Friday, June 30, 2006

American-Made Tools

Sorry to be such a girl, but my idea of tools is hammer, saw and screwdriver (and yes, I know about the slotted vs. Phillips head thing). Thanks again to Practical Machinist, I now know that there are machine tools, air tools, and tool companies that only sell from trucks (“mobile tool sellers” like Snap-On and Cornwell). Not to mention specialty tools (e.g., for manufacturing of autos and aircraft, for working on railroad equipment and tracks) that are mostly for industrial use (not that it stops the hard-core DIYers from wanting them in the home shop!).

After doing a little research (i.e., Googling and pestering companies for information on place of manufacture), I am happy to announce my new Tools page. This is the first entirely new category I have added since launching 2 years ago.

I always liked ChannelLocks when I was a kid, so I am happy to report they are still around, still made in USA, and now with a sporty blue rubber grip! (I noticed a trend toward more shock-absorbing handles on tools, which is a good thing.) I didn’t find American-made tool sets geared for us girls (smaller handles, maybe some pink?!), but I’m still looking.

So, look for American Made Tools when you shop, and stay tuned as I continue to add to the page. (Recommendations especially welcome on this one!)

Stephanie, Webmaster

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Junk-Free Summer Birthday Parties

I thought I was so crafty when I decided to have all of my children in late summer. I wanted my maternity leave to be in the fall, and after the first child I was locked into the schedule by the seasonality of my maternity clothes. Rank amateur! Each time, the break from work was wonderful, with fresh autumn weather and the chance to stand at the bus stop when the older ones went off to school in September.

But somewhere in the calculation, I forgot that I also was committing to an annual marathon of summer birthday parties! When kids are toddlers, the parties are fun because they’re really parties for the parents and their friends. Then, the children get larger and rowdier, and harder to impress. The little invitees are jaded at the age of four by a procession of clowns, magic shows, moon bounces, piƱatas, and exquisite ice cream cakes. We ran the gauntlet of Chuck-E-Cheeses, laser tag, bowling, Discovery Zone, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore.

Last summer I decided to have an old-fashioned party at HOME, with a homemade cake and snacks, and kids running through the sprinkler with water guns. It was really FUN! The way kid birthday parties are supposed to be! The truly amazing thing was that the backyard party WAS a novelty to the kids because almost no one (apparently) does it anymore.

The other victory for me was that I was able to avoid the obligatory goody bag filled with cheap imported junk toys. Instead I ordered Wiffle Ball and Bat sets (from The Connecticut Store) for each child as a party favor. We even played a little Wiffle Ball during the party.

Other great party favor ideas made in USA (and sugar-free!), sent in by Bob in Texas:

So, my message is you can give the kids a good time without breaking the bank, while supporting American businesses and sparing the local landfill.

Monday, June 26, 2006

American-Made Solid Wood Furniture: Not Just an East-Coast Thing

Perhaps it is my East-coast bias, but I always associated furniture manufacturing with North Carolina/Southwestern Virginia/Pennsylvania, with a nod to New England for smaller scale production of pieces by cantankerous Yankee craftsmen! Some of the better known furniture makers have fallen on hard times in recent years, and as with other sorts of manufacturing, it is getting harder to find American-made solid wood furniture.

I was happy to discover, however, that there is a vibrant furniture-making tradition in the Pacific Northwest. While searching for American-made Windsor dining chairs, I came upon House2Home Furniture
, an online store that carries solid wood furniture from a number of American manufacturers. The site features a number of Oregon-based furniture makers, including John Boos & Co. (makers of kitchen butcher block furniture), John Greenleaf (a wonderful brand of unfinished solid wood furniture), Pacific Woodcraft, and Westview Products.

House2Home Furniture
also carries my favorite lines of wooden children’s furniture: brightly painted Jellybeans, made in America’s Heartland, and Little Colorado (you guessed it—made in Colorado!).

Other American-made brands at House2Home Furniture
include Catskill Craftsman (kitchen furniture), Old Adirondack (natural cedar furniture from New York State), Richardson Bro.s (Sheboygan, WI), Maco Wood Products, Country Furniture Mfg (home office, hutch and buffet furniture), and Quality Craft (solid pine furniture made in California).

Solid Wood Furniture at House2Home Furniture

In addition to regional differences in furniture-making styles and techniques, biology plays a role. East-coast furniture usually features hardwoods such as maple, cherry, and oak, whereas West-coast furniture makers often use red alder, birch, and pine. For handcrafted Adirondack chairs, expect natural cedar. (A nice site to learn more about America’s native trees and the qualities of various hardwoods is the American Hardwood Information Center)

I can’t leave the topic of furniture without paying homage to the Windsor chair that started it all. The most beautiful example I found was the individually handcarved chairs of David Spero, on his site Vermont Windsor Chairs. I hope Santa is taking notes!

[Disclosure Note: I have joined the House2Home Affiliate program, so a small percent of purchases made from the links on my site will go to support]

Stephanie, Webmaster