West Bend - Alumi-nummy!

West Bend had a metal pot, heater, or cannister for every type of food that required more than a candle's power to prepare. If they had their way, your kitchen would require an extra kitchen to store your coffee maker, mixing bowls, coffee warmer , coffee cooler, tea kettle, tea re-heater, electric ovenette, electric ovenola, eletcric ovenasium, corn popper, and corn un-popper. That's the business they're in - selling you as many thermal doo dads as they can.

Mom always just made popcorn in a huge coveted skillet. Following her efficient lead, I now use an identical skillet to make popcorn, pancakes, roast turkeys, and to fry up my special Christmas soup. Eff you, The Marketing Department of West Bend!

West Bend seems pretty excited about their colored appliances, available in sunset gold, delphinium blue and cherry red, in addition to plain old polished aluminum. This last one is a clue. They're making most of the things on this page out of aluminum, which is a fine idea. Aluminum is very light, super-conductive to heat as well as electricity, it doesn't rust, and you can anodize it. Say what? You heard me: "anodize".
Anodizing is a special coating that can be applied to certain metals - most commonly aluminum, but also titanium and zinc and a few others. It's not paint. It's cooler than that. Anodizing is a process using electricity and acid to seal up the surface of the metal, forming a very hard, "skin" of oxide on the surface a few nanometers thick. This skin makes the surface of the metal resistant to abrasion, because the oxide (which is ironically similar to rust) has a crystalline structure about as hard as diamond. This is handy, since aluminum has a great strength-to-weight ratio, but it's not especially hard. It scratches and dings pretty easily.

Untreated aluminum will form an oxide layer all by itself pretty quickly, but by anodizing it, you can make the coating thicker, and make it happen as fast as you want. A polished piece of aluminum can be anodized, and the part will stay shiny pretty much forever ("clear" anodized), while a non-anodized part will revert to a dull un-polished state over time.

More importantly, aluminum can be dyed after the polishing stage and then anodized, trapping the molecules of dye inbetween the crystalline structure of the metal. Not every metal has the proper crystalline structure to do this. Aluminum anodizes the best.
 To show you how well aluminum takes to anodizing, here's an anodized titanium bike pedal. Titanium can be anodized in colors, but the results are sort of "meh". The pale yellow color of the titanium always shows through, and the color isn't very deep or rich. Also, titanium doesn't polish up very well either. It's a useful metal, but hardly ever pretty. It always wants to be a dull grayish yellow.

By contrast, here are a couple of aluminum carabiner clips. Shazaam! I spent lots of money on candy-colored bike parts in the nineties, when the boutique hi-tech component market really took off. Purple was the most garish color of choice, and I bought lots of it. In the 2000s, people came to their senses and less crazy colors like red, black, or blue took hold of the custom bike fashion world.

Anecdotal testament to the hardness of anodized coatings: After I got over my purple semi-functional bicycle parts fetish, I decided to polish a pair of cranks down to shiny metal. Dad set me up with a bench grinder with an abrasive nylon wheel. The wheel just skated across the surface, no matter how hard a leaned on it. This went on for a few minutes before the wheel got through the anodizing and bit into bare aluminum. The sound of the wheel changed and it almost pulled the crank out of my hands when the wheel finally got traction on the soft, vulnerable aluminum. Dad had explained it all to me before, but that was a real eye-opener.

This ad is from 1952, which makes sense. Aluminum production cranked up for World War II, and after the war ended, there were a lot of aluminum makers looking for something to do. That's when aluminum entered the consumer market in a big way. Aluminum dinette sets and appliances like the ones in this ad became available and desirable, especially when you could get them in exciting colors.

Maybe your family had these aluminum tumblers? They're really nice, but don't put them in the dishwasher. Wash them by hand. Aluminum can corrode. It just does it differently than you're used to. Instead of forming orange scaly rust like steel does, it forms a dull chalky film that, over time, can become rough and scaly. Ever see a car with wheels like this?

Aluminum wheels are usually sprayed with a thick coat of clear lacquer to protect them, and when it gets chipped, road salt will begin to eat the wheel (salt just loves aluminum). You could anodize them instead of using clear paint, but wheels live a hard life, and an  anodized coating would get nicked pretty quickly too, and then you'd be back at square one.

If you're in love or something, and you and your lover or something are gearheads or into aerospace, you can even get titanium wedding rings with anodized details. Get an anodized coffee maker instead. If the relationship ends, you're less likely to sell it to a pawn shop at a significant loss.


Craig F. said...

Things I learned from this post:

1. Anodizing is cool.

2. Phil-Are-Go is a bike nerd. No, I would prefer not to see your stretchy shorts.

3. Sarah Palin named her kid after a West Bend coffee pot. I'm sure if she'd spawned again, everything she'd have many more kids with names of things that were in front of her.

"Now, Trash Bag, don't hit your sister like that.

And Yogurt Lid, you pick up your toys.

And Lemon Pledge, if I see you write on that wall one more time, so help me God, you won't see your seventh birthday."

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

1. You bet your bum anodizing is cool. You can even find tutorials online showing you how to do it in your garage. (Always wanted to try, but lacked the initiative).

2. Bike nerd - definitely. Years ago, I built my own bike one component at a time. I told myself I was like a jedi building his own light sabre. In fact I was like a jedi building his own light sabre whose parts never really meshed correctly because they were all from different manufacturers. best solution: buy a complete bike.

3. Sarah Palin chooses inane names for her kids. I hope she runs but doesn't win.

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