I once had a roommate who took advantage of Costco’s return policy in order to alternately switch out her space heater and desk fan every season. In today’s consumerist world of planned obsolescence, it was actually a smart strategy for avoiding the inevitable decline of household electronics.

Make: contributor Sean Michael Ragan would agree, “they don’t make ‘em like they used to.” But if you’re not up for biannual trips to your local appliances outlet, you’ll want to take a page from Ragan’s blog and retrofit a sturdy machine for stylish 21st century use — one that will actually last more than a single season.

Que the model 94646-E “Northwind” oscillating electric fan by Emerson Electric, a machine that exudes such a patriotically dignified, mid-century aesthetic that it would look right at home on Don Draper’s mahogany desk. Ragan obtained this choice piece from eBay for $45, and it arrived looking just a tad worse for wear.


Ragan plugged it in and said it “ran like a cheetah.” He wasn’t deterred by the bent caging or the peeling paint, nor even by the unforgiving blade that sliced his thumb open. In fact, his endangered appendage was the inspiration he needed to “retrograde” the fan’s blades. What material could he use to soften the blades without compromising the Northwind’s industrial beauty? Leather, of course, which Ragan found via eBay for another $25.


Ragan disassembled the fan, which was a fairly straightforward removal of screws and bolts and drilling through rivets. He secured a fan blade to a piece of leather and then cut the leather to match the shape. Once he had cut all four pieces of leather, he applied leather dye, let it dry, and then followed it with extra virgin olive oil.


After Ragan got the leather’s appearance up to his standards, he attached the pieces back onto the blades and riveted the blades back onto the fan hub. He advises anyone replicating this project to weigh the fan blades before applying any finish, since a discrepancy of even a few grams can cause the fan to wobble haphazardly while rotating.


“Older stuff is usually easier to open up, refurbish, and repair…and it always has better stories,” says Ragan. The story of my Costco-loving roommate usually gets a chuckle, but I’d have to agree with you, Sean. Nice work!