later and with the help of soapy water I found the source: the main valve that connects the tank to the barbeque, let’s call it an ESSENTIAL PIECE OF SAFETY AND OPERATIONAL EQUIPMENT, was leaking. So our thirty dollar barbeque can’t be opened and can’t be operated. In the picture below you can actually see the old barbeque gloating as the new grill is hiding its shame under a shroud.
Now for the second product, a metal bedframe for Child Harbat. I’d say it was made in the early 1940s, perhaps earlier. Other than some flaking romantically-aged paint, it is still holding up after three generations of children jumping on it. The rails lock into the head- and footboard with a conical slug of metal that ensures gravity and pogo-legged children will only make the connection tighter and more secure. Now how’s that for craftsmanship?