I’ve spent the last two weeks staring at a man’s hands. I know them well, those clean-trimmed nails and stout phalanges. You would too if you spent as much time as I have been watching videos of those hands rubbing, stroking, and polishing. No, I’m not talking about porn, but the latest trend in YouTube’s ever-morphing zeitgeist: the restoration video.
These mechanical resurrections started popping up on YouTube a few years ago with vintage car and toy restorations. Now racking up millions of views, restoration videos involve the painstaking efforts to restore furniture, metalwork, or even artwork back to its original state. The objects are often decrepit and falling apart, not long for this world. And yet, the restorers — with their arcane knowledge and technical skills — can do it. Every step is filmed and edited into a neat package, with a before and after slideshow wrapping it all up like a bow on top of the gift to the world that it is.
And they’re utterly mesmerizing.
The hands I described earlier belong to the owner of my mechanics, a Swiss YouTube channel. With close to one million subscribers and over 81 million views as of this writing, my mechanics is one of the most popular in the burgeoning restoration category.
The tactile tapping, scraping, sawing, and screwing is a metal orgy of pleasurable sounds.
Like most restoration channels, there’s no narration in the videos, just subtitles explaining what’s happening. This way, the viewer is left with the sounds of buffing machines and hand scrubbing.
And the sound. The tactile tapping, scraping, sawing, and screwing is a metal orgy of pleasurable sounds. In many ways, it has the qualities of ASMR, the online phenomenon that gives people tingles with slight, delicate sounds and squishes.
The latest my mechanics video featured a deeply rusted rebar cutter. To be frank, I still don’t know what a rebar cutter is, but by god was I entranced as he dismantled it. Minute by minute, my mechanics cleaned and rebuilt the old rebar cutter into something you’d see in your local hardware store.
Take it from me, you don’t need any technical knowledge to enjoy these videos. The videos ease you in, then suddenly you’re hypnotized as the restorer assesses the damage, disassembles and removes anything broken, and then fixes those broken bits. Finally, they reassemble, and voilà.
This video “Rusty Jammed Rebar Cutter” went up on October 22, 2019, and as of this writing, it has over 1.4 million views.
So why do we find these videos so soothing?
For me, these videos confirm the message of every Disney movie ever made: The beauty was inside you the whole time, you just had to dig it out. In our age of mass consumption, there’s value in the broken and rusted. Or as Eric, the man behind Hand Tool Rescue told Mashable: “For some reason, modern society has decided that clean things are better than dirty, so everyone wants to see something make that transition.”
Most of the YouTube restoration channels are run by full-time mechanics and tinkerers, so they’re very good at what they do. Watching someone disassemble a Playstation console — something only the most foolhardy would do — to replace the tiny microprocessor feels, well, good.
“There’s satisfaction in seeing something completely rusted and abandoned being given a new lease on life,” said Ash Tulett, a restoration video enthusiast.
We also feel hope that maybe, with a bit of love, we can be repaired, too.
Tulett performed his own restoration work when he took over as moderator for r/Restorationvideos on Reddit last year. Despite being dead for three years, the page now has 1,800 active members, sharing and promoting restoration videos.
r/Restorationvideos: Welcome to r/RestorationVideos! Your hub for restoration content in video form.
“There is more interest in this type of content than ever before,” he said. Redditors find and share at least three new videos every day.
The interest from the community has led to more creators and more videos. Tulett has followed the journey of these channels as their subscriber growth exploded.
One of those creators is Odd Tinkering. Starting off with less than a thousand subscribers a year ago, the channel now has more than half a million subscribers, according to subscriber tracker, Social Blade.
As the name implies, the channel is dedicated to the most esoteric of restorations, like repairing a Game Boy with a burnt screen or a trench lighter from the First World War.
“It has definitely become a second job,” Odd Tinkering (who wishes to remain anonymous) said.
Working a pharmaceutical job by day, by night Odd Tinkering gets to work on all sorts of building projects. For years, restorations have been a side hobby. But now, a successful YouTube channel requires a constant stream of new videos.
“I decided I would do 10 videos even if no one watched them and see if I enjoyed this new hobby after that,” they explained. “And obviously, I did.”
Restoring machines over a century old can be tricky, to say the least. Since Odd Tinkering doesn’t have a lot of experience with resurrection, they do “tons of research online on how to do it so I get it right without ruining the item I work on.”
“It takes me roughly 25 hours, on average, without the editing of the video,” Odd Tinkering estimated. “I usually end up with hours of video to cut down to the typical 20-minute long video.”
Odd Tinkering believes restoration videos have become a sensation because of how radical the transformations are.
“People enjoy seeing how old items turn into something that looks new,” Odd Tinkering said.
And that, for me at least, is why these videos are so popular. Many of us find it rewarding to see otherwise rusting and decomposing items brought back to life with a fresh coat of paint. But we also feel hope that maybe, with a bit of love, we can be repaired, too.
“There is something about restoration videos that is bizarrely hypnotic and soothing,” Tulett says.
If you watch enough of them, you notice the patterns and quirks; it becomes a routine, without much to differentiate them. Yet you sit through them because, unlike the rest of life, you know that things will be better in the end. All you need is love, time, and a little sandpaper.