When a Chinese-made cookie press breaks down on the countertop assembly line, a trusty old product from Pennsylvania comes to the rescue and saves a Christmas tradition..

Like many people, I try to bake a wide variety of festive cookies this time of the year. My personal favorites are good-old spritz cookies-the type that you press out of a “cookie gun” equipped with interchangeable disks to produce different shapes, such as stars and trees.

To speed production and increase throughput, I have introduced some basic elements of lean manufacturing to the process. That’s worked great on my little countertop assembly line. Unfortunately, the only stumbling block has been faulty equipment.

My cookie press kept experiencing down time. I purchased several different devices, but the same thing kept happening-the plastic plunger that pushes dough through the tube broke, halting production. I won’t reveal the name of the manufacturer behind this cursed device, but its products are available in many different stores around the country.

This year, I finally got smart and borrowed a 42-year-old cookie gun from my mother, who stores it in the original box. In fact, the price tag is still intact. My father purchased the device, which carries a “Made in the USA” mark, at a major department store in downtown Chicago in the mid-1960s for $4.95. It was made by Wear-Ever Aluminum Inc. (New Kensington, PA). Although the dough gun has produced thousands of yummy cookies through the years, it still works like new.

So, why does a $17.95 cookie gun recently made in China perform worse (or, as in my frustrating experience, not work at all) than a similar product that was made in western Pennsylvania more than 40 years ago? Is it a faulty mechanical design? Did some engineer make a poor choice in material? Perhaps I should chalk it up to a manufacturing snafu or a classic lapse in quality control. I thought about it for a moment, but then it was time to sample another batch of cookies.