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Archive | 2018

Inferences from a wooden handle

A customer pointed out this listing for a vintage Revere Ware skillet with a wooden handle

It’s a beautiful handle, which gives the skillet a very pleasing and unique appearance.

You can see from the handle detail that this is a very old skillet, made within the first few years of Revere Ware production.

The spline, rather than being a straight piece on those handles, was the same shape as the actual handle.  This was the style that had two screws close to the pot, and a third screw in the center of the end, where the hook went through.  It appears as if this customization used the two screws for near the pot end, to hold the handle, forgoing the hook.  Here is a blurb on adapting our newer style handles to that older style spline.

Everything about this handle, including the workmanship, tells me this is something that would not have been offered by Revere Ware, but was custom made by someone who probably could not get a replacement handle.

Before we started selling our parts, we saw a lot of funky attempts to continue using Revere Ware pots despite handle issues.

  • At least one other home made wooden handle
  • People attempting to epoxy broken handles together using high temperature epoxy
  • Holding the metal spline on a pot that has lost its handle with pliers or oven mitts
  • A complex polishing and restoration process that involved 5 different grits of sandpaper

Because of this, when we first opened our shop for replacement Revere Ware parts, we got a lot of appreciation emails from customers.  While we still get one now and again, dealing with customers on Amazon.com has turned into a very different experience.  People are quick to pull the trigger on negative feedback over any issue, no matter how small, without even contacting us first for assistance, and then rarely respond when we follow with an offer to help after seeing their feedback.

We sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 parts a year these days across about 6,500 customers.  In our mind, that is 6,500 people we’ve had the opportunity to help continue to use their cherished piece of cookware.  We also answer somewhere between 500 and 1000 questions each year for people, whether they are customers or not.  The nature of a business like ours is service more than product.  Service to help people find the right part, service to answer questions and sometimes solve a historical mystery, and service to solve problems when they arise.

Retailing used to be about service.  Consider this bit from an article today in the Wall Street Journal:

Long before internet shopping, when a personal touch and pride of proprietorship were essential to successful local merchandising, Robert Lazarus Sr. was the president of the largest department store in Columbus, Ohio, my hometown. His name was on the building: the F&R Lazarus Co., among the most prestigious stores in the Midwest.

A dignified, respected man, he lived in a grand and tastefully decorated house. He kept his home number listed in the phone book.

Here is something his son told me, years after Robert Lazarus had died, and the store had disappeared.

One evening when the son was growing up, the telephone in their home rang. The caller, with nervousness in his voice, asked for Robert Lazarus, who came to the phone.

The man, almost apologetically, said he and his wife had purchased a tea set at Lazarus. They had never owned one before, but saw it on display and decided it was something they would like to have in their home.

Robert Lazarus waited to hear what was coming next. Was there a flaw? Was a cup or saucer broken?

That wasn’t it. The man said he and his wife did not know the proper way to serve tea—how to make use of the tea set when company came over. They sensed there was an etiquette to it, but no one had ever told them what it was.

Some of Lazarus’s customers had very modest incomes; to them, that downtown store was almost a palace, a place of aspiration, even if they were only looking. The tea set had represented a step up, a significant expenditure for this man and his wife. And they weren’t quite sure how it was intended to be used.

So the husband called the man whose name was on the store—at home, at night—for advice.

Robert Lazarus, his son said, stayed on the phone with his customer and, with great care, walked him through the steps of having a tea party, of using an elegant tea set. He told the man stories about tea receptions he and his own wife had given; he answered every question.

Then, before hanging up, he thanked the man profusely for having shopped at Lazarus.

I asked the son—by then an elderly man himself—if his dad had seemed at all bothered to have received the call in the middle of an evening with his family.

“Bothered?” the son said. “He couldn’t have been more pleased. He talked about it with great fondness for the rest of the night.”

I imagine the man who had placed the call did, too: The man who, in a time before customer service meant algorithm-generated email responses and endless waits for offshore call centers to answer, had taken a deep breath and dialed the phone, not knowing if he was making a mistake by imposing.

And who had been greeted, by the president of the F&R Lazarus Co., like an old friend.

Sometimes, dealing with customers on Amazon.com almost makes me want to quite the business.  I got in this business because I wanted to help people in a way that I wanted help myself years ago when I was looking for replacement parts for my Revere Ware.  With less business going to our website, where we have very few returns, almost no complaints, and the occasional praise, and more business going to Amazon.com, where we constantly struggle against abrupt and inconsiderate negative feedback and rarely a kind word, it is more of a burden and less of a joy these days.

While I love the convenience of ordering online and the benefit of being able to find things that used to be impossible to find, I had the impersonality of it all.  Perhaps this is what can save the malls and local businesses against the onslaught of  online shopping, good customer service and a very personal experience.

I’m trying to do my little part to keep business more personal.  While you can’t call me at home, I do answer every question, no matter how stupid you might think it is, frequently even during evenings and on weekends, and I try to make every customer happy if I can.

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3D trigger for the 3 quart kettle is now available from Shapeways

Since our successful test of the 3D printed trigger using the “Black Professional Plastic” material (it didn’t soften during use on the stove) we have made it available for anyone to purchase on Shapways.

You can click on the buy now button above to order one.  These have not been extensively tested, so if you purchase one, you will be beta testing them for us.  Please let us know if you have any issues with the fit or the material.

This is the kettle that it is made to fit, the model 3501-C on the left.

The one on the right is the more common 2 1/3 quart model, for which we already sell a cap + trigger set. Some people call the capacity of this kettle 3 1/2 quarts, but it is listed as only 3 quart.  Note the distinctive shape of the handle versus the other kettle.

Note that these triggers are being sold on Shapeways with no markup.  As more people order them, the price should go down.

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Removing stuck 2-screw handle screws

After decades of use, Revere Ware pan handles can get pretty gunked up.  And the screws inside can rust together, or get bound together with greasy gunk.  Our to-to method for removing old handles was to hit them with a hammer to break them, and then pry the pieces out, to expose the screw and nut, which could then be removed with pliers.  This of course assumes you don’t want to save the old handle.

Reader Tyler offers a quite brilliant non-descructive alternative.

I found a really simple way that won’t damage the handle and is pretty quick and easy. I turn the pot or skillet sideways in the freezer and place the handle on a box so it will rest horizontally. I then put a few drops of water over the female end of the screw assembly (end without a screw slot) making sure the water pools over the head of the screw and doesn’t run off. Then I allow the water to freeze completely solid (about 15-20 mins). After the water is frozen just turn the other end of the screw and if the ice holds the female end of the screw in place it will allow you to turn the screw. This has worked for me on several occasions for screws that will turn freely but both sides turn together, if your screw won’t turn at all then this won’t work. You should also be careful with the handle right after taking it out of the freezer as I would imagine the severe cold may make the Bakelite more brittle, it also would probably not be a good idea to shock it with hot water.

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Insta-what?

I love my Revere Ware tea kettle.  They are iconic, beautiful to look at, and improve the look of any stove.

My dirty secret though, being a premier Revere Ware aficionado and all, is that I haven’t used mine in quite some time.  The reason is that about 5 years ago, we moved into a house that had an insta-hot water dispenser.

If you aren’t familiar with these, they site under your sink, are typically fed by a reverse osmosis unit, and provide hot water on demand, no waiting.  Here is ours in our present house.

If you already have a reverse osmosis unit under your sink, you simply replace the RO spigot with one that has a hot and a cold.  The unit goes under the sink, is about a large as a 2 gallon jugs of milk, and can be adjusted for your preferred hot temperature.

The convenience of having hot water with no waiting is a game changer, and one of the conveniences I would insist on in any kitchen.

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Another attempt at 3D printing parts (it worked this time)

Since our original attempt at 3D printing a trigger for the 3 quart kettle failed, we’ve been looking for the availability of a better material that might withstand the stove top heat.

In the original attempt, we used a material called Z-Glass.  The properties of that material claimed a melting point of 437 F and a deflection temperature (where materials will start to bend) of 392 F.  Since both of these were above the rated temperature of Bakelite of 350 F, we thought it might work.  But it didn’t.  After sitting on the stove for some time, the material got soft enough that when we tried to use the trigger, the end bent out of shape and stayed that way.  Here is the original printed part and what it looked like after out attempt.

We tried again with an online 3D printing service called Shapeways.  The material that seemed most appropriate is called Professional Plastic, and claims to be “heatproof” to 350 F.

Here is the new part compared with the Bakelite original.

As you would expect from 3D printing, the texture is much rougher than the original smooth finish.  But the fit was good and it installed easily.

We tried this out on our 3 quart kettle by bringing it up to a whistle with a high a heat as our stove could give it without the flames licking up the sides.

As far as we can tell, the part seems to work.  At whistling temperature, we were able to repeatedly pull the trigger without any noticeable deflection.

The downside is the cost.

However, when we went to reorder the part, the price was much cheaper, so the above price must have included one-time startup costs.

To make it easy to order these parts directly from Shapeways, we will be opening a shop there with this, and likely other designs of hard-to-find parts that don’t have enough volume to be made the traditional way.  Stay tuned!

 

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The economics of big boxes and small items

Years ago, the little rubber feet on my Dell computer fell off, and I got the company to send me a set of replacements.

When they arrived, I was struck by the inefficiency of what I was looking at, a small item in a box that was about 1,000 times too big for it.  How inefficient, I thought, and what a great example of our wasteful society.  It looked similar to this, but worse.

Perhaps 5 years later I took a crack at optimizing the supply chain for boxes for my day job.  We had about 1,500 part numbers and did a poor job at keeping some 120 different box part numbers in stock to ship them.

Part of our problem was that we had no stocking program for boxes, they basically rush ordered them when they went to get one and we were out.

The other part of the problem was that we had far too many boxes, some of which we rarely used.  This took up quite a bit of warehouse space, captured unnecessary working capital tied up in inventory, and made it harder for the shipping & receiving personnel to find the correct box.

I started by going through the drawings for all 1,500 parts and capturing the outside dimensions.  Then I captured the number of  each part number we sold per year in the last few years. With that as my input data set, combined with a current list of boxes we had had ordered any of in the last several years, I wrote a software program that progressively tried out different combinations of boxes to both minimize how many we needed and the space wasted, giving priority to the most frequently shipped parts (meaning, we should have boxes that fit them the best.

The result was that I was able to go from 120 box part numbers down to 45, a much more manageable number.

However, this necessitated the case that occasionally, we would ship a one-off item that we did not have a good fit box for.  Occasionally, we would ship an item in a box that was way too big for it.

While this might seem a waste, overall, we probably wasted much less cardboard because the majority of items we shipped were in boxes that were the correct size.

So, the answer to why sometimes you get an item in a box that is WAY too big is that. overall, it leads to better resource and cost efficiency if in some cases you are willing to be inefficient.

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Instant Pot? Yea, Revere Ware had that in the 80’s

In the last few years, the Instant Pot has become all the rage.  My wife loves hers.  Here is how one review describes them:

Instant Pot is a multi-cooker that does the job of a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté/browning pan, and warming pot. It’s a single appliance that does the job of seven different kitchen appliances or tools. Sounds kind of impressive, right? And I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t have the space to store all seven of those appliances.

Revere Ware actually had an appliance in the 80’s, the Meal-n-Minutes, that could do all that.

Electric pressure cooker with delayed start – check
Cook rice- check.
Steamer – check
Browning – check
Warming – check
Slow cook – yup, on low pressure mode

I’m not sure about yogurt, but it could probably be used to make yogurt on the warming setting.

My take?  I suspect that in the 80’s, a phenom like the Instant Pot wasn’t as likely, given that a big part of why it seem successful is the availability of lots of recipes, and the type of social media marketing buzz that is only possible now.  In the 80’s, recipes would had to come from best seller cookbooks, and there just wasn’t buzz like there is today.

So cheers to you, Meal-n-Minutes, you were the instant pot before the Instant Pot.

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What the heck is a carborundum nano sponge?

One of the latest fads in cookware cleaning seems to be the carborundum nano sponge.  There are tons of YouTube videos that purport miracles they can perform, and a wealth of different vendors selling them on Amazon.com.  They claim to be able to perform cleaning miracles.

Here is a typical before and after photo.

Always being one to find a better way to clean my Revere Ware, I thought I’d give it a try.

So what is it?  Well carborundum (that’s a mouthful) is another name for silicon carbide, the second hardest substance known to man.  a carborundum nano sponge is just a sponge with a layer of carborundum along the outside.  Carpenters will notice these look and feel suspiciously like similar spongy sanding blocks they use.

The sponges do in fact feel just like a spongy block with some sandpaper on the outside.  From looking at them, I suspected they were going to function just like any other abrasive scrubber, and that is pretty much my take-away; they are just another abrasive scrubber.

Can they perform miracles?  Soundly, no.  The ability to remove gunk comes at a price, namely, you will scratch your cookware, as you might expect.  And they with the amount of elbow grease required, the results can hardly be called a miracle.

Here is an aluminum baking sheet before, and after a few minutes of scrubbing in the center.

Better, yes.  Significantly so, no.  And the swirl marks from the abrasive nature of the scrubber are clearly visible in the aluminum.

So what about some really caked on great on the bottom of a Revere Ware pan?  Here is another before and after, also after a few minutes of scrubbing.

If you are struggling to see much difference, don’t worry, it’s not your eyesight.  Making progress with this sponge is pretty difficult.

I also tried the sponge on a the outside stainless part of the pan.

The first picture above shows an untouched area.  The second shows an area I scrubbed with the carborundum nano sponge; you can clearly see the swirl marks it created in the stainless steel.

Now, there are two things to consider here.  First, these sponge are almost all certainly made cheaply by Chinese companies.  For all we know, the material on the outside may not be (and probably isn’t) carborundum.  If it is, it probably isn’t “nano”, whatever that means.  Second is, does anyone really think that scrubbing a polished surface with the second hardest material know to man WON’T scratch it?

My advice is give these sponges a pass.  If you want to get the burned on gunk off the bottom of your pan, try the method outlined in our cleaning guide for better results that won’t scratch your polished stainless finish.  Or, try one of the new methods we came across recently for items too big to dunk in a big boiling pot.  We’ll get around to trying those ourselves one of these days.

 

 

 

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The economics of small business – running an eCommerce site

Our website provides a wealth of information for Revere Ware enthusiasts, and we also sell our parts through it.  But operating a small-business eCommerce site continues to be more and more challenging.

For starters, it costs the customer more because of shipping.  With many retailers offering free shipping these days (most notably Amazon.com) customers sometimes are outraged that we charge around $4.50 per order to ship, which can look pretty unreasonable if you order a part that costs $4.00.  But the economics are such that, if we charge $4.50 for shipping (the bulk of which goes to the USPS and a little goes against our fulfillment service) we actually lose money on shipping; on average, it costs us $6-$7 to fulfill an order.

When we first started out, and most of our sales were through our website, it was less, and the shipping charges roughly offset the fulfillment cost.  But as more of our sales moved to Amazon.com, and our volume through our website dropped, the fixed part of our fulfillment service started to drive the cost per shipment up.  The fixed cost is what they charge just to have the service, hold the inventory, etc.  With high volumes, this is very little per order, but as the volume drops, it starts to be a significant cost for each order.

Our sales are shifting away from our own website to Amazon.com for a couple of reasons. The first, of course is that people enjoy the convenience of buying from Amazon – the 1-click ordering (not having to enter all that information) and the free shipping are great.  The second is, given the alternative, some people have a lack of trust for a website they don’t know from Adam.  Lastly, we discovered last year that Amazon.com actually advertises using Google Adwords to capture the business that might actually have been destined for our website.  Yes, they compete with us to drive our sales to their website, even though it is us selling in both places.

But there are a lot of good reasons for us to continue to sell through our own website.  The first is insured availability.  Amazon.com Marketplace is pretty one-sided against the merchant.  Often times, Amazon.com will suspend one of our listings because of high return rates.  This happens because, as a third party selling on Amazon.com Marketplace, we have no ability to set rules about returns; people often buy our parts, without bothering to read the description, and then return them when they don’t fit, providing some lame excuse that makes it seem like the part is defective, so they don’t have to pay a return shipping fee.  This makes it looks like we have an abnormally high return rate at times, which causes Amazon.com to periodically suspend a part listing here and there.

Second, Amazon.com can for no good reason suspend a sellers account, and often does according to this article.  If that were to happen to us, at this point, the economics of our business (we work hard to provide parts you can’t get anywhere else, because we care, and make a little money off of it) would be hard to justify.  If we didn’t continue to sell through our own website, it would make no sense at all, and our parts would likely no longer be available.

Third, we have much less control over the content of our listings on Amazon.com, and our interactions with customers, than on our own website.  The listings are not considered our own, and it often takes some finagling to change the content, because someone occasionally resells a part they purchased from us through our listing on Amazon.com.  And, despite the fact that our own website has a wealth of information on dealing with issues with our parts when they occur, we can’t direct people there or risk having our seller account suspended.

There is a large movement in the US right now to buy local, in response to the difficulties that online shopping presents to local businesses.  In my own town, there is an 11% vacancy rate in our main shopping district, where 10 or 20 years ago 1-2% was typical.  The move to buy local is to support small local businesses that are valuable to the community in more ways than just what you buy there; they provide jobs and help support the local tax base among other things.

Similarly, in light of the increased dominance of eCommerce by just a few large platforms, perhaps there needs to be a similar movement to support small business websites like ours.  I believe businesses like ours provide something valuable that just wouldn’t exist if everything was dominated by Amazon.com and the likes.  Yes, it cost more to buy through our site, but it makes more sense if you purchase multiple items, and consider that when you do buy from us, you are supporting something worthwhile.

So yes, by all means, buy local, and, when you do shop online, buy from small business websites.

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Another option for Revere Ware mixing bowl lids

We often get requests for the lids for Revere Ware mixing bowls; apparently the original lids tend to fail after a while.  We did fine a crowdfunding campaign for some universal lids some time back, but a simpler solution may just be already available stretchy silicone lids that are pretty inexpensive.

Here are the mixing bowls.

The sizes are 9.75″, 8.5″, 6.75″, and 5.25″.

Here is a set of stretch silicone lids:

 

According to the listing, here are the sizes that they will fit:

❶ Special XL size 9.5” to14”
❷ 7.9” to 11”
❸ 6.5” to 9”
❹ 5.9” to 8”
❺ 4.7” to 6”
❻ 3.7” to 5”
❼ 2.8” to 4”

For 15 bucks, I think it is worth a shot.

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