measure twice, cut once

Living in the same house for fourteen years, we see how long things last.

The dishwasher that came with the house lasted six years. Its replacement began to leave debris on the plates after eight years, eventually complaining loudly by buzzing and then bleeding water all over the kitchen floor. 

The boiler for our heating system failed after four years into our residence, because the solenoid that shuts off the gas to the pilot light needed to be replaced. Today, about ten years later, that same thermocouple needed to be replaced. The repair guy said that they can last one day, or twenty years — there’s no way of telling.

On the other hand, some items are built so well and have such straightforward functionality that, with a little care, they can last a lifetime. Victorinox, for example, makes solid Swiss Army Knives and other tools.

So what is the business model for Victorinox? How can they make money when their products are so durable? They have a loyal customer base who recommends their products. And there are two additional reasons for me. First, I have misplaced and needed to replace some of mine: a Super Tinker and a Climber, as well as my first SwissCard, from moving across the country, loaning them out, and related to confiscation during air travel. Second, I have come to trust Victorinox for quality anytime I need different sets of tools for different occasions. As a result, although I already have three 91mm knives as well as four other models, I am already considering what my next purchase would be.

My heftiest Victorinox tool is the SwissTool RS, which is the first item I grab whenever I need to repair anything around the house. This well-crafted block of steel is an entire toolbox in one hand. My lightest is the SwissCard Lite, which crams so much into an incredibly easy-to-carry package. I also have a NailClip 580, which I purchased even though it is easy to find clippers at the pharmacy, and a Precision Compass, for my neck lanyard.

My oldest 91mm Swiss Army Knife, which I have had for more than a quarter century, is a Climber. This particular knife has served me well on brief and lengthy camping trips; it has more than I really need on a daily basis around town. Looking to lighten the load, I found a heavily discounted Serrated Spartan, which is very similar to the Climber except the large blade is serrated (two different edges is great) and is one layer thinner because it lacks scissors. Missing those scissors, this month I stepped up to the Explorer as my EDC, to replace both a Benchmade Bugout and the Victorinox SwissCard Lite. The Explorer has all of the Climber tools, plus an eminently useful magnifier and a solid Phillips screwdriver. I’m thinking of replacing its scales with Plus scales, to carry a pen and a pin in addition to tweezers and toothpick.

(The following family tree is from SAK Wiki, a great resource for information about Swiss Army Knives.)Victorinox wish list 2019 10 18I carry the Explorer in my shirt pocket, but still long for something that is thinner while retaining my favorite tools: scissors, magnifier, and can opener. A sensible way to slim down is to merge the bottle opener and can opener into a “combo tool” that replaces the small blade. This would also require going without the awl, which is on the back layer of the standard opener tools; although I have occasionally found the awl useful while camping, I can live without it. In addition, some users indicate that the combo tool is a bad compromise and is not robust for prying. Still, making this change reduces the Climber by one layer to the Compact model (which comes with Plus scales), and the Explorer trims to the Yeoman.

I prefer the Yeoman, in order to retain the magnifier, even though the Compact already comes with Plus scales. But Victorinox no longer manufactures the Yeoman. My grail knife would be a Yeoman with Plus scales (preferably dark-colored low-density metal scales, such as the aluminum and titanium ones made by Swiss Bianco), the uncommon hook with a nail file surface, the standard magnifier in production since 2012 (6x glass mounted in clear plastic), the “old” scissors (with an adjustable screw for a pivot), and well-stamped liners. To honor its custom manufacture, I would call it a “Yo, Man” or “Yahmin” or “Gnomon“.

I did mention “well-stamped” liners because, sad to say, my new Explorer has ugly liners. The aluminum is rough instead of polished on the edges, and there is even a little divot out of one of the internal liners. The corkscrew was rough and had some extra metal I scraped away with my fingernail. These issues don’t compromise the usability of the tools, but it’s disturbing that they passed Victorinox quality control, because these tools, with care, last a long time and proclaim the reputation of the company.

Artifacts survive us when they are durable, prove useful, and/or hold sentimental or informational value. Perhaps one of these knives, well-worn and one day freely given, will continue to serve beyond me.

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