If you’re going to buy tools…

I grew up with more tools than I ever needed at my disposal. My grandfather’s workshop was just a few steps from the house and I could find just about anything I needed. I learned what those tools did by watching how they were used, and I learned what they were worth by watching how long they lasted.

There were two rules:

  1. Use the right tool for the job. (A wrench is not a makeshift hammer, etc…)
  2. If you’re going to buy a tool, make sure you buy the best one you can afford.

My grandfather was kind of a stickler for the first one. But, if you had the wrong tool in your hand, he didn’t mind showing you the right one and teaching you how it worked. Don’t get me wrong, he was a master of making things work and I watched him execute some “creative engineering” over the years, but he wasn’t one to abuse tools out of expedience. That was just a false economy of time.

In the same vein, the false economy of buying “cheap” tools was also to be avoided. In our house that largely meant two trusted brand names: Black & Decker and Craftsman. I still own my grandfather’s B&D drill press and circular saw and I wish like anything that I still had the old cast iron topped Craftsman table saw that sat like an altar in the middle of his shop.

Our Black & Decker loyalty stemmed, in part, from the fact that the company my dad worked for made the labels on all their US made tools. Our Craftsman loyalty was simply because they were good quality tools that worked (and kept on working). I still remember the Christmas my dad gave me my own shiny red Craftsman tool box with a set of wrenches (US customary, of course) and screwdrivers (flat head and Phillips). I still use that tool box almost every day and those remain my go-to wrenches and screwdrivers.

Ever since Bob Flexner posted this blog entry last week I’ve been thinking about the Craftsman tools in my shop and how conflicted I’ll be to see Sears go. Two of the three large power tools in my shop are Craftsman (my band saw and drill press) and there are countless other working relics in my collection that bear the name. Loyalty runs deep.

I fully admit that while there was a time you could trust that brand across the board, lately a little more discernment was in order. Most of their production had been sent off-shore (with the accompanying cost-cutting attitude) and some of their tools weren’t really worth the boxes they shipped in, but there were also some good ones in the lot if you know what to look for. This is a bean-counting problem that is bigger than Sears, but the most difficult thing for me to get over was how little the company seemed to care about what they were doing over the past few years.

Going into a Sears store became a game of dodging the salespeople who had no idea what they were selling and finding someone to sell you something when you were finally ready to buy it. I can’t tell you the number of times a salesman offered, “let me know if you need to know anything about that saw” in a crackly late-pubescent voice when it was clear I was the one who should be explaining the finer features to him. One time, I even took a few minutes to correctly re-assemble the floor model band saw because it was so poorly assembled and adjusted that the door wouldn’t shut and the blade was somehow jammed under the top wheel.

For me, that sort of general ignorance and inattention is why I feel like it’s probably time for Sears to close it’s doors. I’m sad about that, and part of that is that it’s hard to know where to place the blame. Is it with the kid getting paid minimum wage to sell something he knows nothing about? Is it his manager? Is it her manager? Is it the board of directors pushing quantity over quality and putting profit margin ahead of product? I wish things were different. They are not.

If you’re going to sell tools, sell the right tools for the job and make them the very best tools you can afford to sell.

All hail the fallen king.



5 Comments Add yours

  1. Yep. You reap what you sow. We demanded cheap stuff and we got it. Now where does it get us?

    As an aside, I’m pretty sure B&D bought craftsman so I’m that’s got to be spinning your loyalty woes into a bind as well.


    1. Just about the time B&D started making their tools off-shore they also stopped ordering labels from the company my dad worked for. Perhaps, not unrelated, the label manufacturer began to struggle and a decade later my dad found himself out of work after 30 years of dedicated service.

      Our choices most definitely matter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ugh…a familiar tale unfortunately.


  2. Dan says:

    How does a quality mass market tool line stay viable in a world where we don’t fix things? It seemed the Craftsman wrench was the gold standard of the home mechanic, where a Snap-On wasn’t needed. Now? We don’t want to keep things, and we certainly don’t want to fix them.

    I suppose for some boys getting a gun, a car or a fishing rod was the entry point to be ing a man. For me it was a bright red toolbox. I was looking forward to taking may daughter shopping for one someday.


  3. alsatiannd says:

    Here’s Sears’s demise in one article. Short answer: master of the universe new owner, no merchandise experience, replaced teamwork with competition which resulted in fratricide: http://www.businessinsider.com/sears-failing-stores-closing-edward-lampert-bankruptcy-chances-2017-1


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