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Blog entry by MakingScraps posted 03-04-2010 04:20 AM 890 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Who you calling grumpy?

Warning

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not normally a negative person. In fact I am probably one of the more easygoing people you will ever meet. But certain aspects have started my blood boiling and despite my relatively young age I feel like I need to don my old coot cap and rant a little (no offense to any old coots who happen across this). I should also warn you that I am a Neanderthal woodworker since I don’t have any room for heavy machinery. Don’t get me wrong, I have used all methods of electric saws, drills, and whatnot; I just don’t have space in my over-sized shoe box of a shop for any heavy duty machines.

What brought this on

I have been researching and purchasing a basic tool set for woodworking. Something that continues to come up in my search for quality hand tools at a reasonable price is that the current incarnation of (insert tool here) is a terrible husk of what it was 100 or so years ago. You find this throughout the range of tools. Stanley planes are..uh..usable with a few hours of tuning (i found out the hard way!). My most recent source of frustration comes from looking for a decent brace and some bits. Before you run off saying, “How dare you not use Makita’s 18v cordless drill that looks like a swedish supermodel in drill form! You brute!” let me explain. The current drill I have borrowed until I figure out what drill I actually want is terrible. It makes a whole lot of noise and just wreaks of cheap. I have wasted hours of work when the drill decides to ramp up the speed and blast through the wood leaving a nice slot when I just wanted a hole. Back to the brace. Well, long story short for around $20 you can get the Great Neck special straight from China. You can probably guess how useful that would be and how long it would last. Then you have the $70 and up from the high end retailers. Then comes the recommendation to buy an old version from the early 1900s at a flea market. Am I the only one that who thinks that is a lazy and lousy answer. It is usually from the mouth of someone who already has the tools they want/need and is the same as saying “I already have a nice one. Good luck finding one.”

If this is starting to sound like my saw search then you are starting to realize my frustration.

So what happened to the tools

Quality and craftsmanship has dropped in many markets. Take a look around the grocery store if you think otherwise. Most of the food is mass produced in horrible conditions and only differs in the salt/sweet/fat ratio. I dare you to find a food product (it’s not real food!) without corn, soy, or some other filler. Much like food people used to spend more on tools in the past but the quality was higher. Sure you can blame IKEA and Target for bringing mass produced particle board products to a science. But the truth might just be a little uglier. The majority of people don’t want to buy the more expensive quality made items. Target and others are just catering to the market. I used to buy the best I could afford only to have it break/fail and have the company that manufactured it give a flaky response and poor customer service. So I stopped buying the nicer products and started buying the cheaper ones which I budgeted to replace in a couple of years. Darn it, I am feeding into the disposable culture.

Has this happened to the quality of woodworking hand tools as well? Have consumers driven the manufacturers to outsource to Mexico and China because they don’t want to pay for quality? Or is it because there are so few people who want to make things with their hands that it has become a privilege to be able to afford nice new tools.

I just want a brace

Ok, I’m taking my old coot hat off. Ranting and raving doesn’t accomplish anything so I guess the next step is to continue my search for a usable used brace. Maybe I’ll even build my own. I am just really happy that I found a group of people who still value quality and craftsmanship and who refuse to compromise their integrity in the midst of a disposable-minded culture.



7 comments so far

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2135 posts in 1799 days


#1 posted 03-04-2010 01:43 PM

Justifiable rant Mr. Grumpy :) I started buying tools a couple years ago and I understand the frustration. The advice people would give is “Buy the best you can afford.” In my ignorance, I thought this meant functionality, I didn’t yet understand that buying an inexpensive tool meant that it may not even do the base function in which it was created. I have since learned that quality can be purchased, but at a price. You are seeing the result of a culture that no longer produces but consumes and as the wages of big chain stores are not sufficient to sustain major purchases of high quality items, we import cheaper goods with a more limited lifespan. In a culture that produces and consumes, a balance can be made where the employment rate is not dependant on “Consumers gone Wild” but can live on a more modest production/purchase scale.

That being said, I can tell you that to a small extent I believe that quality is making a bit of a comeback. Warranties are becoming stronger. I thnk people got disillusioned for a brief period of time with cheaply made goods. Ridgid tools have a lifetime service agreement, Delta has extended their warranties, Ryobi has been turning out better quality cordless tools, and I think the pressure is on to make the tools last longer or your company may not survive. Granted, these tools are still made overseas, but the message of disatisfaction over poor quality is starting to be received on a more global scale.

As far as hand tools go, the encouragement to buy used has nothing to do with laziness. It has to do with the knowledge that quality tools of the earlier 20th century are far superior to what is produced today. And hand tools have a higher success rate of restoration. Blades can be resharpened, rust can be removed, and wood can be restored and refinished. The elbow grease required actually contradicts the lazy approach. What people are suggesting is that if you do not have the cash, buy used and invest the labor to restore a fabulous tool back to its original condition. You will find plenty of blogs here where individuals have done some amazing restorations to old hand planes, chisels, and braces. There are some companies in the western hemisphere that do make quality. If you do want to build your own, check this one out.

Good luck on your endeavors and welcome to LJs.

David

-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View bunkie's profile

bunkie

411 posts in 1837 days


#2 posted 03-04-2010 02:33 PM

For a number of years, I’ve lamented what I call the “disappearance of the middle” in a number of places in the consumer market. I first noticed it in the hi-fi market. You can find all the really cheap stuff you want and there is no shortage of hand-crafted-from-pure-unobtanium gear whose prices are in the multi-tens-of-thousands range.

So let’s talk about the brace. I can’t remember the last time I held a brace, let alone used one. That speaks of an undeniable fact: very few people use them any more. You may well be the very tip of the spear of people who rediscover this tool, just as people have rediscovered the joy of the hand plane. If so, Veritas or Lie Nielsen will almost certainly produce a fine brace in years to come with a price tag befitting the up-front tooling costs and markup. That’s the way things go.

It’s all about the market. The cheap tools exist because they are bought by people who tend to have fleeting needs and don’t view tools as an investment. So long as that situation exists, we’re stuck with mediocre junk that’s cheap. The really fine tools are bought by people who value their time spent using them or by serious professionals who know their real value.

In an interesting twist, the sad state of hi-fi in the stores has spawned the most vibrant do-it-yourself community since the golden age of the 1950s.

-- Altruism is, ultimately, self-serving

View MakingScraps's profile

MakingScraps

10 posts in 1704 days


#3 posted 03-04-2010 07:40 PM

David,

It seems like the common complaint among new woodworkers is the “best I can afford” isn’t good enough, mainly due to the consumer market. I’m willing to cede to the “buying vintage is lazy” remark. I have done that with other items and it is definitely a worthwhile route. Thanks for the welcome and the link to that great brace. I saw it when searching for one to purchase and was inspired. Who knows, maybe there is a market for a (relatively) cheap and very reliable brace. Keep and eye out for Scrappy’s brace and bit set at your local hardware store.

bunkie,

I will admit that the brace is a bad example. They are definitely a specialty item with little demand in the market. But it does serve as a good example of the choices available to a beginning hand tool woodworker. It seems like the options are a Porsche and a Pinto. Where’s my trusty Ford that is affordable and at least serviceable? Better yet, where is my Honda that charges a slightly higher premium but also keeps its value and provides years of easy care? Thanks for bearing with by rant.

View BOB67CAM's profile

BOB67CAM

269 posts in 1762 days


#4 posted 03-04-2010 08:18 PM

this is 1 area i have been bitching and moaning about for a long time, im 35 and should probly be in what i normally call the “cookie cutter trend” and u see it with about everything from the “bubble cars” to the townhomes with 5 different faces in the front, holy crap those really cant get any uglier
point being, in my age group is many weak minded ignorant fools who really would starve if the supermarket closed and i get pretty amazed when i see them awhile down the road and they have still remembered to keep breathing but to them the 8 peice ratchet set from tools+more is all theyll think theyd ever need, and in many cases its just enuff to get then into trouble i think what it leads to is plain and simple common sense, or the lack thereof
common sense would tell you that u should or shouldnt buy this or that but when it comes to options we seem to lose it in the way of “build it faster and get it on the shelf” which i think is very cyclicle and an obvious marker to me is looking as cars, in the 20s they started the mass production, altho it was based on keeping keeping happy costumers back then so they werent too bad, then get up to the late 70s and the economy tanks and the cars are basicly cardboard and plastic, altho much to do with emission controls and gas rations then here we are again with bubblecars and proposed gas rationing again and even trucks look like cardboard cutouts
think of the “typical cookie cutter townhome renter” they go for color and stature rather then any kind of personality and quality. many guys i know are not “guys” in many ways, theyre just a more “hairy chick” in most cases nd the set of tools they got for 12 bux at kmart is supposed to take them thru any issues they have, and those speaker wire jumper cables will never let them down, then when they do they have a big chip of impossibility on their shoulder
dont get me wrong i will buy cheap crap at times mainly because im a complete cheapass or if its a workable platform ill bring it home and build it better which is always nice to have a hand in it
when given the choice ill buy the older heavier duty model or the 1 thats barely working if it can be salvaged rather then the newer advertised as “great quality”
eventually the “cookie cutters” will subside again and quality will come back, but it wil probly take longer then we want to wait, atleast thats what im hoping but regardless those of us who can live without haveing to have a mechanic, hair dresser, and psychologist drugging us just to get thru the day will be the stronger forgers i guess…or i could be wrong but i dont think it will matter in the grand scheme…lol
just my 5 bux worth

-- if you dont have it, build it, especially when its a stupid idea

View OutPutter's profile

OutPutter

1194 posts in 2680 days


#5 posted 03-05-2010 08:40 AM

I’m currently reading through the Fine Woodworking archives I purchased from Taunton. They go back to the late seventies. You may be interested to know that at that time people were writing leters to the editor complaining about the loss of quality in the tools being produced then. Those are the same tools you’re being advised to buy cheap and restore. Interesting enough to ponder.

By the way, I’ve bought many cheap tools in my life and I’ve yet to wear one out. Either that means that I’ve never bought a lemon and you have or they aren’t as bad as people like to say. I would be happy sometimes if they did because I tend to put off purchasing the quality tool because I still have a cheapy that works.

-- Jim

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

18615 posts in 2851 days


#6 posted 03-07-2010 02:09 PM

an interesting blog
I, too, believe that we are moving out of the disposable society era, thank goodness!
But, alas, we still have a way to go. Although people “whine” about cheap products that are built somewhere on the other side of the world, “they” (generalizing) whine louder at the high cost of quality items. “I’d buy from them but they charge too much.” – so, although we want quality we want to continue paying the same price as for the cheaper item.
Hopefully our children will get it figured out.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (https://www.facebook.com/DebbiePribeleENJOConsultant)

View miles125's profile

miles125

2179 posts in 2696 days


#7 posted 03-07-2010 02:29 PM

Quality never went anywhere. Its still there like it always was if we choose to pay for it.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

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