Making Tea Pots With Antique Machinery

We in the West take quite a lot for granted. We’re used to certain standards of care in our homes and our places of work, so much so that we rarely even take time to notice it. Workplace accidents are a big deal, and failing to report can lead to you finding yourself being shown the door. So it’s a little sobering to see how things get made in countries with a less stringent approach in certain areas of basic health and safety.

With the urge to drive prices to the lowest possible, low-tech items such as clothing and housewares tend not to be made in highly sophisticated, automated factories, but more likely in smaller facilities employing more labour, which favours countries where such labour is cheaper and more available. The video we’re highlighting here shows a small factory in what is likely Pakistan (but equally could be a few other places, we’re only guessing) which would seem fairly typical for the level of sophistication required to make enameled teapots.

The video shows the production process, starting from sheet steel cut by hand with shears, which is trued before being stamped into a shallow dish. These first two machines are driven by exposed belts, which is particularly risky, given the style of free-flowing fabric clothes several of the workers wear. In the background you can see electrical wiring just slung around, hanging off nails. The whole building is the same, improvised machines with no protective features, managed by skilled manual workers dedicated to their allocated task, all working in perfect unison. It’s lovely to watch, but also saddening at the same time, as you know those guys are right in the middle of a thousand potential hazards, and only their skill and dexterity is stopping something bad happening. The machines themselves are heavily worn all over the place, but clearly hacked by someone there knows enough to just keep them ticking over. Just checkout the deep wear in the tool rest at [4:20] in the video!

Thanks [Todd] for the tip!

30 thoughts on “Making Tea Pots With Antique Machinery

  1. It al has to do with knowing your tools and their quirks. If a hammer was invented just now, it would be mandatory covered bij a dome as not to hit your thumb. And we are not far off the point whete everybody has to leave the premises when a hole has to be drilled on a drill press. It all has to do with our ridiculous obsession with safety.

    1. I personally don’t think being concerned about safety is at all ridiculous. Over confidence and carelessness let to me to nearly losing most of my left hand digits, only the amazing skills of the surgeons means I have a fully functioning left hand. What that experience did teach me was to take care, wear *appropriate* safety kit, think through the what ifs like if the drill binds is that steel sheet going to get loose and turn into a big rotating blade.
      I do agree that some reactions to a risky activity border on trying to eliminate all risk completely making the activity almost meaningless.

    2. Personally I saw nothing in this video I would not be perfectly comfortable learning to use – seems pretty safe to me – I tend to run my lathe with the belts exposed as the covers just get in the way for instance (its pretty small) – being aware of the risks you work in ways that keep you safe from them, though I’m not sure about the many tanks of who knows what cleaning solutions before the enamel steps with no gloves, or long term working in that furnace room as it didn’t seem to have good ventilation, though who can tell what it has…

      So while I can agree with the other commenters here somewhat health and safety are important, I think @Sailingfree has it correct with ‘take care, wear appropriate’ type stuff but fails to realise that the overconfidence and carelessness that lead to his accident is quite likely because with all the equipment and lack of accidents this very serious machine (whatever it was) wasn’t given the respect it deserves – our workplaces are so safe nothing can go wrong type mentality.

      Where if it looks like the belts will rip your hand off, there are no stickers saying its got the safety stop etc you wouldn’t be so stupid (probably – and if you are Darwin says its your problem) – the western worlds bureaucracy around safety, and insistence on ‘safety gear’ must be worn, even when in this case or that case it make it harder to to do the job, maybe even harder to do it safely… It just doesn’t work very well – the western world has damn near killed its ability to make anything, because it suddenly isn’t acceptable to be at slight risk of minor x while you make something, the sort of risk that is basically no risk if you are sensible in your working practices…

      BUT I AM NOT SAYING all the Health and Safety rules and regs are bad, just that in many places it seems to have gone too far coddling the worker, insisting upon of heaps of ‘protective’ gear for safety rather than having them accept some responsibility for their own potential incompetence – if you are properly trained and thefor aware of how to use the machine safely and go stick your hand in it while it spins that is your problem etc. But if the process produces noxious gases you absolutely should be provided with the right breathing equipment etc.

      Ultimately its a balancing act, and from what we saw of this video I think that production line is closer to the right ballance than many…

    3. Totally agree. let me give you an example from a fortune 500 company I used to work for.

      A worker was found to “not be at fault” for circumventing the safety devices on a machine she used daily for 12yrs. Something got stuck so she reached in to free it and her hand got stamped by the mechanicals leading to puncture wounds and broken bones. There were several guards on the machine to stop people putting their hands into the workings, she used items to lever them out of the way specifically to get her hands into it, knowing and having been trained on the machine, AND being the trainer for others on safe practices, what the guards were for, including the yellow tape and warning labels plastered all over the machine.

      After the H&S folks reviewed it, they decided that there were not enough guards. So they added to the machine a bunch more including guards over guards and two switches to operate (requiring both hands to be holding the power down).
      Despite being a complete idiot and bringing it on herself, that “must find fault with hindsight” approach to H&S incident reporting and investigation / blame pointing allowed her to sue and walk away with compensation as “the company could have done more to protect her” – from herself ?!

      Productivity went down as a result because the machine was now harder to use and fill with the process items due to the guards needing to be removed to fill and empty it. Not that you could get your hands in without those guards still, but it was the extra guards covering the slots where you fed the materials into it now being in the way of filling it !!

      In same company we were targeted to write up at least two dangerous H&S practices we spotted around the workplace every month – targeting against our bonus. Which of course led to people doing things (like leaving out solvents or a Stanley knife – items which later were banned) to allow reporting to take place just to meet the numbers.
      Meanwhile some group of people are getting well paid to report those metrics and the self fulfilling prophecy of employing them to maintain safety.

      Yeah, H&S has a place, but there are also far far too many stories on how it becomes part of a culture in some companies where it defeats its’ purpose.

    4. >ridiculous obsession with safety
      couldn’t agree more. Lets say a life costs 30k, this is approximately what 32h of downtime costs at my workplace ($16 per minute). If safety procedures save one life but cost 40h of downtime (over say 3-4 years), then it’s not worth it period.

      Same arguments go for hands – my insurance tells me a finger is worth 5k, thus the machine guards should not cost more than 5h of downtime over the period it takes the average person to lose a finger without the guards.

        1. Agreed, if I could afford it I’d pay way more…

          Downtime/lives as a value in money isn’t a great metric, nor comfortable thought really – the question should not be what it costs in time/money but if the safety equipment actually is doing the job and making the workplace safer for the properly trained worker (if they do something stupid on a machine that can be operated safely after training its their problem), and safeguarding everyone from any risks they wouldn’t see coming – like hardhat at the building site where anybody up the scaffold from you may have a butter fingers moment, while not getting so in the way it actually makes doing the job harder, perhaps even dangerous (like instance on the really sealed up kind of eye protection that will fog up instantly in hot conditions when the risks are basically zero anything really bad could happen to the eyes without. sure tiny bits of dust that can get past other protective eyewear is a potential risk – of a very minor inconvenience in almost all cases – that is what eyewash stations are for, no harm would be done by most dusts (working with something nastier changes the rules), but working half blind is a major risk of doing something stupid because you just can’t see properly).

          As Dave says above with his “A worker was found to “not be at fault” for circumventing the safety devices on a machine she used daily for 12yrs. Something got stuck …” anecdote if you make the safety bollocks too onerous the workers will do stupid things made more dangerous for the safety crap bypassed by bodges in the way – if they didn’t have to spend eons reseting and undoing safety bolts etc just to correct the issue the ‘safe’ way but could just shut down the machine, flip up a guard and reach in, running as normal less than 2 mins later she probably wouldn’t have done something so stupid…

  2. Incase people are wondering what location it is, then it is indeed Pakistan and probably Quetta city not sure exactly. These kettles are very common in hotels serving Chai (Tea) actually all local hotels only use these kettles for serving the tea.

    Yes, safety is of-course a big concern as every life matters, but unfortunately here due to cost cuttings this is not very first think that comes to the mind of these people. Any ways these small factories are not new and they have been working probably for 20-30 years or even before, so I believe they know how to deal with there tools. I can only hope soon workers will get awareness, and proper safety measure will be norm in the region and in other places too.

    @mac012345, spotting teens in shops or small factories helping their parents or working for themselves is not uncommon, unfortunately this is not nice to see but they have to live and earn bread. Poverty is not a nice thing and hence to fight poverty these teens are working, but there are NGO’s and people working against it and helping these people. And I believe it is getting better and better every day.

  3. I just wish safety glasses were available to most of those workers.

    When I worked in the Middle East (decades ago) I was surprised by the number of men who only had one eye.
    I know disease could have been a factor for some, and here we can wear a glass eye to hide the loss of an eye, but it made me more conscientious of keeping my own eyes protected. (so far, so good!)

  4. I have no problem with any safety feature as long as it does not get in the way of actually using the tool. I have been to a lot of less developed countries and often the lack of safety equipment has to do with four things.

    1. Cost is always a factor, they tend not to add anything that is not absolutely necessary for the task at hand to the machine. If you need to weld and you don’t have a proper welder, you hook some jumpers to the mains and have at it.

    2. Willingness to accept risk for reward. There are a lot of people needing employment so they are going to take risks. Miners and other production workers took lots of chances here in the US back in the day.

    3. Less litigation. In many countries if you hurt yourself, it is considered to be your fault and there is not a big civil law system to make your case. Here there is much more liability placed on the business side. Not saying it is right or wrong, it is just how it is.

    4. Skill level is assumed. Dangerous processes are accepted more readily because there is generally some kind of apprenticeship system in place to make sure you know what you are doing before you are given a task. There is a distinction made between “safe for the general public” and “safe for a skilled worker.”

    5. More risk at an earlier age. I have been to countries where little kids (like age 5 or 6) play near heavy traffic and with things like fireworks mostly unsupervised. Even in what are considered more developed countries like Japan I have seen this. I attribute this to two things. A high level of discipline means that parents can assume the child will do as he was taught and the fact that ANY adult will discipline a child whether they are the parents or not if they see inappropriate or unsafe behavior.

  5. I used to live next door to a guy who worked as a R&D engineer for APC. He had to travel to China, and talked about the differences in safety regulations over there. He personally saw a worker welding two pieces of metal together for some APC branded product. The worker had a piece of cardboard w/ slots cut out for him to see through. His face would be protected from sparks, but he is going to go blind eventually, and that was just standard/accepted.

    He also talked about how they used bamboo (since it was plentiful) for making items like ladders. The ladders had a safety rating system of acceptable deaths/year that they were built to. Saying something like, “These ladders have to be built so that no more than 5 people die per year while using them” is something that wouldn’t fly in the US.

    I can’t imagine how bad things will be when manufacturing moves from China to places like Vietnam/Pakistan and (eventually) on to Africa. The scientists and engineers can’t bring on the machines for this stuff fast enough.

    1. >“These ladders have to be built so that no more than 5 people die per year while using them” is something that wouldn’t fly in the US.

      That was a standard practice in the US when they built the Hoover Dam.

      And a hard hat meant a baseball cap dipped in bitumen.

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