You Had One Job, Fireplace Poker

By Jon Miller Updated on July 5th, 2015

fire pit with pokerA fireplace poker has one job: to take the place of the unprotected hand in tending a fire. Normally a rigid metal rod with a curved bit at the end, a poker is used to move firewood, hot coals or whatever else one happens to be burning. Pokers are normally only as long as they need to be to reach safely into the fire. It would make no sense to have an overly long metal rod to poke the fire from across the room in the name of safety, as it would be too heavy.

Our 24 inch wide fire pit came with a 37 inch poker. This is on the long side. The poker was shipped in two parts, requiring assembly, presumably because at 37 inches it was longer than the fire pit was wide, and did not fit into a smaller shipping box. Assembly required simply fastening the threaded male and female ends and turning until it was screwed tight.

poker disassembled

One evening after dinner, I was turning the logs in the fire pit to expose the glowing embers and collect them to the center, in preparation to roast marshmallows. I rotated my wrist and pulled the poker toward me, in an attempt use the curved end of the poker as lever to flip a log. To my surprise, the poker fell apart into two pieces, with the hot half of the iron rod falling outside the fire pit and landing dangerously close one of my family members. Not only did the tool fail to move the firewood safely and effectively, it created a brand new safety hazard.

You had one job, fireplace poker.

Apparently the side-to-side and turning movements of the poker had loosened it to the point of disassembly. The male-female overlap of the threads is more than an inch, so it is quite surprising that it came all the way unscrewed. Since the “hot end” of the poker has the female part of the connection and the “cold end” with the handle has the male end, perhaps the heat caused the hole to expand quicker than the threaded plug inside it, making it easier for it to unscrew and come loose.

The designers of this poker did not account for poking that happens in the direction parallel to the direction of the threads holding the two halves of the metal rods together, namely side-to-side. However, a common method of adjusting the positions of burning logs or hot coals is to extend the poker into the fire and rotate it so that the L-shaped end of the pointer lifts up the hot object using lever action. I suspect that the designers of the product were not familiar with the American cooking fire gemba. They probably had little or no familiarity with the actual use of the poker by customers in the field. If the designers are reading this, you are invited to my place for some product design genchi genbutsu. I will provide the marshmallows. But watch out for falling hot metal rods.

Have something to say?

Leave your comment and let's talk!

Start your Lean & Six Sigma training today.