The Pros and Cons of Cheap Tools and Accessories

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We all like a good deal, but lately, there’s been a greater examination of the true price we pay for inexpensive items. On a global scale, you have works like Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. In a review over at Boing Boing describes Shell’s analysis:

[The cost of discount culture is] a low-quality food supply, a ruined economy, a polluted environment, low wages, a shoddy educational system, deserted town centres, ballooning personal debt, and the loss of craftsmanship.

Of course that last word caught my attention. Craftsmanship–it’s something we all value when building our woodworking projects or renovating our houses. But even people like us are not immune to “cheap creep.”

It creeps up on you when you are in the home-improvement store and you see a huge set of screwdrivers for cheap. Our columnist, Paul Rush, explores this phenomenon in his upcoming column in the Winter 2010 issue of Canadian Home Workshop. (Look for it in early December.) With his trademark dry wit, Paul tells how he pays the price for his love of bargans:

Stout screws laugh at cheap screwdrivers. When you are out on the deck with the biggest drivers from your 20-for-$2.99 package, bad things can happen: you stick your slotted screwdriver into a screw you want to remove and you twist to the left. And there is movement, except it is the metal shaft of the screwdriver turning in the plastic handle. The screw just sits there.

Recently, over at Professional Power Tool Guide, they ask “Are Cheap Power Tool Accessories Worth Buying?” I bet you can guess the answer:

If you have an inferior accessory, it can cause a lot of problems. First, the job might take longer because you are replacing blades or other accessories more often and in the long run this actually cost more. Another problem is putting more wear and tear on your power tools. Because the accessory is not working to its maximum capacity, the way a professional accessory should, the tool has to do more work, which means more heat, which means a shorter life of the tool.

So, that’s a lot of evidence against the cheap. Now here comes CHW’s Steve Maxwell with his own counter-intuitive observation. In an article appearing in our Winter 2010 issue, Steve dismantles a Milwaukee 18-volt drill ($300) and an 18-volt TMT drill ($90). Here’ s what he finds:

Cheap tools are getting better at a rate faster than the high-end ones, and you have to wonder where it’ll all stop. Sure, top-end tools are still clearly built better, but even the cheap ones are surprisingly good these days.

I guess the jury is still out. Where do you stand on cheap tools? I’d love to read your comments below.

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