There is a lot of talk these days about “sustainable” products and that got me thinking the other night about the sustainability of quality tools versus throwaway tools. Unlike many other segments of society, tools were made to be sustainable before the concept of sustainability was even created. Your parents and grandparents knew more about how to work in an environmentally friendly way than most give them credit for – and tools are a good example.
When you buy a cheap tool from a tool store that features imported, inexpensive products, you should be aware that they will not last. Certainly there have been tools manufactured overseas that have stood the test of time, but there are certain countries that make tools that are so incredibly cheap that they have flooded the market with them, the customers swarm all over them, it has put a bite on the traditional tool manufacturers, and has created a terrible problem with sustainability. There are so many reasons to stick with quality tools that its hard to find a good place to start, but I’m going to try, so lets begin with the overseas factory.
When you purchase a product that was manufactured overseas, depending on which country manufactured the tool, you have no idea of what the conditions were like as the tool was made. Your tool could have been produced by a 13 year old kid on an assembly line in a sweat shop. You have no idea of 1) what the conditions were like for the person who made your tool and 2) if you don’t care about the kids that are being forced to work in factories overseas, at least you should care about yourself enough to know that there can be serious safety issues when using a tool that is not reliably produced.
The cheap tool has a very strong chance of failing after only a few uses. What do you do when one of these tools falls apart? Throw it away, because they don’t make parts to repair cheap, imported tools. Lots of people who shop in the discount tool stores around this country know from experience how well their tools hold out. The professionals avoid those stores like the plague, but lots of homeowners and younger people decide to save money and try them out, since the discount places carry tools that are so incredibly cheap. Its too bad, because in the long run those cheap tools can carry a high price to be paid. The power tools will only last for a matter of months if they are used on any kind of a regular basis. Once they break, its over. The customer is left without a tool, without the money they put into the cheap tool, and the tool goes into the garbage or into the next garage sale to pawn off on someone who will end up putting it into the trash themselves. Because there is no fixing one of those cheapo tools when they go down.
All of the major tool manufacturers in the United States have created quality, sustainable tools for a long, long time. Companies like Milwaukee, Porter Cable, Makita, and Hitachi manufacture quality power tools, while Lisle, KD, SK, Snap-On, Knipex, Channelocks and a hundred other manufacturers create quality hand tools, and Ingersoll Rand, Chicago Pneumatic, and others create incredibly strong air tools. Yes, you’re going to pay 3 or 4 times or more the cost to purchase one of these quality tools, but then you are going to have a tool that will last for many, many years to come. Rather than a fly-by-night factory somewhere overseas, when you purchase a quality tool from one of the great tool manufacturers in the US, you’re going to be able to rely on their warranty, rely on their durability, and have wonderful sustainability.
When you have a quality tool, many times it will have a lifetime warranty. That means if you use the tool in a reasonable way you can count on the manufacturer backing up the tool with you if there is ever a problem with it’s use. Also, most of these reliable tools are made with replacement parts, so instead of throwing away the tool, you’re going to get it FIXED! Yes, fixing a tool is one of the things our forefathers always did and they kept their tools running for 30 or 40 or more years. Our store has a used tool section and its incredible the number of air and power tools we have coming in to sell that are still in terrific shape – even after 30 years.
If your power or air tool breaks down from one of the good manufacturers of quality tools, then you take the tool in to your local tool store to begin the process of figuring out how to get it working again. Your local tool store will usually carry switches, brushes and cords for the more popular brands, like Skil and Makita, for example. The first thing you do when your air or power tool quits working is to try and determine what has gone wrong. Is it just the cord? If so, you can easily replace that and in most tool stores they can replace it for you, if you don’t know how to do it yourself.
Back in the day, most of the men knew how to replace a cord, switch or brush on one of their tools. These days, with everyone wanting brand new all the time and not learning how to perform the simplest of repairs, a lot of younger people don’t pick up these skills. Ask the person behind the counter at your local tool store if they can show you how to replace a cord. If you or your tool store can’t get your tool going after a once over, then you can take it to a tool repair shop. Usually there is at least one tool repair business in each area and they will be set up with the major tool manufacturers to get the parts necessary to repair common tools.
In addition to all of the other risks, the major risk might be to your life. We have known a number of people to be injured and a few that were killed from using a cheap tool. A friend of ours was an addict and had spent years going in and out of rehab. Finally he was able to stay sober and had 2 years of complete sobriety under his belt. He had extensive dental work done and the dentist said he needed pain medication, which he declined. He said there was no way he could take the pain medication – it was too much of a risk. So he went through the dental work on only Novacaine and was getting through okay when his car broke down. He and his father got underneath the car to work on it and he was holding a part into place while his dad ratcheted on it. The ratchet, a shoddy import, broke through and his father accidentally hit him full on in the mouth during the follow through. It split open the stitching in his mouth and he had to go to the emergency room where they put him on pain medication, since he was now in horrible pain. He overdosed on the pain medication within 24 hours and was dead. Another man we knew used cheaply made jacks stands to hold up a mobile home he was working on. One of them broke and the mobile fell on him and killed him.
Tools are an important element to doing the job right the first time and staying safe while doing it. These days money may be harder to come by, but if you can afford it, get quality tools. The next time you think about getting a cheap tool at a place that specializes in discounts, think about whether you might be better off to spend more now to get exactly the right tool – a sustainable tool.