Metal Appreciation

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the big picture that it becomes tough to see the small things that we can appreciate on a day-to-day basis. Below is a roundup of some attention grabbing metal devices that may have flown under the radar, but can definitely make our lives just a little bit easier or interesting on a micro level.

Stanley’s Tape Measure gets an update.

How annoying is it when you want to measure the length of a wall, and the tape measure keeps falling down because the hook won’t stay put on a horizontal surface? After years and years of frustration, Stanley made one small change that’s making a world of difference.

“The key difference is just a few fractions of an inch of metal added to the end hook, so not only can you catch surfaces above and below the tape, you can even hook it on the side–invaluable for when you’re trying to measure off a wall corner and keep the tape horizontal so it doesn’t collapse. Genius!

Animal Science Fact: Dogs don’t have incisors capable of cutting steel.

After losing a beloved dog due to a chewed, frayed leash, Joslin Larson developed ones that dogs literally can’t break.

Known for being strong yet lightweight, aircraft cable is a type of steel wire rope used in aviation as well as other industries. Larson uses a particular type of aircraft cable that can withstand a weight load of more than 2,000 pounds. “What I found out is that dogs don’t have the right incisors to cut steel,” Larson says of the aptly named Vir-Chew-Ly Indestructible dog leash.

Looking for a unique business card?

Say goodbye to paper.

Though more aesthetic than practical, I have to admire this thin metal business card that can fold out into a 3-D object by Sam Buxton. “The cards begin as a standard flat piece of sheet metal, then fold out (similar to origami) to create a mini scene with a worker and workspace.

New Taxi Toppers.

You’ve seen the ugly, plastic taxi toppers of today. They get cracked, weatherworn, and their advertisements are barely readable. Bluemap Design decided it was time for a change.

Not only does the new topper look pretty slick, but it boasts LED lighting, “providing low energy consumption and working in tangent with effective digital graphic reproduction processes. The aluminum frame can withstand the heat of a NYC summer and the cold of a NYC winter — and doubles as an antenna. “EMI emissions from the board are lower than ever before. What’s that mean? There’s less radio interference, and your iPhone works better.

Small changes, big impact.

— Sheena Moore

One of the best parts of growing up in Washington State was crossing the Cascades into Eastern Washington, a land of rolling farms, wineries, miles and miles of apple orchards, and huge, deep glacial lakes that are swimmable only on the very hottest days of summer. Lake Chelan falls into this category. At 55 miles long and nearly a mile deep, it has plenty of coastline to build on and plenty of water to boat on, and is a hidden gem of a family getaway spot that many outside of Washington State never hear of.

What does this have to do with metal, you ask? Let’s talk Pacific Northwest architecture:

Photo credit: Benjamin Benschneider, Special to The Seattle Times

Building in the Pacific Northwest is quite a process. In places like Lake Chelan, you’re dealing with hundred-year-old (at least) evergreen trees with complex root systems, extremely steep grades, and the aesthetic of working with the natural surroundings to create a structure that complements and doesn’t overtake them. The Seattle Times did an article on what I consider a beautiful and quintessential example of how to do this well: one part reused local materials (old barn wood, in this case), one part industrial inspiration from the area, found in old fire towers and the farming and mining equipment of gold rush days long gone.

In the case of this home, the metal aspects fit form as well as function. The house, built by Rimmer and Roeter Construction and designed by architect Bernie Baker who says, “all the windows are clad in metal for easy maintenance and durability. There aren’t any gutters, they’d just fall off when the snow accumulates.”

Other metal features include a “steel cover, lifted and lowered by chains and pulley, that slips down over the television so smoothly that the family’s two young daughters can easily open and close it.

My favorite is the kitchen. “The center island is built with legs to look like a piece of furniture, its surfaces slickly coated in galvanized steel. “We just kept adding metal,” explains owner Michelle. “The galvanized countertops were so affordable, we used them in all the bathrooms, too.” Pickled for patina, the countertops have rolled edges and mottled surfaces. Both architect and owners praise the artistry of metalsmith Steve Johnson of Paracelsus Inc. in Port Townsend.

Dozens of homes like this are scattered around the Pacific Northwest, whether in Chelan or urban Seattle. Built by the local craftsmen who truly understand the surroundings, the dwellings are unique to the region, as they are built amongst the forests that house the headquarters of some of the most industrial companies in the world (a regular sight is the unfinished fuselages of airplanes packed up on their rail cars, headed from Plant II in Everett down to Boeing Field in Seattle). This blend of natural aspects with the man-made metal that got the region on the map creates a beautiful and distinct style that’s both modern and just as warm and cozy as the tiny fisherman’s cabins of the past.

Sheena Moore

So last night after a day of blogging (ha, I didn’t really blog yesterday, but did have some meetings), I went home to a kitchen full of spiders. Not just any spiders, mind you, but the creation of my five-year-old son, who unbeknownst to me has proven to have some artistic skills beyond his version of hieroglyphics I have grown accustomed to. And what were the spiders for? To spin my son’s webs, of course, so that he can flaunt his special Spider-Man powers! Duh.

Source: Marvel Comics and Sony

Yesterday, a graduate student at the Max Planck Institute in Germany published a discovery in Science that even though spider silk has the strength of steel (which we all knew, of course, because how could such silk support the weight of the man as he flies through the city chasing evil?), this new discovery makes the spider silk anywhere from three to ten times stronger! How did they do it? They did it via atomic layer deposition with thin layers of titanium, aluminum and zinc according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Relying on protein chemistry and this atomic layer deposition technique used in nanotechnology, the process provides for the manipulation of atoms to change tiny mechanical structures. The resultant breakthrough can lead to new products similar to carbon fiber.

And though the stronger spider silk in and of itself may not lead to any commercially viable applications, the combination of this thread with other bio-materials could create some interesting products. Scientific American speculates on some of these uses — just by improving the web they already produce, scientists could develop tougher textiles, super surgical threads, artificial human tissues, and in the case of any serum-sipping villains, defense against the Green Goblin. Well, if metal-infused spider silk isn’t your thing, you can always check out our discussion on Iron Man.

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