I see lots and lots of comments here on Toolmonger regarding where individual tools are made. And while I did grow up during a time where it was easy to tell “Made in America” from “cheap imports” in terms of hand and especially power tools, I have to tell you that after writing, researching, and using tools professionally in recent years, I’m not sure the line is so clear anymore. So what does “made in wherever” mean today, and what does it mean in terms of quality?
Consider this: We’ve gone to all sorts of lengths here in America to help consumers understand where their cars are built. Take a look at the window sticker on a new vehicle, and you’ll find numbers indicating what percentage of the parts ship from what countries as well as where the car was assembled. But it’s still a bitch to figure out what’s domestic and what’s “imported.”
Do we, for example, follow the money or the shipping receipts? And which money would we follow? the profits made from our purchases or the money paid to assembly workers? Or the money spent on parts? Or design? The result: Nissan sure sounds foreign, but I know lots of people in Mississippi who’d argue otherwise. And that all-American Ford? What if it’s built in Mexico?
Now consider tools again. The design and manufacturing of tools is every bit as complex as autos, but we lack even the window sticker’s vague data to clue us in as to the true nature of a given product’s national (or more likely international) legacy.
Though the United States represents a huge market for the sale of hand and power tools, it’s by no means the only one. Europe also represents a large market, as does Asia. And as the largest tool companies service the entire world, they’re not only manufacturing tools internationally — they’re also designing them, managing the production of them, and spending the cash made from the sale of them internationally as well.
It’s by no means uncommon for large tool companies to conceive a tool a facility in one country, design it in another, manufacture it in third, test it in a fourth, and sell it all over the world. While a tool like this might carry a “Made in China” stamp (or “Made in the USA” if it happened to be assembled in the US), what does that really mean?
Here’s my opinion: Where a tool is manufactured — when viewed on its own without other data — no longer offers a good indicator as to the tool’s quality nor its contribution to a given nation’s economy.
To be continued! Check back tomorrow for part two in this editorial where we delve deeper into the manufacturing process.