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Last week’s post about my ordeal with customer service, just to order a drive belt for my sander, turned out to be a hot button — and here’s a follow-up to it. I’ve installed the new drive belt, and the sander is ready to go again.

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I actually have no complaints about the sander itself — only after 200+ hours of hard-working run-time under less-than-ideal circumstances did the belt finally give way and shred itself. Though I’m sure others might claim it was premature, I felt more than happy with the performance of this particular consumable. The $13 I shelled out for a few spare drive belts didn’t exactly break the bank either. I will say for the record that the three days of downtime was annoying, but only because I had to wait to finish a project — and I hate waiting.

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Some of the commenters on the original post expressed disdain for “cheap power tools.” Looking logically at why a consumer or a pro buys a certain tool, many factors come into play. In this case, I chose the Task Force because its ninety-dollar entry price perfectly suited the use I was planning to put it to. Because of budget restraints it was either this or no sander at all — and not having a sander would’ve seriously slowed down all the project work I’ve done in the meantime.

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Whether or not it’s the best available is often not the point when buying tools. The Task Force BD461W Belt/Disc sander isn’t even in the running for “Most Expensive” or “Best In Class” — but it was the best choice for me, and that’s really what having options is all about. Not everyone buys for the same reasons, and it’s great to have somewhere to turn if the best is out of reach.

The real goal with any tool is to get the job done in a way that works well for you. Though my sander isn’t high-dollar and doesn’t sport a name-brand logo, it has smoothed out and will continue to smooth out all my hobby woodworking needs for the foreseeable future — in my book that makes it a solid rig worthy of the shop. In any case, I’m glad to have it back up and running.

Task Force 4″ x 6″ Belt Sander Model BD461W [Lowe's]
Street Pricing [Google Products]

 

27 Responses to Editorial: Cheap Tool May Be Best Choice

  1. Dave says:

    Amen.

    Sometimes a cheap tool is better than no tool. You weren’t expecting Festool results, and so you didn’t need to drop Festool cash.

    Yeah, using a nice tool is a real joy–but for people on a budget, or for us folks who buy hobby-grade equipment for our hobby-grade hobbies, why spend the loot?

    I had some guy at Dick’s sporting goods give me a hard time about buying a cheap Simmons scope the other week. Why’d I buy such a POS? Because I don’t want to drop my $1200 Nightforce in the dirt when I’m out shooting squirrels next month.

  2. David Bryan says:

    I used to be an insufferable tool snob. I have learned that an adequate tool you’re not afraid of using because it’s too nice to mess up is the best tool for a lot of jobs.
    When I was an engineering student many years ago I saw a presentation on “appropriate technology” which is about all I remember about being a former engineering student. Answers to real-world problems usually ain’t real shiny.
    And as Voltaire said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

  3. Jim German says:

    As long as the tool makes the job easier its a good tool, regardless of how much it cost. Sure that $1000 Festool might make the job easier than the $300 Dewalt or the $100 Task Force, which in turn is better than the $20 hand tool. The only problem I have with cheap tools is when their cheapness actually makes the job harder. If your cheap tool breaks and wrecks your project, or causes you to get hurt, then its a terrible tool.

  4. Andrew C says:

    Yet another “cheap can be good” here. Especially when I’m not sure how much I’ll use something, a cheap tool lets me play before deciding whether or not it’s useful. If I find I’m using something a lot, I might buy a more expensive tool when the first one breaks… and by then I know which features will be good and which are just fluff, so I can make a better decision.

  5. Ben76 says:

    As long as it’s not so cheap you’re scared to use it! I bought a Buffalo Tools 1/2″ chuck hammer drill from Kragen once for about $19.00. I used it to drill out some rusted/busted strut mounting points on the frame of a ’94 Explorer. I thought the thing was going to come apart in my hand. It did snap about $30 in drill bits but that could be chalked up to “user error” I suppose. On the other hand I love my El Cheap-O socket set. If I round out a socket or lose one (Lord know’s where they go.) I just go get a new one.

  6. John E. says:

    I still say if you use it enough that you break it, it should be upgraded to something more durable, budget constraints or not.

  7. MikeT says:

    I think about these things in terms of an hourly rate. If you spent five hours tracking down the part, but saved $200 on the tool, that’s $40 an hour, which is not a bad rate of pay. But when my thrifty relatives spend 3 hours driving from store to store and end up saving about $5 (not counting the extra gas they burn), I don’t think it’s worth it.

  8. John E:

    While your advice on replacing cheap tools that break, holds true most of the time, I don’t think that it applies here. Sean broke a belt. These things happen to tools of any quality.

    Case in point I bought a $500+ Toro mower a few years back. The first pass my mower’s drive wheels stop. The problem — the belt was shredded. It was a bad belt that the hardware store replaced free that day for me and I haven’t had any problems since.

    I think MikeT has a good point about looking at these things in terms of hourly rate, but things don’t always work out like they should.

    Another time I replaced the guts of my garage door opener and drove a half an hour to a Sears parts center only to find they were closed because they changed their hours and didn’t mention it on their website or phone message.

    Should I figure that extra hour into my equation on whether it was worth it to fix my garage door opener. Probably not.

  9. j says:

    to me it’s a matter of “the right tool for the job”. like when you’re cutting something nasty, you’d change a saw blade rather than ruin a good one right? so there’s a case for cheap-o stuff, even if it seems wasteful.
    it’s the user that makes the difference anyways, i could always tell by the way someone moved, their body language, as to whether they might be good. then i’d check out their hand tools, not for the brand or $, just if that’s what they should have

  10. Putnameco says:

    Buy cheap=Buy twice

    Some of us do actually make our living with our tools, and cheap tools are a false economy.

    If that downed tool meant you where out three days pay, would that still make it a bargain?

    Re: Dave
    If your life depended on hitting that squirrel,(maybe you might starve to death or loose a weeks paycheck…) which scope would you be putting your money on?

    Re: Andrew C
    Your not really saving any money buying tools twice , are you? Borrow or rent a good tool first. Or try that new fangled internet thing to do a little research first.

    Way back when I was starting out, you could buy a lot of quality tools, Dewalt made radial arm saws that are still in demand, Black & Decker made great drills (I still have a 3/8ths thats seen regularly on the jobsite, only thing it’s ever needed where brushes) and circular saws, Delta shop tools where first class, Rockwell tools lasted next to forever,and you could buy them all at a reasonable price. How many of todays commonly available and reasonably priced tools do you think will still be in demand, no less still running, twenty five years from now. And yes I know there are the Northfields , Mafells, and Festools, but when was the last time you saw them in your corner hardware store? or even your local supply house?
    It is getting downright hard to find a tool manufacturer that is not so into value engineering, that they take the time to produce a quality long lasting tool.

    As an aside, Which of todays tools will be consideredd classics, Like Black and Deckers original Sawcat, Or Dewalts Radial arm saw?

  11. fred says:

    I have no problem with the concept of buying tools to suit the purpose. Even those of us who earn our livings using tools ( and buying them for others who help us earn our livings ) do a cost-benefit calculation. In other words, I try not to spend more on the tool than I can possibly make from its use – and I try to balance everything else (cost, quality of job etc.) out trying to maximize our earnings. I do even more when considering the purchase of a piece of heavy equipment – often consulting our accountant.

    What I have seen, however, is that some poorly designed and manufactured tools will not produce quality work. Price is not always the measure of quality. I had a new employee (carpenter) tell me that band saws vibrated and wandered too much to do the job that was at hand. This was based on his experience using a so-called pro tool that he purchased for his own shop at Home Depot and could never get to work properly. He quickly came to a different conclusion working with one of our Laguna’s. Following through on this our Laguna bandsaws are not up to the task that we put our Marvel to in the pipe/metal fabrication shop. All of this says that I would caution folks new to a trade or hobby to be a bit circumspect and realize that the ease and quality of work is influenced by the skill of the worker (you need to develop and hone these) and the tools used.

  12. Brice says:

    Looks like a standard belt. Next time take that belt to someplace that sells fan belts. Cost would be the same and you wouldn’t have had to go through tech support hell.

  13. seaphoto says:

    There is no greater pleasure than using a well made tool. I have a 12″/6″ Delta stationary sander than you can feed a two inch thick piece of plexiglas into without stalling. But I also have a Harbor Freight air nibbler that works just fine for what I use it for. It comes down to how often you use a tool and whether it is mission critical. When I worked as an auto mechanic I used mostly Snap On, mainly for the rotating credit terms, but the quality was top notch and their warranty was second to none – the dealer was there every week to collect his payment and take care of warranties. For my trade, I get the best, but for around the home shop, messing around, HF can be just fine.

    The exceptions were tool boxes. I preferred two small, medium quality Craftsman boxes to the one big monster box everyone else was getting at the time. On a nice day, I could roll either one outside and work in the fresh air. Those big boxes were impossible to move up the slight grade to the shop entrance once loaded. Also, I had no regrets about drilling holes on the side of the craftsman boxes to for power strips, air hose hangers, and holster for my electric screwdriver (I did a lot of dash work). It kinda looked like a Janitor’s cart by the time I was through, but it was very practical.

  14. Bill says:

    On the other hand, buying a more expensive tool does not automatically get you additional quality. People are always saying “you get what you pay for”, but it is more likely true that you pay for what you get. And “made in China” is not longer an adequate standard for judgement (have you looked at so-called top brand power tools lately?).

    While is not a power tool, I have a $20 (half-price special!) disc brake tool from Harbor Freight. I’ve used it for probably a dozen brake replacements. Before I bought it, I borrowed a Blue Point from a pro mechanic friend. Other than the BP having a hex head on the lead screw to accommodate an impact wrench, I can’t tell that one is superior to the other in terms of getting the job done.

    I don’t fault my buddy for choosing the Blue Point, he probably uses it a dozen times each week. Will it last longer? Probably but I’m not likely to find out at the rate I’m going.

    I guess my point is that you really can’t generalize the cheap/expensive debate. There are so many examples where it really boils down to the individual situation.

  15. river1 says:

    while we are on the subject of quality and country of origin i have a suggestion for the blog controllers. if known can you put the country of origin in your tool posts? while some don’t care, some like me care about where a tool is made. yes quality is not always about where it is made but where i spend my money matters to me in most cases.

    thanks jim

  16. river1 or jim:

    Many times it’s hard just figuring out who manufacturer’s a product. Then you think you have the company, but it turns out that they’re actually re-branding a products they imported. After researching and writing about hundreds of products, the feeling that I get is unless they openly state that it’s made in the USA, it’s probably not. If it’s not they try to obfuscate the products origins.

    That said generally if the manufacturer clearly states made in the USA (or Germany, England etc), I’ll usually include that, but surprisingly few companies clearly state the country of origin.

    I think it should be noted that quality products can and do come from all over the world, and crappy products can and are made in the USA.

  17. kif says:

    Perseverance furthers. Good for Sean – sticking it out and getting the machine back online, when others would just whine about the tool. And Benjamen is on the money: I wanted to buy an angle grinder at the HD, and only ONE was labeled made in the USA – Milwaukee. DeWalt, Makita, Ridgid were all made in China. Selling excess capacity for production is crucial in business, that’s why you have store brand and generic groceries. Similarly, a Chinese plant contracted to produce DeWalt products may use excess capacity to do a run of Chicago Electric items. Hasn’t anyone noticed the remarkable similarities in case moldings sometimes?

    That’s not to say that the HF stuff is the same as the DeWalt stuff, because DeWalt engineers should be specifying better components and making efforts to be on-site for quality control checks. But, make no mistake, it’s all China.

    And, for what it’s worth, people who plunk down a few extra Benjamins for a boutique name like Festool are just plain nuts. The gap between a B&D and a Bosch is worth a hundred bucks, taking it a few hundred over that is just showing off.

  18. Putnameco says:

    ———————-
    kif Says:
    And, for what it’s worth, people who plunk down a few extra Benjamins for a boutique name like Festool are just plain nuts. The gap between a B&D and a Bosch is worth a hundred bucks, taking it a few hundred over that is just showing off.
    ——————-
    What other tools collect dust as well as Festool? If a tool can save you an hour or two per job in set up and clean up time, how long do you think it would take to make up the difference in price?
    When you have to replace a tool every year verses every three to five years, how long would it take you to realize which is the bargain?

  19. Zathrus says:

    Some of us do actually make our living with our tools, and cheap tools are a false economy.

    That’s great. And a lot of people don’t make our living with hand/power tools, but we still like to use them, talk about them, and learn about them.

    Your not really saving any money buying tools twice , are you? Borrow or rent a good tool first. Or try that new fangled internet thing to do a little research first.

    In many cases I can buy a cheap ass tool for less than I can rent one from anywhere. If it serves the job (and, honestly, it does most times) then I’m already ahead. As for research — that’s great, and I do a lot of research (including from here, where I can get a variety of opinions, ranging from the weekend warrior to the seasoned pro), but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to make the same buying decision as you do. As fred says, it’s a price:performance decision. That tool that might die in a year in your work may last me a decade, because I simply don’t use it as much.

    Oh, and I disagree that Festool is a “boutique” name. They make incredible tools, often stuff that is simply not available from ANYONE else. But, as a weekend warrior, their stuff is simply out of my price range. The dust collection system, while superior, is certainly not worth the cost to me.

    In a similar vein, I’m eagerly awaiting the Dremel MultiMax. Pretty much the same thing as the Fein MultiMaster, but at a third of the price. Will it hold up as well as the Fein? I’d bet not. But know what? I don’t care — because for what I’ll use it for the Dremel is a better value since I won’t be using it every day, day after day after day.

  20. David Bryan says:

    I don’t have any Festools but just about all my tools are real good at collecting dust these days. I have to be careful to move every once in a while myself.

  21. fred says:

    Re Bill Says:

    I notice that more and more of the tools that I buy have been sourced to Chinese factories and others to Taiwan. Out of curiosity, I’ve been keeping a rough tally of what comes in the door to our shop/yard to see where it was actually made. Not surprisingly, I’ve noted a lot comes from China. These include some of the Johnson Level / Acculine-Pro and CST Berger laser levels and transits that we’ve bought. Our recent Senco screw guns all come from China. So do our new (the old ones were USA) Crain undercut and Toe-Kick saws. We bought a few sets of Milwaukee Big-Hawg holesaws — China too. Our recent Felker tile cutters say USA in some spots – but made in China elsewhere – I guess the USA refers to the company office not the production facility. It also looks like most new battery chargers for Bosch, Paslode (tools still made in Illinois) etc. cordless tools come from China.

    It’s also getting harder to tell who makes what where – and while I care about American jobs, our standard of living and the legacy that I leave for my grandchildren, when it comes to tools – I look for quality, good performance and vendors who stand behind their product – not where it was made. I do not buy knock-offs from Harbor Freight or elsewhere – because I can not afford the potential downtime, loss of productivity or poor job quality that can result from tool failure. That’s not to say that high-quality tools don’t fail – but their lifespan and performance is more predictable and my local supplier can also turn around repairs on them in a reasonable time.

  22. vcarter says:

    Sean I wish you had taken the time to put the part number for the belts in your article I am now waiting a call back from senior management to tell me the part number because the first lady could not find it they are supposed to get back to me in 24 hours….

  23. vcarter says:

    For all those that need the info for future reference it isPower tool specialists at 1-800-243-5114 they are located in south carolina so east coast time zone the belt is id’d in the parts blow up diagram as 0JLS synch belt id number 2AF3

    I found this in the manual. forgot I kept all those in that drawer, I always use the internet.

    And as far as all those that posted he got what he paid for I own one it works fine the price is right and any tool that lasts for years and then breaks a belt with all the stuff that came out of my shop it needed a rest!

    It has been a great purchase for me and for you to say to buy a more expensive unit just because it is a name brand go hate somewhere else your argument holds no water what so ever and you need to shut up that is not advice your giving its called trolling and griefing and it has no place here.

    Give advice about your experience with the tools you own not grief some one that took the time to help folks out with a good article.

    3 years of hard sanding and all my buddies coming over and using it and a belt broke. I like the unit I would recommend that you get one and have a few extra bucks left over for your next project.

  24. Tom Evans says:

    I have a Task Force Sander with a shredded drive belt…..Where do you get a replacement?

  25. Bryan says:

    Tom,
    Cricket…cricket…..cricket….

  26. Neruda says:

    I’m trying to find that belt, the 150XL 051 but have not been able to get anyone at Lowes to help me, they call numbers, look online but no one can find it…where did you get that drive belt?

  27. Neruda says:

    When I commented in the thread, I didn’t see all the other information, I see an answer to my question up in vcarters comment. thanks.

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