Looking back on tools I purchased in 2008, I am reminded once again that cheap and simple are sometimes better than exotic and expensive. The tools that I bought and am most satisfied with are uniformly low-cost, durable and functional. The pricey tools that blinded me with flash and potential ended up at the bottom of my toolbox.
"Winner" tools purchased this year include two big, long punches (drifts, for any European viewers). They're both around 14 inches long with 1-inch or larger shafts. One has a 3/8-inch round tip, the other has a 1/4- by 3/4-inch oval tip. Both have proven invaluable for getting deep inside gearcases or into remote locations to beat the living daylights out of stubborn components. The oval-tipped punch is especially handy for catching the edge of bearing races or seals that need to be knocked out of remote locations. Cost of each of these oft-used "persuaders" was in the $40 to $60 range, but they've been well worth it.
It didn't feel cheap, but a $95 pry bar is also on my "winner" list of economical tools. I've got a full rack of 10-inch through 48-inch screwdriver-type pry bars, but fell in love when a tool vendor showed me a 6-footer made by Mayhew. At first I was cautious about putting too much pressure on it's 1-inch by 1-inch shaft, but learned that it will handle everything I can put on it, and more. Plus, it has a life-time guarantee. I've moved, pryed, levered and shifted some pretty big stuff with that bar--it's definitely reduced the number of times I've had to bother co-workers to help me manhandle heavy or awkward components.
On the "loser" side of my tool purchases for 2008 are a battery-powered screwdriver and a 12-volt cable winch. Both are fine tools, well-made and probably handier than all get out, but they just haven't been as useful as I hoped. I don't have to deal with lots of screws--just one or two to remove a panel, then I'm reaching for wrenches or other tools and moving on to larger parts. It always seems easier and faster to grab a good ol' screwdriver than to dig out the battery-powered screwdriver, select the right bit, and then remove a couple screws. Maybe if I did more automotive work, on dashboards and things that have lots of Phillips, flat and Torx-head screws, I'd use it more often.
The 12-volt cable winch looked like a great alternative to using a lever-action cable puller (we call them "come-alongs"), but it hasn't proved as handy as I hoped. By the time I get the somewhat heavy winch connected to whatever I want to pull, then find a 12-volt power source and route the power cables to the puller---I could have had the job finished with a conventional come-along. Maybe someday I'll find a situation where the power winch is handy and saves me all sorts of trouble. But for now, it's one of the dustiest tools in my tool chest.
The biggest, and most expensive "tool" I purchased this year has fortunately proven to be a "winner." I saved for a long time to buy a Miller Bobcat 250 generator/welder, and am relieved that it has done all I hoped, and more. After getting by with a 5000-watt generator to power a small 120-volt wire welder in my service truck, it has been wonderful to have 10,000 watts of generating capacity and near nuclear-fission amperage for welding. I can now run my air compressor at the same time I use 120-volt grinders and lights. I can weld thick steel with confidence. And last week, when there was a forecast for severe ice storms in this area, that gas-powered welder/generator was sitting beside my house in case the electricity went off, ready to plug into a recently installed service cut-out switch. (That last features sure made it easier to justify the welder/generator's cost to my wife...)