June 3, 2021

Tom's Tool Pages

A thought on cheap tools:
How many times have you said: "Dang, I wish I would have bought the cheap tool instead!"

And another:

Only the rich can afford cheap tools.

We stand at a unique point in time and history. American manufacturing is grinding to a halt and almost everything these days is made in China. Old and respected brand names are now used as marketing leverage to sell mediocre (or miserable) products manufactured "offshore" (i.e. in China).

Black and Decker fell hard many years ago. I wouldn't buy any Black and Decker products these days, but with care and luck, you can find fine tools they made in the good old days at yard sales. The frightening thing is that Black and Decker now owns fine brands like Delta, Porter-Cable, Dewalt, and others!

Bosch was once German quality, but now seems to have fallen in a few areas. Most new Bosch products are great, but some get bad reviews. Their good stuff is fantastic, and I watch some of their hammer drills get used hard day after day and hang in there.

Makita has a very good reputation, especially older Makita tools from the 80's and 90's. But the new stuff is not bad either. Consider:

Both drills weigh 9 pounds. The Makita has a 2.6 Ah battery, the Bosch has a 2.0 Ah battery. The price on the Bosch certainly is attractive by comparison. Both get good reviews.

I always confuse Ryobi and Makita for some reason. Ryobi is nothing special (to be kind). Makita can be quite good.

What about Harbor-Freight?

This is an interesting topic. Despite the silly names on some of the obviously Chinese or Indian made tools, this place makes no bones about selling cheap tools made offshore. You will rarely find a better deal, and many things they sell are perfectly adequate. Some things are excellent. A few things are junk. For a person who is not a tradesman using tools every day, many of their products are just fine. I am most skeptical of their power tools, but I have found that their angle grinders are holding up fine for me. I keep expecting them to burn out and then I plan to go buy a high end replacement -- but the first one just kept going and going -- so I bought another to avoid changing from a blade to a wire brush. The only tool I bought from them that was a total disappointment was their saws-all clone, but it was cheap and I suppose worth the gamble. I have a bunch of their C-clamps that I use all of the time. I avoid the fancy new ones with a quick adjust mechanism.

At least you know right up front you are buying cheap Chinese tools (or you should). To push this game up a notch, take a look at Grizzly tool. They sell some pretty good stuff, made in Taiwan, which can be excellent quite frankly, and better than most of what comes from mainland China.

Milwaukee M18 system

I just bought a "Hacksawzall" and it is a fine tool for an excellent price. It came in a kit with a 5 Ah XC series "red lithium" battery and charger for $240.

The Milwaukee M18 batteries are a surprisingly complex business. There are also M12 (12 volt) and perhaps M21 (21 volt) batteries, but we won't talk about those here. There are 3 main M18 battery size classes:

If you want to go nuts, get the HD 12.0 Ah battery, but it costs over $200.

They have also recently added "high output" batteries, built with 21700 cells rather than 18650 cells.

At some point I want a rotary hammer drill. I am warned to be a careful buyer. Low rates (like 5000, 7000) indicate a true rotary hammer, whereas higher rates are likely a hammer drill. I also want a drill to take SDS or better yet SDS plus drills. Maybe this one for $300 which specifies 4900 blows per minute No battery included for $300.

The weedeater saga

November 20, 2012

This week I was 3 for 3 on weedeaters (string trimmers).

First I pulled out my old Toro electric, only to find that someone else had put it away broken. For the money, it was a great trimmer, and only the bump mechanism has worn out from lots of use. It can be replaced or fixed, but it wasn't there when I needed it, so off I went to buy:

The second trimmer. A corded Black and Decker. Yes, I knew better, but I took the chance. It had two cords that tangled with each other and wrapped around the trim head stalling the motor. And it burned through line (with its automatic feed mechanism) like there was no tomorrow. I returned it the same day. A product I am proud not to own.

The third trimmer. This one was a gas fed (2-cycle) by Troy-Bilt. When it ran, it was amazing and tore through weeds like there was no tomorrow. But after turning it off, there was no getting it started again. And many reviews I read said that it was just not durable. Mine was getting very hot near the trim-head as described by others. Back it went (I am not one to be returning things, really I am not, but I bought it used, and they emphasized their 30 day return.) A tool like this needs to be there when I have a job to do, and two of us taking turns could not get it to start, even taking a break for lunch to give it a rest.

So, I had had enough -- and I was totally spoiled by a gas trimmer, so after reading reviews I shelled out the money for a commercial grade Echo SRM-225 gas trimmer for just over $200. I use this tool to clear weeds, not trim a manicured lawn. With proper care, I am expecting it to serve me well and last for the rest of my life. It is clearly a quality tool, and has a way to reload line that is pure genius. I was tempted by a well reviewed Hitachi trimmer, but decided to push one notch further and get the Echo. Husquavarna was a candidate, but a fellow who worked on a county road crew said that the year Husq got the bid, their machines did not stand up to daily use like the Echo and Stihl machines.

A friend I talked to about this told me his story of chain saws. After 3 or 4 cheap ones that let him down, he purchased a Stihl, and now it starts every time on the first or second pull and runs like a champ. The cost of those 3 or 4 cheap units would have bought the quality tool that would do a better job easier, and last longer than all of them put together.

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's Welding pages / tom@mmto.org