Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Equipment Review - The James Washer


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When we first moved into our "shouse", one of my greatest challenges was laundry.  We had no running water, drains or electricity.  Before we moved, I had the luxury of putting a load of laundry into the washing machine and then getting on with the rest of my day.  It was a luxury I took for granted.  Once we had moved, laundry became an almost insurmountable task.  Rather than tossing a load in the washing machine and going about my business, I now had to get to know my laundry on a very personal level.

After hauling water into the house, I would put my 15 gallon galvanized wash tub on the wood cookstove and fill it with cold water.  Starting with the darks and a bar of Fels Naptha soap, I would start washing.  I soaped the clothes up well, scrubbed them against each other and then against the corrugations on the side of the wash tub.  I rubbed and scrubbed and lathered, rubbed, scrubbed and lathered.  Once I thought they were well cleaned, I plopped the sudsy mess in a laundry basket and went on to the next article of clothing.  I progressed quickly from the dark clothes to the colored and then to the whites.  I had to work fast because the water heated up as I washed.  It is remarkable how quickly a 15 gallon tub of water heats up when placed over the firebox on a wood cookstove!

Once all of the clothes had been scrubbed, I hauled water (cold, once again) into our bathroom and filled the bathtub.  I dumped the laundry basket full of clean but soapy clothes into the tub and agitated them with my hands.  I wrung all of the soap out (by hand) put them back into the basket, rinsed the soap out of the tub and started over again. I found that if I didn't rinse the clothes at least twice, they became dingy and fowl smelling.  Not having a wringer, I wrung all of the clothes by hand, which I found to be a poor substitute for the spin cycle.

Having a bucket full of clean clothes, I hung them on a clothes stand in front of the wood cookstove.  Due to the fact that I had rung the clothes myself, there was always a standing pool of water under the clothes rack.

Eventually, we graduated to a generator-powered, cold water only washing machine.  It was heaven!  Gone were the soggy clothes that took 3 days to dry (meaning that I always had wet clothes in front of the stove) and blistered knuckles from the constant rubbing in boiling water.

Since then, I have gone through about 3 washing machines.  They were all Craigslist finds, not even close to new, and most of them did a fine job, but when they would break, I would be back to doing laundry by hand.  That is, until we invested in a James Washer.  Realizing the incredible amount of work that was required to do laundry by hand, especially when you weren't set up for it, we knew that we needed to invest in some real, honest-to-goodness back to basics laundry equipment.

We bought a James Washer from some folks (who later became very good friends), along with double galvanized wash tubs.  Because our philosophy for preparedness is ruled by "use it, use it, use it", we took advantage of our first washing machine malfunction to put the James Washer to the test.

Laundry Day
(The kids, of course, were a lot younger!)

Princess Dragon Snack, helping
Setting the washer up outside, we filled it with water straight from the hose.  Allowing it to sit in the sun for about an hour gave us nice, warm water in which to wash our clothes. We put clothes in, being careful not to overload the washer, and proceeded to wash.  One thing we learned quickly was that in order to get the clothes as clean as our washing machine, we had to put about as much time into washing with the James Washer as our washing machine did on a normal cycle.  It took about 45 minutes of washing, rinsing, washing and rinsing before we thought our clothes were really clean.  Once we had finished washing, we drained the water and filled the washer with clean water from the hose, rinsed a final time and proceeded to wring the clothes with a wringer that was attached to the James Washer.  The wringer (which is Lehman's Best) did the job quite efficiently, but really is not made particularly well.  I think it will have to be babied to last for any length of time.  The knobs are wobbly and hard to turn and it basically feels like it may break at any moment.  That being said, it did wring our clothes out quite effectively.

We found that we were able to cut down on the washing time by pre-soaking our clothes.  We filled our washtubs with water, put laundry in them and went in to have a glass of iced tea.  Leaving the clothes outside in the washtubs allowed them to soak in increasingly warm water, making it much easier to wash the dirt out when the time came.

The James Washer itself is a lovely invention.  It is not as large as you might think, by looking at the pictures - only big enough for a pair of jeans, a bath towel, a few t-shirts and some undergarments.  It would struggle with bedding or large items like insulated cover-alls.  The dasher works very well - easy enough for children to use, and the plumbing makes draining a breeze.  The James Washer is very handsome. It is polished stainless steel with wood accents and would look wonderful plumbed into a bathroom or gracing the front porch.  It, however, is very thin.

After using our washer for about 3 weeks, the metal at the handle began to rip.  Sir Knight says, tongue in cheek, that the stainless steel is roughly 3 times thicker than a pop can.  And he is right.  The good thing is, that once you know were the weak points are, they are easily repairable (if you know how to weld).  We did find that less stress would be placed on the handle if we added more water to the washer.
The tear in the metal

The James Washer does have a lid that sits on the top.  I found that I never used the lid, unless I was leaving water in the washer to heat in the sun.  Other than that, I slid the lid under the washer to keep it from being trampled upon.  If you are storing your washer, the lid is nice to keep dirt from accumulating inside.  The lid sits on the top rather than being fitted, so if it is in storage, you must be careful not to bump it and send it flying to the floor.

All in all, the James Washer is the best option on the market.  It requires less work and is more effective than most other options.  The washer does not come with a wringer - that must be purchased separately, but is essential if you want your clothes to be dried in under three days.

We love our James Washer, but.........

Here is a question.  Sir Knight has been thinking about washing machines for quite some time (it couldn't have anything to do with my frame of mind when I was washing clothes on the cookstove?!).  He believes that he and Master Hand Grenade could build something sturdier (by far) for less money (the James Washer is expensive, about $500.00).  He would make it in three sizes, small, medium and large, with the largest being about the size of a 55 gallon drum with handles on both ends (specifically for a very large family, small village or to be utilized as a community washer).  What do you think?  Would any of you be interested?  Is there a need for another washer?  I would love to hear from you.

If you can afford the investment, the James Washer is a wonderful piece of equipment  (provided that you are prepared to repair it).  Knowing ahead of the need, how you will do laundry, will be essential for your mental well being!  I can guarantee there will be many other challenges facing you.  Not having to spend unnecessary time and energy on the daily task of laundry will be a tremendous relief!

We give the James Washer  ** stars.

52 comments:

  1. I would most definitely want/need the largest washer for our family - communal seems to be what our family is about!

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  2. Great idea! But I think somebody has beat you to the punch:

    http://meangreenwashingmachine.com/index.htm

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    1. Thanks for the link! I hadn't seen that washer. After looking at it, we still think our design is sturdier, and with three sizes, will offer a lot more choice. Not to mention, we are going with black, which to us ladies, makes a difference. Plus, it will absorb heat from the sun so that you can wash in warm water more quickly. Thanks again. It's good to know what is available.
      Enola

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    2. I agree... why does it have to be green, literally, just because it's green, figuratively? Ugly. And 12 gallons isn't all that big. Not for a family of 10, like ours.

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  3. Consider selling plans/instructions for how to make your own?

    Xa Lynn

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    1. I would like that as well, since we are definitely DIYers.

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  4. It seems to me you could take something like this:
    http://www.harborfreight.com/3-1-2-half-cubic-ft-cement-mixer-67536.html

    Fit it with a hand crank/wheel or rig it to a stationary bike and have something pretty good. Ive seen these some where with a heavy poly tub.

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  6. I would be interested in the future. I thought the Lehman's washer looked flimsy in the catalog. Keep us all posted!

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  7. I think we would be interested in a medium size (we are only a family of 4; I'm assuming that based on the large size, even a medium would cover us and some guests?) - or plans/instructions for building one. My husband is looking for projects for the future homestead, and considering how bad my joints are already, I'm thinking something like your family's ideas would be much better for someone like me.

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  8. OOOOOOOOOOOOO! YES YES YES! Please Do. Amber KY

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  9. The largest for us.
    Thank you for this review. It just saved me the consideration of ordering a James version. I want something VERY sturdy that will require no welding repairs.
    Time is more valuable to me than esthetics!
    Let us know when they are ready for ordering.

    notutopia

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  10. And to think I was considering using a 5 gallon plastic bucket with a toilet bowl plunger for an agitator! I will have to look into this model. Thanks for the info.

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  11. Yes, but it must be made of a material that will not quicky chip off paint and rust. In a grid down situation it could be difficult to deal with rusting parts or drums.

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  12. I too think you should go ahead with the idea. The pool of potential buyers may be limited now, but can only get bigger as things get worse. I considered a James but hesitated due to cost and lack of long term reviews. I am so glad I waited. Looking forward to seeing the results.

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  13. Try an antique store. I bought a wringer from 1875 (stamped on the cast iron along with the patent). It's beautiful cast iron with ribbed wood rollers. The thing is still solid and I got it for $10. Clamps onto whatever you need it to.

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  14. Yes, definitely interested! I was hesitant to make the purchase of the James Washer based on a few things I read - plus the price, so thank you for doing this review! I have a washing machine that is getting ready to 'die' any day now (although I've been saying that for a while), and when I look at the prices of new washing machines (considering it's 'life' is now down to 8 years and all those darn plastic parts), I wasn't sure what to do when my machine departs this earth. Keep me on your list please!

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  15. me too I want one

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  16. I was able to touch the James Washer in the Lehman's showroom a few years ago. It was without water & dirty clothes of course but I too thought it was rather flimsy for something that has to take the weight of water.
    May I suggest a few upgrades - built in soap dish & an area underneath to hold hot coals to keep wash water warm. Something with an ash drawer for easy cleaning.

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  17. I would be interested in the large version.Have you considered designing a different wringer.If you come up with something tough enough and big enough to handle a quilt,I would be very interested.After all those things need to be cleaned in a grid down situation too,and hand wringing them would be a royal pain.

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  18. Yes, add our family to the list.
    I've always said that the washing machine was man’s (woman’s?) greatest invention!

    Also, have you tried a "breathing hand washer" along with a wringer? I've been looking at what Lehman’s has and you’re right….their wringer has not had great recommendations.

    We would be interested in your largest model.
    Thank you!!!!

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  19. The problem with the handle of the James Washer is the stress risers created by the cut out. I think that is easily fixed. However the stainless part bothers me. Stainless is expensive and harder for the AVERAGE person to weld. The body could be HDPE or another form of plastic. Also a means for a gearing mechanism to agitate would be interesting. 500 dollars is criminal in my opinion.

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  20. We would be interested in the big size..depending on how much it cost :) We have 6 children and I know doing laundry would be tuff..

    Blessings ~

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  21. Ohh Man, thank you for the review and the description of just how hard hand washing clothes can be. Being a single gentleman, I never knew.

    I pondered over this washer several years ago when I got my first Lehman's catalog. I researched it and found it to be poorly rated by several folks due to the exact issues you had so, I wrote it off and put the subject on the back burner. Other higher priority issues needed to be attended to first. Washing clothes never again entered my logic bean,until today's post that is.

    I would definitely be interested in a beefier, stouter hand washer.

    Blessings to all

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  22. I would love to have more options. I am another one that has considered the James Washer, but just couldn't handle the price!
    The Anonymous Homesteader

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  23. This guy makes one similar to the James washer and cheaper.
    http://www.dynajet.com/
    I have talked to the owner several times on the phone. I am saving up for a mean green machine.

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  24. Yes, yes, yes! I wash my clothes by hand and can tell you that YES we would most certainly buy one. After we saw the dyna jet model on the internet, I actually asked my husband about making one a few weeks ago our of a 30 gallon water container that we are not using. He found the specs and we are saving up to put our plan in motion.

    Although washing clothes by hand connected me to the Lord in oh so many ways, I look forward to not having to wash them in the bath tub.

    I have written about laundry myself on my blog. Who knew laundry would be so inspiring. http://therealrobinjones.blogspot.com/#!/2011/01/laundry.html

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  25. Yes we are interested! I'd like to see what you have in mind before committing of course.

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  26. Ooo!Ooo! Me! Me! :) Large one here please. Elaine- La

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  27. thankyou once again enola gay...you have saved me from making an expensive mistake...

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  28. I read about a washer that was attached to a windmill - the wind supplied the power for the dasher/agitator. Could that be something that would be of use in your area? It surely would work here! And seems that the power could be shunted to a wringer as well - yes?

    As I age, I look for more ways to automate using renewable resources. Windmills are marvelous things, as our ancestors knew.

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  29. Enola--please add me to the list!!! I'm close to you, I have the money, and I just didn't like the quality of the James Washer, but was planning on getting it as I didn't see any other options. I will now hold off on that purchase if Sir Knight is really planning on starting to build washers soon. I will probably take a medium, but maybe a large, depending on what their actual size will be and cost, of course. Don't have to ship it to me, as I believe we are fairly close neighbors and I can pick it up!

    So anyways, can I be first on the list to get a Sir Knight Washer??? Please, please, pretty please???

    (Hmm, had to just delete most of my post, because it was way too long. I had written the many ways I have done laundry over the years. Guess our comments can't be the size of a small book?? Oh well, it was fun remembering all the ways I've tried to do laundry.)

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  30. Enola,

    I was planning to use a gas powered cement mixer as a washer, then running my clothes over with my truck to squeegee the water out.

    We do things a little different down here in Texas.

    Really, I like Sir Knights idea (is Sir Knight from Texas) He's got the tenacity to make a great Texan.

    If you'll get tired of the Snowstorms, you can migrate south to the Sandstorms and have an oil well in your backyard.

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  31. Hello Enola,

    I have been a long time reader of yours, but never a commenter. I would love to have a washer made by Sir Knight. But, since I do not live near you, the shipping would probably make this unfeasible. :( Thank you for your comments on the Lehman's wringer. I have a double galvanized tub and had considered purchasing a wringer. It doesn't seem like it would be a good investment, especially since I do not have anyone to help me fix it if necessary. Any other ideas for wringing wet laundry? I live in the south and it gets very humid. I can just imagine my laundry souring because it wouldn't get dry.

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  32. people in the outback camping sometimes wash clothes by putting them in a pvc tube that is water tight adding soap and water then strapping it to their vehicles and driving around as they would normally do. No extra trips just driving to the next spot the motions from the car agitate the washing and you get clean clothes with no effort.

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  33. Yes, yes, yes! We could build one if we had the plans.....consider selling the plans, it would save a bundle on shipping. The sturdier the better. Thank you for all that you do. S

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  34. Hi Enola,
    I was just wondering a few days ago when you were going to review the James Washer. Seems like it's been a long time since you mentioned doing a review on it. I always thought it looked kind of flimsy for 500 bucks! If shipping costs aren't enormous I would be interested in a washer by Sir Knight. I bought a medium size drying rack from Sir Knight awhile ago and my only regret is that I didn't buy the biggest one!
    Leslie

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  35. Thanks so much for reviewing this product. You have answered many of the questions we had. You have confirmed our suspicions that the James washer is small, unsturdy, and overpriced. The DynaJet washer appears to be better made, but is still too expensive. Judging from all the comments you have received, there seems to be a ready market for a well-built, reasonably priced, non-electric washing machine in the prepper/homesteader community (and probably the third-world and missionary markets as well.) We look forward to reading more about your husband's ideas and design for his new washing machine.

    Blessings,
    Larry & Jackie

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  36. The idea of a good quality, locally made, hand washer is wonderful. We could save on shipping, too. Oh, how I wish I had the old machine that was in my grandparents shed behind the house when I was a little girl! I was always fascinated by it and all the old equipment in there that had belonged to my great grandparents. My grandparents took it all to the dump as junk! Oh, how we have come nearly full circle. What a wonder it would be to have all the knowledge that my great grandparents had.
    God Bless.
    Paaintedmoose

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  37. I have a James Washer and love it. I agree that some parts could be built a little more sturdy. I mostly have trouble with the bolts on the agitator leaking. I put a lot more laundry in mine and fit a load equal to what I put in my old front loading electric machine (we too are off grid). It gets the clothes cleaner than any other machine I have tried. I once saw a model that was designed exactly like the james washer but made from a one piece fiberglas tub. It would have been boom proof, but I think the man making them no longer does. I think it was called the Ozark washer (?). I would be interested in seeing what your design would be too.

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  38. I love the idea, and would be potentially interested. What about a 'kit' that would allow others to get their own 55 gallon drum, cut it to specifications you provide, and then attach the parts from the kit they buy from YOU to build their own washer? This would increase your market and decrease shipping costs. The assembled washers could be sold to folks closer to your location where the freight wouldn't be oppressive...

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  39. We'd be interested too-- keep us posted, please!

    ~Lisa

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  40. Interested in alternative to James washer; shipping might be too much, but time will tell. . . .

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  41. How about a hand washer KIT? where you buy the kit and get a certain sized barrel and cut it yourself to cut down on shipping
    Ann from KY

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  42. I've been reading your posts for a little while and enjoy coming to visit. I had read this post on washers the day you posted it and then told my Farmer Hubby all you said. We've talked about what and how we want to do this and Farmer Hubby asked me to leave you a post on being interested in seeing what you come up with. Your review opened our eyes to some of what we had considered, thank you.

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  43. How 'bout this?

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/STEAM-WASHING-MACHINE-1889-PRE-ELECTRIC-HAND-CRANKED-/190655914404?pt=Folk_Art&hash=item2c63fa61a4#ht_798wt_1396

    Very, very interesting design!

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  44. Another larger washer option would be be welcome. Especially if it can be made at a lower cost. I' was looking for the James Washer design in hopes that I could make a larger stronger version...

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  45. a large black lidded bucket/barrel inside a vehicle or on the back of a pickup, water, soap clothing, when you go for a drive to town the clothing is being washed and agitated by the motion of the trip, back home you still need to rinse and wring/spin - however lots of the washing work has been done, this works well for heavily soiled work clothes even if you have a regular machine as a prewash.
    You could also use a hill, a barrel and a small boy to give it a push :-)

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  46. I know this is a few years old, but was curious as to what you decided about the washer? I am in need of a large capacity dasher washer and have yet to find one for sale... I too, looked at the one that Lehman's offers, but didn't think it looked either big enough or strong enough for washing laundry for myself and my five kids, plus toweling, bedding, and winter jackets. Do you know where I might find detailed plans on how to build a large capacity dasher washer? Thank you and God Bless!

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  47. The James washer appears to be inadequately built for harsh use over an extended period of time. I would be very interested to se what you come up with.

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  48. Hello,

    We are also looking for a large capacity dasher washer. Would one know where I can get one? Have you decided to build on or do you know where we can get plans to build our own? We do not have a washer and are really in need of one. Thank you!

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  49. I am a mother of 9 and have been grappling with the grid-down laundry for some time. It has been given to me in prayer that I will need to care for orphans. That would include mega laundry. I have considered the James washer for years but saw it as wholly inadequate. Your central problem is the large, heavy duty wringer for modern clothing. I find nothing on the internet capable of wringing out bedding and coats with zippers. Antique wringers are everywhere but the rollers are small, cracked, and bust buttons.
    I envision a marriage between a solar oven with fold up reflectors for heating water as well as back up wood heating. That means a non-plastic receptacle. Another thought is a metal barrel rotated over a fire spit. But where to source the high quality mangle to equal the beast?

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