Issue is: How I now judge and evaluate a tool before purchase

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Forum topic by C_PLUS_Woodworker posted 10-07-2013 06:16 PM 1578 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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601 posts in 2875 days

10-07-2013 06:16 PM

I started to post this as a reply on the current Forum Topic: ”Were tools really better in the past???......posted by Purrmaster.

I ended up going off-topic, so I thought I would post this separately.

*Issue is: How to judge and evaluate a tool before purchase…...........old OR new

The end user ( a regular guy) is usually in a very poor position to judge quality, in either new or old machines.

How can we judge how well a new driver is going to work?

We don’t know the quality of the engineering and manufacture or assembly of all the parts?

How can we judge how well an old drill press is going to work? We do not know what to look for and what is important and what is not.

I have have bought several power tools (new) that, after a little use…......... I HATED them.

I have bought new power tools and LOVED them. Case in point, my new Makita drill-driver set….and my new Rigid sander.

I think we here on LumberJocks are a small fraction of the buyers that buy tools.

Most other guys that shop at the Big Box stores, are just folks that need a particular tool around the house.

I think fewer and fewer people are doing significant construction around their homes. They hire it out. Or they buy the furniture or or the new deck or clocks or picture frames or boxes or etc etc.

They were not taught these skills because they were never exposed to it….... unless they lived around it …....or worked around it.

My sons have these skills, but more often than not, TIME (for work or family or recreation) is more important to them than is MONEY, so they pay to get something like furniture or shelving or cabinets or sheds or framing a basement bedroom, or building a deck etc.

But, when it comes to tools they REALLY NEED and want the BEST…..... they put in the time to buy what they need/want.

Tools are MUCH more important to me than to my sons.

Tools, to me, are kind of a “cellular and in-grained” need.

I use and have used my tools MUCH more than my sons have used theirs.

When they go shopping for new tools, they want a good bargain…....not too expensive…... but enough to get the little jobs done over a few years.

I want the best, even if I will rarely use it.

It is a NEED that I have.

Tools are IMPORTANT to me and I do not want to “tolerate” anything on a tool.

So, where does a tool junkie (which i think describes almost everyone on LJ’s) learn which tools are best….old or new????


I have NEVER had a resource like LJ’s to guide me to purchases.

I have never had access to such a huge data base of users and evaluators

I buy with MUCH more confidence now than I have in the first 30+ years of my life.

A very good example of a tool that enjoys almost universal approval HERE is the Dewalt 435 planer, which everyone on LJ’s that has one …..... just loves.

And, when my very old, bought used belt-disc sander died just a few months ago, I bought the $200 sander from Rigid that is receiving great reviews on here.

I didn’t even “shop”. I actually “shopped” right here. And then just went and bought it.

Before, it was talking to a buddy and maybe reading a magazine…....”Hey, whatchalike about this tool”

I got “Just one man’s opinion”.

Now I can get thousands of opinions about ANY tool inside of an hour.

OK, back to that other post I mentioned.

There are quality new tools and there are quality old tools. And vice versa.

And we all can make decisions better because of LJ’s….... which contains our own tool successes and our own tool disappointments …........and we write about our experience/opinions….....and we make and share our tool own assessments public, or at least to us guys that look to LJ’s for guidance.

As a general rule, I think OLDER floor mounted tools are better

As a general rule, I think NEW hand held power tools are better.

But, when it comes to my floor mounted router table with it’s lift and all it’s goodies, you would have to pry it from my cold dead hands.

It is all about WANTING the best…...........wanting to know WHY it is the best….and knowing WHERE to look for guidance.

My $02.


14 replies so far

View Handtooler's profile


1544 posts in 2100 days

#1 posted 10-07-2013 11:28 PM

Bruce, And, which Router Table and lift with all its goodies might that be? As I am currently shopping.

-- Russell Pitner Hixson, TN 37343

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2455 days

#2 posted 10-08-2013 12:35 AM

Great post, Bruce.
I have often wondered if the word we are looking for in relation to older or newer tools being better is ‘Organic’

Russell, Whichever one of those strikes your fancy.
Toss a coin on a pair of choices….... Toss it high. Do it 3 or 5 times.
Which time it came down were you disappointed with the outcome?
Buy the other one, or if there are more choices do it again…... think of it as the NBA Sweet 16, except with tools!

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

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


601 posts in 2875 days

#3 posted 10-08-2013 12:52 AM

Very early on after retirement…....... and when I was an even worse wood worker than I am now, I wanted a good quality router table set-up.

I did not have the skills (back then) to build Norm’s Table, which is what I wanted, so I looked for and bought the Adroni Woodworking RS 500 Router Table, ( and added the PORTER-CABLE 7518 Speedmatic 15 Amp 3-1/4 HP Fixed Base 5-Speed Router along with the Incra Mast-R-Lift Router Lift.

I would grade the table at a solid “B”. I have had it for 7-8 years. I could make one much better now, but never will.

The table has enough drawers, I like the basic fence (which has shims for joinery) and I have built a few more fences for the table. Good top. Dust collection in fence and dust collection is better than several of my local buddies machines.

I just noticed on the Adroni website that they have moved the on-off switch to a better location. I did not like at alll the two “light switch” power buttons, so I upgraded them. They look much more functional now. Not a bad table at all. I might have built the exact cabinet, but I would have used better quality wood. Not a bad table by any means.

And what can I say about the PORTER-CABLE 7518 Fixed Base Router that hasn’t been said a million times already.

Same with the Incra lift. Jeez, I LOVE that thing.

So, that is what I have and I really really do love the set-up…....... (and love to use it. Maybe my favorite tool).

View C_PLUS_Woodworker's profile


601 posts in 2875 days

#4 posted 10-08-2013 12:53 AM

Dallas…..............”Organic” fits perfectly. Thanks.

View Woodknack's profile


11485 posts in 2348 days

#5 posted 10-08-2013 01:51 AM

Unless you can use one or get an opinion from someone you trust, there really is no way to truly evaluate a tool before owning it. That’s why it’s safer to buy from a quality manufacturer that will back their product with a warranty. Plenty of times I’ve been ambivalent about a tool then learned to love it or vice versa.

When it comes to vintage tools/machines, popularity is usually a good guide. If a lot of people own and use them then they are probably worth having.

-- Rick M,

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 2260 days

#6 posted 10-08-2013 02:08 AM

I would agree with your general rule that older floor model tools are better and new power hand tools are better. As far as choosing which tools are best. I’ve been extremely fortunate in choosing which tools to buy since my buddies at Ballew Saw & Tool handle the top brands and have always steered me in the right direction. So my recommendation is to may friends with a reliable industrial supplier.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View MrRon's profile


4719 posts in 3211 days

#7 posted 10-11-2013 09:23 PM

Older tools may just be better due to the fact that they have survived many years. They may be a bit rusty, but, clean them up and they may prove to be better than a new one. It’s kinda like the new car vs the 1 or 2 year old car. The older car has had a chance for the bugs to be worked out; not the case with the shiny new toy from China.
I take exception to Bruce’s time vs money comment. It is an excuse I hear all the time. That is the biggest reason given for buying a workbench or a jig vs building. It may be true for some who may put their job ahead of their quality time. When I was building my 1200 sf shop, I was working a full 40 hour job, but still had time to work on the shop. I could have gotten someone else to build the shop, but I wanted to experience the whole job. I wanted everything done to my specifications and when through I wanted to be able to say “I built it all myself”. The job was and always will come second or third. Family comes first of course. Now that I’m retired, I can look back at my accomplishments with pride in doing what I love.

View MrRon's profile


4719 posts in 3211 days

#8 posted 10-11-2013 09:37 PM

Judging and evaluating a tool is not easy. First you have to dismiss all the hype and claims made by the tool manufacturer. Second you review what owners say about the tool. The more reviews you can sample the better. You have to take into account who is reviewing; is it a professional user of tools or a DIY home owner with casual knowledge. Some features may appeal to one user and be totally worthless to others. Not only do you have to evaluate the tool, but you have to also evaluate the reviewer. All this takes time. If you are in a rush to get that new tool, you might end up making a mistake. Sometimes a tool will pop out saying “buy me now”. This is rare. It’s like an art dealer recognizing a rare painting and jumping on the opportunity. This has happened to me at least twice. If I found this today, I would have to pass for lack of funds. Anyway, I have all the tools I will ever need or want.

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2647 posts in 2890 days

#9 posted 10-11-2013 10:00 PM

In selecting tools, I like to look at what the Pro’s use. An example: I was in the market for a riding lawn mower and looked to the pro’s. They use the Zero radius turn mowers so that is the kind I bought and loved it. I am a retired sheet metal worker and we run screws into duct all day long every day. Almost all of us use Makita drill/driver tools and I still have a few of them. My son is a framing carpenter and told me to buy a Skill Mag. circular saw and it has served me well.

-- Website is

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


4350 posts in 2377 days

#10 posted 10-12-2013 03:05 AM

Good point, points actually the first being how to get good advice on what tools are good and what are not worth bothering with. Many times I will buy a cheap knock off and see if it indeed a tool I will use, judge how often and decide to get the better version. Some tools so rarely used but needed in a pinch can be the less expensive without all the bells and whistles, others that get used all the time must be the best or at least the best I can afford.

In speaking about the younger generation not making things and instead buying them I see this as a sorry state of affairs in today’s culture. When I was a kid I was always out with my Father or Grandfather holding this cutting that. Two things happened here, I spent quality time with them and I was exposed to woodworking. I drag my kids out to the shop and have them help to spend time with them and expose them as I was. Because I am divorced and my ex is more in tune with today’s buy it mentality I have no real expectations my children will follow my example, yet I refuse to give up and do it anyway.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View Hinge's profile


79 posts in 1656 days

#11 posted 10-12-2013 03:45 AM

I say just buy the tool, try it and take it back if you don’t like.

-- The Jesus is my Savior

View toolie's profile


2120 posts in 2596 days

#12 posted 10-12-2013 02:06 PM

I say just buy the tool, try it and take it back if you don’t like.

kinda ghard to do with ebay/CL purchases.

-- there's a solution to every just have to be willing to find it.

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3302 days

#13 posted 10-12-2013 04:41 PM

Well Bruce, I can only agree with you. I bought many inexpensive tools when I started woodworking a little over 17 years ago. I was careful with what I purchased and most of my purchases, though inexpensive have given me good service, although I can’t say that I loved any of them. I can only love a tool if it performs really well and to my expectations, and most of the tools I bought earlier did not do that. Sure, I did eventually learn to get satisfactory results with lesser quality, but always at a cost of more time and aggravation.

Finally, I bought my first really good tool just a few years ago, an Excalibur scroll saw. I felt that after so many years honing my skills that I deserved something really good for a change. The first tool I’ve ever loved. Then awhile later I bought a big 18” bandsaw, this time an inexpensive one from China with a lower quality compared to the premium brands, but I’ve had it for two years now and I love it too (we all get lucky sometimes). I also got very very tired of poor quality cordless drills, which I usually got as Christmas presents. I bought a deWalt pro model 16V which was on sale with 3 battery packs, another winner. Then I bought a deWalt saber saw, ditto and a great Trend router, all of these new tools perform beyond my expectations and are part of my love circle. My last purchase was a Tormek T7 sharpening machine. It cost me an arm and a leg, but it is a wonderful machine which I fell in love with almost immediately. All that said, it is probably easier for us seniors who, if we are fortunate, have a little more pocket money for tools than we did when we were younger.

Any experienced woodworker will tell newbies to buy good quality tools and add to the collection as needed. That advice is usually not heeded for two reasons: 1. It’s difficult to judge quality because the cheap tools look about as good as the expensive one and they don’t realize that the inner components are very different (read lower quality) inside the nice packaging. 2. They think they can get by with lesser quality as their needs are perhaps not as demanding as for a more experienced woodworker. I think this latter reason might have some merit. One advantage to buying cheap tools first is that you are sure to really appreciate the quality ones when you finally buy them!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


4350 posts in 2377 days

#14 posted 10-13-2013 02:56 AM

+1 stefang, be there and done that. In Iraq I had a 220 volt skillsaw with one blade for 3 years and a Dewalt 18vt cordless with one battery and a Phillips #2 long shank bit. Made anything and everything with nothing more than that. Now that I am home it sure is nice to have all my toys back to do some quality work.

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

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