Some of the most frequent kind of questions ManMade receives are inquiries like, "I just graduated college and finally have a real income and I'd like to start investing in some long-lasting goods..." or "my fiancée's birthday is coming up, and I'd like to buy him something every guy should have..." So, in 2013, I'll be sharing my take on those essential items, offering a new collection of ten each season: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Some of these you might already own, some of these you might need to upgrade to a quality version, and most of these apply to women and households too. Please let me know what you think, and what you'd add or take away in the comments below.
1. Cast Iron Skillet: [Pictured above] I've gone on record about this on ManMade, and I still believe every word of it. They're inexpensive, last multiple lifetimes, and are particularly useful in these cold months when the grill is covered in snow, as they're the best way to develop deep, browned flavors indoors. Read more about why everyone should own one here.
2. A wool sweater: I don't mean some sharp, fine v-neck that you wear under a sport coat or to dress up a bit for a night out. I'm talkin' a thick, warm, Ernest Hemingway-on-a-fishing-boat type thing that you keep around for cold weekend mornings, long winters napping on the sofa, or snuggling with your sweetheart. For tips for caring for 'em, check out the ManMade guide to Wool and the Art of Sweater Maintenance: 5 Tips to Care for and Make Your Sweaters Last
3. A heavy-duty cordless drill/driver:
Winter is the time for fixing up all those things you've been meaning to get to, and since this is a site dedicated to making things, I can't emphasize this one enough: buy one that'll last. Some lightweight Black and Decker will work for assembling IKEA furniture, but you need one that'll handle all kinds of creative and household tasks: putting up shelves, hanging art, and loosening factory/machined tightened bolts and screws. Look for something that feels heavy in your hand and has at least an 18-volt battery. Hammer-action a bonus for masonry and other tough materials. That's mine, pictured above. An 18-volt Milwaukee I've had for the last five years. It's awesome.
4. A magazine subscription: I'm all for not wasting paper, but I'm even a bigger fan of getting away from the screen. I work on a laptop all day, and I love my iPad, but my eyeballs need a rest. Plus, there's nothing like just grabbing the latest issue of whatever you care about, and throwing it in your bag or back pocket to read on the bus or train, or while you wait for an appointment. With most 12-issue subscriptions coming in at under $20, I still think these are a great value, whether you care about music, woodworking, health and fitness, long-form essays, style, or whatever floats your boat. Use the internet, use your eReaders, but also, give your eyes and brain a break. [Image: Simon Greiner]
5. Programmable Thermostat: This is definitely the least exciting item, but if you don't have one of these, you're crazy. Especially in wintertime. Whether you rent or own, these are inexpensive, easy-to-install, and, let's face it...you're a guy, and guys like to fiddle with thermostats. I dunno why. I wrote this a loooooong time ago, but it shows you how easy it is to install one, and you feel tough 'cause you played with wiring and didn't electrocute yourself.
6. Leather boots: Whether winter means ice and snow, lots of rain, wind, or just a chance to wear layers, a pair of quality boots are always a good investment. These are intended to last for decades, and they will. Work boots, snow boots, hiking boots, whatever suits your personal style, I can't recommend finding (and wearing) them enough. You'll feel like a guy... promise. For tips on picking out a pair, check out this ManMade guide, and to treat them properly, here's the Skillset post on How to: Care for and Protect Your Leather Boots and Shoes for Winter
7. Wool blanket: The best way to save money in heating costs? Heat yourself, not the whole house, whenever possible. I work from home, and it's totally silly to heat every room when I'm just a guy huddled over his laptop. These are also essential to keep in your car in case something goes wrong and you're stuck in the cold, and they're always right to take camping or to an outdoor event or picnic. Here are my picks for five rugged wool blankets that are worth the investment. [Photo: Pendleton Wool]
8. Heavy-duty dutch oven: Winter is the season of soups, and nothing turns out a better pot of chili than a heavy dutch oven that retains heat well. Making a few batches and freezing means you've got dinner or lunch when you're snowed in. You can sear, saute, braise, stew, and roast in these guys, and having a pan that can go from stovetop to oven to refrigerator is worth the investment. High-end, enamel-coated cast iron French models like Le Creuset are worth the investment, but less expensive options, such as those from Lodge or Mario Batali, are getting good reviews as well. Buy the inexpensive one now, save for the other, and use them both for a soup-makin' weekend frenzy. [Image: Faith Durand, The Kitchn]
9. Jumper cables: These are essential year round, but if you drive, you want to be the guy with jumper cables. We use cars less in the winter, and the cold weather can make them difficult to start. In case you're ever stranded, and you need to ask for help, at least have your own cables on hand. Plus, that cute girl in the scarf and gloves with her hood open? "Can I give you a hand, ma'am...." Jumper cables. Be that guy.
10. Vitamin D: Those of you in Southern California can probably skip this one, but for the rest of us, be aware - Vitamin D deficiencies are a real problem for adult men. They can affect your testosterone levels, give you premature white/gray hair, cause you to gain weight, and have a negative impact on your mood. Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a steroid that your body can synthesize...when the sun is actually shining and you can soak it up.
I'm not one to give medical advice, so you'll want to check with your physician, but there's a chance that you can assuage some of that winter slump with a boost of D3. Again, be sure to ask your doctor, but make sure you ask your doctor. It can help.
We'll check back in in the spring.