Monday, April 28, 2008

Made in China Blues Rant

The business end of a pressure washer in action. I don't think that this is an electric, Made-in-China, budget electric pressure washer. Why? Because it seems to be working.

Talking to the two fellows working on my new cedar deck the other day, one thing we all agreed on was that made in China 'bargain' tools are junk. That's been our experience. And yet, it's sometimes hard to resist the eye popping low prices, and at other times it is hard to find something not made in China.

With the old deck ripped out, I noticed just how scummy the side of the house was, and also, with the price of red cedar these days, I determined to take great care of the new deck. So I decided to get a power washer.

The options were either a serious gas powered machine, or an electric cheap thing. Against my own better judgment, I went for the cheap thing. I can pretty much guarantee that if I wanted to send a box that size to China, it would cost way, way more than the price of this machine. So shipping, and no doubt a hefty store mark-up, profit for the manufacturer and likely one or two middlemen, and still it sells for just over $100? To good to be true, huh? Gosh, I bet the guys and gals working in the factory putting these things together are living high off the hog.

I also picked up a Made-in-China new hose, one the label claimed to be 'anti-kinking.'

Foolish me.

First off, the hose does not work with the machine. How is it possible to make a hose that does not work? Skill is involved there. Second, never have I seen a hose kink up like this thing! And it is a really heavy hose, so the multiple kinks are harder than usual to de-kink. Third, the impossibly cheap pressure washer works for about twenty minutes, and then... nothing. Totally dead. Not even a low hum from the motor. Zero. Could that be why the store where I bought this piece of trash stressed (and even handed me a special flier) that they offer only a ten day return policy on these things? I guess they pretty much know just how great these machines are!

It was a pain packing all this junk back up-- especially that hundred foot kinking hose was a treat. But happily the store was okay with accepting it all back for a refund. From what the clerk said, they are used to these pressure washers coming back.

Later, checking some web forums, it sounds like basically a coin toss whether these super cheap pressure washers work for a while. It's really kind of distressing to think all all that energy and all those resources going into this trash that is basically... well, trash. Like the landfills aren't full enough?

Thinking about that, it occurred to me there is a connection with my own work. Go to any garden shop or home decor store, and see all the wind chimes and knick-knacks. All made in China, and all soon destined for the local landfill. The only guarantee on this stuff is that it will look shabby in no time at all, and likely fall apart before one season has passed. But oh so cheap! What a deal.

So my work is not exactly cheap, because I always choose the best materials I can find, irregardless of price, and because I take all the time that's needed, and care deeply about the quality. High quality or no quality, that's my motto. Besides, I insist on earning more than $5 a day. My tools probably use more than that in electricity.

And then there is the soul of the thing. Seeing the displays of generic junk, I shudder at the coldness of it all. Each set of whatever is identical. No soul. Not a single one of my works is the same as any other, and that's some of my soul going into each piece. If you are the least bit sensitive, I believe you can learn something about me from whatever you buy. All you can learn about the person who made the generic stuff is that they must have one heck of an unhappy life. How would you like to live on an assembly line, dipping low quality metal into toxic chemicals for few pennies?

So after yet another rotten Made-in-China tool experience, I vow to redouble my efforts to buy North American, and avoid at all cost this disappointing junk. I've wasted far too much time packing it all back up, and standing in the returns line-up. Enough.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Scam Artists

Who is this victim?

Aside from a couple of nasty, lazy, inconsiderate people who attempted to copy my work and sell the poor 'replicas' on eBay (one of whom even emailed my customers saying he was selling 'the same things' for cheaper), I've had very few problems selling online. Those copycats were not much of an issue: anyone could see from the pictures that their work was vastly inferior. No contest.

Back in the early days, when I was a little green, I did also have maybe two or three people rip me off. Back then, I was shipping before payment, and just asking for trouble.

Aside from that, no problems.

But that's changed.

Lately I have been doing some advertising and selling on Craigslist. It's been worthwhile, but, welcome to the wonderful world of scam artist! Craigslist has a lot of information on these guys, so I guess the problem is widespread.

Here is a typical email from one of these goofballs:

"You will receive the money order next week but i (sic) have a shipper who is coming for the pick up as soon as you receive the payment (sic) okay,all you need to do is that (sic) deduct your asking price and send the rest to the shipper through western union (sic) money transfer the same day you receive the payment so that they can come for the pickup the next day(sic) okay."(sic)

They actually swindle people with this nonsense? Hard to believe, but apparently they do. I mean, first of all, this scam has been running for so long, and has been so widely posted about, I should think you would have had to have been living in a cave for the past few years not to have heard about it, especially if you sell online. Secondly, don't alarm bells go off in anyone's head, when someone sends them three thousand dollars for a one hundred dollar item, insist they cash the check immediately and use Western Union to send back the extra $2900? "Gosh, can't I just send you cash back?"

Since these scammers persists, I guess they must have some success. I find it very difficult to conjure up any sympathy for those taken in by such a transparent scheme. A fool and his money are soon.... How does it go?

Gotta run... heading down to the Western Union office to send back a large overpayment. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

$46? I don't think so!

Posted on eBay last Thursday, April 17, with a starting price of .99 cents. Five days later, it is at a whopping (joke) $46. See if it has gone up by Clicking Here, or go straight to my beautiful website (yes, I'm proud of this site I made by myself!) and buy a similar one for a fair price, by Clicking Here.

Totally handcrafted, tung nut oiled red cedar, double-brushed heavy copper chimes, a beach stone clapper... $46? I don't think so.

I so pride myself on always going for the highest quality materials, and always doing the very best job I can.

For example, I could save over 50% on the chimes by switching to the lower, thinner tubing. But that's not my bag.

I could slap some nasty cheap finish on the cedar that would look okay for a few months, instead of the $40 a small can eco-friendly tung nut oil. But that's not my bag either.

Or, one more example, I could use the number six copper wire for making the hooklets and so on, and save a couple of bucks instead of the thick number 2 wire (three times the price, and much harder to work with). But that's not my bag either.

All those things could cut my cost a lot, when added together. And, from the pictures, customers would not note the difference. But I would.

While business is good, and I do sell many for the full asking price, when I see something like this auction sitting around at $46, I have to scratch my head a little. Are people just so used to picking imported junk up at the local discount store that they have totally lost touch with the value of some finely crafted work? Perhaps. These days, you just don't come into contact all that often with something not mass produced, where every conceivable corner hasn't been cut to save pennies.

Well, that does have a bright side. I have a lot of customers write extremely enthusiastic thank you emails, after receiving their orders. And they come back and buy again, and again.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Where There's a Will There's a Way

Click on the picture to see it largercobalt blue beach glass inspired suncatcher, handcrafted copper chimesCobalt blue beach glass inspired suncatcher with handmade copper chimes
For more information or to see other copper chimes, Click Here.

I'm a believer in that saying, 'where there's a will, there's a way.' The trouble is, it's easy to be lazy and not even try, specially when 'trying' takes a lot of effort.

For years I had access to inexpensive silver-colored chimes. I have sold a ton of suncatchers with those. But it always bothered me. The silver color struck me as out of synch with the copper. It was okay with the cobalt blue, but, I mean, my thing is copper! It also bothered me to use something no doubt mass produced in China. That's not my bag.

It was so easy! Just buy a bunch of the little chimes and have my son tie them onto my handmade copper hangers. Too easy; not good enough.

Several times I did take some initiative and cut my own chimes. First from stainless steel. Such hard metal! It was a real pain to cut and drill, and in the end they really were not much better looking than the cheap aluminum chimes. Then I tried copper tubing. Although I thought those looked pretty good, they didn't sound all that great.

I never really tried. Lazy.

The other day I finally gave this a lot of thought and arrived at what I hoped would be a solution. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Using small diameter rolled copper, I succeeded. A ton of work, but worth it! Here are the steps involved:

Cut the copper

Straighten it

Bore it with a drill


Cut holes for hanging


Heat each chime to a very high temperature, and quickly submerge in ice water to harden the copper (so it can't bend easily, and primarily to produce a sharper, sweeter sound)

Double brush each chime

Polish each chime

Make the copper hangers

Wait for son to tie the chimes

Is it worth all that work? Yes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Things Long Gone

Click on the image to see it larger.suncatcher, hanging, beach glass, mixed mediaMixed-media Beach Glass Inspired Hanging Suncatcher
For more information, or to purchase, Click Here

One interesting thing about selling online is that there is a history. Overtime, that history becomes more and more significant. Little goes away, when you publish something on the internet. People find things that you made, sold, forgot about.

That is what happened with the framed mixed-media suncatcher above. I had made and sold one sometime ago, and then someone found the picture and asked if I could do another, similar one. I made two. None are exactly like each other, but close enough to please the customer who wanted a similar one.

When people find old images or listings, I imagine most just move on. Or maybe some track down something else that they also like, and that is current and available. But quite a few write, asking if it is really sold, or if I have anything similar, or if I can make something like that again.

This has happened three times in one week. As time goes by, I feel it is bound to happen more and more often. The good news is that I can almost always try to make something close to whatever they missed out on. It will never be the same, as all my work is unique, one-of-a-kind. But I can almost always get close enough to make them happy. And that makes me happy.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Little Color (other than green!) is Nice

sunshine coast, bc, forest, greenThe Sunshine Coast gets lots of rain through the fall and winter months, and the forests are lush. It's green, green and more green. I sometimes think a little color would be nice.

Then it's spring, and one of the first signs is the appearance of salmonberry flowers. What a treat for the eye, and soon a treat for the mouth! The bears can hardly wait (I ran into my first bear of the season the other day on my hike-- he didn't want to move, so I turned around).

flower, salmonberry, pink flower

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Windchime, My Favorite

windchime, cobalt blue, beach glass inspired, copperCobalt blue beach glass inspired, with aged copper chimes. Delicious. For more information, or to purchase, Click Here (my website).

I'm frequently asked which of my many wind chime designs is my favorite. That's a tough one! I wouldn't make a style I did not like. So it is hard to choose.

But if I had to choose, I guess I would pick the one pictured here. I needed to put a lot into this one, and that may partially account for my choice. But there are other reasons.

First, the cobalt blue glass, aside from being stunningly beautiful, is by far the most challenging to work with. It tends to fracture in odd ways, and you need to baby it along every step of the way. So when I succeed, I automatically am attached.

Second, the aged copper chimes (pre-aged on my deck for over a year), I think go just perfectly with the dark blue. I only get a couple sets of aged chimes a year, at the best, so that's not something I can re-produce everyday.

And finally, I just don't think you can beat these all glass and copper wind chimes. I've had three sets on my deck for almost ten years, all year long in snow, rain and wind, and they just look better and better as time goes by. Think about it: no wood, no string, nothing to wear out or break. Just shear beauty.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sea Glass Inspired Wind Chime | Bigger

Is bigger better? When it comes to the top section of this beach glass inspired kaleidoscope wind chime, maybe. Now one inch higher, one inch wider. To view three of this new larger style, you can visit my Carousel kaleidoscope wind chime section on my website (they are the last three images in the Carousel) by Clicking Here.

One of the great things about selling on the Net is hearing directly from customers (or even from people who are not customers, but who have something to say). That's worth a lot, and you can bet I listen closely.

Most often it is direct, like: Do you have any red glass? (No, red looks brown with a mat finish, but I listened and made red in other ways). Other times, it is simply a matter of reading between the lines, like: Could I special order one with a larger top section?

Making a couple of special orders like that, I saw that it was a good idea. So last week when I ordered plate glass, I got them to cut each piece one inch wider, one inch higher. Presto, the new 'improved' kaleidoscope wind chime. It's surprising how much just two inches changes the look.

Anyway, thanks again to my customers for all their good ideas.