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Blind Selection.jpg

Many of you base your tool purchases on firmly established brand preferences. What if, all of a sudden, those biases were gone, and you were left clueless and in need of many new tools? Would you trust someone else to select your new tool brands for you, or would you endure the time and cost of trying out different brands to rediscover your preferences?

Quite a few vendors, such as McMaster Carr, thoroughly describe certain products, but they exclude the brand information. In these cases, although you may know the country of origin, you won’t know who manufactures the product until it’s purchased and received.

Many people would never entertain such an indirect selection process, while others don’t care who makes their tools as long as it’s a US-based facility. We want to know what you guys think. Is “blind” tool selection hot, or not? For example, if you didn’t know your Craftsman from your SK or Snap-On, what would you do? Let us know in comments!

On a personal note, there are at least half a dozen excellent brands that I never would have known about if not for “blind” purchasing. So, we’ll start things off with one tally for a “Hot” vote.

(Thanks to my wife for patiently posing for the photo.)


19 Responses to Hot or Not? “Blind” Tool Selection

  1. JayJaySmaker says:

    NOT! Sort of.

    First of all, I have to agree that there are a few times that I was surprised by the high quality and usefullness of a non-brand-name tool I had to purchase in a pinch. However, for me, if I am going to invest any serious money into a tool, there are two issues with blind purchases for me.

    1) Quality. American made or not, there are crappy tools out there. If it’s not backed by a company I can depend on to respond to the issue, I may have thrown away good money.

    2) Feel / Function. Using your example, I have used SK, Craftsman and SnapOn tools. I own SnapOn. They are high quality, durable (had mine for 30 years so far) and feel good in my hands. When I buy one I know what I am getting before I see it.

    Power tools are another thing altogether. I can read the spec’s and listen to the pitch. But the truth is in using it. Great example: Everyone talks about thier favorite router. Porter-cable, blah, blah, blah.. I just bought the DeWalt kit. I already had one router on a table and another one order but I needed a quality router for an important project right away. I invested in the DeWalt becuase of my positive experience with every other DeWalt tool I own. But I had never heard anyone talk about thier routers. I could not be happier with every thing about it. Here’s a case where the spec’s were respectable, but not the best. Most everyone I know in the business and even a few router books I picked up talked up every other brand. Yet, DeWalt’s product is outstanding.

    Bottom line: Spec’s are great to know. Recommendations from others are valueable. But to really know for certain, I have to feel it in my hand, use it myself and have the results do the talking.

    my 2 cents.

  2. hadtocomment says:


    Not knowing the brand…Not!

  3. kitliz says:

    I think it’s hot. (Jesus, does that sound like Paris Hilton? Please shoot me.) Anyway, I’m not a brand junkie when it comes to tools, the most important thing is that it has enough juice and that it fits my hand. (And that when I’m sitting on the roof slats of my pergola and drop it… because I will… it doesn’t breake into half a dozen pieces.) I borrowed a cordless Ryobi sawsall from a friend once and it literally took me two hands, my chin, and a toe to remove the damn battery because my hands weren’t big enough to push both of the release buttons at the same time. When you spend a week dealing with one-size-fits-all issues like that, brand names become much less important that good quality and a good fit!

  4. Hello Moto says:

    I have to say, if you know want you want, then hot, if you don’t know much about a product, then not.

    When you know a lot about the tool you are buying then you can generally trust companies such as McMaster-Carr to carry decent quality and thus buying anything is fine so long as it holds to what you need. When you know a lot about ends mills for example and you know you need a 6 flute, center cutting 1/2 inch bit with a 3/4th shank, then buying blind is perfectly find, if on the other hand you need to buy a new precision caliper and you know nothing about them, buying for a trusted company can be worth the significant price premium.

    In short, if you know your needed specs then buy blind, if you need a product and don’t know much about it, buy a brand you trust.

  5. eschoendorff says:

    Not. I like to support companies, such as Channellock, that i feel are healthy to our manufacturing base in this country. If I had to, I could probably do everything that i will ever need to do for the rest of my life with China tools. But I won’t. Not where I have a reasonable choice.

    My other sentiments basically echo what JayJay said above. If I have an issue with a tool, I need to know that there is a company that will stand behind it.

  6. I didn’t meant that the chosen tool would be unbranded. I tried to imply that a trusted 3rd party would select the brand for you.

    I like to try different brands out, but sometimes I’m not sure in which direction to go. A while back, I needed an extra 11/32″ wrench, couldn’t find the length I wanted locally, and didn’t want to pay double the price of the tool to have it shipped. So I ordered from McMaster Carr as part of a larger order and ended up with a decent quality Armstrong.

    I needed ball-end hex drivers but didn’t know what brand to go with. Ordered from McMaster and was introduced to Bondhus. Ordered anti-cam-out screwdrivers when I couldn’t find what I wanted elsewhere and was introduced to my first Wiha tools. Ordered deburring tools and had my first Noga. Ordered cold chisels, and they turned out to match the brand I already had.

    I know a lot of you have well-established preferences, but sometimes it’s difficult to shop for tools one is unfamiliar with. I know woodworkers who never heard of Greenlee or Klein, and electricians that never heard of Vaughan, Eastwing, or Dead-On. Sometimes it’s troublesome to go through the brand familiarity process.

    If a tool’s brand and origin is unknown and quality uncertain, I likely wouldn’t purchase a tool blindly either. Generally though, I’m given enough information that I’m comfortable trusting a third party (McMaster) to select the brand for me. For power tools and very particular hand tools (like ratchets), I trust noone.

  7. PutnamEco says:

    Meh, maybe warm. Most tool dealers are out to maximize profits, and tend to push products that meet that end. I usually know what I want when I’m shopping. If I don’t I’ll take the time to research. I’m a big fan of forums, as some one some where probably has some experience with what ever tool it is that I’m seeking.
    Some dealers I’ve come to trust, those that know I value usability and durability. Unfortunately they are few and far between.

    For your researching pleasure, Toolcribs custom Google powertool forum search.

  8. Guy says:

    I buy a lot of tools from McMaster at work. You can’t beat their service. They generally can deliver the next day. Saves us time and money. It does bother me that they don’t publish the tool brands that they sell. Most of the tools I get from them are fine and from established brands, or made by the OEM. But I have also received some less than satisfactory items that could have been avoided. Yes I could return them, but it isn’t worth the time. At then end of the day I’m the customer and I’m a tool guy and I want the brand so I can make a decision that is better for me. If you’re not a tool guy and don’t care about the brand, publishing it in a catalog won’t make any difference. I would buy more from them if they pusblished the brand.

  9. Still_Bill says:

    Not. But a very interesting topic.

    I’m 100% for trying an unfamiliar brand, by recommendation of a trusted source; especially a brand that I may have previously shied away from because of ignorance/unfamiliarity. This is the one of the many reasons I find Toolmonger.com so enjoyable. (Embarrassingly, I once thought of Ridgid tools as Home Depot’s “house”/value brand). And I must admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by “blindly” purchasing a tool through McMaster-Carr and receiving a high-quality industrial tool, of a brand previously unfamiliar to me.

    But to me, as a consumer, brand and brand reputation have tremendous importance and meaning. There are certain brands I prefer to support, and those that I’d prefer not to. Brands I trust, and those I don’t.

    I think there are dangers inherent to the “brand-blind” approach: First, I believe that it leads to the commoditization of products. (For example, the thought that a pliers is a pliers, is a pliers and that the lowest cost pliers that meets some minimum standard is the best). Such a mindset can really hinder a tool manufacturer’s ability to bring innovation and quality to the market. Furthermore, companies must work hard to build a strong brand reputation and establish consumer trust/preference. If all tools were purchased “brand-blind”, it seems there would be little motivation for tool manufacturers to work to improve their reputation; the net effect being less satisfied tool consumers (= bad).

    And by the way, the brand I was introduced to by McMaster-Carr has become a brand that I trust, and prefer… and ask for by name… now if only McMaster-Carr would make it easy for me to do that …

  10. Brau says:

    I’ve seen enough on this site to notice that a $20 craftsman will get reamed as total crap while a $20 Chinese knockoff (equally bad) will garner praise for its low price, yet apparently Bosch can do nothing wrong even though they cost over six times the price to do the same job. So yes, I do believe branding has an effect beyond the reality. That said, I generally purchase brands I know to be of higher quality from suppliers who are well known to have exceptional customer service/warranties. Would I buy blind? Not unless the seller had impeccable service, a guarantee of a certain level of quality, and a lifetime warranty (which is why I buy a lot of Craftsman stuff at Sears). But even then, maybe not … I like to get some hands-on with tools before buying as a lot about the quality level can be gleaned by seeing and handling it; things you can’t tell from the technical specs.

  11. Scraper says:


    But I am confused, why is everyone talking about tools? Did they not see the picture?

  12. MR P says:

    First of all McMaster stands behind all there products and they will take it back any time no questions asked. You don’t have to worry about quality everything they have is excellent. And when it comes to power tools they do tell you the brand.

  13. Fred says:

    As was said in jest in the Mikado “let the punishment fit the crime”.
    All joking aside, most times people want to buy tools that will provide good assurance of safety and an ability to get through at least the job at hand. For those of us who use many of their tools professionally – we want more longevity and flexibility. While I agree with the sentiments expressed about buying Channellock Pliers – I’ve bought some Klein and Knipex tools as well – when they were clearly superior for the intended job. I’ve heard a lot said about the advantage of having a supplier (e.g. Sears) who will stnd behind their products and offer replacements. That’s OK – but doesn’t help much when a tool fails in the middle of a job – where time is money. I’d much prefer a Hitachi Nail gun that continues to work than a running off to find a Sears replacement (both probably built in Taiwan). I also think that there is sometimes a tradeoff between innovation and execution wit the introduction of some new tools. I recently acquired a Sears 3 inch corded circular plunge saw to supplement a cordless Makita – where the battery (not surprisingly) doesn’t perform well in freezing weather. The Sears saw is fitted with a cheap vinyl-insulated cord that is about as flexible as a piece of copper tubing in the cold. Maybe I could fit the saw with a rubber-covered cord that I find on my higher quality Milwaukee or other brand tools (often also made in China, Taiwan or Mexico) – or maybe I’m just expecting too much for a $100 saw.

  14. Talisman227 says:


    anyone who has tool use experience knows that for every day use, you ONLY buy brand name you know and trust. They will also have a honourable warranties as well. A solid name brand tool will always go on sale at some point so you can pretty much get it close to cheapy china prices if you’re patient enough. If you pay full price, its still worth it. I stay away from the “china” route as much as possible. Unfortunately in this day and age you sometimes are left with no choice. I don’t like they way this cheap crap made in sweat shop countries promotes a “disposable world”. Like :

    “oh well, it was only $20.00. If it breaks in a few months or so I can always afford to buy another….”

    Mass producing cheap crap just seems like a waste of material. especially with so many “green” issues going on in our planet. Don’t you think its time we do things more efficiently? everthing counts..

    Make it well, price it accordingly and stand by your product.

  15. Bart's Dad says:

    Using my tools to make a living, I’ve come to learn that certain brands do their jobs well and time is money when dealing with broken or awkward or poorly designed tools. That being said following brands too blindly can also lead to disappointment. Snapon builds some of the best wrenches and sockets and such, but I’m not going to buy their over priced relabeled flashlights just because it says Snapon. Also take what Vise-grip has done. They taken argueably the best locking pliers out there,made in the USA for years, and started importing them now. I’ve compared my tried and true pliers to the exact same part number imported versions and now need to look at a new source for locking pliers. The fit and finish are definitely inferior and the price hasn’t come down to reflect the lessor product offered. Any suggestions for a blind purchase of locking pliers that works like its supposed to ?

  16. ToolFreak says:

    For a company like McMaster-Carr that still uses a phone-book size paper catalog in this day and age, not publishing brand names makes some sort of sense as they probably either carry whatever brand fits the bill at the time, or have a variety of brands in stock for the same product. If you get something with a name you’ve never heard of, but it fits the bill, great. If you get a piece of junk and it’s useless, it goes back and hopefully you get something different and better in return.

    Brand-blind is fine when it’s a case of using a Hitachi drill when you always thought Hitachi was crap, or having to get a socket set or wrench from another brand when Craftsman doesn’t carry it. But when it comes to quality, theres a line. I bought a cheap (in every sense of the word) angle grinder rather than spending the $29 on a decent one, and paid the price. It lasted all of five minutes before literally smoking and burning up.

    Bart’s Dad, I’ve started purchasing the Craftsman Professional locking pliers as an alternative to the imported Vise-grips. They are obvious knock-offs, but they’re made in the USA and have the lifetime warranty. Their no-lever release works, but takes some getting used to after using Vise-grips for so long. Even better, you can get them in sets for 50% on sale, and save even more with Sears coupons. You might also consider hunting down the remaining Made in USA stock of Vise-grips at hardware stores in your area if you like them that much.

  17. Ray says:

    It depends entirely on what the tool is- if it’s something rather generic, like an open end wrench, socket, drill bit, 1/4 inch bit selections, flatbar, allen keys, ect, as long as I can trust the source to provide only good quality tools, (like you can expect from McMaster Carr), I would be happy to buy blind. On the other hand, some tools vary greatly by brand- Hammers of identical specs swing differently, socket wrench and screwdriver handles feel different, pliers have different profiles of jaws and handles, ect. With power tools, fit and comfort, what kind of batteries it may use (if you already have a few tools that use the same battery), weight, power, how adjustments are made or blades and bits are changed, and many other considerations come into play. There are some products that I simply won’t buy unless I can actually hold it in my hands first, such as my framing hammer. Other tools I would only buy after reading many reviews about them. Other times I could buy a product as long as I can see a picture of it, to determine that it is the style that I want.

  18. Properfection says:

    So I stopped by to read and see who could tell me what brand of wrench McMaster Carr was selling these days because I need to order Williams Super combo’s, open Stock, to replace missing wrenches from sets. It would seem that I am not at all O-K with letting a third party choose my tools but that is not true as long as that third party is my Dad or my Brother. I do not feel quite so well connected with my suppliers. For example: Unless some one who knows and uses tools can offer me an alternative I will continue to purchase pliers made by Wilde or Channel-lock. I like them and they are made in the USA. I will purchase mechanics tools by brand in this order of preference depending upon need and availability, Wright, Cornwell, Williams/Bahco/Snap-on/, Danaher group and Craftsman, and Stanley Works/Mac. This is by rank of majority of domestically manufactured products per-capita in the companies’ lines. In emergencies I’ll get whatever, wherever… but only in emergencies. I will purchase nothing from Cooper-tools or Irwin right now because foreign made knock-offs of baseball and apple pie brands like Crescent, Plumb, and Vice-grip really does offend me, and they are crap. I really feel the same about Stanley, what with their foreign tape measures and all but I have not had any-luck finding a better measuring tape.

    Its not that I should require all of my tools to be made in the USA as long as they are well made with a solid warrantee, its just that I came out of the era of federal and union domestic requirements…even my Makita tools were made domestically…heck in my day even Wal-Mart products were US-made…I still own a set of Wal-Mart combination wrenches that were a satin finished S-K…heck, I still own Indestro Super tools that came from Woolworth’s, before they started carrying the Indian made Gedore(sp?). There was a time when a foreign made tool in my kit would get me fired. There was a time when we expressed our opinions through consumer demand…I am too old to change, I need to know exactly what I am buying and where it comes from in order to satisfy my tool preferences and socio-economic opinions. Its not enough to know that the particular tool I am buying was made in the US…today I feel obligated to support companies like Wright Tool and Forge, or Cornwell because they are still owned and operated domestically, manufacturing largely with domestic materials, and primarily selling US made products (Cornwell is slipping though, like Williams, why can’t these companies let Channel-lock or Wilde make their over priced pliers?). I support these companies proudly and if I were God I would raise tariffs, diminish environmental restrictions, and put Americans back to work in the manufacturing sector. I get a lot of things from Carr, and I respect them for selling domestic brands where they can, but I would get a lot more from them if they would list brand names. I need to know.

  19. ambush27 says:

    I would rather examine a tool than pick the brand, but if I have a bad experience with a brand I tend to avoid that brand like the plague. For example If my first craftsman tool was, say, their 8 inch drill press(which by the way is always broken on the floor) I would probably not understand when people praise their hand tools (which are probably the best value in sockets/wrenches you can get).

    The Dark horse is always less expensive but isn’t necessarily worse.

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