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In part one of this editorial, I discussed the international nature of large tool companies, and I laid out my basic opinion: that the “Made in…” stamp doesn’t provide enough information to determine a tool’s quality. In part two, I discussed the manufacturing process. In part three, I explained what all this means to you as a tool consumer. Read on for the conclusion: Just how the hell DO you select a tool?

A few suggestions:

1. Draw on recent experience.

Do you, or has someone you know owned the tool in question within the last 12-24 months? If so, that experience can prove incredibly valuable in making your decision. There’s almost no better way to determine whether something’s a piece of crap than talking to someone you trust. Just be ready to nod knowingly (and ignore them) if they start spewing any of the rumormongering junk above. Instead, ask important questions like: Did it fail? If so, how? How have these tools failed for you in the past?

2. Do your research.

Sources online (like Toolmonger, for example, but others as well) offer lots of details about tools including detailed specifications and descriptions of innovations (if any). If you can’t find clear information about a given feature, you’re completely right to wonder if that feature makes any damn difference. Pay close attention to features centered around reliability.

3. Don’t forget to balance price and quality.

There’s nothing wrong with owning some cheap (and even crappy) tools. My Dad used to keep a drawer of “s#Itty screwdrivers” that were fair game for use as pry bars, paint stirs, and chisels. I keep a bag full of junk hand tools for use at the junk yard — chosen carefully after some dickhead made off with $400 of more expensive stuff while I was waist-deep under a hood looking for an alternator. And when my $0.80 wrench breaks, I’m not gonna bother returning it. I’m gonna pitch it and buy another.

There’s also nothing wrong with spending for the best. In fact, if you’re a pro who depends on using the tool every day to make a living, you’re far better off spending to get both a quality tool and a simple replacement policy that’ll keep you on the job (and in the cash). Again, just make sure that that’s what you’re really getting.

And finally, realize that there’s lots of room for discussion here. We can argue for years about what makes the best tools great — and the worst crap. But please don’t buy into the “Made in…” label. If you can’t tell quality from it and it doesn’t assuredly indicate you’re supporting the country financially, what does it mean?

What do you think? Let us know in comments.


19 Responses to Editorial: Made In… Part 4

  1. Jerry says:

    With all the commentary, it still comes down to the same story in the long run: 1. Cost does not guarantee quality
    2. Manufacturer name does not guarantee quality
    3. “Made in” does guarantee quality
    4. Even appearance does not guarantee quality
    I have personally had HF tools that have lasted years under daily use and have had the so-called “big brand name” tools fail miserably after a very brief life. Of course, the opposite has often held true – some HF stuff that didn’t even survive a single use and some big name tools that I have had “forever.” I still have 3 different sized socket sets that came from SK-Wayne that I purchased in 1963! Did you guess that I am old geezer by that? I also have a couple of “made in Japan” screwdrivers and end wrenches that are quite serviceable from that same era. With all that said, I still believe that the quality of all tools has deteriorated over the years.

  2. DeadGuy says:

    I buy tools in a similar way. I consider the price, quality, my usage pattern and any specific features that are important to me. I try to follow a ten year rule – will this tool, using it the way I expect I will, last me about 10 years.

    There are exceptions, but that rule has always served me well. I got three socket sets of different sizes at the flee market for $35 and then turned around and bought a DeWalt DW718 SCMS for $577 (but Lowes threw in a free DeWalt stand, so it was good deal). Both of them, though drastically different in terms of quality, price, ease of repair and support, should last me about 10 years, based on how often and for what I use them.

    Remember, you get what you pay for, so try to figure out what it is you want to get, then pay accordingly.

  3. Harry says:

    Not a bad summary…
    Experience is the best teacher and what works for others doing the same tasks may work just as well for you.
    Research is important especially when comes to price. There is often a very wide price spread on mechanics tools across the internet. Don’t forget to factor in shipping cost and no sales tax where applicable. Another research issue is being able to tell the difference between a press release or product announcement and a reiview written by someone who has actually used the tool. Pten is a great example. They are an excellent source of information on newly released automotive tools. However, they are more of a collection of new product announcements than a source of in depth evaluations.
    As for balancing price and quality, not all tools need to be a 10. I once had an old German Automotive Instructor that told me if you could get hurt using the tool, buy Snap on, otherwise it didn’t matter. Some tools and some sizes are used a lot more than others while other tools may only see occasional use. When balancing price and quality, don’t forget to factor in the cost (in time and money) of a fastener or component getting damaged from using the wrong tool or a tool that fails.
    So what have we learned from this 4 part saga, buy what works for you and realize that what works for you may not work for the next guy but, that doesn’t make your choice wrong.

  4. fred says:


    “With all that said, I still believe that the quality of all tools has deteriorated over the years”

    I’m also an old geezer – started buying tools in the early ‘60’s too. It does seem that a lot has changed – and we are more of a “throwaway” society. Some folks seem to be always looking for the next best thing – and may be willing to sacrifice quality in favor of novelty. Planned obsolescence has become a way of life in consumer electronics – and may be making inroads in power tools – particularly since batteries arrived on the scene. What I can say, however, is that you probably could not find a decent new American-Made plane or hand saw (to name 2 hand tools) back then. Sure there were used Stanley planes to be had, and old Atkins and other saws – but the new Stanleys – and new Disstons that were on the shelf – were decidedly inferior. Now we have the likes of Lie-Nielsen and Wenzloff – to name 2 companies producing very fine products here in the USA. My master carpenters all carry a Lie Nielsen block plane that we supply. They work well and I like to think that they inspire craftsmanship. Sure we make tradeoffs in price, durability, functionality, OSHA compliance etc. – so not every tool we buy is of the same quaility as the Lie-Nielsen planes

  5. ShopMonger says:

    Chuck: well put…. but the tool based on knowledge.

    and when you need some cheap throw away tools go to toolmonger and look up Cheap Ass tools……………….. or Dealmongers…

    And Great tools are made all over the world…. go back and listen to the podcast where Chuck and Sean talk to Mr Giloppy. They mention all sorts of Taiwanese tools that are of great quality.


  6. MattC says:

    I agree with many of the comments. I have had Harbor Freight tools that have far surpasses my expectations and some that has crapped out on their first use. (the luck of the draw and I accept that). I have bought Craftsman tools and other “high quality tools” that have also gone to an early death (return policy put to use). I do agree as a whole that many tools are not as high of quality as in tha past. It does come down to price and frequency of use. If I was completely immersed in workworking, then I would splurge of quality hand tools and Festool power tools. If I do a project infrequently, then lower quality tools might suit me fine for limited use.

    I detail cars for myself , family and several select customers. I have a Cyclo polisher (made in US) that is reliable and will in all possibility be in use 50 years from now. With that reliability comes with a price, Cyclo’s are not cheap but it has top quality components and a proven track record that are clearly evident in its design. However, I have a HF rotary that is used infrequently (to tackle rare paint problems that the Cyclo cannot handle) and it serves it’s purpose well.

    That being said, I looked purposely for US made shovels and yard tools just so that I support their respective manufacturers. I still try to source US and Canadian made tools first and only later resort to cheaper tools if necessary. The line is definitely getting blurry between who/where makes what.

  7. Mark says:

    The statement about “Made in the USA” not indicating that you are supporting the country is nonsense.
    If it’s made in the USA, obviously someone was paid to make it.
    You can be assured that you ARE supporting the country financially.

    You can argue about whether you think they were paid enough and whether “enough” of the money stays in the US, but it is a really disingenuous argument to say that because less of money might stay here than it used to in “some” cases, it no longer matters *at all* where things are made.

    Be honest. Although “made in the USA” doesn’t mean that all the money that possibly could have has stayed in the US, it does mean that some of the money has stayed here.

  8. PutnamEco says:

    Yeah, wait until the Chinese and Taiwanese learn how to blog/write in English better and Chuck and Shaun get replaced by a team of ten people who work for 1/5 of one of theirs pay,and the only jobs left for any of us is flipping burgers or Walmart, then we’ll see if they think it makes a difference where things are produced.
    It’s real easy to wax poetic, or to think that saving a dollar by buying foreign goods doesn’t hurt anybody, until it is YOUR job being outsourced.

  9. Brau says:

    The biggest lesson I have learned is : buy the right tools, whatever the cost, the first time around. Go cheap if necessary, but don’t try to do without. I renovated my first house with little more than a circular saw, drill, a mitre box, and various hand tools. I renovated my second with good power tools and ONLY THEN did I realize how much time I wasted, not to mention the unending grief I caused myself by not having the right tools. If you do the work yourself, you simply cannot spend too much on tools when you factor in the time and labor savings.

  10. ShopMonger says:

    Made in the USA may not be the answer to “which is the best tool” but it does answer who got paid…..and i will support my fellow country men to the day i die. GOD Bless the USA the Finest Country on Earth……

    Again, i will support them as long as the tool does the job that i need it to…..

    Made in the USA (at least i think i was)

  11. IronHerder says:

    As a hobbyist (meaning I only use tools at home), my motto has been “buy cheap, and upgrade as necessary”. Harry (see above), though, has convinced me that my motto should be “if you could get hurt, buy quality”. Many other words of wisdom are found in the comments. Thanks to all. In my case, I may not have enough personal contacts to figure out what tools to buy, but at least we have the internet.

  12. Dan says:

    Well done series. You kept it general enough to keep people from freaking out because their favorite brand was/ wasn’t mentioned while still providing a good overview. Thanks very much

  13. fred says:

    Thanks guys for a really thought-provoking series. Try for more if you can.

    What struck me in the final analysis is that this is a bit complicated. I agree that buying American puts people to work in manufacturing in the USA – but we may be buying foreign goods for a variety of reasons – nothing to do with a lack of patriotism. It’s also complicated because you can no longer (or maybe never could) go to your tool supplier and see the tools lined-up by country of origin. Here are the German saws, the Japanese, the American, and so on. We use one supplier where the power tools are sorted by manufacturer – while the Big Box stores arrange them by type. Without a lot of scrutiny – can I tell if the Bosch Tool was made in Germany, or Mexico, or Taiwan or Japan? I pick Bosch – just as an example – but the same probably can be said for Milwaukee, Porter Cable, Dewalt, Makita and others. If I want to buy a power plane, or even a router – can I even find one made in the USA? How would I know – to make the selection?

  14. GZB says:

    Shopmonger: How can I locate this podcast you mentioned about Taiwan tools? It sounds worth listening to.

  15. ShopMonger says:

    It is a ToolTalk I am trying to find the number ………

    Podcast number 38 When they talk to him about a visit from some Japanese tool guys…….

    Niprose Tools ect are discussed

  16. paganwonder says:

    Great serial essay. And once again the comments prove there are some real thoughtful folk on this blog. I will restate a comment I made a while back- when I need info on a particular tool or type of tool Toolmonger is my first source of info.

  17. AK-John says:

    I usually shop for quality based on the finish and features of the tool. I prefer USA made, but this is not realistic in many cases depending on local availablility and my current need. In most cases, I want something that will last and live on my tool shelf for years until I need it next time. Othertimes, I only need something to get by with for a one time job, and I will opt for a cheap tool. If I find I need a better tool, I may upgrade and keep the cheap one for a spare. There are times when I purchased a cheap tool and learned to use it and then also learned what features I might want the next time.

  18. GBZ says:


    Thanks for the podcast link. You the man.

  19. Mark says:

    I think I should follow up with another link on the Chinese drywall:

    Where’s all the QC there? Everything you said about the manufacture of tools can also be applied to the manufacture of drywall.

    A point you have completely failed to address, is that China dumps goods on the US market that would wind up with someone in jail if they we made locally.

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