Quality vs Mediocre Tools

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by MrRon posted 04-24-2013 06:40 PM 2898 reads 0 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch

People are always saying “they don’t make them like that anymore”. Off course that is 100% true, but that goes both ways. When tool manufacturers started making and selling tools around 100 years ago, they made a tool that was designed to last a lifetime and many of those tools have survived to this day. Back then, companies competed against each other to produce long lasting quality tools, because that was what the public demnaded. Today they don’t compete on the basis of quality, but on price. When price is a factor, quality always suffers. The days of the lifetime tool is gone forever. Companies no longer can nor do they want to make anything that lasts a lifetime; bad for business.

17 comments so far

View chrisstef's profile


18133 posts in 4163 days

#1 posted 04-24-2013 07:09 PM

Would Lie Neilson be an anomaly? All though i have never used one of their planes i would suspect that they could be a lifetime tool passed on to the next generation. Its not that there arent companies out there that make “lifetime” tools its that they are not mass marketed IMO.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Jeff's profile


552 posts in 4351 days

#2 posted 04-24-2013 07:19 PM

Probably the simpler the tool, the easier it is to make quality and the longer it’ll last. Of course there are always exceptions. But it’s hard to screw up a screwdriver or a simple open end wrench.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 4316 days

#3 posted 04-24-2013 07:37 PM

I’ve long been convinced that Gillette could make a sharp razor that lasts a LONG time…but there’s simply more money in disposables. Many companies need this business model to make money over the long term.

However, I’m not sure this applies as much to the tools we use as woodworkers. I think we demand good prices for our tools, on the whole, and that does definitely drive the market on many tools, but there will always be a market for top-quality, heirloom tools…just like there remains a demand for expensive performance cars and hi-tech telescopes.

When I hear the saying, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” I think more in terms of the materials and heftiness of construction…but I’m not convinced these tools are necessarily better than something I can buy today. If this were the case, then I’d be using my 1950s and 1960s hand sanders and drills passed down to me from my grandfather instead of my collection of modern day Dewalts.

We are quick to say that plastic is cheap and crappy, but holy cow has it revolutionalized the products we have, many of which are quite good and are only made good by virtue of the plastics they use. In other words, I think less expensive materials and quality tools are not mutually exclusive things.

-- jay,

View freidasdad's profile


144 posts in 4144 days

#4 posted 04-24-2013 07:53 PM

I have to second that Jay. I think there are tools that are not meant to last, that are made cheaply and won’t hold up over the long haul. But I believe there are tools that are meant to last and with proper care and maintenace will. This goes for simple, as well as more complicated tools. I’ve owned screw drivers whose blades cracked with just light use. And ones where the handle let go. I’ve had wrenches that rounded out and wouldn’t turn a bolt anymore. At the same time I have a Saw stop cabinet saw that my son or daughter will get a lifetime of use out of after I stop using it. The same goes for my Delta band saw and the Sears drill press.
Parts wear out and need to be replaced from time to time. That doesn’t mean the tool isn’t made to high standards.
I think a factor just as important as the original manufacturing is the care and use of any tool. Even the best made and most expensive plane will be ruined if left out in the weather on the back porch. And I know some craftsman who get a lot of use out of HF tools that are used properly.

-- My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am---author unknown

View rhett's profile


743 posts in 4824 days

#5 posted 04-24-2013 10:55 PM

I can guarantee, that if you buy one of my planes, and keep it how you should, it will outlast everyone on this forum.

-- Doubt kills more dreams than failure.

View muleskinner's profile


941 posts in 3594 days

#6 posted 04-24-2013 11:51 PM

I’m with jay and freidasdad too. In fact, like Jay, all I have to do is look at my dad’s 60+ year old Skil drill motor and my recent Milwaukee Hole-Shooter. Guess which one I use.

I have a Taiwanese built Grizzly table saw. All the important parts are cast iron and machined. The only plastic part is the switch. I see no reason that my grandson couldn’t be using it in his garage thirty years from now if it is properly cared for. I have a couple of tool boxes full of hand tools from my working life. Under the right circumstances they could sit under my workbench for forty years until one of my great-children pull them out and go “Cool!, a box full of antique tools!”.

Not everything was made better back then. We only see the things that survived. The stuff that broke or bent or burned up is all buried in landfills.

-- Visualize whirled peas

View JoeinGa's profile


7741 posts in 3164 days

#7 posted 04-25-2013 12:04 AM

Aint too much of anything made to last anymore. “Planned Obsolescence” is a term used widely in the manufacturing world. Make it so it’ll wear out (or break) in a few years and they’ll buy a new one.
When’s the last time you tried to get a toaster or blender repaired? They just tell you ”Throw it away and buy another. It aint worth the price to fix”
It’s also hard to find any “Fixit Shops” any more. Almost cant get a vacuum cleaner fixed anywhere either.

-- Perform A Random Act Of Kindness Today ... Pay It Forward

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 3644 days

#8 posted 04-25-2013 12:10 AM

joein10asee, ”It’s also hard to find any “Fixit Shops” any more. Almost cant get a vacuum cleaner fixed anywhere either.”

My wife uses a 1953 model Electrolux cannister vacuum. I bought it at the flea market for $5 and was going to use it for vacuum forming small parts but her old Electrolux cannister vacuum died of old age, (It was a 1946 model).
She stole my little vac and said I could use her fancy Dyson. The Dyson worked for about 3 forms and died. The little cannister is still going strong.
She just bought a huge case of the bags for it on eBay because they are getting hard to find.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4128 days

#9 posted 04-25-2013 01:06 AM

Dallas, if you want to pull a vacuum on a closed container you have to use a vacuum with a bypass motor. A bypass vacuum has separate motor cooling air and vacuum cleaning air.

The Dyson probably overheated from no air flow through the motor.

Wet/dry shop vacuums usually have bypass motors because they don’t want to take a chance of water getting sucked through the motor.

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4128 days

#10 posted 04-25-2013 01:24 AM

Sorry I got off topic there.
The trend of disposable products is not limited to only tools.
I think that large volume low quality mass produced products are a direct result of all the Walmarts, Kmarts, Targets, Home Depots, Lowes, Menards, etc., etc. These guys thrive on volume sales, low overhead.

The quality, low volume, hand made, precision, products still have a market, there is still demand, but it has to come from smaller shops, specialty suppliers.

I’m in retail and compete with a Walmart right next door. They don’t provide individual service like I can. They won’t customize a product for a customer like I do on a daily basis. They won’t seek out a special product and order it for a customer like I do every day. But they sell more product in a day than I do in a year. Quality products are out there, but you have to look for them a lot harder. And you are going to have to pay a much higher price for them. That’s the cost of low volume, high quality and personalized service.

View Dakkar's profile


359 posts in 3085 days

#11 posted 04-25-2013 01:50 AM

With some basic hand tools, I think the quality is still there. In the mid ‘70s I had a job for a few months in a mobile home assembly line. I drove nails all day long (and had the thumb to prove it). I was replacing wooden hammer handles at a rate of about one a week. Then I went down to the hardware store and sprang for one of those blue handled Estwing solid steel hammers. It not only lasted the rest of my employment there, but I’m still using it!

View Grandpa's profile


3264 posts in 3832 days

#12 posted 04-25-2013 02:59 AM

In many cases we can still buy a lifetime product if we want to pay for it. Quality costs. Sometimes we would rather buy a new cheap tool rather than clean an old dirty tool with “war wounds”. I want to repair the clicker box that opens my car door locks. People think I am crazy. Well all thet is wrong is the little loops ont he end that the ring goes through is broken. Everyone is telling me to just go out and buy a new one. I don’t want to spend $30 for a little plastic case that is going to break like the old one. We can get into that mode also. I dont’ want to spend my money for something made of plastic. Oh well….....

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4491 days

#13 posted 04-25-2013 02:36 PM

I agree in principal with some of what you said Ron, but there are still lifetime, (or many lifetimes) tools available, but at much higher prices than their lesser quality competitors. For many, the higher priced stuff is unreachable, just like in the old days. In fact, I believe it would be difficult to name any tool that couldn’t be found in a high quality alternative. I think the real problem is that we as customers, and yes, I include myself, usually don’t know enough about what we are buying to always make a good decision. Many of us buy poor quality tools at relatively low prices while we expect them to perform as well as the better quality aka higher priced articles. We are very good at kidding ourselves that the cheap one will be good enough, but it usually isn’t.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Acelectric's profile


31 posts in 3053 days

#14 posted 04-27-2013 11:49 AM

muleskinner,Not everything was made better back then. We only see the things that survived. The stuff that broke or bent or burned up is all buried in landfills.

This says it all. Yes there were good tools made back then, but there were also tools that were cheaper and not meant to last. You can still buy great tools today but just like back then you will pay a lot higher price for them. If it is a tool that I will use all the time I will buy the higher quality tool. But if I will only use it once or occasionally then the cheaper tool will usually suffice. About the only exception to this is in marking and measuring tools since the quality of them will influence the outcome of your work.

There is also the advantage of having cheaper tools around to do the jobs that you don’t want to use a good tool to do. If you damage the tool in the process it doesn’t hurt as much that way.

-- Thank goodness I don’t do this for a living, because I would surely starve.

View MrRon's profile


6089 posts in 4400 days

#15 posted 04-27-2013 05:05 PM

It might be a good time to define what is “lifetime”. A lifetime tool means to me a tool that functions as it should, taking into account normal care. A tool that has been left out in the rain or thrown carelessly unto the concrete floor could be a lifetime tool or just a cheap tool. Even a cheap tool if cared for and still functions can be considered a lifetime tool. Tools that are considered lifetime are usually simple tools, like screwdrivers and wrenches that can take a lot of abuse without failure. When we get into machine tools, they are usually expected to last a long time due to their higher cost. Their life isn’t always as long as one would hope from the lower price machines. We tend to compare old machine tools with the new tools on the market and the new ones can’t atand the comparison. In order to keep the playing field level, we have to assume normal maintenance and normal usage. A model T can last a lifetime when cared for; a Rolls Royce only a few years if not cared for.

showing 1 through 15 of 17 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics