As progress progresses, increasingly there are fewer things for which it’s worth paying what it costs to fix them when they break. I think that many of us are offended by the disposability of things like kids’ toys, Ikea furniture, computers that aren’t brand new, sunglasses, and mobile phones.

There are some things, though, that are worth repairing. I have examples and I’m trying to figure out what they’re examples of.

Beat-up looking Pentax 40mm “pancake” prime lens

An object I recently paid to have repaired.

Item: Boats · We’ve been toying with the idea of buying a boat to simplify our visits to our cottage; the current logistics involve water taxis and become somewhat fraught on busy popular vacation weekends.

It turns out you really have to be in damn-the-expense territory to buy a new boat. They depreciate like crazy but then last a long time. When parts break, they can be fixed. In the used-boat marketplaces I’ve been looking at, there are lots of vessels for sale dating back to the eighties and seventies. The engines are what wear out, and they can be rebuilt or replaced.

Item: Musical Instruments · There are several around our house: A cello, a violin, an upright piano, and a djembé. The cello is the oldest, of prewar Czech provenance; it’s been rebuilt and repaired lots of times, and bears its scars proudly. Still sounds lovely, especially when someone with more talent than me plays it. But any one of these are 100% worthy of repair, should they suffer damage.

Recently-repaired Pentax 40mm “pancake” prime lens

We also have a Korg Kaossilator, which let me tell you is a blast to pass around at parties; a rectangular slab of electronics which, if it malfunctioned, I’m pretty sure would be for the junk-heap.

Lenses · When I was in Brazil last July, my camera got kicked down a couple of stairs and landed squarely on the 40mm f2.8 Limited “pancake” prime lens, with which I’ve taken more photos than any other in recent years.

I’d been meaning to do something, but the to-do list is always too long; and it was probably good for my photography to kick away a crutch and make me think of other ways of seeing things.

Then one day I remembered reading, in the excellent Alex Waterhouse-Hayward blog, tales of his camera-technician buddy; see for example Horst Wenzel — Merlin & My Sword Excalibur. So Alex gave me Horst’s number and he sure enough, he fixed it. Horst’s basement has a mad-scientist feel, full of precision tools and steampunk optics.

Here’s a picture taken through the repaired lens.

Green beans photographed with a Pentax 40mm “Pancake” prime lens

Conclusions · I don’t see a coherent intellectual theme running through this laundry-lists of things it’s worthwhile to fix. But there’s a strong emotional one. I’m not sure it’s proper to talk about “love” in the context of things; but if it were, these things, the ones you should fix, would be the kinds of things that might attract and deserve love.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: ADL (Oct 20 2011, at 22:42)

Macs too, apparently. I just sold my vintage ca 2005 Powermac with blown CPU cooler for a couple of hundred euros on ebay, to somebody who presumably intends to either repair it or use its parts to repair others.


From: Andrew (Oct 20 2011, at 23:22)

Couldn't agree more. Often we use a broken item (even a flat battery) as a psychological excuse to purchase a new version - its 'better', has more features, even if the old does everything we need it to and can easily be repaired.

I've started to at least attempt to repair anything my family breaks:


From: Byron Allen Black (Oct 21 2011, at 04:00)

There has been discussion of "industrial morality", something with which we are inculcated from childhood. How to handle tools, basic electric wiring and safety procedures. Someone in my East Jakarta neighborhood starts up his car or motorcycle on a chilly morning and immediately revs up the engine. I am offended. The vehicle does not belong to me, but there is a fundamental morality to dealing with such complex machines. I began to contemplate on this when several of my young pals I had purchased cell phones or bicycles for abused them mercilessly - not because they were willfully destructive (after all, those were their own possessions) but because they had never owned anything delicate of value like that, and had thus never had any indoctrination by elders in how to treat it.


From: pjz (Oct 21 2011, at 06:51)

One commonality: Those are all things 1) whose year-after-year improvement curve has pretty much plateau'd, such that a new one is not likely to be significantly better than an old one and 2) that are made well enough that repairing them is feasible.

I can recommend the Makers Bill of Rights ( as a set of criteria that all things _should_ adhere to.


From: David Reese (Oct 21 2011, at 06:55)

Tim, when your kaossilator breaks... not as nice an Object, but:


From: Rich Sharples (Oct 21 2011, at 07:04)

Nice post - touched a nerve with me. I am; always have been; and always will be a fixer of things. There's a greater impact of throwing stuff into the landfil than the immediate cost.

Right now in my office :

A pair of perfectly good kids headphones (maybe $10 new) - about to be thrown away - saved with a few blobs of super glue and a clamp.

A $3 woden ruler, metal edging had come away - super glue and a clamp snatched it from the jaws of the landfil.


From: Charlie (Oct 21 2011, at 09:44)

There is another side to the general theme of "more expensive to repair than replace." Websites like Craigslist and Ebay have created extremely efficient markets for used goods. When repairing is not a viable economic option, the item can often be replaced for a fraction of the new price. Turning someone else's junk into a serviceable item for you is a perfect substitute for repair in many situations.


From: clarke (Oct 21 2011, at 15:30)

I have a boat, that I inherited. Boat is an acronym for Bet On Another Thousand.

Boats are fun, but are also costly to maintain; only a plane will surpass it on costs.

They say the 2 best days of ownership of a boat, are the day you buy it & the day you sell it.

Though if all you're planning on getting is a dinghy, rowboat, canoe, etc with motor they have minimal costs.

Sailboats have lesser fuel costs, but the sails & wood maintenance equals that out.


From: David Magda (Oct 21 2011, at 16:21)

Regarding boats, the movie "Wind" had a good line about them: boats are holes in the water where you throw money.


From: Brad Hafichuk (Oct 22 2011, at 20:17)

I been reading a book called "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintence" and the author uses a term called "Quality" which fits nicely here. I would say that most of the items that you've listed would be items that almost everyone would want to fix and maintain, precisely because thought and care went into its construction.




From: Tony Fisk (Oct 23 2011, at 17:31)

It goes against the grain to toss away something that worked well when was whole, and may still be 99% working (Not intended as an 'occupy' reference, although...)

Then again, hunter gatherers did so without a thought. It was only when they acquired the non-perishable trappings of modern society that this behaviour came to be a bit anti-social.

At the other extreme, 'Hoarding' is about to be recognised as a psychological illness. (they'll probably lock sufferers away in an attic!)

Cradle to cradle recycling is an admirable goal and, while there's a long way to go, a lot of work has been done towards achieving it.


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