Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Twenty-One Days - Day 15: Tools

We humans like our gadgets, don't we? I can remember back when my family and I used to enjoy going to the mall that one of my favorite stores was Brookstone. For a gadget person, Brookstone is *the* store. One year, I bought a pocket watch for Deus Ex Machina there, and we still have the EcoSphere I bought for him more almost a decade ago (and the little shrimp is still alive!).

Gadgets are cool and they can be a lot of fun. The problem comes when we allow ourselves to substitute our own muscle power for some electronic or gas-powered machine in the (often mistaken) belief that we are saving time or money by allowing the machine to do it for us.

Let's take, for example, the bread machine. In a minute for minute comparison, I can make a loaf of French bread faster than a bread machine. My bread will be fresh and piping hot from the oven in an hour. It takes the bread machine two and a half hours (if I'm remembering correctly) to make a loaf of bread, and the loaf is square and bulky, and often pretty dense. By contrast, my loaf is whatever shape I make it (usually oblong), and I can even stuff it with meat and cheese and make "pizza bread." Can't do that with a machine.

So, it's not faster, and while it may use less electricity than my oven (smaller space to heat to cook the bread), if I use my baking time wisely, I could actually bake a loaf of bread, a pan of granola, and a meat loaf all at the same time. Or I could double (or triple) the bread recipe and make several loaves of bread. The cooking, kneading and rising time will all be the same. Can't do that with a bread machine, either.

Really, the only benefit to using a bread machine over doing it by hand is that I can dump the ingredients into the pan, set the machine and walk away, and when I come back, I have a squarish lump of bread that has been freshly baked ... but I'm not so convinced that that's a good thing, as mindlessly plodding through our lives without having to really expend any energy to do anything is, perhaps, not the best way to go about living.

There was a time when I loved all manner of gadgets - and, yes, I most certainly had (and used) a bread machine ... and I loved it (except I never really liked those square loaves, and the paddle hole in the middle of the loaf was really annoying), but, then, I realized that most of things a gadget could do for me, I could do just as easily myself.

With that in mind, I stopped looking for gadgets to do my work, and I started looking for "tools." Deus Ex Machina says "the right tool for the job makes the job easier", and I completely agree. What we've also discovered is that often, our hand tools, work better than our power tools, because the hand tools never fail us, unless we fail ourselves. I'm not as fast, but as the tortoise and the hare discovered, sometimes slow and steady wins the race. As long as my strength lasts, I can saw limbs with the bow saw. By contrast, the chainsaw often catches or sputters or doesn't want to work for whatever reason (and then, we end up using the bow saw anyway ;). The hand drill will make hole, after hole, after hole - as long as there's someone to turn the crank, but that power drill will only work as long as the battery charge lasts, and for whatever reason, the charge never seems to last for as long as we need it.

Perhaps we just have crappy power tools, but our experience is that our best tools are the ones that use our muscles for power ... and the added benefit is that both Deus Ex Machina and I have some pretty awesome looking back and arm muscles ... especially for the old, mostly sedentary suburbanites that we are ;).

It wasn't until recently that I had much luck finding non-electric tools - probably because I never really knew what I was looking for, but in the past year or so, we've been really lucky, and being who I am, I like to share the bliss. If you'd be interested in this handcrank coffee grinder (and, yes, it does work :), be sure to leave a comment.


The winner of the tea and teabags is Lorna. Congratulations! Please leave a comment with your full name and address. Comments are moderated and I will not publish your information.

The End is Near ... Only six days left until the end! Be sure to check back every day (except Friday), and comment, if you would like to be entered that day's drawing.


  1. A hand-cranked coffee grinder is next on my "want" list :) I drink coffee every day, and don't use a coffee maker - I have a ceramic pour-over cone that fits on my mug, so all I need is boiling water (and the coffee, of course) to make a truly excellent cuppa joe. And since I buy whole beans, I want a coffee grinder that will allow me to have my "fix" even in a power outage!

    And while I haven't gone completely "powerless" for all my tolls, I will NEVER buy rechargeable battery-operated tools ever again. They are heavier, bulkier, the @^$* batteries just do NOT last - and the cost to replace them is almost the same as buying the tool in the first place. No thanks, I'm getting off.

    I never used a bread maker, but I am keeping my KitchenAid mixer and food processor - invaluable, come canning season! :)

    [the word verification is "rehippi"...snort!!]

  2. I've been switching over to handpowered, too. This grinder is not only a useful tool, it is BEAUTIFUL! Please throw my name into the proverbial hat.

  3. I can understand the challenges folks have with battery-powered tools, but I rely on mine pretty heavily every day. (Especially my drills.) It's true, though -- you have to buy the expensive ones (DeWalt or better) to get decent batteries. The batteries do die over time and have to be recycled. (NOT thrown out, as they've got nasty chemicals in them...sigh.) And two of them are indeed almost as expensive as the tool itself, which comes with two new batteries.

    I've thought about getting one of those long lumberjack saws, though, to make faster work of cutting larger logs. I'm pretty fearful of chainsaws; too many ways to get hurt. And noisy, and dirty, and...

    I've definitely had a hand-crank coffee grinder on my list for awhile now, love to get in on that lottery! :)

  4. I have to admit that I use my bread machine about four times a week. The bread is dense and I hate the paddle hole too, but I love the taste of homemade bread! When I have more time in the kitchen, I would love to knead it and let it rise - It IS so much better that way!!! That coffee grinder is magnificent....Are you sure you want to give it away?

  5. Love that grinder!

    You make a pretty good point about the hand tools often working just as well. Sunday afternoon, DoubleRed (a former boarder) came and got her bed; that was all well and good except that M.A.E. (a current boarder) was sleeping in it. We got another bed out of the garage and set it up, but it needed slats. We found slats — six inches too long. I took them out to the detached garage, but the table saw was buried behind so much crap I decided it would be easier to grab the handsaw off the pegboard. It was.

    I have a bread machine too, and use it, but on dough cycle. Then I dump it in a stoneware pan for second rise & baking.

  6. Don't enter me in this drawing - I'm a tea drinker. My parents brought back a couple of these coffee grinders from Germany, back in the '70s. They were hand painted with folk motifs and my mom liked them just as decorative objects, but I'm pretty sure they work. As for power tools, I'm mostly with you. But I have to admit I do love my Makita drills. The batteries hold a charge well, and we've used the same ones for about 10 years now. They're invaluable for the many DIY projects around the homestead.

  7. that coffee grinder is beautiful! I recall your post about finding it. Are you sure you want to give it away? Put my name in the pot....would it!

    Keep up the good posts.

  8. I would love that coffee grinder....sometimes the thought of coffee is the only thing that gets me out of bed!

  9. My bread machine is on it's way to the Salvation Army today. I hope to send my electric coffee grinder too!

  10. I've been wanting one of those coffee grinders for a long time now, but can never seem to find them when I look. Please enter me in the drawing! :)

    For the most part I agree with you on hand tools. The only one I strongly prefer over the manual alternative is my drill...I went without for a long time, and it's much easier on my wrists and my sanity to use that one. I didn't go with a cordless one, though -- didn't want to deal with the inevitable battery issues.

  11. I would love to have the coffee grinder.
    From personal experience, I have to agree with you on the hand tools. Generally, it is simpler to use them as opposed to going through the hassel of dealing with the powered ones.

  12. Right on! So many gadgets are not necessarily faster, are often cheaply made and break after a short time, and very importantly,create a "disconnect" with the task at hand (ie. not kneading the dough that will be the bread that feeds our family or setting something up and walking away, instead of being there and following it through)...some will disagree, I'm sure, but when I do something "hands on", even if it takes longer, there is more satisfaction for me, and more of a connection to what I was accomplishing.

    My sister in law has so many gadgets (purchased by her son and husband), that get used when first bought, then end up cluttering the counter or kitchen drawers. I mean, an egg poacher that cost $20?? What's wrong with a saucepan of water?

    Anyways, good post. I'm enjoying the book so far, Wendy, great writing!

  13. No one in the immediate family drinks coffee...but if SHTF my father would probably move in with us, and he drinks coffee (or it would be more accurate to say he lives off the coffee ~rolls eyes~). My dad and I already clash on a lot of areas - politics, religion, lifestyles...that being together for long periods of time is already rough. The idea of living with my father while he is going through caffeine withdrawal is more terrifying than my worst nightmares!

    I don't think I can be entered in the drawing because I won a book already - but if I can be, then please do so. If not...can you let me know where to look for such an item? I don't want to be without if my dad moves in!

  14. Dh would love to have a hand crank grinder. :) That looks awesome!

  15. I've been lloking for a grinder like that. Where did you find it? Rob

  16. I still haven't found a secondhand hand-cranked coffee grinder, since the first time you posted about yours! I'm still using my little electric one. This little sweetie would get used often in my home, so please add my name to your drawing!

  17. I, actually, found the coffee grinder at Goodwill way back in September, and, yes, I do want to share it - with you ... my friends ;), because we were lucky enough to find another one at the indoor flea market - on the trip when we found the chafing dish.

    See what I'm sayin'? That indoor flea market was like finding King Tut's tomb! If there's one near you that you've been meaning to check out, but haven't because ..., I strongly encourage you to do so ;).

  18. My mother was born in Holland during the war and she only survived because a passing cyclist had a pocket full of wheat grains that my grandmother put through the coffee machine to grind and make a watery porridge with. My mother still has that coffee machine and I think it's a magical tale.

  19. Sign me up for the grinder, please. I use a french press (no disposable bits!) but still use an electric grinder for my beans.

  20. Yes, I need this grinder. I currently use a pestle and mortar (which is a lot more work than a cranked, cogged machine!).