Woodworking tool snobbery

You read the title, you know it’s going to be good. Excuse me if I blow off some steam on what I consider a pet peeve.

I shouldn’t be surprised to see it so much, yet I am. The pure snobbery I see when a certain brand or store is mentioned. I think it’s one thing for someone to say they can’t afford to buy certain tools (Festool would be the prime example). But for someone to say that they can’t afford to buy a certain brand or from a certain store in the other direction?

Bullshit.

I watched a video today of a guy in Ethiopia building chairs with his feet. The man was turning on a lathe without using his hands. I’ve seen a similar display of skill making chess pieces with a bow lathe. A specific tool from a specific manufacturer has never made someone a better woodworker. Can a tool make the job easier, faster, or more enjoyable? Absolutely. Can a poor tool make someone give up more quickly, make the process harder, or come out with a worse result? Sure. I find it particularly humorous when someone claims that they couldn’t make so-and-so without their $5000 lathe. Okay, it’s fine to keep thinking that. You’re most likely wrong, but you’re entitled to that opinion.

It is in this vein where I find the hate I’ve seen toward Harbor Freight and Craftsman so amusing. To some, buying Taiwanese or Chinese-made products is a non-starter. Which, you know, I don’t have a particular problem with that. If someone wants to buy American (or whatever country you happen to reside in) to save jobs, great for them. Awesome. If you prefer the fine steel only known in the land of Sheffield, England, that’s not a problem. But don’t bash one importer (HF) then turn around and buy from another (Grizzly). Praise them for higher quality tools if you’d like, but not for saving jobs. Anyone can have preferences, and having them doesn’t mean you are wrong. It’s the fact that people will go out of their way to denigrate things, and do so repeatedly, that starts to irk me. From what their arguments entail, I don’t think they’ve ever used the tools they are putting down, they are doing it from what they’ve heard or what they expect.

That’s FUD. For those who are not aware with that that particular abbreviation means, here you go.

As consumers, we rely on other people often to tell us what is good, and what is bad, based on large part on personal experience. At some point, third-hand knowledge began to outpace first-hand knowledge. What starts out as ‘I don’t think…’ progresses into ‘I’ve heard…’ into ‘I can personally guarantee…’ and no one really knows what the truth is. Something gets a negative reputation, and it’s extremely difficult to shake, if not impossible. Combine that with a natural pride in owning nice and/or expensive tools, and you create a prime environment to bash cheaper options.

 

What we need to get back to, as a hobby/industry, is to get back to sharing first-hand experiences, and to try and do so dispassionately as possible. I’ve tried to do just that with my tool reviews. You will notice that I buy, own, and review some of what some people who fit in the above categories would consider ‘cheap’ tools. I take pride in that. This is a hobby for me. I work in a structure with no power, no air, no heat, and no furry woodland creature keeper-outers. I’m not likely to own and use a Festool track saw, and I think the overall tone of the blog here conveys that in a positive manner. I try to do my research on unknown purchases, and take comfort in brands that I’ve used and trust. There are some who put down Ryobi at every opportunity and praise Milwaukee up and down the street. Tough dichotomy for tools from the same parent company.

The other thing is, just because a certain name is on a product doesn’t mean it has any relation to the same name on another product. Just because one thing is good or bad doesn’t necessarily mean the same about the other. I’ve shared my disappointment in the Ryobi leaf blower, but love just about everything else I’ve tried. Same goes for a place like Harbor Freight, and in some respects applies so much more.

I think it’s fair to say the company has it’s fair share of ‘disposable’ tools. Need an odd size wrench for one time and then you won’t need it again? HF is the first place I’d look. Need to quickly and cheaply replace a tool for right then and there? Sure. Need a hammer to pound the ever-loving crap out of something? In a minute. But the mistake some people make is applying that across the board to all of their products. Most of the products they sell aren’t going to impress professionals, but how many of us are pros? I’ve had great success with the bandsaw they sell, and it has a motor and hasn’t fallen to pieces in the eighteen months I’ve owned it. No need to use the warranty, return it to the store, anything. Their biscuit joiner is serviceable. Nothing wrong with their air nailers or rubber air hoses. A wooden clamp is usually a wooden clamp. Their 9″ vise they had was awesome, as was their cordless LED work light.

Saying all of that, I appreciate the well-made, and more expensive tool as well. There shouldn’t be a one or the other mentality here. Your $500 Lie Nielsen jointer plane could reside in the same shop as your $80 Central Machinery compressor. Absolutely no reason it couldn’t, unless you’re trying to open up a museum. If you want to pay more for a tool that makes you feel better, that’s your prerogative. But it’s also my prerogative if I feel that spending less on what I consider an equivalent product is the smarter choice.

My point is, there’s enough HF review threads, blogs and websites out there that it’s your own fault if you buy something that’s truly a turd. No sympathy. And your continued arguments about how someone couldn’t do as good of a job, or that I don’t know what a quality tool is…it’s full of crap and so are you. My best advice to you is if you want to compensate for something, try a Corvette. A 20′ aircraft carrier jointer by some long extinct company in your backyard shop isn’t as impressive.

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