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.