The One About Tools


We need to talk about a serious subject today.  It’s time to talk about tools!  

This is a subject that will enliven the animal spirits of many Tool Snobs.  They will probably disagree with me.  So be it!  Controversy is a good thing!  It brings out critical thinking and self reflection….both good tools to help you gain financial independence.  Along the way, we’re going to look at tool-related myths, and hopefully save you a ton of money.

 

[Note:  In today’s post I’ve included some affiliate links for tools.  I’m not actually suggesting you buy them…quite the opposite actually.  Read-on to find out more!]

 

Why Tools?

I don’t care if you’re a beginner, an avid do-it-yourselfer, or a professional; tools are required for every home project (and many professions).  Even if you rent your home, having a tool set is still a really good idea.  Tool usage is what sets us apart from the other animals and allows enables us to build and repair things.  Tools can save us ridiculous amounts of money, but they can also cost a lot… which leads us to Myth #1.  

 

Myth #1: The Price Problem

One of the biggest problems with tools is that they are expensive.  Sometimes very expensive.  There’s usually a very good reason for this.  Tools (in most cases) are built to be extremely durable.  Some can last years, with many hours of daily use.  

Frequently, better quality tools can even be repaired (which is rather unusual in our world of planned obsolescence)!  That extra durability and repairability has a cost, and it shows up as higher prices.  Is it worth the extra cost?  Sometimes it is!

The opposite end of the market is the very low-end tools.  These are the Harbor Freight tools you see advertised for ridiculously low prices.  Frequently these tools fall apart after one project, and are barely adequate to complete that project.  I consider these “disposable tools”.

tape measure
A deadly weapon.  This is a ‘free’ tape measure from Harbor Freight. I keep expecting it to explode any minute, like a hand grenade.
 
Where The Low End Works

At this point, most Tool Snobs will come out of the woodwork and say, “Don’t waste your time with low-end tools.  You’ll thank me for it later!”  Frequently, they are correct…but is there a place for low end tools?  Yes!  

Disposable tools are fantastic when you need that one special tool to complete your project, but will never need it again.  It won’t matter if it breaks, as long as you can get the job done.  This is a good strategy for tools that are unitaskers (tools with one very specific purpose and not a general use tool).

In general, I despise waste.  Tools that break after one use are doing just that; creating waste and filling up the landfill.  I would never suggest that most of your tools be these disposable kind.  Frankly, that’s a waste of planetary resources.  There must be a better way…

jigsaw
My Jigsaw. Ryobi is one of my favorite low-end tool makers. They are surprisingly reliable despite the cost (but low on features). This one cost me $40.

 

Paying Less for More

At this point, the Tool Snob says, “Just go buy the good quality tool.  Use it for your project, and then sell it on Craigslist.”  

Well thank you Mr. Tool Snob, I agree with you!  Buy quality tools you’ll be using all the time… but be on the receiving end of that deal!  Buy used, good quality tools.  

Just like cars, once a tool has been used, it loses significant value.  You can find them for cheaper than retail prices, yet they work like new!  Here are some of my favorite places to look for quality used tools:

  • Look on Craigslist.  Good quality tools will last a very long time, and I frequently see them sold on Craigslist after just one use.  Prices are all over the map, so shop carefully.  
makita planer
My Makita planer. This cost me $53 off Craigslist. Normally, this tool sells for $149.

 

  • Hunt at Garage sales and Estate sales.  Both are great places to find used good quality tools.  After a few years of sitting in the garage, tools are often sold at very good prices.  
  • Check out the ReStores.  Habitat For Humanity ReStores often has tools at pretty low prices.  Habitat For Humanity is a good cause too!  If there’s one near you, check it out!  
  • Thrift Stores!  Thrift Stores occasionally have great tool bargains.  I picked up this corded drill for $7.99 from the thrift store. Works great and has lots of power!
thrift store drill
My corded drill from the thrift store. Price tag is still on it. $7.99. I keep the price tag on there as a badge of frugal honor.

 

  • Amazon.  That bastion of consumerism (Amazon) also sells used tools!  Just do a quick search for some of the more popular tools, and you’ll see listings for used tools.  I can’t vouch for the prices, but Amazon can’t be beat for convenience!

 

Free Is Even Better

Paying less than retail for your tools is fantastic, and it will save you significant money for financial independence!  That’s a great start, but there’s a whole other level to aspire to: Free. 

You probably think I’m joking…”Free tools, yeah right Mr. Tako!”  I’m serious!  Why buy tools at all if you can get them for free?  There’s several ways to do it:

  • Tool Libraries.  That’s right, there are libraries for tools!!  If you live in a large or even moderately large city,there is probably a tool library near you!  Reduce unnecessary consumption and borrow tools.  LocalTools.org has a online directory to help you find local tool libraries.  There are 5 or 6 in my area!
  • Borrow.  The best way to borrow tools is from a “tool collector” who has five of everything.  They usually don’t mind sharing.  Sometimes they even let you just keep the tool! That’s how I got my router and cordless drill.  Both free!

makita_drill  router

 

  • Find tools that need a new home.  Freecycle or the BuyNothing Project occasionally have tools offered for free.  That’s how I received my Black and Decker  7 1/4″ Quantum Circular Saw, with 60 tooth Ultra Finish Blade.
My circular saw from the Buy Nothing Project.  $0.
My circular saw from the Buy Nothing Project. $0.  The saw blade alone is worth nearly $20

 

  • Gifts.  People occasionally want to buy you gifts for the holidays, birthdays or special occasions.  Let them know you want tools!  Usually people are more than happy to give them to you (if the price is reasonable).
calipers
Calipers given to me as a birthday gift. My new favorite tool. This iGaging calipers normally sells for $40. That’s WAY cheaper than a Mitutoyo, but seems to work just as good.

 

Myth #2: The Right Tool For the Job

There’s another myth about tools I hear commonly thrown about:  “Using the proper tool can get the job done right”.  In theory this sounds really good.  Even the famous Mr. Money Mustache has repeated this myth.  

Unfortunately, unlike Mr. Mustache, we don’t make $400,000k/year.  We can’t afford to go out and buy the exact tool to get the job done. We often have to work with what we have.  Thankfully, there is usually a dozen different ways to complete any project.  

Here’s an example:  You’re building a table and need to cut a ‘2×4’.  The board needs to be cut to length, and be cut square.  What’s the right tool for this job?  Mr. Tako’s answer is:  There isn’t a right tool for the job!  Your skill with the tool is more important than which tool you use.  Any number of hand saws, table saws, dremel tool, jig saws, router, circular saw, or even a chainsaw could be used to complete this task.

Sure, some tools will reduce the skill required with fancy guides, lasers, and robotic assists….but they’ll cost you!  Saving money by doing things yourself is all about building up the skills to save yourself money.  

Pick the tool that fits your budget and your disposition (not everyone is patient enough for a hand saw), then build your skill with that tool.  Once you’ve leveled-up, you can use that tool for many jobs.  Now that’s the “right tool for the job“.

dremel
Dremel Tools can do nearly anything (like a small router). Most Tool Snobs would say, “They’re never the right tool for the job.”
 
Myth #3: Get The Right Brand Of Tool

Brand loyalty is fierce among tool users.  Egos are out in force if you declare one tool superior to another.  The myth here is that some brands (with the right color scheme) will be reliable, durable, and outperform other brands.  The reality is that once you get to a certain quality level, they’re all built with fairly common components in an asian factory.  Sometimes even the same asian factory!

All brands have similar quality control checks in their manufacturing process.  Unless a manufacturer skimps on their QA process, none of the major brands is truly going to be less defective than another. There will always be a few duds in the manufacturing process, but manufacturers don’t share those numbers.

The variations found between tool brands typically comes down to where they spend their money.  Do they spend your dollars on flashy marketing campaigns?  Do they invest in longer warranties?  How bad is their customer service?  Is the product repairable?  Do they over engineer the product?

Ultimately, don’t worry about trying to determine what ‘brand’ of tools you should own.  Your sample size (a sample size of 1) is statistically insignificant and error prone.  There’s no way you can correctly evaluate a entire brand of tools based upon a single sample.  If you purchased a drill and got a working reliable tool, you might say “the brand was fantastic”.  If the inverse happened and you got the lemon, you might be inclined to say “the brand was inferior”.  Either way, with a sample size of one, you can’t really tell!

 

Inspired?

I hope I’ve inspired at least one of you to go out and build something despite your frugality or lack of funds.  Don’t let the tools be a barrier to building your skills and self reliance.  The world is filled with abundance, and tools are no exception.  There are tools everywhere that need a new home. Many just need a little love in order to work for a lifetime.  Go adopt one today and make the world a better place!

 

Are you a Tool Snob?  What’s your favorite tool?

5 thoughts on “The One About Tools

  • March 20, 2016 at 4:02 AM
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    As someone that does a lot of remodeling on my rentals, I can say a good tool can save you more than the tool costs. I buy a ton of tools, mostly higher end, as I use them a lot. There is a place for low-end tools too, as you have said.

    Sometimes, my low end tools work out to be around for a long time.

    Reply
    • March 20, 2016 at 3:21 PM
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      It’s amazing how long some of those cheap tools last. I have a couple ryobi tools that have lasted more than 15 years!

      Not bad for some of the cheapest around!

      Reply
  • March 20, 2016 at 1:51 PM
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    Great post, as usual, Mr. Tako! Unrepentant tool snob here. I love your points about how a good tool performs multiple functions and how cheap tools have their place. (Why anyone buys expensive paint brushes or drop cloths, for example, is beyond me.) I also have an obsession with early/mid-20th century, pre-electric tools manufactured from high-quality American steel that are just more resilient and long-lasting, although they have a learning curve: Stanley planes, augurs, drawknives, Disston saws, Miller Falls eggbeater drills, etc. You can make a decent side-hustle picking these things up at estate sales, cleaning/derusting them, and selling them on eBay or at a tool meetup, but I like using them as they’re intended. I used to not give a hoot about tools, honestly, until I read Matthew Crawford’s book “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” which (no joke) changed my life and emboldened me to DIY everything from car repair to plumbing.

    Reply
    • March 20, 2016 at 3:19 PM
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      Thanks Thrifthounds! Tools are the great enabler for DIY!

      I’ll definitely check out that book.

      Reply
  • July 29, 2017 at 1:47 AM
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    I have the makita planer. It’s well made, solid and good ergonomics. It’s pretty okay for me but don’t expect to plane wide boards perfectly with this planer. It would be better if it came with a hose connection.

    Reply

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