Made in Detroit: Shinola Ice Monster Review

When we announced our partnership with Shinola a couple of weeks ago, a few of you said something along the lines of, “That’s a lot of money for a quartz watch.” As we’ve discussed, there is real value in the realization of returning watch manufacturing to the United States of America, and I’d rather spend $550-600 for a watch that is assembled in America (as a few of you already have through our link, and we thank you for that!) than similar or slightly less money for one that is assembled elsewhere.

But for those of you who simply must have an automatic watch, Shinola has you covered there, as well. The first Shinola automatic was released in November of 2017, and it was a lovely dive watch called the Lake Erie Monster, referencing both the Great Lake that borders Shinola’s home state of Michigan and the 1894 legend in which sailors claimed to have seen a roughly 40 foot monster swimming in that same lake. It was a limited production run of only 500, and retailed for roughly $2500. It’s now rare to find one of these original Shinola autos for sale anywhere, and when one does, they typically go for over $4000 on eBay or similar auction sites.

Fear not—the success of the Erie Monster led to the subsequent creation and sale of several other Monster models, including the Huron, Ontario, Superior, and Michigan Monsters, thus rounding out the Great Lakes. These models are significantly less expensive than the original Erie, retailing at around $1250-1450 new.

But for my first experience with a Shinola Monster, I wanted the new Ice Monster.

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Made in Detroit: Shinola Runwell MD-80 desk clock

 

 

Okay, I hadn’t been planning to pimp Shinola product directly just yet, but this was announced today.

If you have done any domestic travel over the years, you’ve got an opinion on the MD-80. The ol’ Mad Dog had a version for each of the major American carriers—I did most of my time on Delta’s MD-88.

From the Shinola website:

“The MD-80 airplane, also known as the Super 80 and Mad Dog, was the workhorse of the American Airlines fleet throughout the 1980’s and beyond. When introduced, the Mad Dog was one of the most fuel-efficient commercial airplanes in the sky due in part to its iconic polished aluminum skin, and its retirement marked the end of an iconic era in American Airlines’ history.

Shinola has been given the honor of capturing a piece of that history. Original MD-80 aluminum paneling has been harvested and repurposed into one-of-a-kind limited edition Shinola Runwell desk clock dials and ID plates.

Assembled in our Detroit watch factory, this desk clock is built with a durable chrome casing and fastened with a caseback plate that displays an individualized serial number.”

I’ll probably buy one. If you spent any time in the seat of the MD, you might want one too. $395 is a steal.

As a reminder, a portion of the proceeds of any Shinola sale using our link goes to fund this website. This is #sponsoredcontent.

How To Burn A (Beta)Brand

Nine years and nine months ago, after a surprise fuel pump failure in Turn Six dropped me out of second place and kept me from getting the authentic Grand-Am podium at Laguna Seca about which I would no doubt still be talking on approximately am hourly basis to this very day, I didn’t go to Disney World: I went to Betabrand. An unassuming door on San Francisco’s Cesar Chavez Street opened after five minutes of knocking to a whirlwind of activity: people running back and forth with patterns, fabrics, random sheets of paper. The floor was covered in scraps of every clothing material one could imagine. I’d expected a retail store but in fact my girlfriend of the time and I had landed in the beating heart of what was then a relatively fledgling operation.

Somehow, after another ten minutes’ worth of conversation with random passers-by, we got assigned a pair of very stereotypical-looking hipsters to help us find some new clothing. The fellow working with me came up with a set of “Japants” in an olive herringbone cloth that I still wear to this day. No two pairs of Japants ever fit alike, because they were cut and sewn individually in another San Francisco warehouse; these were, and are, the best pair I ever got. My girlfriend, who wore an improbable 32FF bra courtesy of modern medical science, wanted to find a “San Francisco dress”. There were no fitting rooms, so she stripped and stood in the middle of the floor while her new companion attempted to tug various seersuckers and florals around her upper body. At one point, while actively molesting her client to at least second base in the course of a fitting, the impromptu salesgirl yelled to me, “I… just… love… her breasts.”

In the years that followed, I wore Betabrand clothes more often that I didn’t. There was the infamous “Golden Disco Hoodie”, a half-dozen “Sons Of Britches” pants in every fabric from plain denim to salmon canvas, the “Sea Monster Cordarounds” I was sporting in 2014 when I managed to fracture nine bones using one simple trick! I adored the company’s inventiveness, their avant-garde designs, and their small-batch efforts. All made in San Francisco. For a while, anyway. In 2014 they used an overseas supplier for shoes, and by the middle of 2018 some new clothing lines were sourced from China. By and large, however, the important stuff was still sewn and stitched in those chaotic Bay Area offices.

Last week I visited the Betabrand website and was shocked (shocked!) to see that the company as I knew it was dead. In its place was a yoga-pants reseller wearing the Betabrand name like, as they say, a skinsuit. How did this happen? Who was the cretin skulking in the shadows, working secretly to destroy one of my favorite clothes companies? What faceless venture capitalist dragged the Betabrand name through the mud?

Duh! It’s 2021. Evil no longer skulks. It brags.

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Made In The USA: Tactile Turn

Anybody else remember being in Catholic school and getting firmly ruler-slapped for fidgeting during class? To this day I have all sorts of odd quasi-autistic habits that I exhibit whenever I’m bored. Moving from a traditional office to a mostly-at-home setup has reduced my fidgeting quite a bit, but I nevertheless continue to expect that part of my life will consist of listening to other people speak and think at (what feels to me like) a Galapagos-esque (Galapagan? Galaxian? Galaga-ish?) pace. I was in a meeting a while ago where it was suggested that we all sit there for 20-some minutes and watch a TED talk. At times like that it would be nice to have a distraction.

The Tactile Turn bolt action pen is made in the United States with what feels like the precision of an 1896 “Swedish Mauser” rifle. There’s no slack in the thing. I got mine in copper, with a Damascus-pattern titanium bolt, because copper is supposed to, uh, kill bad vibes or something.

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Made In The USA: More Stuff, We Hope (With Bonus Cremation Content)

Credit where credit is due: his early actions have torpedoed some American jobs, but as of today Joe Biden is also taking executive action to encourage/force the government to buy American-made goods for contract fulfillment. This is more important than it sounds because government contracts are often long-term, allowing companies to build up capacity that can then be used for civilian sales, avoiding the chicken-and-egg problem that has beset would-be domestic producers.

(How’d the Chinese beat the chicken-and-egg problem in their manufacturing spin-up? By printing money to be used exclusively for business loans with low expectations of repayment.)

President Trump also did a lot to return manufacturing to these shores, of course; let’s hope President Biden continues to emulate his immediate predecessor in this respect rather than continue the Clinton/Bush/Obama policies that often created staggering incentives for offshoring.

Last week, one of my readers at Hagerty expressed a wish that I would get killed in my Neon. He’s not going to get his wish; the rollcage in that car is rated up to and including “failed Snake River jump”. If, however, I manage to die some other way, I’ll definitely want some Ohio pride in my cremation, which brings us to the second half of this post.

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Made In The USA: Steele Canvas (and double bonus content)

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that it took an email from a reader to get me to feature Steele Canvas on this site. My wife has been a customer of theirs for a while now; in addition to a couple of their “laundry trucks”, which are indestructible and not terribly expensive for what you get, we also have a couple of The Current’s Year’s mandatory face diapers from Steele Canvas as well.

If you’re not into laundry trucks, however, I have a few more suggestions for this Christmas season:

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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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