Watching Perfectionist Restorers Work Is Incredibly Soothing

Hey, it went well.
Photo: mymechanics / YouTube

In this year of forced asociability and a generally broken world, we have all been looking for ways to refresh our brains. Bake sourdough, demolish the Urzikistanis in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, study our partners love science experiments: We’ve all researched self-calming methods to get the job done.

Which still doesn’t explain how, over the past 15 months, I have found myself both disproportionately appeased and strangely excited watching a man in Switzerland making nuts and bolts from scratch.

On YouTube, there is a whole universe of restoration videos, in which people document the rescue of an old tool or other mechanical equipment from the junkyard. The more rusty the start and the farther the better. The object can be as simple as a screwdriver or as complex as, say, an electric fan. (There are also plenty of videos made by restaurateurs of big stuff, like cars and motorcycles, but these are a different genre, as they take place in series, over months.) Host restaurateurs are mostly guys. Videos are usually around 20 or 30 minutes long and usually stick to a template. The rustbucket object is first shown on a clean background, with lots of crisp and dirty close-ups to emphasize its coarse character. The conservator then dismantles it, soaking the corroded bolts and nuts in oil, applying a propane torch to the stubborn ones to loosen them, piercing desperately frozen screws. Once everything is disassembled, each part is brushed, rubbed, sanded, stripped, stripped, filed, sanded. (There is a parcel sanding.) Some steel parts that are rusted are reinforced with a little solder. The painted parts are repainted. The wooden parts are repaired or, if they are rotten, reproduced. Screw slots are ground with thumbnail files. Polishing paste and polishing wheels are used for the third act. Finally, the whole thing falls back into place, with some fresh grease in the gears, and we see the moving parts silently spinning in the hero’s last shot.

These transformations struck me at a primitive level. I live in a Manhattan skyscraper and hope I never exist otherwise, but grew up in New Jersey automotive culture, with an engineer dad who lights up to solve puzzles when the dishwasher goes down. breakdown. As a teenager, I drove a $ 400 automobile and happily maintained it for several years with brake rebuilds and scrap parts. The only thing I miss in this world is that apartment living doesn’t come with a workbench in the basement and a drill press. I have to do my jones manual work by proxy, and watch Iron chief or Forged in fire will only get me so far. In these restoration videos, the work is reduced to its essence: there is no overlay of a game show competition or a bloated reality TV clock. (I used to watch Project track, but I got fed up with the interpersonal drama of faux-o’s put together: I wanted to see more of the actual tailoring.) It’s a perpetual joy to watch someone who is very good at something do it with pinpoint precision .

Precision, in fact, is the hallmark of the best YouTube restaurateurs. Mediocre people smear their work with anhistoric colors or painting materials. Others are simply careless or amateurish. The more careful artisans tend to rise to the top, and the most popular and prolific video restoration guys, TysyTube and LADB, are technically competent enough. Another, mikhandmaker, does a good job, but most of his projects involve doing new vintage stuff rather than real restorations. I also like a guy named Mr. Patina.

But the standard — I was going to say “the gold standard,” but it would probably be more appropriate to compare it to surgical stainless steel type 316 — is a guy that goes through. MyMechanics. He is, unsurprisingly, Swiss. Most of his restoration projects are mechanical tools. The first of his projects I came across was a bench vise who seemed to have spent a decade at the bottom of Lake Geneva. By the time it was done, it looked like industrial jewelry and it has 28 million views. Now he uses that vise in his store, in what has become kind of an inner joke: The tools he restored in his previous videos appear regularly in the following ones. (YouTube commentators love this: Hey, look, there’s the tree baler again.MyMechanics, after just under three years on YouTube, has amassed 2.35 million followers: not Kardashian numbers, perhaps, but high enough for sandpaper and cutting oil. It is successful enough to launch a second channel, MyMechanics Insights, for smaller projects of a more educational nature.

He appears to be a machinist, at least by vocation and perhaps professionally. He has access to very good tools: a lathe, a sandblasting cabinet, a milling machine, drills that he keeps with an intimidating edge. He must have some obsessive tendencies, but somehow he wears them lightly, at least on screen. (We never see him except for his hands.) Every bolt he pulls from a piece of machinery is precisely cut through a die. When there are melt marks on a piece of iron that was not properly smoothed at the factory 50, 70 or 90 years ago, he files them. He loathes any raw edge. If you’ve ever seen a finish called “oil rubbed bronze” in a bathroom accessory listing in a Pottery Barn catalog, well, he knows what that really means: we see it periodically heating up brass pieces with it. blowtorch (captioned “300 ° C”, in case you need to know the exact temperature), then dip them in oil to give them a smooth brown-black coating.

Most important of all, however, is his level of craftsmanship and his sense of work to the smallest detail. If a part is too far advanced, it often forgoes straightening it, and will reproduce it exactly (I mean exactly) from a billet of brass or steel. In the brief explanatory captions he adds to his video, he usually shows the destroyed part, explains that it was beyond repair, and then adds the phrase “I’m making a new one.” (His English is the one thing in these videos that’s the least twisted.) Those words have reached tagline level; he now sells T-shirts that read I MAKE A NEW ONE. The other day he posted a video in which he restored a century-old two-wheeled scooter on which the rubber tires were far enough away; instead of substituting a not quite correct modern replacement, he made a mold and cast perfect copies in liquid rubber. (There is a certain “it is do not are you going to try that? reaction that creeps into my brain, and also into the comment threads, at these times. This is what comes closest to the drama in these videos; it’s not real drama, however, because you know there will be a perfect outcome.)

These videos are best consumed, I find, in two situations. Either you are at the end of a long, intellectually demanding project where external stressors – deadlines, personalities – are important, and you want your brain to cool down. Or, alternatively, you are on an exercise machine and need a half hour of television that is neither intriguing nor very emotionally engaging. For me, at least, an intense and engaging spectacle like Thread it’s too much when I try to run, because the image bounces slightly in front of my eyes. Instead, what I need is something straightforward and soothing to the brain, and that is precisely it. In addition, the sound of sandpaper on steel is excellent ASMR.

Which isn’t to say that this idiom itself is brainless, as it tells us something about our changing world. Ancient objects like the ones these people restore are almost all made of metal, glass and wood. All of these materials can be disassembled and refurbished or repaired almost to new condition. Plastic, in general, is less so (although there are impressive attempts). Contemporary manufacturers, in their acceleration towards cheaper and simpler production, began to seal everything with glue and, most importantly, to limit the possibility of buying parts. This means that a new camera or DVD player simply cannot be fixed. the Right of reparation movement, which has grown very slowly in the United States and Europe over the past decade, is pushing back this type of manufacturing. Joe biden recently issued a decree supporting him. But repairable products are still not the norm, at least in terms of technology, and may never be as long as we demand (and vote for, with our dollars) of disposables.

I don’t know if I’m gonna keep spending time in these YouTube burrows now that we can all, you know, leave the house and see other human beings. But I don’t think I’m done with MyMechanics and the rest of this polished universe. As we begin to predict the end of this terrible year and a half, I appreciate his work for his ability to both distract and educate, getting me back to the exercise machine while showing me how I could possibly. , in a theoretical basement workshop of mine, produce a flat, mirror-polished piece of metal. Much in the world right now seems beyond repair. Here, however, is someone who, instead of giving up, says: I’m making a new one.

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