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I hate to pick on Stanley again, but they just happen to offer examples of what I’m talking about. On the left we have an antique Stanley driver handle — and on the right, a driver found in stores today. A casual observer might notice that one is ornately carved and the other is about as utilitarian as it gets. Both are Stanley, but they play completely different roles in our everyday lives.

The old-school handle features a highly decorative design on the handle and the end cap, and it’s constructed entirely of metal. It’s beautiful to look at and probably fun to use, but only in a controlled setting by a careful craftsman. The new-school example belongs to a pack of drivers meant for down and dirty work around the house or on the jobsite. Sure, they’re both drivers — but one is a refined shop tool meant for delicate use, and the other might see duty fishing earrings from the sink drain.

As a tool, the plastic-handled driver will most likely see more action than the metal-handled work of art — but we’d love to have that choice. It seems the high-end decorative hand tool went the way of the dinosaur long ago. A handful of collectors keep them around for the sake of history, but if you wanted to buy a decked-out set of drivers like these today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer that carries one. It’s too bad — we know a bunch of guys who’d jump at the chance to have tools like this.

 

14 Responses to Editorial: Form AND Function Would Be Nice

  1. Fred says:

    I’m betting that the English (maybe Crown Tools) still make some wooden-handled screwdrivers that are more form over function.

    If you like Lie Nielsen planes – their adjusting screwdrivers are also nifty to look at:

    http://www.craftsmanstudio.com/html_p/A!911.htm

  2. Justy says:

    You know whos fault this is? The store who sells your tools, thats who. I only realized it a few months while in the local lumberyard (its pretty popular around here, gets BIG business, but its local). Anyways there was salesman there trying to get them to pick up his line of stapler he was selling. (it was the stinger hammer tacker featured on this site months ago, search for it). The basically ignored this guy after they heard how much they would be distributing them for. You see, management loves profit. Your fancy new metal stanely fatmax antivibe hammer was made in china, CHEAPLY. The lumber store buys those from stanely (or middleman whatever) for about 4-5$ a piece. They in turn sell them for 30-40. Thats profit baby. The cheaper and simpler it is for the same selling price will GARUNTEE that tool a spot on their shelves. It costs pennys to push a skinny piece of metal into a piece of stamped plastic. Yes, you just made a screwdriver. 25 cents or less. 1000% markups are not unlikely. Tools are HUGE business with no room for expensively made tools with low mark ups.

  3. Guy says:

    I take exception to the comment that your old school driver is refined shop tool meant for delicate use. In it’s day it was a workhorse. All that “decoration” will give you more grip, than any plastic driver of similar shape.

    Times change. Improvements are many. I have more dirivers than I can count. Particularly ratcheting 1/4 hex bit drivers. The choices are staggering.
    There are some pretty incredible tools out there. I can see the beauty in the new functionality.

    Along with this diversity of course comes a whole lot of poorly designed, poorly made, disposable, barely functional crap. It really is an embarasement to the human race that there is so much of it. Anything for a buck.

    I would also add that I think there is room for well made and well designed tools in the market. Check out some of the premium brands, PB Bauman, Snap on, Facom, Wiha. You won;t find them at wal-mart, Lowes, or HD. But they are out there.

  4. Fred says:

    Re Guy Says:

    The electrical contractor who we use as a sub loves Wiha. We love Knipex. PB Bauman hand reamers are great. Facom – who knows now that they were acquired by Stanley – but these brands are all European (German, Swiss, French) but even the Europeans are under great pressure to manufacture in Taiwan and China to reduce costs and create easy profits. Like American firms – some venerable European firms (French Rasp maker Auriuo closed shop after 150 years of operation) are on hard times.
    To quote from Hamlet – the fault is not in the stars it is in us. When we encourage the predatory behaviour of our retailers (Walmart and HD to name two) by preferentially buying cheap junk and accepting its limited life and throw-away nature as part of the modern idiom – we have no one to blame but ourselves. I’ve heard many in my business opine that its better to buy cheap – because its likely to be stolen anyway – so it need not last – but when craftsmanship suffers or a worker is injured where’s the economy in that. By the way, all of this is not to say that I think the Taiwanese et. al, are incapable of producing a good product – its just that they are encouraged by some buyers to do so. The Japanese (Toyota as an example) taught the world a lesson that a country (Japan) known for producing junk – could become the symbol of quality. Maybe the Chinese will step up and become the high end producer that the Japanese became – but this won’t happen if we consumers think that what’s sold as knock-off pliers at Harbor Freight are just as good as those pair of Knipex.

  5. Old Donn says:

    Welcome to the global economy! Whether we like it or not, more & more of our favorite stuff will be from China, Vietnam, etc. How long before Craftsman succumbs. I was in Lowes the other day and about half the Kobalt sets I looked at were Chinese. MAC too, althought it hasn’t affected their sky-high price. Sad to say, but unless you’ve got an expense account or a water cooled credit card, we’re suffered to buy within our budget. Guess what that means.

  6. Fred says:

    Re Old Donn Says:

    I don’t know that you heard – but Stanley apparently will be closing MAC down – merging what’s left into the Proto Line.
    Also – since Easco Hand Toos Division of Danaher supplies a lot of the current Craftsman hand tool line – the move to Taiwan has already happened.

  7. CN says:

    I would be happy if Stanley just went back to the plastic asterisk-shaped screwdriver handles from the eighties.

    I bought a bunch of the new Stanley screwdrivers for my coworkers for Christmas (We can’t keep screwdrivers around here). Those weird bulb things throw me off a little.

    -CN

  8. ToolFreak says:

    The Stanley squeegee’s have handles like that because they’re made in China for cheap so they can be sold at Wal-Mart in a set for $3.98. Most people won’t pay $50-100 for a screwdriver set, or even bother to go to Sears and get a Craftsman set on sale for what’ll cost about $1 per screwdriver, with a lifetime warranty. Probably won’t be long before it’ll be tough to find a screwdriver made in the USA if Danaher ever goes under, though.

  9. Old Donn says:

    Aside to Fred, Yeah I guess I knew that. Some of the Craftsman stuff I’ve gotten recently is made in PRC, no lifetime guarantee despite the name.

    ToolFreak, you nailed it. While there will always be a cadre of pros who keep Snap-on afloat, (for how long?), most people will buy where their dollar goes furthest. And, being weekend warriors, their Chinese tools will probably do everything they need. Garage and yard sales will be a source of American tools for a while.

  10. Fred says:

    Re Old Donn

    I don’t think that all American Industry has given up on tool production. Examples like Lie-Nielsen seem to have stepped in to fill a niche (planes and chisels) mostly based on old Stanley Bedrock designs that Stanley is no longer willing to consider. Stanley always made several lines of tools – you could get top of the line “100 Plus”, lesser grade “Jobmaster” and then homeowner quality “Handyman”. Maybe they still do this a bit with the “Fat Max” line – but all too frequently I see companies seemingly striving for a mass-market fast buck to be made at Walmart.

  11. IntheKnow says:

    Hey ToolFreak – Curiosity is killing me…which screwdriver are you referring too as a squeegee? The Basic Stanley screwdriver (pictured on the right) is manufactured in the good ‘ol USA by Stanley.

  12. Old Donn says:

    Aside to Fred,

    Hope you’re right. With the way things are going, it gets easy to look at the glass being half empty. The last straw for me was the dent Japanese pickups have made in the U.S. market, (And that’s all I’m gonna say about that. The last time I put an entry in a truck post here, I got smoked!). I’ve pretty much got everything I need to keep the vehicles and house in order, so I doubt there will be any more feeding frenzies at the local tool stores.

  13. Teacher says:

    Fred, are there two easco’s? I see Easco branded hand tools in Big Lots for cheap price and cheap looking quality.

    What Craftsman hand tools are China made aside from the small pliers? The screwdrivers, wrenches, sockets and ratchets I see are still USA made.

    The ones to blame for our manufacturing going to China is not “Big Business” it’s the American consumer. Compare the number of people in Sears tool dept to the number in Harbor Freight on a saturday morning. And the hardware stores around here were selling China/Taiwan tools long before Lowes and Mao Mart came to town.

  14. Old Donn says:

    Aside to Teacher,

    Re:Craftsman. Mini-pliers, magnetic screwdriver bits, mechanic’s gloves, (Vietnam), to name a few. The other stuff’s still made here.

    Re:who’s to blame? You’re right. While I wouldn’t let business completely off the hook, at day’s end it’s the consumer who drives the market.

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