Four mechanical devices better than their newer counterparts

Here are four mechanical devices I prefer to their modern counterparts.

French press. It makes better coffee than a typical coffee machine. Also, a French press work without electricity. Next time a hurricane comes through Houston and knocks out our power, I can still make my coffee.

Reel mower. I had gasoline powered lawn mowers until last year. Sometimes they’d start, sometimes they wouldn’t. My reel mower always starts. And it’s quiet.

Rake. I had a leaf blower once. It was obnoxiously loud and a nuisance to my neighbors. I much prefer raking leaves even though it takes longer.

Pencil sharpener. With four children, we sharpen a fair number of pencils. We have owned a couple electric pencil sharpeners. They were noisy, hard to use, and soon wore out. Our mechanical pencil sharpener is cheaper and far more reliable.

I’m no Luddite, but I firmly believe that newer isn’t necessarily better.

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21 thoughts on “Four mechanical devices better than their newer counterparts

  1. Absolutely agree on the French Press. It’s easy and makes great coffee. Plus is takes less space to store than an electric coffee pot. It’s also good for kitchens that are counter space constrained. I use mine at least once everyday.

    Another place where I think low tech beats high tech is exercise equipment. You can get a lot of mileage out of a jump rope, a pull up bar, some dumbbells, and your own body. You know – push-ups, running, squats, etc… This home gym (sans running shoes) can be put together with excellent equipment for under $50.

  2. I’ll second the praise of the reel mower. When I bought my house (which came with entirely too much lawn), I knew I wanted a mower that wouldn’t choke me with fumes, wouldn’t cost anything to run, and would be quiet enough to run without disturbing the neighbors in the early morning when it is cool. I bought a reel mower and I still think it’s pretty right on.

    Now don’t get me started on how much better our old, mostly analog centrifuge is compared to the newer, totally digital models.

  3. When it comes to raking leaves or shoveling snow, I’d never trade those opportunities to do physical work with my sons for a quicker job. It’s really one of my greatest pleasures, and my sons are still at the age where working with dad is tremendous privilege.

    What sort of maintenance is required for a real mower? Is it difficult when you let the grass get to high?

  4. I have a big, corner lot (sidewalks everywhere) with lots of oak trees. While the power tools are loud, I use them sparingly. Leaf blower twice in the fall, snow blower for more than 4″ of snow. I’m good with maintenance but they start very well.

    @Eric: for a residential lot, used weekly: I change the oil and air filter every other season. After every use, I broom off the loose dust. I sharpen the blade every spring.

    I’m surrounded on both sides by power yard tool loving neighbors and it’s awful. One uses his leaf blower several times a week — when there’s no snow — to sweep his sidewalks and remove every scrap of leaf from his yard. The other breaks out his snow blower when there’s anything more than a dusting.

    I’m with you 100% on the manual/crank pencil sharpener. In my last three houses, I’ve managed to install one somewhere. Best option was above the kitty litter and then just removed its cover — the cat loved it.

  5. I have never been able to really get into the French press for coffee. I think part of that is that I have an AeroPress. It’s basically hand pressed espresso. It makes great coffee and it’s very easy to use. It stores easily as well. With my electric Burr grinder to grind fresh every morning, I’m very happy with my home coffee.

    Pencil-wise I have to go with mechanicals. Sharpening is just a click away. I like to go with either the Pilot Dr. Grip or Zebra M402. Both are solid construction and have lasted me years. If you’re going to get a mechanical pencil, invest the $5-$10 to get a good one and you’ll save yourself a bundle in the long run. Cheap mechanical pencils are worse than wooden pencils.

    Thanks for the tip about reel mowers being viable still. I have some fond memories of one.

  6. Kristopher Johnson

    I prefer a nice set of ear plugs (Hearos) over any noise-cancelling headsets.

    Tractor-feed dot matrix printers were a lot more reliable than any inkjet I’ve ever had.

    Phones used to be a lot better. Remember when you could drop them, and not worry about it?

  7. Indeed, I was curious about a reel mower. I have a gas mower that I’ve gone over 3 years with zero maintenance. (Not wise, I know.)

  8. Push mowers are awesome … unless you don’t get around to mowing for a while; then pushing those things is a major workout … which probably isn’t a bad thing. ;-)

  9. I’ve gone back to an all-mechanical film camera from a dslr. Which, I realize, does put me firmly in luddite territory, though I scan the result and postprocess the same way I do digital images. Why? I like the results better – not that the results necessarily _are_ better in any measurable way; I just like how they look. I also enjoy the slower, more thoughtful process.

    Oh, and a french press is great. I use one at work, that makes one mug at a time. Perfect.

  10. But I agree about mechanical pencils. I have an absurdly huge collection of mechanical pencils and fountain pens–Itoya in Tokyo is nine floors of office supplies and my idea of shopping heaven!

  11. Sir,
    Your comment about the pencil sharpener made my day. I am happy to see that there are still people who use pencils and own mechanical pencil sharpeners. and to realize that I am not the only one. (and people have no rights to laugh at me)

    Pencil is probably the most amazing invention of human beings after C#.

  12. Ben: I may buy an AeroPress. Several people have recommended it. I’ve never tasted coffee from one, but from what I hear it takes less time to brew and it cleans up more easily. A minor downside is the need to buy paper filters.

  13. Another +1 for the Aeropress. Electric coffe makers have lasted ~3 months on average for me. I considered a French press but decided on the Aeropress and have loved every drop. Expelling the puck of used grounds is so gratifying (you’ll understand that when you do it the first time).

  14. The paper filter pack last a year (1/day) and the total paper is ~one newspaper. There is a metal filer available from a third party.

  15. I much prefer a cone with a filter to a press. The coffee tastes just as good, it doesn’t lose as much heat, and it’s much easier to clean.

    I am thinking of buying a battery mower.

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