In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
The Temptations of a Tool Tightwad
Jan 11, 2009
I am drawn to cheap tools as a moth is drawn to a flame. Sometimes I get bargains, tools that perform well for a low price, and sometimes I waste my money on junk that is essentially chromed scrap metal.
For example, I'm happy and proud of the $15 mega-punches I bought through Northern Tool and Supply. Similar punches and pin drivers from Snap-on and Mac were in the $40 to $50 range. The first few times I used those 20-inch long punches with 3/8-inch and 1/2-inch tips I flinched in fear they'd shatter like glass. But they've proven durable and I now hammer on them with impunity.
I wasn't so lucky with a discount store set of screwdrivers. I hoped I could pick up a set of flat- and Phillips-head screwdrivers for use in the toolbox in my garage at home for $15, compared to, say, a $40 Klein-brand set of pro-quality screwdrivers. It only took a few stubborn Phillips-head screws to chew up the heads of the discount store screwdrivers, and I'm not very confident of the durability of the accompanying flat-blade drivers. I should have opted for the Kleins or an equivalent-quality set of screwdrivers.
A farmer -friend recently asked what sort of torque wrench he should buy for his farm shop. We discussed the various types of clicker torque wrenches and thei advantages/disadvantages of each style. Then it came to prices. I've got a discount tool catalog on my desk that offers a 1/2-inch drive clicker-style torque wrench for $19.99. Sears' online tool catalog lists their Craftsman 1/2-inch drive clicker torque wrench for $79.99, and an SK-brand micro-tooth, pro-quality 1/2-inch drive clicker for $291.00. We agreed that the $19.99 wrench was suspect, but that the $291 wrench was more than he needed for the occasional jobs he'd use it for. On the other hand, for $19.99 it might be worth trying the cheapest wrench--it might work fine for occasional duty in a farm shop, though I'm suspicious of how accurate it might be, let alone how durable.
The same goes for the $9.99 air impact hammer set that's advertised in a mail-order catalog I got last week. $9.99 for an air impact hammer including 5, "heavy duty chrome moly chisels"...? Folks, I paid more than $200 for the Snap-on air hammer I use at the dealership, and around $3 each for chisel bits. I'm just a little leery of the $9.99 tool--though it would be interesting to buy one and unleash it on some stubborn roll pins, just to see what would happen. I'd want to have on a good pair of safety glasses and thick leather gloves, however...
I'll continue to succumb to the temptation of cheapie tools. Every so often I end up with tools that truly are a bargain, with performance in excess of their cost. I'm also sure that the junk drawer in my tool box will continue to gain examples from the other end of the tool-quality spectrum, the ones that proved to be exactly as cheap as their price.