Yours truly had promised a further rant under the heading : Brass Is Best.
Pete the Plumber wagers that all occupations are saddled by a human, species-wide inclination to ‘Get One Over’ on the prospective consumer. In the plumbing supplies industry, one of these human traits can manifest itself as any bare and/or electroplated steel, or ‘pot-metal’ parts/components.
The toilet related parts purveyors of last post, peddling the bogus steel were the first to be pilloried. There is no shortage of other rascals. But, one I’d like to discuss next is the escutcheon manufacturers. There is a phrase, that one of my generation used to hear often: ‘Old World Quality’. What exactly did this infer? Well, to me, it meant the fine reputations of trained craftsmen, throughout history, but especially those who toiled in the last four hundred years or so, was an assurance of at least an ‘honest’ degree of quality. What changed?
We humans were ‘gifted’ with the harnessing of electrical energy, among other things. One result was the electro-plating of metals. (Pete the Plumber once did work for a steam power R&D outfit. They created space-age steam power plants and designed vehicles to put them in. This included a metro-bus that was operated in California’s A/C Transit System.) That R&D company had its own plating shop. It was exclusively for plating moving parts with a metal that extended the working life of the part or assembly.) But, the technology also allowed industry to put chromium (and other metals) on steel, pot metal, wood, even plastic. (Think automobile bumpers, toys and lamp parts of years gone by.) But, from antiquity, we have learnt that other than vitreous/near-vitreous pottery/earthenware, only the metals gold, silver, copper, or brass/ bronze would resist the effects of close exposure to long term human hygiene practice.
Climates too can also contribute their effects. Plumbing escutcheons, not made of brass or stainless steel (or chromed plastic), in housing built near salt water environments suffers most quickly. Until not that many years ago all plumbing-trim escutcheons were made of brass or copper and chrome or nickel plated. That was the ‘old world’ way of doing things. Well, those days have flown the coup.
Today, so much trim and finish plumbing is owner-installed that escutcheons are not even thought of. In cabinets under bathroom and kitchen sinks what’s the big deal if the escutcheon is left off? Outta sight outta mind? They were intended to make a ‘sightly’ pest-barricade (and add flash to your installation). Only on ‘Finish Plumbing’ inspections will you find anyone interested in this topic, today. But, if the rough plumber installed the toilet’s water supply in the correct general area, then, with time, noticing the ‘unsightly’, corroding, plated steel escutcheon is the crow’s return to roost.
It wasn’t that many years ago that one could purchase chromed-brass ‘shower-arm’ escutcheons
(a standard ½-in. MIP size), and use them with brass nipples for closet/toilet and wall-hung and pedestal sink supply trim. But, like chocolate in candy bars, the volume of brass in brass shower arms has shrunk dramatically. As a result, standard brass nipples will no longer slide through the hole in a plated brass shower arm escutcheon. Drats. And, chromed brass ‘low-profile’ and ‘box’ escutcheons for trap arms are scarcer than great auks. Ragnar, at The Sink Factory in Berkeley, however, tells me they know where to find ‘old world’, nickel-on-brass, quality escutcheons.
Peter Hemp is a San Francisco East Bay residential plumber and plumbing author and former R & D steam vehicle plumber. His hobbies are ocean kayaking and touring the Left Coast by bicycle.
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