Made In The USA, Affordably: Union House Underwear

Assembling the complete American-made work-from-home outfit at reasonable cost isn’t that tough: there are at least three legitimate choices each for T-shirt, pants, belt, socks, sweatshirt. Until, that is, you get down to the underwear. There are a few sources for USA-made boxers, but those of us who feel that our life might include a bicycle at any randomly chosen moment are probably better off with briefs, and those are in shorter supply. They’re also expensive when you can find them. Flint&Tinder will periodically do a run of USA-made briefs at Huckberry for about thirty bucks a pop. Ramblers Way has some very nice options at sixty-five dollars each. Why your humble author can justify an eight thousand dollar sportcoat, while blanching at $65 underwear, is a matter best left to qualified mental health professionals.

No matter. There’s a cheaper alternative, and I can report that it’s also a very well-made alternative.

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Made In The USA, Affordably: Genusee

If you’re wearing eyeglasses or sunglasses right now, do you know where they were made? Unless you made specific efforts to ensure otherwise, chances are the answer is “China”. And it’s not just the $5.99 Oakley ripoffs sold at every gas station; the vast majority of high-end glasses are also made in China, largely by the EssilorLuxxotica conglomerate. Even when they’re labeled “Made In Italy”, it often just means “assembled in Italy”, which is why Ray-Ban Wayfarers are “Made In China” when you buy bare frames for prescription lenses and “Made In Italy” when you buy a complete set of sunglasses using the same frames.

Finding non-Chinese glasses is an exhausting task. For more than a decade I wore about a dozen versions of the same basic frame, all made by ProDesign in Japan. That frame shape is out of production so now I have Silhouettes (Austria), Safilo (Italy), and Dillon Optics (Italy with USA lenses) depending on the day and the task. I also have a very good set of ROKA cycling glasses which to my sorrow are Chinese. If ROKAs were made in the USA I’d have ten pairs of them.

If you want a completely USA-made set of glasses, you have very few choices. Shuron makes a variety of vintage-looking frames here at a very competitive price, and… uh, I think that’s it. Until recently. Now there’s Genusee.

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Made in the U.S.A.: Laser Cut Parts in 5 Days, Stamping Dies Overnight

Back to basics: The subtle science of burr-free laser cutting

While developing the latest iteration of the Harmonicaster electric harmonica, I’ve discovered a couple of American companies that provide outstanding service and quality.

Working with Jeff Lace I’ve been fine tuning a pickup based on *Lace Music’s Alumitone pickups that is thin enough to actually fit inside a harmonica. It may be the thinnest, lightest magnetic instrument pickup ever made. To make it I need some 1/16″ thick aluminum stock precisely cut, which I then bend to shape on a sheet metal brake. I initially was going to have it waterjet cut, like Lace does with their stock Alumitone pickups, but the setup charges at most cutting shops was rather expensive for a prototype that I wasn’t sure would work. As it happens, it works great and I even found a way to have the aluminum cut inexpensively. Sendcutsend.com is a Reno, Nevada based laser cutting service that cuts a variety of metals and all of their work is done in-house.

How it works is you upload a standard 2D CAD file in DXF format to sendcutsend.com’s website. You then pick out a material, a thickness and the number of parts you want. Since the cost of cutting is proportional the amount of time on the machine, determined by the number and length of cuts, their software analyzes the file and you can get an immediate quote and place your order. They promise a five day turnaround, but in general they’ve been faster than that, and they use FedEx for reliable, free, 2nd day delivery. I have sent them files on the weekend and had the parts in my hand in the Detroit area by Thursday.

If you’ve ever done product development you know that there are many, many iterations before finalizing a part design. The guys at Sendcutsend will accommodate design revisions up to the point where they begin cutting. They stock aluminum and steel in various grades (including stainless and chromoloy) as well as copper, brass, and even titanium. They’ll also cut your own material provided it’s not too thick and will lay flat, and they offer custom quotes if needed.

Not only are they fast and accurate, parts are delivered shrink-wrapped to a cardboard liner so they don’t get jostled or damaged in shipment, and then protected by two layers of additional cardboard. Oh, and they work cheap. Their minimum price is $29 and they offer serious discounts as quantities increase. That’s cheap enough that I can order enough parts to have some to spoil while I’m working out fixtures for the sheet metal brake.

If you have a racing team or otherwise need metal parts accurately cut, check out sendcutsend.com. Highly recommended.

I found another outstanding American company a bit closer to home, about 90 minutes away.

Branding is important and, without patting myself on the back I have to admit that Harmonicaster is a great brand name. You immediately know that it’s some kind of electric harmonica. However, having a great brand name without a professional and attractive way of applying that brand to the products doesn’t do much good. So far, I’ve tried using waterslide decals, which certainly work well enought that that’s how Fender puts their brand on their guitar headstocks. The problem is that you have to apply them very carefully, making sure there are no bubbles, they are very easy to tear while applying, and you can still see the decal’s outline even after everything has been clear-coated.

Since the parts are 3D printed, I’ve also tried printing the logo in a contrasting color. The problem with that is that when it comes out it looks great but it doesn’t always print well. Also, I’m now printing some parts in an orientation that gives me the best results and it isn’t suitable for color changes.

As a result of all this, I’ve decided to give hot foil stamping a try, using a cheap Chinese stamping press. Wait, I thought this was about Made In America. It is, but I’m not going to spend $1,800 on an American made Kingsley foil stamper to try out a process that I’m not sure will work. You can get a small foil stamping machine made in China for a little more than $100. I decided to get one with a few bells and whistles for about $250 and when American Express offered me a $125 gift card at Amazon’s checkout if I signed up for one of their business credit cards, that made the decision all the easier.

To put a logo on something with stamped hot foil, though, you don’t just need a machine, you also need a stamping die with your custom design. I could have ordered one made in China for about $50 but the Hong Kong seller’s page on Etsy promised delivery in 4 to 5 days in one location and then said there might be weeks of delay getting the dies made, mentioned someplace else on his page. The stamping machine was coming via Amazon prime and I didn’t really want to wait weeks to find out if I wasted money on it.

As it happens, the world’s largest photoengraver of metal is Owosso Engraving, located in Owosso, Michigan, less than 90 miles away, not that far from Lansing, and they too offer quick turnaround on uploaded designs. In my case, I ordered a magnesium stamping die one day and was able to pick up the finished die the next afternoon, and the finished die cost less then $40.  Even if I had them ship it to me, instead of taking my grandsons for a ride through rural mid-Michigan, it would have cost less than having it made in China.

Owosso works with many materials and they offer a wide variety of engraved and etched products ranging from dies to commemorative plaques and awards. Their salesman was very helpful walking this newbie through the ordering process

The quality of the die looks to be outstanding and I think the process is even going to work once I dial in the correct temperature and pressure. The foil stamped logos look very professional and visually “pop” better than even metallic decals. They’re also going to be more durable as the film is essentially melted into the surface, not only making it permanent but also pressing the logo slightly lower than the surface, preventing it from rubbing off.

Jeff Lace told me that Lace Sensor pickup covers are all foil stampted. They use a vintage Kingsley machine that his father, who founded the company to make industrial solenoids, bought. There’s something special about using your father’s tools.

There’s an old saying among manufacturers and tradesmen: “You can have it fast, cheap, and good, but you only get to pick two out of three.” That old saying is being disproven by American manufacturers like Owosso Printing and Send Cut Send.

By the way, Michigan has been one of the hardest hit states in the Covid pandemic and our governess has been one of the more draconian executive orderers in all of this so you’d expect the economy here to be really suffering. Once I got to the road where Owosso Engraving was located, the highway was literally lined with “Help Wanted” signs from a variety of businesses, so things may not be as dire as one would expect.

Disclaimer: I had already had this post in draft form when I got an email from sendcutsend.com, offering vouchers to their customers as rewards for posting about the company on social media, blogs, etc. so I may end up getting some kind of discount on future work as a result of this piece. As I was already being highly complimentary, I don’t think the offer has affected my opinion.

*Jeff and his brother Don run the company their father started. It’s a pretty cool story. Actodyne, the family firm, originally made (and still makes) industrial solenoids in southern California. When Lace senior came up with a new inductive sensor that he realized worked well as a guitar pickup, with some technical advantages over conventional pickups, he made a deal with Fender. He passed away in 1992 and his sons took over management of the company. A few years back, Lace introduced their Alumitone pickups, which are pretty clever. Instead of having a conventional pickup’s large coil of many thousands of windings of copper wire, in which voltage is induced by the vibrating string which has been magnetized by the pickup’s magnet, Alumitones use a piece of 1/8″ Aluminum that’s been waterjet cut to create a loop. That loop essentially becomes the primary winding of a small transformer coil, which use a small fraction of the copper used in a conventional pickup. Apparently, it’s current-based rather than voltage-based as conventional pickups are but I’m sort of at my limit of understanding electronics here so I’ll just leave it there for you to research. The result is a wider, flatter frequency response, with good tone, and a much lighter weight pickup. Working with Jeff Lace, I’ve developed a custom Alumitone for the Harmonicaster whose inductor is just 1/16″ thick, thin enough to slide into a harmonica without interfering with the reeds.

Made in the USA: CBDRL Hand Sanitizer

 

So perhaps you live somewhere (like, say, NEW YORK) where people have lost their minds and turned into caged rats, hoarding every last bit of toilet paper, paper towels, and cleaning products, and all you want is to make sure that your hands are sanitized. Alas, the hoarders have bought enough hand sanitizer to keep their callous-ridden hands (you know what I’m talking about) germ-free until the next time they leave their parent’s basements.

You went to Amazon and the like online, but to no avail—the hand sanitizer is gone. Fear not, Riverside Green readers. We have a solution. And, of course, since this is the RG, it’s Made in the USA.

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Made In The USA, 50% Off: Thalia Capos, Phone Cases, And More

During Summer NAMM 2018 I had a chance to meet Chris of Thalia Capos, which had just opened. He explained to me how they make very high-end guitar capos AND phone cases in the United States. They’ve had a pretty good start but like many small businesses they are about to be in a world of hurt. They’re offering 50% off right now for most of their products, as long as you can wait until mid-April for delivery.

I’ve been using the Thalia capos for a while now — they are very serious pieces of hardware and have largely replaced the G7 Pro Capo I used for a decade or so. The intonation is particularly good, although if you own dozens of guitars it can be a hassle to switch the very specific pads which make that possible and which are supplied in bulk with every capo. They come in every finish and material you can imagine, plus custom designs to your spec. The same is true of their phone cases. I bought some stuff from Chris today and I think you’d be happy if you did as well. That’s all, folks!

When Swatch Attacks

Much of this video is pure cringe — PERSONALLY, I LOVE THE SWATCH GROUP! — and it suffers from the typical YouTube disease of stretching a five-minute explanation into a half-hour drag, but it might be worth your attention.

If you don’t like watching videos, here’s the scoop: The great people at Vortic take pocketwatches from the World War I era, fix them up, then put them into Colorado-made wristwatch cases. I am a Vortic owner, I’ve visited the tiny workshop in which they do their work. I’m a fan.

The Swatch Group is not a fan. Swatch, which owns a variety of brands like Omega in addition to, ah, Swatch, is now the owner of the Hamilton brand. They use “Hamilton” as a skinsuit brand beneath which they sell watches made from Swiss and, ahem, overseas components. They’re pissed off that Vortic re-cases Hamilton pocketwatches. They don’t think that a watch made in the United States by the original Hamilton factory should be permitted to retain the brand. That should belong to the modern globalized conglomerate known as Swatch Group.

Wednesday morning, Vortic will be defending itself in Federal court. This is the most one-sided contest humanly imaginable. Were I a billionaire, I’d fund Vortic’s defense. Since I’m not, I’ll be voting with my pocket: no more Swatch group stuff for me.

Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Meyer Optik Nocturnus

This is what they call the double whammy: A German holding company created several brands for use on Kickstarter, where they pimped new Made-In-Germany camera lenses at prices of $3,000 or more. Then the “brands” went bankrupt without fulfilling all of their Kickstarter orders. As is common practice on Kickstarter, that doesn’t mean you get your money back. So a lot of people paid three grand and didn’t get a camera lens.

The people who did get their lens? Well, that’s the second part of the double whammy.

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Made In The USA, Ten-Dollar Hat Edition: Gustin

Many of my readers are already Gustin members. I’ve had some good luck with their stuff over the years, although the sizing can be a bit tricky. My “Japan Shine” blue jeans are far and away the best denim pants I’ve ever owned or encountered.

Gustin’s doing $15 Made In The USA knit hats for the winter. If you’re not already a Gustin member, joining with my total sellout referral link gives you a five dollar credit. I get five bucks as well. So it’s a ten dollar hat.

But wait, there’s more. Comment below, even if you don’t buy a hat. I’ll pick a random comment, probably by using the last two digits of the S&P or something like that, and I’ll give the winner a sixty-dollar Dearborn Denim credit from my last referral spree. And if I get enough referral credits to take some of the sting out of the purchase, I’ll use them to buy the Horween #8 L3 jacket. Everybody wins.

Made In The USA: Woobies MOD-1

There were 1,400 pairs of Vans skate shoes made in the United States last year. I now own two pairs of them: one in white, one in black. Unfortunately for me, they were so expensive, and so irreplaceable, that I have yet to lace either pair up. Yes, I know that’s ridiculous.

When I read about the WOOBIES MOD-1, however, I thought that I might have stumbled on an affordable alternative. The WOOBIES website and marketing materials are primarily focused on “first responders” and military types, but the phrase “skate shoe” does appear. And the price is right: $85, just a bit more than a set of Ultracush-equipped Vans Pros. So I ordered a pair. They’re produced intermittently so it took a while for the Mod-1s to arrive. So… are they a great alternative to Vans?

The answer, as Juan Peron’s advisors say in Evita, is… a qualified yes.

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