Cheap but bombproof II
May 15, 2012 3:19 AM   Subscribe

A while back there was a thread regarding insanely overbuilt, reasonably-priced consumer goods "like an AK-47" such as the WRT54G and 90s Nokia phones. It was really useful to me, and by the looks of it it was to many other people. The sad thing is that it was closed in 2008, and lots of the products aren't on the market now or have had design changes. 4 years later, what products now deserve to sit in the cheap but bombproof category?
posted by jaduncan to Technology (45 answers total) 181 users marked this as a favorite
We have Legos and especially Duplos that have been abused full-time by at least 10 kids before coming into our household. Older wooden Thomas and Brio toy trains have taken a similar level of abuse. (And my Atwood tool, Kitchenaid mixer, and who knows what else from that last thread are still going strong.)
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 4:26 AM on May 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

While I can't personally attest to how bombproof the Raspberry Pi is because I haven't received mine yet, it certainly is cheap and it seems quite capable of performing a variety of computing tasks.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:42 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I hope so Ron; I'm about to deploy 16 of them as village servers in rural Kenya.
posted by jaduncan at 4:49 AM on May 15, 2012 [15 favorites]

Duralex and Arcoroc glassware. Inexpensive, stackable, (almost) unbreakable.
posted by iviken at 5:03 AM on May 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Sansa Sandisk MP3 players.
posted by LarryC at 5:21 AM on May 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

IKEA's Billy bookcases? Not new (over 30 years old) but probably the AK-47 of shelving.

I'm tempted to say Raspberry Pi too, although it's really too soon to tell how reliable they are. One for the next time this questions is asked.
posted by BinaryApe at 5:27 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Lego/Duplo.

I love my Beretta shooting glasses, and have had the same pair for three-plus years. Scratch-resistant, drop-resistant, and perfect for driving, mowing and other outdoor jobs. My Leatherman multitool, while not the cheapest thing (though deals can be found), is the single most useful pocket gear I have and I have beaten the heck out of it.

My five-gallon buckets, bought at the feed mill for .50/per, are damn near indestructible. I use them for everything from storing dry goods to hauling water. I'm becoming a hori hori convert (not the least expensive example) because it does the job of several tools. And holy crow--zip ties? Life savers. I carry a few in my purse, and a bunch in my gardening wagon.

Among my favorite inexpensive kitchen tools: my Dexter Russell bench scraper. Had it for years now and it just keeps going. Mason jars are lovely in their own way, and I use them for coffee and iced tea in the 'frig, and oatmeal, tea and baking ingredients in the pantry. They'll go in the freezer as well, but become, uh, less than bomb-proof when you drop them.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:28 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

As everyone else has already said, Lego is indestructible.

Magimix food processors are bombproof, unless the company has been eaten by the private equity fairy since we bought ours.
posted by pharm at 5:34 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

And I can't believe I forgot to mention my magic pan. I lucked into a Griswold cast iron skillet at a rummage sale. Thing has to be at least 50 years old. I use it at least two or three times a week and it does the most amazing job on Dutch Babies and pancakes. Best $3 purchase ever.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:57 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hope so Ron; I'm about to deploy 16 of them as village servers in rural Kenya.

I'm impressed by your commitment, but the production sysadmin in me is going "You're putting a brand new line of hardware out into the deep field?" Please do report on the reliably -- if they just work out there, that'll be a huge testament to them. And good on you for helping others.

Given the number of WRT54G I had die, or saw others have die, I never considered them reliable.

I can't call Billy bookcases bulletproof. They're certainly ubiquitous, and they're easy, but they're not that strong. Best 5-10 year bookcases per dollar, no doubt, but 50 year? [NOT-BILLYEST] (I own several of them.)

I will seventh Lego, and second Leatherman pocket tools, esp. the Wave. Note -- you are not a "true" Leatherman wave user until you've cut your thumb trying to close it with only one hand. You are a smart user if you never try, but you will.

This is a hard question. I've have a number of things that have been bulletproof in my experience -- my Apple laptops, Snap-on Tools, Good steel framed bikes, Volvos, but none of them are anywhere near cheap.

Hmm. Eagle Creek packing gear. Briggs & Reilly bags. IBM Thinkpads and Intellistation Zs, but all are, again not low cost. Nikon SLRs basically outlasted film itself.

Part of this is that I consider it vastly better to spend a little more for something that lasts so I don't have to replace it, which makes it cheaper in the long run. My expensive Apple Notebooks became cheap by year when you realize I carried them for four years or more on the road. A good car that you can drive for 10-15 years is vastly cheaper than buying three lower-cost cars that only last 5.

Wait -- got one. Cast Iron pans. They're not the be-all and end-all of cooking that some think, but they are good, solid, and with only the most basic care will last far longer than any of us will, and they simply don't cost that much.

Another -- the Western Electric Model 500 and descendants. They still work today, even the ones made in the 50s. They weren't cheap, but given how long they lasted, they define "bulletproof".
posted by eriko at 5:57 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: British Army issue Combat 95 outdoor gear (example UK retailer; no connection to me save I've purchased from them); cheaper than anything else, and past the point where Army gear got good. I am unaware of anywhere else that I can buy a good quality Goretex jacket and trousers for £35.
posted by jaduncan at 6:00 AM on May 15, 2012

Response by poster: I'm impressed by your commitment, but the production sysadmin in me is going "You're putting a brand new line of hardware out into the deep field?"

Offtopic: There's legacy PCs we've already set up out there that will act as failover (IT centres with like 30 PCs in per village); if the RPs work OK then we'll have another set there as new failover and then the buildout will cost ~£120 per village for full Wikipedia, Khan Academy and OpenCourseware server provision where the internet hasn't got to yet.

If the RPs fail they fail; it will just go back to the status quo but I'm hopeful about them since there aren't any moving parts or fans. If people are curious about this then I'll make a Projects post when I get back; it looks like fieldwork is on for July or so.
posted by jaduncan at 6:05 AM on May 15, 2012 [16 favorites]

My 2000 Subaru Forester is at 120K miles and has needed hardly any work. My mechanic says these cars are good for 300,000 miles.

From 1992 through 2010 I rode a 1967 Schwinn Breeze that had been my mom's. I gave it away to a kid in the neighborhood and I'll bet it's still on the road; I certainly see lots of Schwinns of similar vintage in town all the time.
posted by escabeche at 6:10 AM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know if reliable or bomb-proof is the word. They're cheap, easily maintained and installed and flexible.
posted by empath at 6:14 AM on May 15, 2012

Best answer: If you haven't already been through Kevin Kelly's Cool Tool blog, he and his readers often find well built useful things. It's where I first learned of ask mefi.
posted by machinecraig at 6:17 AM on May 15, 2012 [7 favorites]

Korean spoon and stainless stell chopsticks set. Anywhere between $2-$10. They are the perfect utensils.
posted by scruss at 6:46 AM on May 15, 2012

Depending on what your definition of "cheap" is, I bought a Wenger laptop backpack six years ago, and at the rate it's held up, it has a pretty good shot at being the last backpack I ever buy.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:08 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad X series laptops, the kind that are rubberized black. Not cheap to buy new, but so durable that buying used is a good prospect. My X61T (circa 2007) was bought used and is still going strong.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:18 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

More of a supply than a tool I guess, but Briggs & Little wool yarn is dirt-cheap and the knitted fabric it works up into wears like iron. I have 10-year-old boot socks I made from that stuff that are still in great shape, even though I wear them constantly every winter.
posted by bewilderbeast at 7:28 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: the Buy it for Life subreddit has many conversations on this topic
posted by Mach5 at 7:45 AM on May 15, 2012 [11 favorites]

Pretty much any bag by Tom Binh.
posted by yclipse at 7:50 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Libbey glassware water/juice glasses, not the domestic stuff their commercial glasses. Run about 4 bucks each if you buy them singly. I had a pile in a coffee shop I used to own many years ago, they were used pretty much every day and pretty roughly for 5 years there, then went home with me when I moved and did another 5 years there surviving vigorous niece and nephew testing. I was so sad I had to leave them behind when I moved. Still looked like new, and I never had one break on me.
posted by wwax at 7:53 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

eriko: "Given the number of WRT54G I had die, or saw others have die, I never considered them reliable. "

The WRT54G was pretty robust. The power bricks, though, were shit, and sometimes failed so badly that they took the router with them.

I firmly converted to the Linksys camp after I set up a Netgear router for a client, and it caught fire the first time I plugged it in out of the box. No flames, but a fair bit of smoke. When I called to get an RMA, the barely-fluent CSR had me check my TCP/IP settings before he would authorize the return. I distinctly remember this exchange taking place:

"Which status lights are on?"

"None of them are on. The entire front panel melted in the fire."


"Okay, sir, please open up the control panel on your computer, and double click on Network Connections...."

On the other hand, I've had nothing but absolutely fantastic experiences with the Netgear CSRs who handle their ProSafe line of products, all of which have lifetime warranties (except for the power bricks, which is incidentally always the bit that fails)

posted by schmod at 7:56 AM on May 15, 2012 [16 favorites]

Pyrex, vintage "red-handle" kitchen tools*, Lu Ray pastel dinnerware from eBay.

*I had my Gram's slotted spatula, which flipped hundreds burgers and pancakes and what all over the years since she had it in the 1940s (maybe 50s). The paint wore off completely, the wood wore down, and I still continued to use it until the metal parts separated about three years ago.
posted by jgirl at 8:06 AM on May 15, 2012

Cast Iron pans. They're not the be-all and end-all of cooking that some think, but they are good, solid, and with only the most basic care will last far longer than any of us will, and they simply don't cost that much.

3rding cast iron skillets - we're currently using my grandfather's, bought ~1940, almost daily. I took a picture of our 16th month old son sitting next to it a few weeks ago, since I expect him to inherit it.

Also, Gerber knives, especially the LST - cheap, light, and very durable.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:07 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Previously: Lifetime Warranties
Tangentially: Best of their kind

I've still got quite a few of my grandmother's Farberware Classic pots and pans. The handles eventually need to be replaced roughly every 20 years, but the pots literally look brand-new. Sadly, the brand got gobbled up by the Private Equity Monster, so the new stuff isn't as good.

Ditto for newer Pyrex. It's still pretty good, but it doesn't hold a candle to the old stuff
Pun unintentional, but you probably shouldn't try literally holding a candle to newer pyrex dishes, as they might explode. The old borosilicate glass dishes were specifically designed to be resilient to that sort of thing, but the newer ones aren't as robust.

My Eureka Backcountry tent is pretty basic as far as backpacking tents go, and has been serving me well for over a decade. Most gear has little nags, quirks, and weaknesses, but I don't think I've ever had a single complaint about this thing. It's just great.
posted by schmod at 8:33 AM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Leatherman Wave. Durable and still comfortable to use. The Skeletool is lighter but cuts into your hands if you try to use the pliers for anything.
posted by tmt at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2012

Best answer: I can ditto overeducated_alligator on the Lenovo Thinkpad X series; I'm typing this on my X61, and it's been a stoic workhorse (after we added some extra ram).

Much as Mefi loves to hate 'em, traditional Crocs are pretty bulletproof; I like soft, comfy, non-clattery slip-ons around the house, and while the slippers and sandals all live their short lives and go to the great shoe closet in the sky, my ancient old Crocs, complete with doggy toothmarks for added pizzazz, just keep on keeping on. Forever and ever.

For kitchen and dining stuff, I highly recommend any authentic, well-stocked restaurant supply place that also sells to "civilians." We used to live near one, and everything we ever bought from there has been attractive (and usually "minimal" which can be hard to find), strong, useful and resilient. (I especially love my stainless steel canisters, and long wistfully for a shopping spree at our old supply house.)

Probably not the sort of thing you had in mind, but for houseplants, a Zamioculcas is incredibly disease-resistant, longlived, and tolerant of (a more than reasonable amount of) neglect and less than perfect conditions, as well as lovely, lush, and strong growing. These are also called ZeeZee (or ZZ) or Eternity Plants, and can also grow quite large. I find them pretty amazing.

For floors, Terazzo is amazing and just about bulletproof. They don't show dirt, don't scratch, don't require delicate care, and even if they sustain an actual chip, it's usually practically invisible. The ones in our house are probably around 80 years old and still going strong.

Finally (and I've probably mentioned this before?), for those with little space and/or those who tend to break their expensive stemmed wine glasses with regularity: when I ended up with one small shelf for all my glasses and mugs, I started using old-style traditional Greek taverna wine glasses, which are like miniature tumblers (mine are actually a bit more elegant than these). They stack, so six of these take up the space of one or two regular stemmed glasses, and unless you really drop them from height on a hard floor, they don't chip or break. Not for wine snobs (or, probably, people with shelf space), obviously!
posted by taz at 8:52 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pretty much any bag by Tom Binh.

While I agree on the longevity of Tom Binh bags (I have one myself), They're not cheap. I have recommended them to many friends, but the vast majority are turned off by the price.
posted by Fleebnork at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2012

A simple quality leather dog leash. Mine looks similar to this one. I've had it for 8 years, my groomers had a similar one for well over 20 and I have no doubt with minimal care they will last a very long time.

In general I'd look for products that are simple and have past the test of time. If it's been in production for over 50 years, has minimal design changes, and the old ones still work you've found a winner. Examples off the top of my head would include safety razors and cast iron pans.
posted by samhyland at 9:08 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Alphasmart word processors. You can regularly find fifteen year old models in good working condition on eBay. Versions made since 2000 will interface with any computer with a USB outlet and a basic text editor, so they're effectively future-proof. You'll get at least 800 hours of use out of 3 AA batteries, and that's actual use - it only sips power when you're actually pressing the keys. Since I got my Neo2 last October, I've jostled it in a packed book-bag, dropped it, slept on it, and typed many essays, short stories, and plays into its tiny LCD screen. It still looks new, and I'm not even halfway through the original batteries.
posted by Iridic at 9:09 AM on May 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

Messenger bags from ReLoad Bags in Philadelphia, PA. Bombproof!

These are not made anymore, but they're readily available; The Sunbeam C-30 Electric Vacuum coffee maker. I make coffee almost every morning in mine. Its roughly 70 years old, and makes a very nice cup of coffee.

Custom bicycle frames from Jeremy and Jay at Sycip Designs. My bike is 15 years old, has been to 5 continents, has hundreds of thousands of miles on it and still looks like new.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 9:10 AM on May 15, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you for that, Iridic. I may well have found my travel journal writing machine.
posted by jaduncan at 9:12 AM on May 15, 2012

Iridic: "Versions made since 2000 will interface with any computer with a USB outlet and a basic text editor, so they're effectively future-proof."

The versions made between 1995 and 2000 had a PS/2 port instead, and also emulated a keyboard, so you could theoretically even use one of those with a PS2/USB adapter.

However, they're pretty basic as far as these things go; they were marketed at K-12 schools. It's bigger than a modern laptop, and you only get a few lines of text on the screen.
posted by schmod at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2012

We have a Singer industrial sewing machine from the 1940s that works perfectly. It sews through leather and canvas, no problem. I don't know how much it cost at the time, but it was $60 on eBay and probably works as good or better than a new machine of comparable strength.
posted by desjardins at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2012

They're pretty basic as far as these things go

No dispute there. Editing is painful on an Alphasmart, and there's simply no way to format. But if you just want to write, a used Alphasmart is cheaper, more durable, and less distracting than a laptop or tablet.
posted by Iridic at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2012

We've had a pair of Bushnell 7x35 binoculars for almost 30 years. They've been sitting in the sun on a black surface so have been getting super-hot, yet they still function as well as they did on the day we gave them to my husband for a Father's Day present 30 years ago. ♥
posted by Lynsey at 9:34 AM on May 15, 2012

Stemless wine glasses from Crate&Barrel. $3 each, dishwasher safe, practically indestructible, but open stock in case you do break one.
posted by asphericalcow at 10:22 AM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, Fender makes rugged guitars all right. Check out how Stevie Ray Vaughan treats his favorite Strat.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:19 PM on May 15, 2012

The Casio G'zOne Ravine. It's waterproof, shock-proof, and drop-proof. I had a Boulder (the Ravine's predecessor) back in the day. I took it in the shower once, and you could literally throw it down on concrete and catch it when it came back up (there was a thin layer of rubber, which made it bouncy.) At least, until I threw it one too many times... but still, the fact that you can forcefully throw a cell-phone dozens of times before it breaks it pretty impressive in my book.
posted by Green Winnebago at 11:16 PM on May 15, 2012

Damn, someone beat me to Timbuk2, cast iron pans, Thinkpads, KitchenAid Mixers (doubly so if they're old and by Hobart), and Linksys routers.

Oh well, I will say that an old steel frame bike is a pretty good choice if you're looking for a BIFL bike. The frame will last and last unlike newer aluminum or carbon fiber jobs, not to mention that craigslist is your friend in finding a cheap price point for a nice ride.

I think the old thread mentioned Parker fountain pens so I'll not rehash that point but I've heard nothing but good things about the Lamy brand Safari model fountain pen as a trooper that will perform in any situation you can throw at it at a great price point.

Our little VW Beetle from 1962 recently got a pretty extensive engine rebuild (new heads, jugs, and pistons) with only a few hundred bucks involved and about 5 or 6 hours of shadetree mechanic time input, AK-47 like? You betcha.

I've had poor luck with Teva sandals compared to what I constantly hear about them. The last pair I had only lasted 2.5 years before they started to come apart at the seams. That said, some gorilla glue and deck screws toenailed into them are making them serve as decent work-flops though they are not what they once were by any means.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:55 AM on May 16, 2012

My matte black Fisher Bullet Space Pen has been with me for more than five years. I write quite a lot, and I replace the cartridge on a yearly basis. It always works. It has a few dents and scratches, but it's been dropped and stepped on, and used in in temperatures from -40 to +30. My only worry is that it will outlast the company that makes the refills, and I'll need to find a new indestructible pen.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:41 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Crumpler bags, particularly their messenger bags. The Red Thoughts consort has had hers for 6 years, and it's stood up to hard use really well. Lifetime warranty, too.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:36 AM on May 20, 2012

Also writing this on a Thinkpad x61. Mine is four years old, and I have done the following to it: dropped it onto cement from a height of five feet with enough force that it bounced twice and the battery flew to the side; dropped it from a height of three feet onto hardwood flooring twice; spilled a full glass of water directly into it; kicked it; stepped on it; bounced it around in a large bookbag which it shared with heavy textbooks and food items daily for three years; thrown it carelessly onto various soft surfaces; dropped the bag it was in; kicked the bag it was in; probably various other indignities I cannot remember.

It still works perfectly. I admit a few of the outside plastic pieces have broken off, and the lid doesn't quite close as perfectly as it once did, but that's it. If I ever do finally retire it, I'll probably drop it out of my fifth floor window on the theory that it can survive that, too.

Yeah, it wasn't cheap when I bought it, but most of my friends have replaced their laptop at least once (and in some cases three times) in the time I've had mine. Going strong.
posted by prefpara at 11:51 AM on May 20, 2012

IKEA: Cheap, Yes! Bombproof, NO, NO, NO. You get what you pay for -- perfect for dorm rooms, but not where you expect to live for more than a couple of years.

I got a Billy Bookcase a year ago and it's already falling apart. All the connections are thin metal strips that fit into pre-cut slots in low-density particleboard. If you so much as let two connected pieces tip during assembly, the strips tear out the slots. A thin sheet of masonite for the back popped off within a week. If it tips over, you throw the pieces away and start again.
posted by KRS at 5:43 PM on October 10, 2012

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