There are a few things you will usually find in Arnold Kieffer’s crowded sheet metal shop, which, by the way, is adjacent to his Silver Spring, Md., home.
One is his colorful collection of old boxing posters that line the walls. Another is Kieffer himself, his heavily tattooed forearms on display below his shirtsleeves, working a press brake or making a fitting. Oftentimes, he’s puffing contentedly on a cigar.
The last thing you might notice - and why we’re profiling him this month - is his extensive collection of old Snips magazines.
Kieffer proudly points out he has saved every issue since July 1992.
“Unlike Playboy and Penthouse, I kept them for the articles,” he says, laughing.
Two hundred miles away in Charleroi, Pa., Ductmate Industries Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ray Yeager doesn’t have quite as extensive a collection, but he cherishes the April 1981 issue with company founders George Mayer, Peter Arnoldt and Lou Ward on the cover and the story “Ductmate duct connection system growth is like ‘Horatio Alger’ tale” inside.
“This particular article was talking about energy savings and Ductmate products back in the early 80s and late 70s when we started,” Yeager explains. “That was even before my time.”
As Snips prepared to mark its 80th anniversary this month, we asked readers to search their shops and home libraries for the oldest issues they could find or tell us about all the issues they have saved over the years.
An attachmentKieffer and Yeager are among the readers who responded (A sign of the times: Kieffer contacted us through Facebook). The reasons they saved an issue or issues vary, but a common theme emerged: the magazine was - and is - very important to them.
After almost three decades in the sheet metal industry, Yeager says he knows he can count on Snips and its editorial team.
“I know that most every trade show that I attend, going back for the last 25 years or so, someone from Snips” will be there, he says.
The 1981 article is such a critical part of the company’s history, Yeager says he included a copy of it in one of the company’s recent in-house publications.
“In one of our recent newsletters, we printed this front page off and told our employees about it, because oftentimes our employees don’t even know where our roots are from,” Yeager said. “I just thought it was really neat and really important. And I like to let the old owners know that they did something pretty special back then.”
He mails recent Snips magazines to surviving founders Ward and Mayer whenever Ductmate is featured. (Arnoldt is deceased.)
Company business development manager Mark Smith says he always keeps at least a couple years’ worth of back issues in his office.
“Snips has certainly covered most of our booths at trade show events as well as product introductions, and projects in which our products were used,” Smith adds.
A two-decade collectionAs a single-person operation tucked inside a former one-car Maryland garage, Kieffer Sheet Metal has never been in Snips before, but that didn’t stop Arnold Kieffer from saving an estimated 230 issues during the last 20 years.
“I always keep them in the shop,” he says. “I like to browse them.”
Kieffer, a Snips reader for more than 30 years, said at one time his collection was even bigger -- until some water made its way into his shop.“I didn’t have them stored properly,” he recalls. “Just stored on the floor.”
The remaining issues are now neatly on a shelf in metal holders he made, out of the reach of any water.
Kieffer says they’re an irresistible distraction.
“Every issue I pick up, I end up re-reading articles and looking up various companies to see if they are still in business or not,” he says. “You can really see how Snips has improved over the years and continues to do so.”
Besides seeing which companies are still around, the 58-year-old has a soft spot for feature stories that deal with layout patterns and manual sheet metal or architectural work.
“I’m looking for the old patterns,” he says.
With a small shop, Kieffer does not have the space or money for computerized equipment like a plasma table, and proudly points out that he does not use duct board, tape or flex duct on his projects. He prefers doing things the old-fashioned way.
“In the old days, we were called ‘tin knockers’ and there was a sense of pride in that,” he says.
Many of his favorite articles from the last few years feature this craft side of the industry: “A monumental project,” (November 2004) about Syracuse, N.Y., tinsmith and actor Dennis Heaphy’s restoration work on the Statue of Liberty; “Duct debutantes,” (May 2003) about the “duct tape ball” held each year in Anchorage, Alaska; the two articles on making weather vanes by California hobbyist Derk Akerson (May and August 2005); “Sign of trouble,” (July 2007) about King Heating and Cooling’s fight with city hall to keep its trademark rooftop tin man in Illinois; and all the step-by-step manual layout articles by Wisconsin contractor Thomas “Bud” Goodman that ran from 2004 to 2009.
“I really could go on and on, because to tell the truth there is good reading in just about every issue,” Kieffer says. “I always have the current issue out in the shop.”
Among the more unusual items Kieffer has made include tin ceiling tiles and a sheet of “thunder” used by a school for deaf children to explain the weather phenomenon.
Kieffer says he has no intention of retiring - or to stop reading Snips - any time soon.
“I stay busy,” he says.
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email email@example.com.