Made In The U.S.A.

Good fences make you want to gouge your eyes out with a Home Depot gift card.

In Adventures on March 29, 2009 at 12:21 am

I want to build a fence.

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and as the weather warms up I’m ready to do it. First, I need to figure out the details.

I spent last evening calculating the logistics of where and how it will be built. The hard part is going to be finding materials I can use.

Here’s how you make a fence: you dig holes and stick 4×4 wood posts in them and secure them with concrete. Then you string 2x4s from post to post to provide rigidity and to hang the pickets from. Then you hang the pickets. The point, at least as far as this post is concerned, is that you need four types of material: lumber (4×4 posts and 2×4 stringers), concrete, pickets and fasteners–either screws or nails. Can I get them all MITUSA? Ummm… No. But there may be workarounds.

First, the concrete. In the U.S. the most popular brand is Quikrete. According to the company’s web site, “QUIKRETEĀ® has more than 88 manufacturing facilities, with plants located throughout the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and South America.” I’m going to assume that nobody wants to ship all that heavy concrete half way around the world, so I can likely get it from one of the U.S. facilities. But then again, you know what happens when you assume.

Next, the fasteners. I’d like to use screws, as they tend to hold up a bit better. And in fences and decks, they don’t tend to back out the way nails can. For outdoor applications like this, the best option is a “deck screw” which is coated so as not to rust all over your fancy new fence or deck. The big names that come to mind from the big box hardware retailers are Deckmate and GripTite. A trip to the Depot on my lunch break quickly brought the gravity of the situation home: literally every box of screws I checked within a 20-foot section of aisle was imported. China, Vietnam and Thailand. I checked the nails, just in case, and they were imported as well. Hmm. This one’s gonna be tough.

I asked Bob, the older gentleman who was manning the fastener aisle, if he new of any American-made screws or nails. He looked at me through his coke-bottle glasses and smiled. “The only thing we make in this country any more is beer and prostitutes,” he said with a laugh. (Lest you think I’m paraphrasing, I’m not; I wrote it down immediately.)

Unfortunately I don’t use one of those products very often, and I’m not much of a drinker either.

The Internet became my next source for information on American-made screws and nails. As is so often the case, I have a better idea now, but can’t yet know for sure if there’s a product from our shores that fits my needs. There’s Maze nails, which are American-made and even sold at the Lowe’s in South St. Louis. But I don’t know if Maze only makes nails; I want screws.

There’s American Fastener, which sure looks like it might make screws in America. After all, there’s an American Flag in its logo.

SureDrive sounds like a good one, and at first the web site gave a promising appearance of MITUSA-ness. But a little digging… ” We currently own and operate our own factories in Canada and China and we utilize several ISO 9002 factories in the United States and Taiwan.” At least some of their factories are in the U.S. So it’s a possibility.

Then there’s Grabber. Grabber makes a lot of fasteners, and on one particular data sheet cited a product stamped with an “A” as indication of manufacture in a particular American facility. But what I’m not sure of is whether everything else is in another American facility and this one is made by someone else which is why it’s marked, or whether it’s the only facility in the U.S. from which they purchase these particular screws. Either way, the A-stamped screws were special order and required huge lead time. A lot of work for a damn box of screws.

This is a good time to point out just how bloody tiring it is to do all of this research. It gets easy when it’s the basics, but branch out a bit–i.e. concrete and fasteners–and it just becomes a huge headache. It’s times like this that I realize why we don’t buy only American in general: because it takes work. It wouldn’t if our retailers would make it easy, but they don’t. Presumably because it’s expensive, whether or not we want the info. Enough wining. Just trust me, it’s a bore.

And I haven’t even mentioned the lumber.

Let’s just say that if you thought coffee was a tough nut to crack, wait’ll you get ahold of lumber. You know how there’s a Starbucks on every corner, and millions and millions of us drink coffee daily? And how all of that is STILL not enough to make it any easier to figure out how and where and why the truly responsible cup of coffee comes from? Now imagine the product you’re buying is wood. Unmarked, plain, sitting there in a pile, wood. It’s provenance is, shall we say, suspect.

The whole deal is such a mind-bendingly tricky thing to get your brain around in any practical way that I’m going to spare you from the details. For now.

Suffice it to say I’m not so much looking forward to building a fence.

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