Brilliant Marketing

Marketing is an inherently dishonest profession, in my opinion; its purpose is to misrepresent and manipulate. The other day I was at the surviving local hardware store, and ran across a piece of marketing from my distant past.

When I was a teenager, we were constantly going to Stebbins Anderson, a hardware store out in Timonium, Maryland. It was huge and cavernous and maze-like and magical. I loved the smells, the stuff, and the helpful staff who you could collar and ask, “what is this for?” and they actually knew and would answer. As I grew up, I’d still bicycle out 15 miles to get stuff there, then bicycle back with my backpack full of sandpaper, glue, paint, boxes of 1,000 #4 steel washers (I made armor with them) and nobody remembers what all else.

One of the displays that caught my eye back then was a marketing display for PC-7 epoxy. It was compelling: a glass bottle with a golf ball epoxied to the top, a wooden arm epoxied to the side, and liquid in the bottle. For those of you who aren’t into adhesives, let me explain: that was a simple, clear, demonstration of a miracle. You could touch it and tug on it and by god it was stuck together. My dad and I were both impressed by it, to the point where, when we had a pipe leaking in the house, he let me try fixing it by sanding and grinding the pipe, packing it with PC-7, and wrapping it with electrical tape. I hope my dad lasts more good years (he’s 86 this month!) but that PC-7 repaired pipe is on course to outlast him. It’s on course to outlast me, too.

After that, I was so impressed I did some experiments; I was learning the scientific method and engineering processes in parallel. I remember the day I glued a hacksaw blade (slightly sanded to roughen it) to a plywood grip I cut with a coping saw, and I used it as a keyhole saw for years, until I accidentally broke it by stepping on it while I was working on a project. That’s one reason not to leave your tools on the floor. (my new reason is: they may be red hot) I sometimes glued weird scraps together so I could put them in a vice and hammer on them to see how the glue held up. It let me understand the difference between shear strength and tensile. I had a bicycle frame spontaneously disassemble when I hit a pothole on Bellona Avenue: I PC-7’d it back together and rode it another year or two until I upgraded to the Raleigh Super Grand Prix I saved for, for years – which was stolen 3 months after I bought it.

Back in the 1990s I was touring Burkittsville (where the Blair Witch was set) on my Ninja 600 with then-girlfriend, and the bike began to smell dangerous. We were stopped at a light and gasoline was dripping from the bottom edge of the tank, onto the cylinder head. No, really. I pulled over, we dismounted, and I explained that we were riding a bomb and repairs were necessary. By a quirk of fate, I had pulled up right outside an Ace hardware – I knew what to do! About 5 minutes later we were rolling again, with a gob of PC-7 jammed into the leaky spot of the gas tank, and a piece of duct tape molded around to hold it together. The PC-7 set perfectly, in spite of its natal gasoline-bath, and the motorcycle was fine for another 2 years until I gave it to Brett H, who cleaned it up and raced it, eventually wrecking it and breaking his leg in the process. Brett was lucky I was not there because after I recovered from fainting I probably would have tried to PC-7 his leg back together.

pc-7 and clamps

When I made my first knife, around 1976, the handle slabs were held on with PC-7 and I’ve glued up many a handle, since, and it’s always been PC-7. It has even been featured on this blog [stderr] before. It’s what holds every knife I’ve ever made together.

Much to my amusement, my friend Mike P, who is also a knife-maker, sent me a link to a bake-off someone did regarding epoxies. I immediately replied “if PC-7 didn’t win, they didn’t use it right.” PC-7 won. I still have not done it yet but I have a plan to make a silicone mold from a knife handle and grind a test blade, then cast the entire handle in PC-7. Come at me, bro! Mike’s suggestion was a handle of stainless steel chain wrapped around the tang and sculpted/filled with pure PC-7. Lots of PC-7. An aesthetic masterpiece of sorts.

So there I was in the Ace Hardware in Philipsburg, staring at this little marketing display of profound genius, with tears of joy in my eyes.

It’s not like I was running low, but I bought another pair of cans; I’ll use them eventually.

------ divider ------

“surviving local hardware store” – when I moved up here there were 5 Ace Hardware stores within a 20 minute drive. Each of them was distinctive, and some had different inventory and various levels of skilled staff. One learned pretty quickly which Ace to go to if you needed a specific type of screw and didn’t want to spend all day foraging through the fastener indexes. They’re all gone, now, except one; crushed from the bottom by WALMART and from the flank by Loews and Home Depot. I’m not sure if I mourn Ace, though, since I remember when Ace was the great imperial doom-rollup that came along and put Stebbins Anderson and Kaufmann hardware out of business, then bought the remains. I’m not saying the people at WALMART and Loews are anything but hard-working home-building store-workers, either. I guess it’s just capitalism making the market more efficient – and making it harder to find #0 80 thread per inch gunsmith hex cap screws.

By the way, for those of you who spread adhesives: get some dentists’ spatulas. The secret to great adhesion is to get a small coating of adhesive completely covering the surfaces – and to do that, there’s nothing better than a machinist-straight polished stainless steel spatula.

What is the magic of PC-7 and its cousin J.B. Weld? I believe that the grey stuff is powdered stainless steel.


  1. Dunc says

    Yeah, that is good marketing. Haven’t encountered PC-7, but I do know J.B. Weld, and I generally figure that if something can’t be fixed with that, it just can’t be fixed.

  2. says

    I loved the smells, the stuff, and the helpful staff who you could collar and ask, “what is this for?” and they actually knew and would answer.

    My experience with the helpful staff in hardware stores is that it’s better not to talk with them at all. They aren’t rude towards me and they will answer my questions, but every now and then some employee will say something that clearly indicates that he considers me incompetent. And I will get these kinds of remarks even when I clearly know what I need and instead of cluelessly asking “what is this for?” I just ask “in which direction do I find a shelf with X?” Nowadays, whenever I need something from a hardware store, I will just look around and try to find the right shelf on my own, I really don’t want to talk with yet another helpful guy who kindly informs me that just because of how my body looks like I’m supposed to know nothing about the kind of stuff that gets sold in hardware stores.

    I can only assume that guys who like knitting or needlepoint get the same treatment each time they go to a store that sells supplies for their hobby.

  3. cvoinescu says

    Ieva @ #2:
    I can only assume that guys who like knitting or needlepoint get the same treatment each time they go to a store that sells supplies for their hobby.

    I’m really sorry, but no, we don’t.

  4. says

    Reginald Selkirlk@#3:
    So you think your DIY skills are good? Check this out:
    How to Make a Pinhole Camera Out of a Chocolate Easter Egg

    Pretty cool! But, I did: this. Pinhole cameras are too easy.

    PS – my exposure is better, and I was using glass plate dripping with silver nitrate and he was using commercial paper. The sensitized surface is the camera.

  5. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#2:
    I can only assume that guys who like knitting or needlepoint get the same treatment each time they go to a store that sells supplies for their hobby.

    There was one time I was at a fabric store, in line to get some yardage cut, and the woman doing the cutting ignored me for a bit then caught herself and said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you wanted fabric!”
    One time. I noted it because it was notable; I buy fabric all the time.

  6. says

    Is this just all some meta-point about marketing, where it turns out you just made all that shit up, to demonstrate the compelling power of a supposedly personal narrative? Do you even do metal work at all? What’s your real real name? Who do you work for?
    I never said that! You can’t prove I did! AAAHHHHHHH!


    Sorry about that. I had a moment. Carry on.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    Pretty cool! But, I did: this.

    It seems to work, but I don’t see that it involves anything edible.

  8. ridana says

    Ah we used to have one of those old cavernous hardware stores here until the box stores drove it under. That was a sad day. I liked that you could go there and buy 34 nails or 2 washers instead of having to buy packages in multiples of 6 or 12. I suppose shoplifting might’ve impacted them too. :/
    The remaining local Ace is run by a curmudgeon who is invariably rude to me and decidedly unhelpful, contrary to the corporate ads. Their selection sucks too, so I only go there when I have to. Although it’s less common than in the past, I do still run into the attitude Ieva describes, especially in auto parts stores.
    My sympathies for the stolen bike. Every bike I’ve ever owned has been stolen, until I’ve given up owning one. I miss bike riding, but I can’t afford to buy a new/used bike plus chain and lock and license, and get it equipped to my preferences every 3 months.
    I’ve never heard of PC-7, but I will now look for some!

  9. xohjoh2n says

    For those of you who aren’t into adhesives, let me explain: that was a simple, clear, demonstration of a miracle.

    <hand up> I’m not. I thought epoxy was just that stuff that makes pretty much anything in its near vicinity immovable and unrecoverable, but takes a bit of time getting there. What is it? Are golf balls non-gluable? Is glass? Does containing liquid grant the bottle generally magical unstickable properties?

  10. cvoinescu says

    What is the magic of PC-7 and its cousin J.B. Weld? I believe that the grey stuff is powdered stainless steel.

    There’s another subtle piece of marketing: the J B Weld components are labelled steel and hardener. Pretty good, eh?

  11. dangerousbeans says

    i’m with xohjoh2n @10, that display could be done with most decent epoxies. you just need to pay some attention to surface prep; rough up the glass and ball, make sure everything is clean. although in that case using one that has a filler will help (lets you get those fillets).
    still, sounds like PC-7 is a good epoxy

  12. shagunathor says

    The SDS’s for JB Weld and PC-7 are online and do not mention powdered steel. They do mention large quantities of talc, titanium dioxide, or zeolites, any of which would be good filler.

  13. shagunathor says

    My brain turned syenite into zeolite while going from SDS to posting. Silly brain. Anyway, random silicate filler material.

  14. starskeptic says

    “I guess it’s just capitalism making the market more efficient…”
    Yeah, that’s just the word I was thinking of….”efficient”

  15. lochaber says

    I remember seeing those PC-7 displays, but I wouldn’t have remembered the name for the life of me without it being in the pic.

    Ieva Skrebele @2 I frequent craft stores and such fairly often, but I’m usually looking for stuff for unorthodox purposes (aquarium related stuff amongst other misuses) But, sometimes I’m actually looking for stuff for the intended purpose. I can’t remember ever being brushed off in the same manner that women I’ve known have talked about being brushed off in auto parts shops and similar.

    If anything, I’d say I got an almost opposite reaction when I took sewing classes and such. The teacher seemed to be pretty enthusiastic to help anyone who was actually interested in learning.

    I think it’s just misogynistic assholes being gatekeeping fuckwits. Most of what I am aware of is from second/third hand reports from other people, but I have one episode I personally witnessed that really stands out to me, and sorta throws things into perspective about how shitty so many men are towards women.
    I enlisted in the USMC, and went to boot camp at Parris Island, SC. At the time, all of the women recruits were sent to Parris Island, whilst the men were split betwixt Parris Island, SC, and Sand Diego,CA, based mostly on where they were recruited.

    Anyways, we got to the range part of training, and I shared a target with some women recruits. Our range instructor was pretty standard, helped us out, pointed out what we were doing wrong, etc. But, when the women were shooting, he fed them misinformation and sabotaged them. Not only could I over hear it from where I was sitting, but he would then come over to us and brag about how he was fucking them over.

    I was a lot less… um… *progressive* at the time then I am now, but even so I thought it was fucked up on multiple levels. First of all, the blatant sexism was just offensive, even by my standards at the time. Secondly, that there is a non-zero chance where that range coach, or me, or anyone else, could end up in a situation where everything went to shit, and one of us male recruits, or the instructor, could be in a firefight with one of those female recruit at our backs or by our sides. And that asshole just lowered everyone’s chance of survival, just to falsify some sexist bullshit attitude about how “women can’t shoot” or some shit.

    One of the women scored expert, despite the instructor’s sabotage. I only managed the bare minimum pizza box (marksman), even with his sincere help.

  16. Dunc says

    I can only assume that guys who like knitting or needlepoint get the same treatment each time they go to a store that sells supplies for their hobby.

    Well, when I went to buy my first sewing machine I got the “is it a gift for someone?” question, but beyond that, no. People are occasionally mildly surprised, but that’s it. We’re allowed to do pretty much anything we want. (At least here in Scotland. I dunno if it’s any different in Latvia.)

  17. says

    lochaber @#14 and Dunc @#15

    Shop assistants in hardware stores haven’t been rude or sabotaged me or acted as gatekeepers. I wasn’t implying that. The problem I have is more subtle yet still annoying. I approach an employee in a hardware store and ask him a question. He takes a look at my body and assumes that I must be uneducated about the topic. He starts talking with me as if I had no clue what I was doing. At this point I’m forced to say something that demonstrates that I do, in fact, understand what we are talking about. At this point the shop assistant displays some visible signs of surprise and finally switches to taking me seriously. Now we can finally have a normal conversation with him actually answering my questions. If somebody with a male body approached the same shop assistant, he would be taken seriously from the very beginning without needing to convince the shop assistant about anything. It’s somewhat annoying that strangers automatically assume that I must be incompetent in some fields just because of how my body looks like.

    For example, I once went to a hardware store to buy silicone weather stripping for sealing windows. I knew exactly what I needed, but I didn’t know where the right shelf was located, so I asked an employee to tell me the direction towards the right aisle. He responded with making a joke about me using paper stickers instead of the real thing I wanted to buy. Personally, I perceive blonde jokes as offensive even though such jokes aren’t directed at me as my hair is brown. This time, however, the shop assistant had made a joke about me. He might have had fun questioning my competence, but I sure wasn’t laughing. By the way, I know almost nothing about a lot of the stuff that gets sold in hardware stores, but restoration of antique wooden windows is the one topic about which I know a lot. Once I even impressed an experienced professional restorer with my handmade linseed oil putty (that’s what’s used for glazing windows). Very few men know about antique wooden windows more than I do, yet this sales assistant automatically assumed that I must be uneducated about the topic and even dared to make fun about what he expected to be my incompetence. That was annoying. I only asked where the right shelf is located and got to listen to a stupid joke instead.

    People are occasionally mildly surprised, but that’s it. We’re allowed to do pretty much anything we want. (At least here in Scotland. I dunno if it’s any different in Latvia.)

    I have never been denied an opportunity to pursue a hobby. When I talk with random people about my masculine interests, a few are mildly surprised, but most are supportive and don’t say anything nasty.

    I have seen lots of people being surprised about my hobbies, but blatant disapproval was rare. There have been only a few occasions of that. My mother was the worst offender. She has tried to stop me from taking fencing and krav maga lessons. She tried to persuade me to stop wasting my time trying to make things out of wood. And when I was about six years old she tried to force me to practice singing and dancing (I disliked both). My uncle also disapproved of my hobbies at first, but ultimately he gave up on that and accepted that I will never be feminine. Some strangers have also expressed their opinions, for example, once I was repairing the roof of my gander home, when an elderly couple walked by and commented how my father ought to be doing this job instead (by then I was about 14).

    By the way, all the teachers I have had for my masculine hobbies were professional and supportive and didn’t express any personal opinions about what a woman should or shouldn’t do, they didn’t treat me any differently than their male students. I could just hire a restorer or a krav maga trainer to teach me some new skills, and neither made a fuss about my gender. My experiences with teachers at school were different though. At school several teachers tried to force femininity upon me.

  18. Johnny Vector says

    I always keep a supply of PC-7 around. Although I wouldn’t have trusted it to be useful as a sealant after less than a couple hours of curing. Good to know.

    As for hardware stores, in my area it’s down to HD and Lowe’s. The worst thing about them is that they never clean up their plumbing aisles, so there are thousands of little boxes with random fittings in them. Couple years ago I was building a special effect for a play (a moneybox for The Miser, in which at the end of the show the title character opens the box and rose petals explode out of it). So there I was in the plumbing aisle with a box, looking for just the right combination of pipe and valves to fit into it. No fewer than 3 people asked me if I needed help. Fortunately I’m white, so nobody called the cops. Also, the effect worked quite well. It all would have been much easier if the fittings in HD were what they said on the tin.

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