Thoughts on Consumerism, Farm Life and the Design of Can Openers

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Moving from New York City to a remote farm has taught me a lot about consumerism.

For the previous 20 years I lived in SoHo. Anything I might want–food, coffee, clothes, kitchen goods, consumer products, electronics, tools, hardware, raw materials from wood to upholstery foam to plastics–from any brand was within a few blocks.

On this 47-acre farm, my initial impression was that nothing was within a few blocks. If I needed something, that meant driving towards the interstate and a Walmart. I spent a lot of money here acquiring necessary land-taming tools–a mattock, a billhook, a lopper, a riding mower, etc.–and subsequently tried saving money on raw materials by using what was available on the farm.

That’s because I realized my “nothing is within a few blocks” statement was incorrect. The previous residents of this farm left numerous junk piles on the property, as well as multiple outbuildings filled with stuff. Much of it was garbage, but I’ve found a bunch of buckets (infuriatingly) filled with good hardware mixed with rusted junk.

I have been painstakingly sorting through the bucket contents to weed out the junk and organize the treasure trove of usable fasteners. Carriage bolts, framing nails, finish nails, ring-shanks, screw-shanks, panhead screws, deck screws, sheetrock screws, on and on. Separating them requires a sorting system. In the city I’d have walked over to Chinatown and bought two dozen cheap plastic takeout containers. With no such option here, I have been saving tin cans*.

Even if you open a tin can by cutting through the complete periphery of the lid, it leaves that little jagged shard at the start/end point of the cut. I sliced my finger open on it once, before forming the habit of removing the lid, then running the can opener back and forth on the shard to flatten it. This works well.

Before (ouch)
After (nice and smooth)

Performing this act put can openers in my consciousness, and because all computers can apparently read your brain these days, I was fed a can-opener-related video on my YouTube feed. In this video I learned that I “have been using the can opener all wrong!”

Well, I must be some kind of jerk. Because I think if your can opener successfully opens cans, you haven’t been using it “all wrong.”

That being said, I think there is one merit to using a can opener sideways. I’ve got your standard OXO can opener…

…and my only gripe with it is that the cutting wheel, which dips into the product, is difficult to clean.

Soaking it in soapy water simply makes the handles more difficult to separate. Every so often I go at the cutting wheel with a toothbrush but it’s time consuming.

Following the above video, YouTube’s algorithm fed me this one. It’s for the Kuhn-Rikon Auto Safety Lidlifter can opener:

The design is clever and well-considered, and it doesn’t leave a little shard you need to go back and forth over, and if I was a design juror I’d give this thing an award. And if I didn’t already have a can opener, sure, I’d buy one because it’s available at Walmart for just $17.95. But I do have a can opener, and it works fine, even if I’m using it “all wrong.”

I’m almost finished sorting the fasteners. I’ll eventually be driving them into the lumber that has been abandoned in piles up at the stables, which I intend to build shed shelves out of. That lumber previously existed as the structure for some sort of animal shelter, and much of it is covered in the remnants of feces, but I’d rather clean it off than go buy new lumber. I’m not an anti-consumerist yet–there are still tons of tools I want to buy–but I’m getting there.

*Unrelated pro tip for dog owners who feed raw. My guys eat raw meat, and I rotate fish into their diet for both the variety and the fish oil. The cheapest source of fish I could find is canned mackerel, which I purchase in bulk on Amazon. A 24-can case runs $25 to $30. My two 25-pound dogs each eat one can’s worth as a daily meal in the winter, half a can each in the summer. That’s about 50 cents to a dollar and change per meal. And by rinsing out the cans, you get 24 free metal containers.

Source: core77

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