What’s In A Tool? A Case For Made In USA.

A lot of people make the argument that you can’t go wrong buying a tool made in USA, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, etc. They swear that any Chinese tool will be garbage and it’s not worth purchasing them. Now, any discerning mind will say, “Wait a minute, why? China has a huge economy, experienced people, and the ability to use all the scary chemicals that make the best steel. Why would their tools be any better or worse than ours?” It’s a very valid argument. There are lots of Chinese tools that are the best in the world. Most of what we see in our stores are not. So what is the difference. Why does a country who can make the best tools not make the best tools? Surely it isn’t purely cost cutting. Is it cultural? The opinion I wish to put forth is that it’s a matter of design intent communication.

I’ve worked as an engineer in industry. The one common thread between a quality product and a bad product has always been this, ”Is the person who designed the product involved in making the product?” If the person or peoples who imbued the design intent into the original product are actively involved in and working towards the execution of that product, that product has a vastly greater chance of being good. Or in other words: outsourcing doesn’t produce a bad product because the new people making the product don’t care. It makes a bad product because the people who understand the intent behind the product are separated from its execution.

As you can see the export made crescent wrench is not made to the same tolerances as the previous wrench.
As you can see the export made crescent wrench is not made to the same tolerances as the previous wrench.

Let’s take the Crescent wrench as an example. Crescent wrenches used to be made in USA. In the past few years they have begun to make them in China. We can spot many visual differences right away. The new Crescent wrench has a different shape, the logo has changed and the stamping for the logo is dodgy, and worse, the tool just doesn’t operate as well as it used to. The jaws aren’t as hard and they wiggle more. What happened? How could Crescent mess up their flagship so badly. Surely they intended just to cut costs, not to reduce quality. This isn’t shameful in itself

What happened to the Crescent wrench is easily explained by anyone who has seen a product from design to execution before. A factory in the USA set out to make a good adjustable wrench. Hundreds of engineers and employees worked in a building to make a good wrench. When their machines didn’t work, they came up with solutions. When their quality was lacking, they implemented better processes. They had a list of trusted suppliers. They could guarantee that the materials that came in would be imbued with their vision and intent when the product came out. The intent and will of all those people built up in one place over time.

Lowe quality finish and forging can be seen.
Low quality finish and forging can be seen. A higher grit sandblast means less finishing was needed before the sandblasting step. Note the clarity of the logo. One is cast and one is stamped. The stamping of a logo was an extra step, and while casting it ensures that some damage to the logo will occur during the forging and sandblasting steps; it reduces cost.

When Crescent changed manufacturers we can easily predict the mistakes made. “Hey, since we’re switching suppliers lets change up the design a bit, it’s stale.” So they hired a designer. “Hey, the logo is old, let’s put in a new one.” So they made another small change. “Oh, the supplier got back to us and said new forge tooling would be a couple million dollars, but if we modified one of the shapes they have in stock we can save half that!” Good job Jenkins, you did the company well. Small changes and negotiations like this lose sight of the design intent that the wrench started with. These mistakes are usually not evil, they’re just lacking in a philosophical understanding of the product and what went into it all these years. They lose all that combined will and intent by mistake and innocent neglect.

I would like to point out that the same thing could happen to a product that is simply around too long. Many of Starret’s top-of-the-line dial calipers now use a plastic dial ring instead of a metal one. It’s weaker and worse, and while it has no real impact on the instrument’s ability to measure, it feels worse in the hand. This is an example of a company not communicating its intent to itself over time. Shifting the goals for a product because they weren’t explained properly. I doubt anyone over there set out to make a worse product, they just saw a good way to save money. Losing the value for the things that made the product great.

It’s sort of like that one broken window. An abandoned neighborhood and factory will stay unmolested for years until the first window is broken. The rest soon follow and the place falls into disarray.

The addition of gimmick features are often a good indicator of a quality drop. A scale on a wrench is next to useless in its common operation.
The addition of gimmick features are often a good indicator of a quality drop. A scale on an adjustable wrench is next to useless in its common operation. The advertised larger thumb-wheel in us makes the wrench easier to knock out of adjustment than helps the user put it into adjustment. Also, the jaws have increased in thickness, making previously accessible bolts unaccessible. Thin jaws are one of the features of a properly forged and tempered wrench. My bruised knuckles are a testament to this.

So, using this knowledge can you learn anything about a product’s quality just by reading it’s description? Well, mostly yes. I’m sorry that I can’t make this more scientific for you, but some of it revolves around developing a good intuition. Seeing how much of a product’s design intent made it into the product description is a good way. Apple is great at this. Apple talks about the materials, the circuitry, the processes, and the design intent of every product they make. It shows in the final product. No one can argue that apple’s products aren’t beautiful. That they aren’t wonderfully made. Whether or not the OS is good or whether it’s “the best.” — maybe. Now if you look at a competitor’s product, say a cheap HiQ from Shenzhen. You read about what the product can do, what it’s price is, but not its intent.

You can do this with screwdrivers too. Let’s compare Harbor Freight and Snap-On. Two tool makers in wildly different classes of quality.

You can see the company’s pride in their product. Pittsburgh says “It’s a screw driver made of the regular stuff that’s cheap.” That’s their design intent.  Nothing wrong with that, but the intent was price not screw turning. Snap-On, however, says “This is why we did the things we did, this is what makes ours the best” Their intent was a device that turns screws. You can get a sense for the intent everyone shares for making a good screw driver, and it shows in their product.

Note how harbor freight mentions what the tool does and snap-on mentions why it does its function better.
Note how harbor freight mentions what the tool does and snap-on mentions why it does its function better.

I’d like to close by pointing out Chinese companies that do make some nice stuff. All those Harbor Freight, Princess Auto, etc milling machines for sale are actually knock-offs of a Chinese company called Rong Fu. Their mills are pretty dang good because the company’s design intent is close to its production. Likewise they have the higher price to match. Although I’ve heard, somewhat ironically, that Rong Fu outsourced their castings from the original Taiwan shop and moved to mainland China, seeing a quality drop along the way. I should also mention the venerable Rigol, whose oscilloscopes we all know and love. They have their own slew of knock-offs made in their own country, but no one can argue that their scopes aren’t wonderful. Lastly I’d like to mention a US company that outsources successfully: SawStop. While their machines are made in Taiwan, they specifically set up shop there and went through the trouble of installing engineers, managers, etc. on site to make sure the design intent of the product comes though.

So next time you buy a tool. Check where it was made and ask yourself. Are the people who understand this tool’s intent involved in the making of the tool. It’s not about their facilities. Someone who never 3d prints can’t make a good printer. A company that makes measuring tapes, but has no one who uses measuring tapes employed isn’t going to make a good product. They are only going to be good at the process of making measuring tapes.  The more steps a company can bring under the control of those with the intent the better a product will be. Is their pride mentioned in the packaging? Can I tell from the precision that it’s made with? Can I compare it to something lesser and something more? This is the best way to increase your chances of a good buy. Intent is what makes a good product, not a country, everything else is just melted rocks and dinosaurs that came along for the ride.

253 thoughts on “What’s In A Tool? A Case For Made In USA.

  1. Good Chinese stuff is good, as this article pointed out. But it costs more. Their 3rd rate stuff ends up in our Dollar stores and similar places. And then people complain about the Chinese quality … why did you buy it then? :) I was recently fixing some illuminators for bio experiments, made in USA. They had very poorly designed lamp bases, making contacts in only 2 points along the lamp pin diameter, like this |o|, yet passing 8 A. Eventually that small contact area burns out, and then filing the contacts to remove the burns is the only temp fix. Eventually I had to order new lamp sockets. Yet those illuminators, which are essentially high powered bulbs with lens and triac, cost more than $500.

    1. Junk is junk, no matter where it’s made. I think the issue a lot of people have is that the good quality stuff just isn’t available off the shelf anymore, all you get is the cheapo crap. Most of it happens to come from China, probably because most of everything comes from China these days.

      1. things seem to come in two flavors these days, ridiculously expensive or dirt cheap. if you buy dirt cheap you probably get junk, if you buy expensive you get quality or you just get junk with more marketing wank

        1. In general, if you’re not using a tool very often or just once or twice, “cheap” is the the way to go. If you plan on using it often, then selecting quality is the better way to go. But quality isn’t always related to price.

          Two general points on the article, though.

          First, there’s a large feedback loop between design and manufacture that needs to be closed. The designers learn what can be done efficiently in a factory at a reasonable price and can often tweak the design to make the overall product better. When the factory is run halfway around the world by another company that loop gets broken. I work with designers in China and no matter how good they are we can only get in about a meeting a day simply because of the time differences. Things that get done over a quick series of calls in a day in the Western hemisphere wind up taking more than a week when you increase the latency of the loop by 10 time zones. At some point you just become frustrated with the delays and management screams “SCHEDULE!!!!” and you just have to give up.

          Secondly, there’s a general culture in Chinese manufacturers of delivering very good initial products as the first samples tend to be done very carefully by the better employees. By the time you hit full production a year or two later, corners have been cut to maximize product margins and the quality has dropped. It takes a lot of attention by the original designers to keep the product quality high. And let’s be honest, given the number of contractors and job hoppers used by companies these days, it’s not terribly common for the actual design engineer to be on the project or even at the company by the time the design hits production.

          1. On your first point – easily fixed. Have your people work the same shifts. If one of them has to be the graveyard shift, so be it, but everyone is in their office simultaneously – you need a quick call to fix something, the person is there to answer the phone.

          2. Sometimes cheap tools really are what you need. I get many of my bicycle tools from Daiso (the Japanese 100-yen store, which is a $1.50 store in the US.) They’re probably made in China, not very durable, but they’re very light-weight, so I don’t mind carrying them around, and they’re very cheap, so I don’t mind losing them (which usually happens to bike tools you carry around with you, either from theft or just getting lost.) Good enough to fix the bike on the road and get me home.

          3. You can’t just say “have them work the same shifts,” because it’s seldom that someone is tasked with just the one job.

            In one of my stints in. Software product support we had a customer in Seoul I was in Massachusetts. I was responsible for supporting a lot more than that one customer. But every week I had to say in the office until 10:30 PM to handle status reports to that one project customer. All the other customers needed support as well. And *they* were mostly within 3 or 4 time zones. Oddly enough, customers I was supporting in the UK, France ang Germany had *their* project people work outside their own office hours for status calls

      2. This. And since more and more shopping is done online thanks to free (kind of) two day shipping there is no opportunity to do more than read a description and maybe glance at an image that may or may not be the actual product. By the time you get to inspect the product you’ve already bought it and it’s just not worth the hassle to return low priced items.

        The truth is that those higher priced quality items often carry a premium far beyond the difference in cost to produce the item. That means there should be a product out there that has the same quality but isn’t adding a higher markup as well.

    2. Ruskin said (Excuse the paraphrase): Quality requires its price. While it is unwise to pay too much, it is also unwise to pay too little. For when you pay too much, all you lose is money, when you pay too little, the item may not do the job. So you may need to set aside monies to fix what results.
      The blame also rests with the American consumer. Voting with their dollars has eliminated choice. Only in recent years has there been a uptick in “made in” interest.
      I fear that is now that interest is almost too late. I am an Engineer with what now is rare, I also have a Journeyman’s license from the State as a Tool & Diemaker. While re-establishing apprenticeship programs throughout industry may seem as a complete solution, one vital component is missing. I served my apprenticeship at Schage Lock with 43 Journeyman. All had something to teach, even if the lessen was how NOT to do something. An apprenticeship program without multiple such teachers is hollow. Politicians that need a soundbite are the only ones that benefit from such programs. “See I signed a bill to fix nearly everything!”
      There is a reason for the lack of Engineers and skilled tradesmen,as Woodward & Bernstein said: “Follow the money” Most audio research came about in the pre-1950 era. The money is now in marketing and money shape-shifting.
      I am hoping to be proven wrong, and USA will rise again like a Phoenix from the ashes.

  2. Excellent article, a spot on with my own experiences.
    I have a friend who worked for a local manufacturing company that was shutting down local operations and moving to outsourcing. He was part of the engineering team sent over to get things going. During this transition, the company was still producing parts here in the US, but intentionally pricing them at 3 times the price of the outsourced parts as they wanted to discontinue all domestic manufacturing. Customers refused to buy the outsourced parts and instead willingly paid 3 times the value of the US made parts because the quality was not only higher, it was also consistent. The outsourced parts just didn’t have the manufacturing controls in place to put parts out at the original quality level, no matter who they sent over. The company eventually decided to keep the local plant going.

    1. I know someone who worked for a manufacturing company and they tried to use Chinese castings because the bean counter said it would save money.
      Most of the imported castings had issues and needed extensive machine work and some where out right junk.
      They eventually went back to a US supplier as the QC issues on the bad castings ended up costing them more money in the long run and was hurting their reputation.

    2. Sounds like a very sound operating procedure, the customer will first buy the cheap tool. Find that it is lacking and then buy the expensive tool. Resulting in a total outlay of 4 times the product cost per customer, a profit margin of more than fifty percent.

      The old story here is how to sell rockmellons, take the all the rockmellons in the shop and chop them into rough halves, with the good side on the smaller portion.

      Label the large peices bulk value! and label the small peices as premium quality!. In both instances the unit cost is above that of the whole rockmellon so the vendor laughs all the way to the bank.

      1. But there you’ve done value-adding labor by going through the trouble of separating the blemished halves from the nice ones.

        Unless you’re some fruit ninja master cling-wrapper, going through boxes of rockmelons and re-packaging them is easily hours of work. Even on a production line, if your person earns $10 per hour and processes 10 kilos per minute, that’s adding roughly 2 cents a kilo to the raw cost/value of the product. If you do it in the shop back room, that’s easily 20 cents a kilo because you don’t have the same economy of scale.

        So I don’t know who’s laughing all the way to the bank. An idiot perhaps?

          1. When I was 15 I did exactly that. Chopping up cabbages into halves and quarters in the back room and then rolling them in cling wrap and sticking a price label on top before putting them on display.

            The “theory” only works if you don’t count the labor-time required to chop and sort the melons. Once you do count that in, it’s easy to see why the “premium” halves have to be priced higher in order for the whole scheme to work in the first place.

            And you also have the trouble that people tend to not buy the melons with blemishes, picking the best off the pile and leaving the rest until they rot, and they’re often not interested in buying a whole melon in the first place, so you’re left with lots of waste and loss if you don’t chop them up. That means the price of the “premium” halves has to also cover the loss you make on the “regular” halves.

    3. I knew people who used silicon gaskets in pneumatics products. At some point someone decided they should by cheaper gaskets instead. The new gaskets pretty much always had molding flashing requiring trimming down, sanding (with an extreme fine grit) and cleaning. Even with that they only worked now and then, mostly due to leaks (pneumatics is often very sensitive to leaks due to the compressibility of air).

    4. Be happy that the company listened to how its customers voted for quality with their wallets. That isn’t always the case. Before IBM became “market driven” it sold a large plasma display & keyboard unit that could act as four 25 line x 80 column terminals at once, and display all the content at once. It had some success in customer service and insurance applications, but was most popular in computer and network operations centers. It was very expensive, more than 4 times the price of one terminal, yet often the operation center control console furniture was custom designed around them.

      My understanding is that when, six years after its introduction, the manufacturing acquisition cost for the device’s large plasma display went up, rather than raise the selling price, IBM withdrew the product from marketing. It appears that IBM did this without asking its biggest and most loyal data center customers whether or not they would pay more. They would have paid twice as much, but I am afraid that nobody asked.

  3. No argument here. But, what is really the purpose of out sourcing? Answer: maximize profit.
    Why? Unfortunately, “business” as we know it, has boiled down to making a profit for the stockholders (some/many are not even people, but other corporations). It’s the fiduciary responsibility of the company board and management. To some degree, if the quality goes down far enough effecting profit, the board/management will take notice. What they do next…

    1. Naw it is just “making Profit”. if sales fall the bean counters just reduce the price and related costs. Have you ever heard of the CEO taking a salary reduction because sales fell?

      1. That’s what I was implying, they won’t improve quality if it requires reducing profit. If the quality impacts profit enough they’ll liquidate the asset and take a golden parachute.

      2. Finally if the sales keep falling, the CEO and board decide to sell the entire company to the largest competitor and pay themselves a big bonus for jumping off a sinking ship.

        Then there’s a merger, the newly redundant workers are laid off and the equipment sold on the cheap to the Chinese, who set up another contract factory to make the same parts with export subsidies from the Chinese government. The liquidization of the company largely covers the cost of the merger and the aquired patents and IP cover the rest.

        The merged company then outsources the parts from the newly set up Chinese factory and sells the stuff as its own products. The CEO of the previous company also happens to be a large shareholder of the newly made company through his involvement in a holding company which owns a company, which actually owned the competitor prior to the merger so he in turn technically had part-ownership of both companies.

        1. So the moral of the story is that company A was deliberately run down in order to sell it to company B and set up a third company C with factories in China to make parts for the newly made company AB to avoid public accusations towards company A or B over uprooting factories and sacking workers in search of better profits. In reality, all the companies A, B and C are controlled by the same group of people.

          The reason why this is done is because governments and unions start to cry foul when a large corporation shuts down a perfectly profitable factory, because they want to move it somewhere it would be even more profitable. Hence, they put the bean counters to fuck up the process and confuse the middle management until the bird is cooked.

          See: how Microsoft bought Nokia and what happened then.

        2. Many miss the end point, Dax… export your manufacturing (and the associated R & D), and you also export your future National Security. The PRC has planned to destroy us from around the start of the Korean War. Look online for a little plan called “The Assassin’s Mace”. The Wall Street bimbos who help orchestrate this export of our industrial might are also, in the long run, guilty of treason.

      3. “Have you ever heard of the CEO taking a salary reduction because sales fell?”
        The CEO of Nintendo took a 50% pay cut in two different years so that Nintendo workers could keep their jobs.

    2. This isn’t even really “business”‘s fault. It’s a decision, one made by the owners of a company. If you want to blame someone or something, blame the humans who choose greed over integrity.

    1. If you ask a Taiwanese person if they are Chinese they will answer yes, if you ask them what country they are from they will answer Taiwan or the Republic of China. They might also add that they are not from the Peoples Republic of China (the one most Americans would refer to as simply China).

      To make things more complicated, as someone else already pointed out, PRC doesn’t acknowledge the sovereignty of RoC, though it is certainly respected internationally. Thankfully for us, both sides agree their bitter feelings can be put aside for business.

      This isn’t hair splitting, nor is it totally unique. For example when doing business with a Welshman, you would want to understand the difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom, before you make an embarrassing mistake.

      1. This is not true.

        I know lots of Taiwanese, and they will go so far as to correct someone if they are referred to as “Chinese”… “I’m not Chinese, I’m Taiwanese” or something like that.

        These are students, housewives, etc, and all are basically politically apathetic… When they say that, they’re not making a political statement, they’re merely correcting them, but it’s pretty clear that many Taiwanese have a self-identity that’s rooted in Taiwan, and not in “China.”

        1. I have been told by a Taiwanese doctor that people on Taiwan separate themselves into “native Taiwanese” and “mainland” groups (i.e. the mainland ROC Chinese that emigrated to Taiwan when they lost to the communist). He told me that the native Taiwanese resent the mainlanders who took over the government of their island, and that the doctors in these two groups who were, at the time in 1974, medical residents at a large U.S. hospital did not socialize with each other.
          Apparently, non-political Chinese people from Taiwan identify themselves as “Taiwanese” if they belong to a family that was living on Taiwan before 1949 (i.e., before the newcomer mainland Republic of China people fled to Taiwan after the communist took over the mainland).

      2. The government of Taiwan is the government of China in exile. Chiang Kai-shek took the government of the Republic of China there while Mao Tse Tung and his Communists were taking over.

      3. There are TWO major ethnic groups on the island (Taiwan, Formosa). The ‘native’ Taiwanese, who are descended from Han Chinese people who came to the island centuries ago, speak a language which is in the Chinese family but is not Mandarin or Cantonese. They have at various times been influenced by China, Japan, and even Portugal for a while, but have always had their own identity. Ask one of them if they are ‘Chinese’ and they will definitely answer no. They are the majority of the population, these ‘Taiwanese Taiwanese’ but not of the ‘elite’ classes.

        The other group are ‘Chinese’, they are the descendants of the people who came over with Jiang in 1949. They speak Mandarin. If you ask them ‘are you Chinese’ they will say yes. They generally agree that Taiwan is part of China, although they may doubt the authority of the Maoists or their successors to rule any of it. They are not the majority of the population, but most of the people who run the place are Chinese Taiwanese.

        The two groups are not separate, they live on a small island after all, there is intermarriage and everything, but they are distinct and their political parties are aligned along this division.

        Of course the real ‘aboriginal’ Taiwanese speak a totally different language that is not in the Chinese family, and are of Austronesian ancestry rather than Han, but there aren’t that many of them. There are other ethnic groups such as Hakka also. But the main players are the ‘native Taiwanese’ and the ‘Chinese Taiwanese’.

  4. Sure there are various tiers in hand tools and you get what you pay for, but in general the Chinese do not have a good reputation in high tolerance manufacturing and seem content to produce lower quality items in several domains. I know a shop that designs and builds specialized industrial controllers that has one employee dedicated to remachining valve components sourced from China. The thing was not all of them were bad, but a sufficient number of them were that this was better than dealing with rejects out of the box. When I asked (I was there as a consultant on another matter) why just not by quality valves from some other source, I was told that for this class of component, the Chinese had undercut everyone to the point where these lines had been dropped by other suppliers. While better ones could be found, they were far more expensive which would drive the unit costs higher than the contract price for the final assembly. Nor is this unusual, it has become a common occurrence in some sectors now as medium quality components are being driven out of the market by stuff that nominally meets standards but with too wide a variation in tolerance.

    1. >” the Chinese had undercut everyone to the point where these lines had been dropped by other suppliers.”

      The Chinese have various state level subsidies for export companies, which sell more than 90% of their product abroad from China. They don’t use what they make themselves, as a form or protectionism but also as a form of exploitation because the companies that make products for their domestic markets are more expensive.

      In other words, the government collects taxes from the population, gives some to a company that sells products overseas to help undercut its competition, and then reaps the profits because the goverment officals usually sit in the board of the company, if it’s not a directly state owned company in the first place.

  5. Not sure if people in the US know this. Here in Spain, we call the adjustable wrench “Llave Inglesa” (English Wrench). I’d always wondered why until someone told me: In Spain we use metric, back in the days, when we were trying to disasseble some imported device from UK or US, we tried all the metric wrenches around the expected size, and after realizing none would fit, we would ask “gimme the english wrench” cause it’s the only one that’d help us loosen that nut.
    Just wanted to share this funny piece of history.

    1. Right back at you, Eduardo — when I was in high school, many years ago, the Vise-Grip pliers (adjustable, locking) were referred to by my less politically correct friends as “Puerto Rican socket sets”…fits (and damages) any bolt or nut, and guaranteed to take it off..

      Gee, I sure wish the US would quit dicking around, bite the bullet and go metric. We can build good stuff, but we’re pissing into the wind by sticking with the imperial measurements, when the entire world uses metric.

      1. “Gee, I sure wish the US would quit dicking around, bite the bullet and go metric.”

        IIRC, the U.S. has been “officially” Metric since 1895! B^)

        As for biting the bullet, the U.S. automobile, truck, and farm equipment manufacturers have transitioned to Metric fasteners over the past 40 years…
        It will probably take the government longer to get around to changing highway distances and postal weights… B^)

        1. They already tried it in the 70’s. Caused havoc.

          Gas station keepers tried to take advantage of the swap by making liters of gasoline more expensive than gallons, since people would have to multiply by 3.8 to compare prices. The people were confused and started driving 60 mph in a 35 zone…

          Basically, people went “How am I going to buy a pound of beef when I have to remeber that its 453.6 grams!?!??”

          The obvious answer to the question is that you don’t, you buy half a kilo or 450 grams and call it a day, but people are creatures of habit and won’t. They feel cheated if they’re missing 3.6 grams, or tricked if they are “forced” to pay for 36.4 grams extra meat.

          A competitor to McDonald’s lost because they were selling 1/3 pound hamburgers, because people felt that 1/4 pounds is bigger because it has a bigger number. That’s the sort of opposition to metrification you’re dealing with.

        2. highway distances, postal weights…. and construction materials. say for example I’m going to go buy a 3/4″ sheet of plywood. Implicitly: 4’x8′ panel dimension, being the Standard Size. I’m not buying a 1.2m x 2.4m sheet of plywood (even though that’s the equivalent measure, it is not sold-as-such, and thusly would not be bought as-such). Doors, windows, and frames are made to imperial dimension (etc)…
          Dimensional lumber is a weird case – it’s sold by Sawn Size, not Finish Size. IDK what the rest of the world does for that. But Smooth Finish dimensional lumber loses 1/4″ per side (not axis, SIDE. they lose 1/2″ per axis) during the Planing process. (except for 1xN sizes, where it loses 1/8″ per side)

          1. The Australians sell by planed size, e.g a 2″x4″ in australia is 90x45mm as it will become after you plane it, or if you buy it planed.

            Elsewhere it’s 51x101mm but it’s called 50x100mm

            The standard metric sizes – apart from Australia/OZ – are slightly undersize to the actual measurements, which is nice because you’d rather have more than exact when you’re building something. You can always shave a bit off, but you can’t neatly add a missing millimeter where there’s a gap.

        3. The biggest problem with the metric system I’ve noticed is that nobody really knows what a meter is.

          I’ve asked people to show me a meter with their hands, as in “it’s yee big” and they invariably show me a yard. Same thing with the centimeter. They usually show something between ½ to 2/3″ because the centimeter is a surprisingly small length that you just don’t think about. People are -wildlly- off in their estimates on how large things are – like how high is a table in centimeters, or how large a lid fits a 28 cm frying pan.

          That’s largely because we understand small numbers. You can intuitively count up to 6 or 7 of something, like you can see at a glance that you have 6 quarters in your hand, but you have to be rainman to spot 15 divisions the same way. When the numbers grow, we can no longer see them, we have to count them, and when we’re dividing things into more than a handful of parts we can’t eyeball it, we have to measure it.

          That’s why feet and inches work. You can eyeball three feet, and then eyeball the inches and say “well that table is not quite 3 feet so it’s probably 2 feet 10″ ” – and land pretty close to the right value. With centimeters people are just lost – they throw very random estimates because they have no good recollection of what even a meter looks like and it’s impossible to see a hundredth of a part of it.

          And this is people who are born into the metric system – Swedes, Danes, Germans – they feel like they’ve got it all figured out but when you actually put them to the task they start to fail at it.

          Kilos and liters are less difficult. Milliliters are cumbersome to use and to speak of. Centiliters and deciliters are handy, but for some reason none of the newly metricated countries understand or use them. Metric volumes and weights work well, but then again a liter is not an SI unit – it’s a convenience unit that’s not strictly an offical metric unit so it has just as much reason to exist as the gallon.

          1. But litre is at least derived from an SI unit (metre) and for large volumes like household water consumption or swimming pools we use cubic metre instead. The main problem us metric users see with the imperial system is that it’s not 10 inches in a feet and so on, it just doesn’t make sense for us when in our system it’s so convenient to add and convert between mm, cm, dm and meters. The worst part is when hearing someone is 5 feet 9 tall and try to convert that to metres (or also commonly cm) in your head :)

            I have to agree though, I’m useless at eyeballing distances and such, I just use a measuring stick instead. Interestingly almost everyone here in Sweden still calls it an “inch stick” even though they are marked in m.

          2. A metre for estimation purposes is a yard (<10%error there). if you can eyeball three feet, you can eyeball a metre and then decide how much shorter the object is.

            Millilitres are cumbersome? What's the displacement of your chainsaw engine? Or your motorcycle engine? 42ml and 600ml, respectively in my case..except they call them cc's…which is of course, a millilitre…

            and litre is not a base SI unit – but is an accepted SI unit for volume,.

          3. >”But litre is at least derived from an SI unit”

            Where it comes from is irrelevant in practice. The point is that if you can use the liter, you can use the gallon. Otherwise we’d have to ditch other convenience units, such as minutes and hours as well to remain consistent. That is to say, having to use liters and ml instead of gallons and ounces is simply politics, not metrics.

            >”Millilitres are cumbersome? What’s the displacement of your chainsaw engine?”

            Probably something like 25 cc. Notice that “cc” is much less cumbersome. That’s why it’s used in medicine instead of milliliters, because it takes fucking ages to roll that off your tongue. The other problem is again with large numbers, because instead of a nice small-ish and easy to rember number like 12 or 6 you get a number in the hundreds or thousands and then it becomes an exercise in arithmetics.

            And again nobody really “knows” what a milliliter is because it’s so small. The smalles everyday-useful metric volume is actually the centiliter, which is something you can actually meter out easily by hand, but for some reason none of the newly metricated countries use it.

          4. >” if you can eyeball three feet, you can eyeball a metre”

            Eyeballing three feet is different from eyeballing a meter. The former you can do one foot at a time, whereas in the latter you have to jump from one point to another and decide if that’s a meter or not.

            Point being that you can more easily see a span of a foot at a glance than you can see a span of a meter in your immediate surroundings, leading to more difficulty and error in estimating the meter. You could develop yourself an algorithm where you estimate quarter and half-points of a meter, but that’s not really intuitive in the sense that it has to be taught to people.

            In the distance of course the foot becomes too small a measure, and people lose track of the numbers. The meter lends itself slightly better in that respect, but I’ve noticed that if you ask people what’s the distance between two telephone poles, while standing next to one, the answer will vary between 20 – 100 meters because again people have no clue how long a meter actually is.

      2. I oppose conversion to metric for the reasons mentioned in this article: today’s Crescent wrenches are inferior to the SAE wrenches I already own. I don’t want to buy a bunch of crappy Chinese metric Crescent wrenches! 8P

      1. we call these “spanners”. in english a “wrench” is something more like a “torque wrench” – you have a ratchet and a removable hex-head which has a square piece with an embedded ball-bearing on a spring that fits into the wrench’s hole… “socket wrench”. the picture in the article we call an “adjustable spanner”.

        1. Living in Germany, I know both expressions, English Key and French Key. English key seems to be used more often; French key is commonly used in my family, however, my grandparents are from a region formerly being German and that is now Czech Republic. So mabe it really is a regional thing…

    2. You should always those claims as: “in 1842, Richard Clyburn was the first English engineer to invent it” :-) to be fair, they did invent a lot of stuff, or at least where the first to bother to write about it.

  6. Reminds me of the time I needed a 13mm wrench but the only set on hand was SAE. Fortunately it was a cheap Chinese set and they probably just stamped a 13mm as 1/2″. Fit perfectly!

    1. I have that experience quite often mainly due to corrosion on exposed bolts that wear down the surface enough to 1/2 inch or 15mm to 9/16 that make an imperial set invaluable when working with metric.

        1. The small set is usually 10,12,13,14,17,19,22

          Number 15 metric wrench corresponds to 19/32″ imperial although it may be just a hair tight, so what you’ve got is probably not a metric nut.

          The most popular sizes in bicycles are 10 and 17 mm in my experience.

    2. The worst offender I’ve ever seen was a set of Allen wrenches (hexagonal keys, rather) at Aldi in the US, in which every key was labeled in both common fractional inches and millimeters. (Which one was right? Did they average the difference? WTF?)

      1. I have one of those sets, the keys are physically metric (I just went and double-checked them with a caliper to be sure) but the packaging lists the inch decimal equivalent. If you want a tool that really defies logic and strips hexes, take a look at the Black & Decker Readywrench, which has sockets that are listed for both inch and metric, with the socket being sized to the larger of the two (and poorly at that).

    3. With good quality tools (and bolts…) you will find that a 13 mm
      spanner will be a tiny bit lose on a 1/2″ bolt, while a 1/2″ spanner
      will be kind of tight on a 13 mm bolt, fitting a bit more perfect
      than an actual 13 mm spanner.

  7. >”As you can see the export made crescent wrench is not made to the same tolerances as the previous wrench.”

    That’s not what “tolerance” is.

    You can’t judge tolerances from measuring a single part, because you don’t know the spread. When you mass-manufacture anything, you get a huge pile of parts with varying sizes, and you always get a probability that some combination of those parts is loose fitting and others are tight-fitting. QA is then supposed to make sure that the spread is as small as possible. It’s even possible that the tolerances change in batches, so one year you have stiff jaws in your wrenches and another year they’re loose because the die that stamps the screws got worn out and weren’t replaced early enough.

    Simply looking better doesn’t mean the wrench is made with better tolerances. The American made tool may be made with worse tolerances and a larger spread, but yours simply happens to have paired two tightly fitting parts together.

    There’s an old story of a Soviet tractor factory where half the transmissions came from Vladivostok and the other half came from St. Petersburg, and when a delegate of the bureaucracy was visiting the factory, they saw one worker leaving the warehouse with a transmission while another one brought one back. They asked what was the point of this, and the worker explained “Small country, small tolerances, large country, large tolerances.” They were simply fitting the transmissions to whatever engine they would fit and bringing the rest back for another go.

    1. Actually it is a reasonable assumption that something is imprecisely made if the fit of parts is excessively loose. Parts designed for low tolerance manufacturing processes typically require a large clearance fit. So if you test one isolated wrench and notice large sloppy fit, you can say with reasonable certainty that the manufacturing tolerances are low (unless slop is arguably a feature). If you got a sloppy wrench that is designed with a tight fit using tight tolerance manufacturing processes, you are the unlucky victim of an anomoly.

      1. Except in this demo case, there isn’t that much of a difference between the two, so it’s not warranted to say that one is worse than the other without grabbing and measuring a whole bunch of them.

        >”Parts designed for low tolerance manufacturing processes typically require a large clearance fit.”

        Which has an amplifying effect on the sloppiness. When you have a product that is designed with large clearances due to poor tolerances, the clearances themselves become a source of sloppiness and you can immediately tell that this is a cheap crude product.

          1. That depends on where you measure it. In the picture, they measured the distance at the tip of the jaw, which also hinges back and forth a good amount anyways, amplifying the actual backlash in the screw.

  8. The Chinese can make a good product but that is usually not the intent when production is moved overseas from the US. Look at Craftsman combination or open end wrenches. The new, non-US wrenches are poorly finished and thicker/clunkier. They can’t fit into places the old wrenches could. My guess is they needed the extra thickness to meet strength requirements.

  9. I’ve talked with some people who dealt regularly with sourcing manufacturing in China, and they tell me it’s a different mindset there. Here, when you want to have something made for you, you spec it out, send it out for quotes, and then if the price comes back a bit too high you try to work a better deal. Maybe change the order quantity to get a better price through scale. Or handle assembly a bit different to find a savings in there somewhere. Whatever. The product stays the same.
    Not so in China. You don’t accept the first quote built to your specs? Okay, what they will do is change the specs a bit. A little change in materials, maybe, to something cheaper. Or in the manufacturing process, where specs can slip. A milled piece is now getting stamped. Whatever it takes to get to your price point. Your electronics are now going to get made in a shop where costs are a lot less, but so is quality. The steel is now a lower grade, softer. They drop one or two levels of inspection, or forget about a needed function test.
    Whatever it takes to get the business.
    So, you receive the first samples with the quote, and it looks great. Nice solid well built world class products. But you want it a bit cheaper, so you haggle. They’ll do whatever it takes to get you that price point. But then when you get the order for 5,000 pieces, they’re crap. Specs are so loose parts are all but falling out, the components on your PCB are +- 20% instead of the 2% you wanted, packaging is nothing more than some newspapers shoved into the bottom of the box. Again, whatever it took to give it to you at the price you agreed on.
    They aren’t trying to steal from you, they’re just trying to get you a product at a price that you say you can work with. China can make world class stuff. Just, when you are negotiating the price, don’t expect them to make less on the deal, the savings are going to come out in quality and materials, not their fees.
    Not sure I’m making myself plain here, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. A sample that Germany or the U.S. would have been proud to call their own turned into a full order of junk, unusable. If they hadn’t insisted on driving such a hard bargain they would have gotten exactly what they wanted. I think most of the junk that comes out of China are because people didn’t know all this, or maybe because they did know it, and just didn’t care.

    1. I guess I could sum it up better by saying here, the manufacturer is telling you ‘this is the best price I can give you for that product with those specs’. In China, they are saying ‘this is the best specs I can give you for that product at that price’. Two different things.

      1. That’s an interesting way of putting it, I hadn’t considered that.

        My experience with outsourcing was similar: we got a few samples that were of decent quality, but our first full shipment was total junk. A few complaints were sent, and we received another shipment with a few improvements. A few iterations of this and we finally got something that *barely* met our spec.

        It seemed to me that they would send the minimum acceptable level of workmanship in order to make us happy, nothing more. I wonder how workmanship factors into Chinese culture…

        1. …work-what-now?

          With the disclaimer that I lack any particularly in-depth experience or expertise with Chinese products, what I have seen so far makes me think they don’t look at production from any sort of “workmanship” perspective; instead, what they seem to care about is that a) they get it done as dirt cheaply as it is humanly possible, no saving being to little to take advantage of and b) that the product should be able to actually perform its task – and this is the part I believe where cultural differences are not picked up upon: the goal is not to make an exquisite product, the goal is to make something _good enough_, nothing less and certainly nothing more (that would be waste, implying you could actually make that cheaper). And I think this is why many Chinese sellers don’t even understand a westerner complaining about some minor fault in a product – if it is still able to fulfill its role adequately, they can’t see why there would be anything wrong with it?

          And that gets us to wrenches and tolerances – yes, I do appreciate a tool that fits together with exquisite precision; but do most tools actually _require_ such precision to work adequately, or even to work appreciably better? No. Once you tighten down a wrench it doesn’t matter how much slop it has in it when it is loose, as long as it doesn’t come loose all by itself while in use. More importantly, would I be willing to pay for a tool that is 50% better and lasts 30% longer, but is three-four-five times more expensive? Hell no. The three cheap ones will long, long outlast the single expensive one I could have bought instead. To be clear – this holds for products that are clearly inferior but still adequately fit for purpose.

          And I believe a _lot_ of budget-priced Chinese stuff falls into this category – and that’s not even talking about things that aren’t in any perceptible or major way _worse_, they’re just made with cheaper materials or less appealing finish which may or may not impact their lifetime, but does in no way impact immediate usefulness – a dirt-cheap Chinese dial indicator within its stated precision is in no way any worse for its stated purpose than an allegedly exquisitely crafted Starrett or Mitutoyo also within its stated precision, but costing five to ten times more. Would I prefer to use a tool with higher craftsmanship values – all else being equal, sure. But all else is definitely not equal, especially once you have to pay for something that, to you, might not be worth anywhere near the markup asked.

          Finally, please note I’m fully aware the Chinese are also perfectly capable of producing plenty of UN-fit-for-purpose stuff – but that is not what I was talking bout here; nor do _most_ half-decent Chinese products fall into that category – as long as aesthetics are not a concern and one does not expect them to work basically forever, in my experience most stuff seems to actually work well enough, for long enough, and is certainly cheap enough to make it worth its price.

          1. That was a really spot-on observation. Nevertheless, even if I logically agree with You, it still leaves me discontent.
            Howcome we no longer appreciate a tool that functions properly for more than our immediate need? Have we technicians/engineers/tinkerers become so egoistic that all that matters is that “as long as I achieve my goals right now, at the lowest cost possible”?
            I still have a number of tools in my toolbox that belonged to my father. They are Bosch, Sandvik and other brands that I rarely can afford to buy nowadays. But neither could my father. Those tools were expensive even back in the days.
            The difference is that with all the cheap, low-quality import junk, I have gotten used to my tools failing on me every now and then. And I try to convince myself that it doesn’t matter; that they are so cheap so I could get a replacement or even several new ones for the cost I saved buying the cheap junk ones.
            But at the end of the day, it’s all it is: cheap junk. And there I stand, frustrated with my dysfunctional tool in hand, wondering how it all could end up this way…
            I still have and regularly use my AEG impact drill. A piece of machine I bought for ~300$, 20 years ago. It was a lot of money back then, but spread over the years I have payed 15$/year for a machine that hasn’t failed me once.

            This isn’t only a debate over workmanship, or pride in products. Even more important is the environmental impact that cheap use-and-discard product and mentality leaves behind. As I mentioned, several of the tools in my toolbox are more than 40 years old. And still function. How’s that for sustainability? :-)

  10. I believe a lot of Chinese companies just don’t care about the products they export (i.e. 2007 pet food recalls, 2008 Chinese milk scandal, lead in kids toys, antifreeze in toothpaste, etc).

    Taiwanese tools are better in my experience, I bought a couple Titan brand tools that have a really nice finish, some innovative design features, and nice materials. But not too long ago Taiwanese stuff was junk, they stepped up their quality. Japanese tools were not always good either, I found an old set of “Made in Japan” sockets from the 70’s that is worse than current Harbor Freight stuff. I would like China to step up their game and/or have quality control before being allowed to leave our customs.

    Craftsman used to be a great deal on tools that were made in the USA but most are made in China. They were even caught making tools in china with marked with “USA.” But around the K-mart/Sears buyout they have headed downhill and are accelerating.

    The remaining American tool companies need to step up their game an/or change their distribution strategies. It might be easy for professional mechanics to just buy tools from the Snap-On/Mac/Matco truck but finding them elsewhere is next to impossible.

    1. Again, the Chinese export companies don’t sell the same products on their domestic market. If they sell too much product in China, they lose the state export subsidies.

      Hence why they don’t much care what they put out.

    2. I used to think that the quality issues and scandals were mostly limited to just what they export. But then I read this, and am starting to wonder:


      Some select quotes, suggesting that if the Chinese want quality products (including food and water), they *import* them:

      “…Liu Nanfeng has five air purifiers, two air quality monitors and a water purification system in his Beijing apartment. He buys organic. But still he worries for his 2-year-old daughter’s health… China’s persistent pollution and regular product safety scandals are driving an increasing number of consumers to build bubbles of clean air, purified water and safe products at home and in their cars…

      …Websites such as Alibaba’s Taobao.com have made it easier to find products from overseas that are perceived as safer…

      Imports of bottled water are up sharply in volume terms, rising from 36 million litres two years ago to 46 million litres in the first 10 months of this year, according to Chinese customs.

      Imports of food and live animals – Chinese customs includes them in the same category – rose 63 percent between 2011 and 2014. Online in China, Evian presents one of its boxes of water as “the choice of French mothers”.

      Sales at Fruitday, an app and online platform for imported fruit, rose 150 percent in 2014 to 500 million yuan, the company said.

      Reports of fake goods are common in China. Consumers who can afford to prefer more expensive products, said James Roy, associate principal at China Market Research Group…”

      Another thing that can give an idea of the scale of corruption in China. If you haven’t seen them, I highly recommend you look up the Chinese “ghost cities”, and be amazed. Entire cities – including upscale homes, apartments, malls, business complexes. Built only because government grants covering the cost of construction were available to developers. But they weren’t needed, there’s no one to actually occupy them (or perhaps no one who can afford to do so), and many are now crumbling due to disuse and neglect.

      You could also look up “China contaminated rice”. Lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, their own people eat this stuff as a staple. From one article, “Last week, the Chinese government disclosed for the first time that one-fifth of China’s farmland was polluted.”

      Information that comes out of China is highly filtered. It’s hard to tell what’s really going on there, we only get occasional peeks. It’s probably much worse than most think.

      1. It’s been difficult to buy infant formula in Australia recently because people are clearing out whole supermarket-loads (hundreds of cans at a time, at $20+ each) and selling them on eBay to China for a 4-6x markup plus shipping.

    3. “I believe a lot of Chinese companies just don’t care about the products they export … ”

      In fact this has resulted in Chinese people taking trips to Japan and going on huge buying frenzies of stuff to bring home, because that’s is the only way that they can be sure that there isn’t going to be anything dangerous or low-quality. The phenomenon even has its own name in the Japanese media, “爆買い” (bakugai, ‘explosive buying’)

    4. I like Titan tools. They’re quite decent quality with a mirror smooth chrome finish. One item Titan makes is an extra long 3/8″ drive ratchet that is NOT a swivel head. It’s actually longer than the typical 3/8″ swivel head ratchet.

      I found it at, of all places, an automotive paint supplies store. I saw it hanging on the wall grabbed it and said “Merry Christmas!”. :) Cost $25 and I’ve used it plenty enough to get every cent of value out of it.

      Now WHY have no other tool manufacturers anywhere ever made a 3/8″ ratchet wrench like that until the 21st century? How many times have you cursed and cussed tool companies because the only thing available to get into a spot too tight for a 1/2″ ratchet was a 3/8″ flex head, because the standard length on a rigid 3/8″ is at most 8″?

      It’s not like any company *could not* make such a tool, it’s that they flat out *would not* until this Titan company in China saw a need gone unfilled for near a century and just went ahead and made the tool.

    5. The examples you give are illustrative, but what they don’t illustrate is that the Chinese “just don’t care about the products they export”. For example the 2008 Chinese Milk scandal … the producers added Melamine to the milk powder because Melamine shows up as Protein in the tests used to grade milk. So adding Melamine meant they could get a higher price for the product. The producers were not uncaring about the product [quality]; they honestly had no idea the adulterated milk was harmful; they only knew it sold for more money, which they saw as an advantage, and perhaps, even as evidence they were producing a higher quality product.

  11. >”Snap-On, however, says “This is why we did the things we did, this is what makes ours the best” Their intent was a device that turns screws. You can get a sense for the intent everyone shares for making a good screw driver, and it shows in their product.”

    I think this is the reason why you also believe that Apple is the most beautifully made best thing there is – even when actual objective comparisons put it right in the middle of the class.

    The Snap-On product description sounds like they made a gimmick of a product with lots of features ™ to differentiate ™ it on the market and then hired a PR team to invent reasons why it is supposed to be the best, rather than making a honest product for people who have screws to turn. In all likelyhood, the product costs 10x as much as the competitor, but it’s not 10x better than the competitor, and that’s the point of the plain honest Pittsburgh screwdriver – it says what it is on the tin and doesn’t try to sell you a sugar pill.

    1. Point being that you don’t need some ruddy hexagonal grips or “curves and flutes” in a screwdriver. It’s a screwdriver, not a family heirloom!

      In fact, here worse is better, because you won’t hesitate to use your ordinary chrome-vanadium magnet tip screwdriver to lever something or grind a slot in it to open a super special screw – because it’s just an ordinary screwdriver. It doesn’t cost very much to replace.

        1. You are right. I have an engineer’s square that was my grandfather’s, and it has his initials carefully punched with a centerpop on it, done many many decades ago. I think of him every time I use it.

          1. But you don’t use an engineer’s square to pry open a stubborn snap-on casing, or to scratch oxidation off of a battery terminal. That would be just stupid.

            If all your tools are “high fidelity” heirloom pieces, you can’t really use any of them for anything. Even the best file, the best chisel, the best screwdriver, the finest saw is ultimately an expendable item that is going to get worn out and there’s nothing you can do about it – except to do nothing with it.

        2. Cheap screwdrivers cost more than you think, they often ruin the screw by stripping the head. Pretty easy to feel the difference in fit between an xcelite and a pitsburg. The first time that you have to spend an hour digging out a stripped screw you’ve lost your price advantage.

          If you’re using screwdrivers to pry and chisel you’re using the wrong tool for the job, use a prybar or a chisel and do the job better and faster.

          Now, having said that I do have a set of pitsburg screwdrivers, I cut them up to use the handles on other shop made tools. And the only reason to buy Snap-On is for showing off and impressing people with brand name recognition… Just like buying Cisco networking gear for small business.

      1. +1000, well said. I need tools to work with, not bloody heirlooms, and if that means I get to work with the proper tool for the job because I could afford it instead of leaving a few (allegedly…) preciously crafted ones to my heirs, well then my heirs are welcome to buy their own tools – I’m pretty sure even so they’ll still be scratching their head about what to do with whatever manages to survive me…

    2. I think it all comes down to the author’s proposition:
      > So, using this knowledge can you learn anything about a product’s quality just by reading it’s description? Well, mostly yes.

      I can’t help but feel that the description is often closer to being a set of flowery prose to ‘sell’ the idea of the product when the reality is often that the specification tells you the exact details of the product (is there an equivalent “lifestyle”-pitch that can be sold with a screwdriver compared to the Apple gear?)

      1. >”(is there an equivalent “lifestyle”-pitch that can be sold with a screwdriver compared to the Apple gear?)

        Usually it’s ergonomics. You can claim anything to be ergonomic because it rarely makes any difference, it’s very difficult to measure in any sense, and in the end it’s down to what you believe you feel.

        Kinda like the little flip-out tabs at the bottom of every keyboard. They were originally meant for typists who were more used to the upright terraced keyboard of a real typewriter – in reality flipping the keyboard upright makes it worse to type on. Nevertheless, people kept arguing that it’s the right way to do it, and demanded keyboards with the tabs.

          1. That’s your preference and habit. However, in terms of actual ergonomics, you’re better off with your keyboard turned down instead of up because the upright keyboard forces you to hover your hands (stress on the arms and neck) or turn your wrists up which puts pressure in the carpal tunnel.

            The differences however are sometimes immeasurably small, and placebo effects dominate. It’s a similiar case to the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect

            >”is a type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.”

            In the case of products, or even in things like fuel economy frauds (put acetone in your fuel tank), the observer effect kicks into play because the person is self-monitoring and performing better as a result, which leads to the conclusion that the tool is better, or that the acetone really helps save fuel, when this effect is fleeting and returns to normal once the person is no longer paying attention.

        1. Talk is cheap: where are your sources?

          For me a slanted keyboard is more comfortable to use, is it so hard to think that that also applies to many other keyboard users? And no, I never got used to a typewriter so that isn’t a factor in this.

          1. Again. Personal preference and habituation.

            h ttp://grokcode.com/701/the-ergonomic-keyboard-productivity-myth/
            >”Sifting through the research, the only clear trend that emerges is that much of the research showing the benefits of ergonomic keyboards was done by manufacturers of ergonomic keyboards”

            Same thing as with DVORAK vs QWERTY. Nobody could really tell any difference except mr. Dvorak himself.

            h ttp://office-ergo.com/current-ergo-thinking/#wisdom
            >”8. Conventional wisdom for keyboard angle is that it should be flat, or up on its little support legs. This is wrong. The keyboard angle depends entirely on the forearm angle, and should be in the same plane as the forearm. So, a low keyboard should be slanted back. Some people expect they won’t be able to see the keys if the keyboard is sloped back, but this is usually not a problem.”

          2. And the point about the support legs was that they were -supposed- to be helping typists transition from tranditional typewriters to keyboards – not that they really were helping any. They were simply left in because of cargo cult designers and the myth of ergonomics.

    3. “when actual objective comparisons put it right in the middle of the class.”

      When has that been true? It’s certainly not true of the phones, where the iPhone has much tighter tolerances and all around better build quality than other high end phones – and Apple is getting ahead on that as no other company now is able to make a profit on high-end phones.

      1. Since forever. Apple’s products never were any better than the average. For example, in laptops their failure rates are only slightly above mediocre.

        The situation is that Apple comes up with a new model iPhone faster than the old ones start to break down, and people keep buying the latest and greatest because it’s Apple, so there’s absolutely no incentive to be anything but mediocre. They would be idiots to put any more effort in quality since people can’t even tell the difference.

        1. Besides.

          I’ve had my current phone for six years, and it’s been through accidental washing, it’s been hot, it’s been cold, I’m still on the original battery and charge it once a week. Still makes calls, still sends texts, still browses the web, and when I bought it it didn’t require a 2 year exclusive contract for $2000 with AT&T. In fact it cost me a whole $100 one time payment. It’s got an FM radio and an MP3 player as well.

          You can’t do that with an iPhone, so which one really is the superior product?

        2. Dax, I don’t know what planet you just stepped off, but I spent 20 years working on thousands of computers, and the quality of Apple’s equipment was obvious by inspection. So much so that I switched to Apple equipment. When you take pride in the work you do you can appreciate the attention to detail that goes into the products you buy. Oh, and I had my last iPhone 5 years and only upgraded to get newer features.

          1. And I have worked with them day in and day out, and found the design to be junk. Who the bleeding hell using laptop dims in a desktop? What fuck-stick thinks it’s a good idea to place the HDD right next to the transformers of the power supply and keep them both away from ventilation? What idiot came up with a design where you have to cut the fricking screen off to get at the components?

            Their components are good because that’s the only way they survive the bleeding stupid abuse the designers put them to. They don’t seem to understand that the right way to do display quality specs isn’t to invent one and never use a real spec(I’m looking at you retina), or that drivers are something best left to the manufacturer rather than developing their own(piss poor ones). It’s not okay to remove features from a product refresh(mac mini), nor is thinness the be all and end all spec.

            I take pride in my work, I will not buy apple. Sure, the person who builds it may care, but the designer is a moron. I build my computers, I’m done letting a designer decide what I want or need. My power quality used to suck harder than an Electrolux, so I bought a motherboard with more power quality components. I happen to test cards and hard drives, so I bought parts which made it easier. I buy an apple, and what do I get, a steaming pile of whatever the designer thought I should want. I buy something from them that’s anywhere close to equal, and I’d pay double. And I’d still not get even close to a quarter as much ability to test things with it.

            Yes, apple makes pretty cases, and fills them with nice goodies, but they do it in a frankly substandard manner, and invent specs with no real meaning to sell them for more money. Oh, and they come apart rather quickly if you don’t pamper them, and I really do want a fricking bootloader you arseholes. /r

          2. The so-called quality of Apple’s equipment actually generates a whole new host of problems with it, like the fact that many MacBooks are prone to overheating because attention was paid to the wrong details and they crammed so many parts into such a small area that nothing can actually vent. IIRC at one point Apple described their laptop fans running at full load constantly to be normal operation.

            Long story short, they hooked you with the appearance, not the function.

      2. Better quality? They’re more than a generation behind Samsung on a waterproof phone. The galaxy S5 is waterproof to 1 meter for half an hour. Yet Apple still gets a fancy write up in wired about how their “clever tech” has made the iPhone 6 nearly waterproof. Great job apple, only a couple years behind the competitor.


        Google voice came out after siri but it’s still a ton better at getting me what I want through voice commands and integrating better with phone features. Apple tighter tolerances and better build quality somehow didn’t stop them from creating a bigger better antenna in the iPhone 4 that did the exact opposite and dropped more calls. OF course they denied it was even a problem for a while first. That’s some darn good quality control.


        You bought into the lifestyle. Nothing about Apples phones has been cutting edge since the first one.

    4. In fairness, while Snap-On is the most widely recognized company making quality tools, they really are not that amazing, despite the price. A lot of their stuff is sourced from other companies and stamped as Snap-On and sold at a fair markup. There are lots of other brands that make far better tools than Snap-On: Knipex and Channellock (for their pliers), Klein (Screwdrivers and Linesman pliers), Bondhus (allen key), Bahco (combination wrench), Wiha (security bits), Armstrong (ratchets and wrenches), Wright (sockets), Schroder (tap wrenches), Vidmar and Lista (storage), Gray (tools). Mitutoyo is currently making some of the best calipers and micrometers, while Starrett has greatly declined in quality on the low end. They moved a bunch of the manufacturing over to China and only keep the high end in the US and use a bit of weasel speak to describe it all as US made, but the quality loss between old and new and China and US made is really noticeable.
      Snap-On you’ll mostly see as a thing people buy for basic shop use (say an auto shop, not a machine shop). It’s the entry level high end tool people aspire to have for a quality tool and the payment plan makes the tool seem much more affordable. In a machine shop you’ll see a lot more of the mentioned brands, I have actually yet to see Snap-On in a shop that did higher end work and was unattached to automotive work. The usual reason I heard was the cost for what you got with Snap-On was just not favorable, and other brands do better, cost less and have equal warranties.

      And in the end there is a reason we/people call Snap-On as ‘Strap-On’.

    5. Have you ever owned a Snap-On tool? They are EXCELLENT. Even back in the 90’s, when Craftsman was a solid brand near the top of the market, Snap-On totally eclipsed them. I recently bought a very nice SnapOn wrench from the truck at the Good Guys auto show in Pleasanton, and it is pretty clear from holding it and using it for even a short while that this thing that was manufactured is going to outlast me, and still function when I am gone.

      Also: beware the Walmart Theory of Economics: you can buy a product at 1/3rd the price, but that product has 1/10th the durability. There is a quote about this on how the rich man stays rich, because he can buy leather boots that last much longer than cheap ones.

      Price non-linearity is a hell of a thing because non-linearity itself is a hell of a thing, and most people have a very poor concept of it. And even if they do, other faults abound insofar as not appreciating that price-to-performance curves can vary hugely between product. Basic hand tools are probably not the best example, actually, since there is only so good a hand tool can be, and only a certain level of durability is actually useful.

      Examples abound. The aforementioned shoes are a fine example: at the very cheap end of the spectrum, you get way less for your dollar. Poor selection, poor performance, crap durability. In the middle, things get better. But then you can you up to the top end of the market, paying mega bucks for fancy and designer shoes, and the durability and usability have pretty much topped out while the price keeps increasing.

      Some items are great examples of almost completely linear relations, like plumbing fixtures. You *pretty much* get exactly what you pay for with plumbing fixtures, although the bottom end of the price curve will become asymptotically vertical (useless junk for > $0) very quickly. You can buy $15 shower head from Ross, and the tube in it will burst when you pressurize it. You can buy a $70 one from Home Depot, and it will be OK and last a few years maybe. Or you can spend $400 for one from Pacific Sales, and get something that is solid brass with real chrome plating, and will last 10-15 years.

      1. For $400 I would expect a shower head to last for life. Even the $70 one should work 10 years easily – otherwise it sounds like you’re being ripped off because you don’t know what’s what.

      2. What dimension do you live in where you only get a few years use out of a $70 shower head? Our last one was like a $20 mostly plastic deal from Walmart, lasted about 8 years, and only got replaced because the bit that held the detachable head broke. The shower head itself still worked fine.

  12. Said it before, and I’ll say it again- everything in my house that has “Designed in California” on it, also says “Made in China” on it ha ha. My iPad, iPod, even my Weber kettle barbeque

  13. Had a blast with Simon Sinek talks which cover some of the topics in the article.
    If someone has half an hour, watch it and get his look on Snap-On and Apple way of selling stuff. And why some companies start to fail when they start hiring and finally – when they outsource.

    h ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE
    h ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VdO7LuoBzM

    Disclaimer: watched these and his other talks as I’m interested in entrepreneurship , but found a nice connection to this article.

    1. I think that is the point that was missed here, different companies are targeting different segments of the market. In the Snap-On vs pitsburg example, some people don’t mind one bit paying $100 for a wrench and actually feel better paying more. They will pay whatever the price is within reason as long as they feel that they are getting a superior product. The whole marketing aspect is interesting, its called “framing,” go and look for the example of the guy playing the Stradivarius violin in the subway.

      On the other end of the spectrum is a market segment that only really cares about price, doesn’t mind if the tool breaks or wears out after what they consider to be a reasonable amount of time as long as they feel like they got a bargain. Many of these tools are lost, stolen or just rust away long before they break.

      What’s really interesting is that the total profits often don’t end up being that different. For example, Snap-On on sells 1k wrenches per year with a $50 profit per wrench and Harbor freight sells 10k wrenches per year at $5 profit per wrench. Even though there’s a huge difference between numbers of product sold their total profit is exactly the same and its an exercise in futility to try to decide which business strategy is better.

      It’s an interesting part of business theory where price, demand and production cost are carefully modeled to achieve the highest profit.

  14. They should also test an american made wrench made 2 decades ago. Older stuff is massively better than the new stuff. I have some screwdrivers from the 80’s that look precision machined. Snap on stuff from today looks drop forged and not machined. Heck the new screwdrivers wont even stand on their own in the screw while the old ones will because their fit is so good compared to the junk made today.

    MY grandfathers old Craftsman drill press from the 1970’s is 900X better than the best option you can buy today. Cast parts, overbuilt for quality and not profit margins.

    1. I love old hand tools. At garage sales I’ll but the old stuff over the newer ones all day because no one realizes that 30 year old wrench fits the same bolts and is a lot stronger. So what if it’s not shiny? That brown patina means that tool has a lot of stories to tell.

  15. You get what you pay for. Chinese stuff isn’t inherently crap, it’s just that the reason people produce things in China is for the desire to get it done cheaply. It leads to a self fulfilling prophecy. The Chinese can produce some excellent devices to excellent tolerances. But no one wants to pay for that.

  16. I WILL argue that Rigol isn’t wonderful. I have a Rigol scope (DS2102), and while it is very capable, I dread using it every time I turn it on. It is noisy – it has a small fan inside that runs constantly rather than based on the internal temperature. But mostly, the UI is really slow. The delay between pressing a button and the corresponding action on the screen is frustratingly slow, and gets slower as the scope is doing more stuff. Capturing more data and/or adding a Decode will practically bring the unit to its knees.

    I’ve also used my BIL’s (much more expensive) Tektronix scope. Its UI is responsive no matter what the scope is doing. It was also probably also 2-4x more expensive than my DS2012.

    1. We had Agilent and Tek scopes about the same price range in the lab at one of the places I worked for. The Aglient ones ran on Windows 98/XP and they were much more user friendly and snappy than the Tek custom UI. The Aglient sales engineer was quite proud of the fact that he can run the presentation on their scopes.

      1. Agilent non-windows ones are also way better than textronix in the sub 10k window. My rigol was 1/30th the price of my work agilent. OK, it’s not got digital channels, and the ui blows goats and is slow. But it’s 1/30 the price.

        Otoh, the Teks are horrible at 1/2 the price of the Agilent, and I prefer the rigol, because I can at least excuse it’s shortcomings.

  17. Rong-Fu isn’t a Chinese company, they are a *Taiwanese* company, there is a BIG difference to people and companies that hail from Taiwan. Taiwan has always built vastly superior machine tools than mainland China. The gap has narrowed some and Taiwan has produced some lackluster stuff in the past, but you must not confuse PRC for ROC, even though Taiwan is technically part of China, according to China.

    Also, you can’t have the logo “cast” and forged, it’s either a cast part, or it’s a forged part. What you meant to say is that the logo is embossed as part of the forging process rather than stamped into the part as another step.

  18. Very good article. I don’t think all cases of poor quality are due to mistakes or miscommunication though. Often poor quality is intended. Companies know many people buy on price alone, and intentionally produce products just barely suitable for their intended use – if even that.

    An odd reverse occurs too. Companies will add needless features, plus bit of chrome and other non-functional stuff to a product, then sell it for a very high price. Therefore appealing to customers who think high price means high quality. But if you look at reviews, you often find that the product lasts no longer than a cheap one, at a fraction of the price. Even a long warranty often means nothing. 10 year warranty? Doesn’t mean much if it’s something you can’t live without, must ship to a service center (at your expense), then wait 4-6 weeks to (hopefully) get it back in working order; that is, if they don’t find a way to claim user error and weasel out of honoring the warranty altogether.

    Makes it hard for consumers. If I’m buying something and unable to properly evaluate quality through inspection or reviews, as a general rule I avoid products at both extremes of the price range, and select something in the middle. Or better yet, when it’s an option I buy something used, the older the better, and repair/refurbish it. Though sometimes it’s all such a pain in the arse nowadays, I end up deciding I don’t really need it after all, and buy nothing.

  19. Not too long ago, my company hired a Chinese steel company to fabricate our steel pieces for us. The pieces were shipped to the U.S. and the pieces welded together using a relatively new technique.

    Our contract stipulated that we would maintain an engineer from our company on site in China. The Chinese company kicked him out and refused to allow him into the plant. By that alone the contract should have been null and void, but the powers that be (all assholes to the N’th degree) modified the contract to stipulate that the inspections were to be done at port. Chinese port authorities would hide the shipments or move them around when he wasn’t there. So the contract was modified again and the inspections were to be done State side.

    Most, if not all, of the metal failed quality control under a variety of reasons. The engineer attempted to send them back but the Chinese company said we had to pay shipping costs (another violation of the contract). Company assholes had an emergency meeting and, against the engineer’s recommendation, decided to use the defective steel. The new welding technique was spotty because of the defects and had to be repaired.

    A small blurb went out into the media about the bad welds but absolutely nothing about the steel itself. The spin doctors did their job. Now hundreds of thousands of people each day use the defective steel and none have any idea about it.

    The engineer resigned.

  20. This may come as a shock to American readers, but American products are labelled “made in the USA” as small as possible here in Europe, because it isn’t considered a sign of quality. It’s not as bad as “made in China”, but not something you would advertise with either. Maybe it’s just that America uses a lower quality for there exports

    1. I’m American and it’s no shock. Can’t speak for the rest of my countrymen, but I’m quite aware that on average, “Made in America” doesn’t mean what it used to; and in specific cases often means nothing at all. The last times I went out of my way to buy American on a non-trivial product, it broke after a few years. I located the broken part, which appeared likely to fail over time, if not explicitly designed to. And it was likely no coincidence it was the only part the manufacturer didn’t sell replacements for separately. It was available as a assembly, but the assembly cost almost as much as a new product. Yet every other part in that assembly was sold separately. Not only dishonest, but terribly wasteful.

  21. Well well well, a very nice article I can’t complain at all :) How am I gonna keep my nickname ( Angry eDog) if you keep pumping well thought articles?

    I even can understand perfectly why you choose USA, this blog’s based there. But the concept of sourcing, the creators and QA being close to production and keeping the stuff design for what’s meant to be (a.k.a no gimmicks, core function first!) … are the same everywhere.

    In my country (Spain) there are few tool manufacturers, some of them foreign (Audi Tooling), some local. But they keep an eye on the product and have great care choosing providers and even sometimes clients. We also have quite a powerful car industry. Heck, my “state”‘s (to make an analogy with USA’s geopolitic divisions) one third of the GDP is based around the car industry and providers.

    There’s pride to be had when you do your work well, and it’s consistent and delivers the performance it had to have. Either be German, French, Japanese, or (spaniard) “made” …. good manufacturing and engineering is there, and worth the price.

    But as someone else said, there are “less legit” and trash producing companies everywhere else lol

  22. Reminds me of a story where a German pump factory used a specialized Dutch lubricant to make their large scale pumps run smoothly with less wear and sold one of the units to China. Unit came back after a few months, totally worn. Germans were angry at their Dutch supplier: “your lubricant failed” ! Dutch analyzed the pump and gave the Germans a call: “you know, its not our lubricant used in the pump, and to add to that: its not your pump either !” Turned out the Chinese importer copied the whole pump (including a dent in the railing present on the first imported unit!), but they ware unable to copy the lubricant…

    If I need to buy tools I’d prefer German (or Northern EU ;-)) parts, Germans have turned mechanical engineering into an art !

    1. “Germans have turned mechanical engineering into an art !”

      Yes. They are also skilled at another art: to complicate designs needlessly. My favourite example of this is the design of overlapping wheels on Tiger and Panther tanks. To change the inner ones, you had to remove the outer ones, and they weighed quite a bit :). And wheels tended to freeze overnight, so tanks would be immobile when enemy attacks started.

      So Germans often turn out overcomplicated and overpriced designs, which are too good for the task (no, I don’t need a can opener with 100 yr warranty). Lately however they smelled the roses, and started cutting the corners by moving some manufacturing to East Europe, and cheating on emission testing :) Future will be interesting.

  23. I once saw a european manufacturer talk about it, he said you have to physically go to china and then look at the factory then tell them what they are doing wrong, then they are happy to adjust and you avoided a lot of hassle and bad products.He said they can do it, and they are happy to do it, but they need input to know how to do it right.

    But of course there are also manufacturers who just decide to go with the old ‘fuck it, we’ll just get some crap and sell that and take the money and run’

  24. The Chinese can build quality IF the pressure is there to do so. But western consumers have spoken – cheap stuff is more welcome than well-built stuff… and that’s what we get.

  25. Made in USA is mostly a quality stamp in the USA, (from an european wiew)

    You can get any quality you want, made in Taiwan/China, the key is that you keep your own people on the site for quality control.

    The prototype they send you is superb, the first batch is really good, the second batch is OK then it really goes fast downhill from there…

    If you got your own quality inspectors on site, that scraps all the useless parts, they will keep the quality decent (and then sell the refused ones as a pirate copy of your product)

    (BTW the “English wrench” was a much different tool then the Swedish wrench that most people accociate to nowadays)

  26. 100% agree with the article.
    As many people pointed in the comments, as consumers want low price, that is what they receive. Quality , for most people, is an afterthought, to be considered only when the thing doesn´t work as expected and they feel cheated that their $1 piece of crap doesn´t perform as well as some people $5 quality tool.

    In my family, Crescent wrenches and pliers from the 70s are considered as some kind of precious heirlooms. As are some brands of Germany-made tools. As for the chinese made ones, we usually include them in the “consumables” part of a job, and most get disposed after doing said job, because their operation is not dependable ( screwdrivers that break or flex, destroy screw head, wrenches that are weaker than the screw, etc ).

    I agree that China can build good things also, but they build what their customers want. And most of those customers want crap.

    1. Consumers pay low prices because they have no good way to judge quality before they buy. As often or not, the more expensive widget is just the cheap widget with better marketing. If you’re going to end up with junk either way, you might as well pay as little for it as possible.

      That even extends to name brands since they have a habit of shutting down their own factories and then sticking their nameplate on junk.

      1. That’s called the lemon market effect.

        Take for example a DVD-R disc. Everyone promises theirs will last a hundred years, but nobody can test that because they’d have to wait a hundred years. Therefore nobody trusts that they last a hundred years, and nobody is willing to pay the premium even if a manufacturer tried to make one that presumably would.

        Therefore everyone says their DVD-Rs last a hundred years, and everyone lies.

    2. Agree, this is key. Also, don’t forget the effect of rampant consumerism, shopping-as-entertainment and novelty value: most people nowadays don’t WANT something that lasts forever. They’d much rather enjoy the experience of purchasing another one in a few years’ time.

  27. I once worked for a company that made precision analog-to-digital converters using discrete components (it was in the 70s). There were only a few designs, using the same circuit board and housing, but tweeked to different levels of precision depending on the model or special customer specifications. Sometimes this meant using tighter-tolerance components, and sometimes it meant a monitored burn-in process. Sometimes regular commercial-grade components were used and that was good enough for a given customer. Same design, same everything except greater care and sometimes better components for certain units sold under different model numbers. In each case, it was the customer who determined the level of precision, either by ordering the model with specs he deemed acceptable, or by ordering “customized” units to his higher specs. It was the customer, not we the manufacturer, who determined “quality.”

    In the case of imported tools and machinery, the customer that sets the level of acceptable precision is the importer: Harbor Freight, Grizzly, Enco, Shars, etc. Each is doing so to sell to consumers at price points acceptable to the consumer, based on *his* determination of what quality or features are really necessary to his application. Everyone–Chinese manufactures, American manufacturers, and the end user is acting on the determination of “good enough.” That determination might depend on precision, or durability, or finish, or a combination of factors.

    Surrounding this issue are two phenomena I find very distasteful: the categorical dissing of an entire country’s manufacturing capabilities that borders of xenophobia and racism, and the dissing of the working stiff in his home shop who can in no way afford supposedly-glorious American-made tools. Imported tools serve his purposes very well, and his does excellent work with them (because, in reality, there’s nothing he really can’t do with them), but on some online forums he’s treated poorly. An old saying of my Father comes to mind: “It’s a might poor worker who blames his tools for what his own hand can’t do.”

    1. A skilled worker can probably do more with crap tools than an unskilled worker with the best tools, that is true. But an unskilled worker will never be skilled if his tools are crap to begin with. Part of that path may be to make better tools yourself. Part of that path is to learn what comprises a good tool. But sometimes, it’s just better to have a reasonably decent starting point with your tools.

      When I first moved out, I had someone help me select my first power tools. Not top of the line stuff, but not the Harbor Freight crap either. I have some better tools and some worse tools now, a few newer models and a few over fifty years old but I still have those original tools from twenty years ago. They still remain my first-line tools and take them with me nearly everywhere.

      I’m not a “cost is no object” kind of guy, but I abhore spending an amount of money for a tool that won’t last more than one job if I know spending a certain amount more will get me a tool that can potentially outlast me. Though cost isn’t a strict indicator of quality however. Been burned a few times on high priced crap….

  28. Excellent article, but not anywhere remotely related to a hackaday article.
    Hmmm. Maybe hackaday lost its design intent when it was bought out a few years back.
    no longer is it **IMBUED** with any hack intent.

  29. How about the fact that buying from China means funding business owners to maintain awful working conditions, environmental damage, low wages and killing local economy. Or are we all so cheap and self centered that we don’t care?

      1. People in the USA love to whinge about the ‘low wages’ in many other countries. Those lower wages come along with much lower prices on just about everything. When I worked at an ISP back in 2001, one of my co-workers told me about his father’s factory in India. The wage there? $1 an hour, about quadruple the average. He always had a stack of applications from people eager to work at that factory.

        For that $1 an hour in India, those workers could afford all the best clothes, nice homes and cars and buy the best food. They for darn sure would’ve tossed any “You’re being exploited with slave wages!” busybody out on his ass.

        1. That’s the thing about the minimum wage. It’s inflationary and it cuts the bottom rank of the working class out of the job market. Ask yourself what would happen if the minimum wage was $100 an hour and then realize that when it’s $10 it’s doing the exact same things at the margins. Then ask yourself if it’s better to be underpaid or unemployed.

        2. ” Those lower wages come along with much lower prices on just about everything.”

          That isn’t true in this case, because the outsourcing companies largely don’t sell their products in China. They’re subsidized by the government on the basis of exporting their products, which means the Chinese themselves aren’t benefittig from their low cost of labor: the domestic companies that produce for the Chinese market have higher prices.

          Effectively, the Chinese government is exporting tax money it collects from its own population in order to feed an exports industry for the benefit of the ruling elite that owns it. It’s directly exploiting the rest of the population to enable such low prices of export products.

    1. y’know…. there was a story about a journalist in china who gave a rare interview herself, explaining that she was fed up with people coming over to china and accusing the foxconn (and other) factories of not having western standards of living and rates of pay. she explained that only as far back as her grandparents, people in china basically lived in fields, didn’t have a house with walls (they maybe shared a cattle shed with… cattle), they were lucky if there was a water tap in the corner of the field, and for three months of the year – during winter – they basically starved.

      in contrast, the people of her generation working in the factories now earn a HUNDRED times more money (in real terms) than their grandparents, they have… ELECTRICITY, they have a warm bed, a place to sleep, and they have this stuff called FOOD.

      now, before you go “oh my god that’s terrible but it couldn’t possibly be like that in… say… europe”, actually you’d be completely and utterly wrong. in telling the story above to people here in holland, i was shocked to find that textile mills were only introduced by an enterprising individual some time in the later part of the 1800s. this entrepreneur found that people were QUEUEING outside of the factory gates to get in and work a (shocking!) six days a week for twelve hours a day, to make factory-woven cloth.

      why would they do this?

      the reason was because the cloth that they were making at home, they worked SIXTEEN hours a day, SEVEN days a week, and earned less money. and this is in a european country, only around 150 years ago.

      anyway, back to the story of china: all that the western complaints has done is (a) push up prices and (b) result in the chinese government authorising and assisting factories to move whole-sale to the remote northern areas of china, where westerners don’t go, and where wages are 5 times lower than in guangdong, where this stupid, stupid western insistence on “paying people more money” is actually wrecking the local economy.

      china has 1.4 *BILLION* people. the rules for managing that many people are drastically different from our so-called “free economy”. experimentation with the “free market” in china has caused runaway (ponzi-style) share price increases that have crashed a couple of times already and are set to crash again in a huge way.

      seeing people get upset about what they clearly and blatantly don’t understand is something that i don’t understand. have the good sense to stop judging entire nations by your own narrow, modern western perspective, please.

        1. You’re off by ~30 years. The great leap forward was 1958. The current generation of adults in China have grandparents who were born in the 10’s and 20’s.

          And as bad as Mao’s economic policies were, he was far better than what came before. Amongst those he replaced, the Nationalists were the least bad. They were incredibly corrupt, but at least they pretended to follow their own laws. The rest – warlords of all kinds – did whatever they want to whomever they want because who’s going stop them anyways? And don’t get me started on the Japanese. They make the Germans look meek.

      1. The amazing thing is not that they are beeing able to produce crap.
        The amazing thing is that they consistently produce good usable
        tools, among other things, for almost nothing. Obviously not as
        good as expensive tools produced in first world factories, but
        often good enough for day to day usage.

      1. You forget the other half of the story, which is that China is a controlled economy where the government controls the creation of jobs and orders people around to make them live where there isn’t any. They’ve got border controls inside the country to stop people from moving into the free trade zones.

        You can’t really set up a privately owned factory or any business without a go-ahead from the party, so of course there are no jobs – people aren’t allowed to, in order to have a vast horde of near-starving people as effective slave labor willing to do anything at any wage.

        In Mao’s time, farmers were forced to make pig iron or dig trenches and build pointless projects instead of tending to their fields, which caused huge famines because there wasn’t enough food being produced.

  30. In my experience price and quality are not always related at all. Reputation also does not assure quality. I can name one maker of large motorcycles that produces a very popular and expensive product that is really junk. The product has a lengthy heritage as well. But any real motorcyclist who has ridden daily for decades will avoid the brand completely. Too many breakdowns, too much maintenance and an excessive price tag, and even basic safety defects abound. In the USA we have so many under- educated people that the quality of an item can be junk and still get by.

    1. Would you happen to be talking about the Harley V-Rod? When that bike was introduced, SPEED Channel showed a ‘commercial free’ long documentary about the design, development and production of the motorcycle.

      I say ‘commercial free’ because there were just a few short interruptions to say the show was presented by some Japanese motorcycle company. IIRC it was Honda.

      Why would a Japanese company shell out the big bucks to present a show all about an American motorcycle?

  31. I’ve noticed some shockingly poor quality polymer blends and metal alloys being used in Chinese products, they do a lot of cost cutting at the materials level but who is to say if the manufacturer is to blame or if one of their suppliers is short changing them? It is a big place and has a big problem with corruption which makes it very hard to pin down root causes. Some form of certification or reputation publishing system in China may help, but it could get a bit like ebay where if they get a bad reputation they just shut-down one day and pop-up as another entity the next day. Their government has enormous power to influence these things but seems busy at the moment just coming to terms with the rot of corruption within itself. Whereas in the USA and Europe, particularly the USA there is a close link between strong patriotism and pride in the quality of their products, a smart piece of social engineering that was.

    1. That’s exactly what I have seen. I think they recycle junk metal and old plastic to cut corners. Having impurities in the mix degrades the material. They figure out that the average customers probably won’t notice.

      Their metal is getting a bit better for their lower end these days. Their plastics for cheap stuff are still horrible. I hope they would improve over time.

    1. O_o

      I bought the smaller “kits”, about 10 bits or so and the 50+ caught my eye a few times, but I never picked one up.

      I wonder if the same applies to screwdriver kits. I bought a 20 bit kit that has a nice number of the harder to find bits.

      I wonder if scraping the plating would reveal what’s underneath?

      1. At a garage sale a number of years ago, I bought a coffee can with a lot of lag bolts in it for $2. When I got home
        and emptied out the can, the bolts/screws in the bottom 2/3rds of the can were rusty, freshly painted with silver paint!

    2. That article is peddling bullshit:

      >”Surrounding the wire mountain were a couple of dozen women who were stripping the wire of insulation. These wire remnants were then spliced together and used in the grinder motor windings. Completely illegal, and dangerous. But cheap.”

      That doesn’t even work. Stripped wire has no enamel insulation, so a motor winding made out of discarded car wiring looms would simply short-circuit immediately. Adding the enamel to bits and pieces of discareded wire to make it into magnet wire would cost more many times more than simply making new magnet wire.

      1. Having lost faith that the article is nothing but a propaganda piece, I would also like to point out this:

        >”And I am here to report that properly cleaning (and storing) a well-made paint brush is an honor for a tool that will last a lifetime.”

        When a worker is paid $20 an hour to paint a house with a $5 paintbrush, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to recycle the paintbrush because for the time it takes to properly clean and store away the paintbrush you have to pay the worker twice the cost of the paintbrush – every time.

        These people who complain about how things aren’t made like they used to fail to notice that the overall cost of stuff has dropped ridiculously low due to inflation and mass-manufacture. They’re unfortunately still living in the 90’s when it comes to estimating cost and value.

  32. “No one can argue that apple’s products aren’t beautiful. That they aren’t wonderfully made.”

    As a technician for the last 20 years, I can tell you that modern Apple design “IS HORRIBLE!!!” From the basic layout, to the final engineering, Apple products suck! Got a nice picture of a stock heatsink in a late model Macbook where 25% of the die surface area is exposed due to poor heatsink design. The charging circuit on Macbooks are also so over complicated it’s a freaking nightmare to diagnose and repair(when even possible). Apple has fallen a long way since it’s golden years before Steve Jobs came back and drove Apple off a steep cliff. Anyone remember their “snow white” design theme? Those were great times! When an entire Macintosh could be taken apart without using any tools, now THAT’s great engineering, and forethought. The PCB designs were also so much more simple back then and better designed, to last. You can still find plenty of old Mac’s and Powerbooks still humming along just fine 2 decades later, but a Macbook? Yeah good luck keeping that POS working past about 2 years, right after your Apple care warranty expires your ATi GPU will de-solder itself from the board due to excessive heat cycle’s caused by bad engineering. To each his/her own my friend.

    1. I took apart a dead aluminum Powerbook G4. That thing was so hideously over complicated. Every peripheral component connected to the mainboard with a short flex cable. Where any other laptop would plug the connectors on the drives directly into connectors on the board, Apple used a flex cable. The expansion card slot and several other pieces were done the same way. The shell is a thin aluminum stamping with a lot of threaded posts welded to it. Those posts are for the screws that hold the cast metal stiffening frame, to which the main board and all the peripherals are mounted. Even the turn-catch that holds the access cover on the bottom is made of several parts held together with screws.

      Apple built that model as though it was put together by someone pulling various stock parts from a row of bins then having to string it all together with cables to make it fit together. Nothing efficiently and purposefully designed to fit together neatly with a minimum of complexity – but it was obvious that every part of it was custom designed and built with the intent of making it complex and costly to produce.

      All that complexity nobody sees only serves to introduce a huge number of potential failure points.

      The first thing Apple should have done to that design was scrap the multi-piece bottom case and frame. Two parts would have been perfect. One cast frame and one shell stamping *glued* to the frame. That would’ve shaved the parts count by around 20 posts and screws. Keep that process going. Eliminate all the pointless flex cables by mounting edge connectors around the main board for the peripherals to plug directly into. Goodbye two connector halves and the cable, -3 parts for each peripheral device.

      The end result, a far less expensive to produce, higher quality, higher reliability laptop with an even higher profit margin because Apple would’ve put the exact same retail price on it.

      1. You are having a lark…. The G4 laptops, both powerbook and iBook were a pain to service, but these were not exceptions by a long shot. The only real grief I found in them was when I had to replace HDD’s.

        The reason for these types of constructions in various brands of laptop was very obvious. Durability and strength despite light and cheap’ish materials. The ability to dissipate thermal stress, impacts and torque loads was incredible for these types of laptop to the point where the most common failure mode seemed to be obsolescence.

        The whole CNC stuff made it a whole lot simpler, but this wasn’t an arbitrary technical feat at all.

        Asking for a simple though rugged laptop during the nineties/naughtiest is demanding you eat your cake and have it too. I think you do not know what the hell you are talking about.

    2. Strange that you mention bad quality in MacBooks, does this include the pro’s ?
      Me and a couple of colleagues has been running MBP’s daily for about a decade, and when we upgrade to higher specced machines they get passed on to kids, relatives etc. And to this day, not a single one has died or needed repairs as far as I know – but maybe the pro’s are different ?

      Either that, we must be extraordinarily lucky …

      1. The pros have/had plenty of issues with failing slot loading DVD drives, overheating, display corruption, failing hard drives, rebooting when you pick the machine up by the corner, etc. etc.

        If you treat them nicely, keep them always on a table and don’t move around, use an external keyboard and mouse, keep them clean, don’t open and close the lid very often, live someplace cold, I don’t see why any laptop wouldn’t last.

        But when you start using a macbook pro as a laptop, as in you chuck it in the bag and use it on your lap on the sofa, it starts breaking down like the rest of them. For other brands, HP is notoriously bad with this: as long as it’s on the secretary’s desk all the time it’s fine, but as soon as you take it home it falls apart.

        1. Bollocks.. The 9 year old MBP I’m typing on right now has been my on-the-road system for all that time. I have had network routers, printers, desktop monitors that failed during that time, but this machine, just as it’s G4 forerunner keeps on going. The G4 has a HDD failure once…like any random system could have.

          My travel locations are not the most computer friendly as I am an archaeologist and take this machine out in the field. So basically you are full of it.

          1. Still can’t dispute the statistics. If you look at warranty returns, 20% of macs go belly up by year three. 25% of HPs and Acers do as well.

            Yours is a lucky one.

        2. Strange, we must have been extremely lucky then – because some of us have lugged our MBP’s more or less daily in bags or backpacks for the better part of a decade now. We’ve all replaced a couple chargers (the cables are … bad), and a couple batteries – but that is it. The only ‘rule’ on the list of things to do that we all don’t enthusiastically break, is that we actually live someplace cold – It should be quite rare the laptops have to cope with anything in excess of 25°C.

          One of the guys went trough regular PC laptops at a rate of 2/year, but still hasn’t had a MBP break before upgrade. Before my first MBP I actually had a Fujitsu Lifebook S7010 which was a rather dependable piece of hardware, however the drivers/software was another thing entirely – sound barely ever worked correctly, suspend/resume was a gamble, etc.

          The only more recent HP’s that I have heard some positive experiences about are with the (old) rather bulky magnesium shell.

          I’d love to find a PC laptop with good build quality, decent keyboard and preferably be able to hold its own in a beauty contest against a regular brick – hopefully be lighter than one also. Having a decent keyboard is the first hurdle, still haven’t found one that doesn’t feel like typing on a sponge compared to the MBP.

          Oh well, what is life but a struggle ?
          Thanks for your informative response anyway :)

  33. We can thank the American educational system for knocking out all these smug, spreadsheet happy MBA’s. I heard that if Thomas Edison had had an MBA working for him, he wouldn’t have invented the lightbulb. He’d have invented the bigger candle.

  34. I’ve had these two cases where european-made tools have been disppointingly poor quality.

    Case 1 was a Bosch angle grinder. I used it a lot doing vehicle restoration and when it got hot the upper spindle bearing in the plastic/GRP gearbox housing melted its fixture, which led to the bearing spinning itself. The vibration was pretty bad so I let it cool then got back to using it. It made no mention of a duty cycle. I tried shimming the bearing with a strip of brass but that did not last for long. I eventually chucked it and replaced with an el-cheapo chinese model for a fraction of the price that had a CAST METAL gearbox, and that has lasted much longer than the Bosch. I would never buy any angle grinder with a plastic/GRP gearbox again – of any brand – only metal.

    Case 2 was a Swedish-made Speedglas auto-darkening welding helmet. I was using it outside and left it in the hot sun, where it got warm and stopped working. Even though it wasn’t that old. I replaced the battery but it was still quite dead. I now have a chinese-made auto-darken helmet and it’s been good for years.

    1. Have you left the Chinese helmet out in the sun too? Otherwise how can you compare quality?

      Even some military gear (that are robust and qualified to take a beating) can’t tolerate the heat a warm day in direct sunlight can produce. So…

    2. when you say heavy use…

      do you really mean you bought at the hobby range end of their tool line. and then used it as though you were a professional, (e.g. 8 hours straight)

      I did that with a Draper pillar drill. bought hobby ignored the duty cycle. – it caught fire. – but it was MY fault, not the tools. or the tool manufacturers

  35. There’s a situation that is totally relevant to this discussion but seemingly off the mark because it’s not about Tools: Made in USA cowboy boots. The article used Crescent Tool Company and their eponymous Crescent wrench as the canonical example — an exemplar in the classical sense; nice job; good example; noticed it myself, disappointedly — of the Made in China probem, going through the philosophy and practice of the whole thing. Well, I’ve been a fan of Nocona boots my entire life. I’ve worn nothing but Nocona boots every day of my life. Nocona went into business a hundred years ago, started by a Texas woman named Enid Justin (right; her daddy was Justin Boots, and so was her brother, who she split from). To make a long story short, the ENTIRE American boot industry sank into disrepair (that might not be totally correct; I’m sorry if it sounds like a slight on Lucchese, for example, which never IMHO ever went downhill, but out of my price range.) There were Made in China boots that you could buy, even with American names on them, like “Justin Basics” for fifty bucks. They were the worst boots ever made (my wife bought me a pair; unwearable. Okay looking, though. Just unwearable.) Anyway, to make a long story short, who should come riding over the hill to save the American Cowboy Boot Industry but …. Warren Buffett! Near as I can tell, he bought ALL of the companies he could find that were still breathing — Nocona; Justin; Tony Lama; couple others — and rolled’em up and managed them well. There are now expensive Made in USA boots you can buy, and they are apparently pretty darn good again; and there are not-so-expensive Made in China boots that seem okay too; and — this is the part of the story I wanted to get to — apparently Mr Buffett must have sent a memo to one of his Managers that said, “Whatever you do, you just make sure that there is at least ONE model — you know, style number — that is a good boot for a good price and made in the USA and is the same kind of deal a Westerner could expect back in the Sixties.” So I looked around recently and there is the Nocona MD2704 in black or brown for about two hundred bucks, that I bought online from an outfit called horse.com at a discount for quite a bit under two hundred, and I was expecting the worst — buying bought the last couple decades has been a horrible experience — and those boots arrived and I’ve been wearing them around for a week now and they are the best ever. And I want to tell you, the tooling on those 2704’s is the fanciest I’ve ever had; maybe not the fanciest I’ve ever seen, what with custom bootmakers stitching on American flags and stars and horses and whatnot, but you know, the tooling; the ornamental stitching. The tooling on these basic boots is white and at least two shades of red! And it is PERFECT! I’ll quit there; I’m sure I got the idea across. It’s just like another Commenter wrote in about Apple — there’s a nuanced view that needs to be laid out for these stories (and I’ve been dealing with Apple products since — get this — 1983 when I started renting out Apple 2’s !) Maybe if Mr Buffett buys Crescent we can have good crescent wrenches and ViseGrips in perpetuity too.

  36. OK. So I generally agree with the premise that Cheap Chinese tools are crappy quality…..
    But a crescent wrench as an example? That’s not a precision tool by a really really long shot. A crescent wrench is just about the opposite of a precision tool. It’s adjustable for that exact reason.
    Also if you buy a tool from harbor freight for less money than it cost you in gas to drive to the store, what the hell do you expect? If people stopped buying cheap crap then there would be no more cheap crap, but there is a huge market for cheap crap so just be happy that some things aren’t so crappy that they aren’t useful and you saved some money in the process.

    1. Because it is a crap shoot.
      A tool I will use only once every two years or so (e.g. serpentine belt tool) may last me a lifetime, and it is there when I need it. Some “cheap” tools will last a lifetime of daily use, some only need to work once. If I was an auto mechanic by trade, I would buy tools that have a reputation for quality strength, but I’m under the hood just a few times a year…

  37. Some Chinese manufacturers have drastically stepped up their game on quality. Go have a look at the hand tools today at a Harbor Freight. Check the wrenches, mirror finishes, good chrome. They have those ratcheting box end wrenches every bit as good as the original GearWrench brand.

    The power tools are still pretty much the same as ever, except for having gone through a few design changes so the battery shapes are different and non-interchangeable with earlier versions of the cordless tools.

    I used to own serial #346 of the Grizzly 7×10 mini metal lathe. I was at least it’s 3rd owner. The lathe had terrible build quality, and had also been abused by prior owners attempting to make it work. I took a different tack. I took it all apart to see what its problems were. There was some grit between the headstock and bed and an edge of the bed had been dinged. I cleaned that up and filed down the ding, then the spindle aligned perfectly with the bed. The surfaces where the leadscrew bearings mounted were uneven and built up with body filler. I use a mill with a fly cutter to cut them down level then shimmed it back out to align with the half nuts in the apron. Similar treatment was needed a few other places. When I was done, that little lathe was rather nice.

    In contrast, before I bought that little lathe used, I’d bought a new 7×12. Same design but so much better finished everywhere and nothing out of alignment, plus the tops of the ways had been induction hardened and precision ground.

    Quality *is* available from China, but the importer must ask for it and like anything anywhere, be willing to pay for it.

    When it comes to machine tools like lathes and milling machines, there are a few designs, copied by pretty much everyone. If you browse for non-Bridgeport knee mills you’ll quickly notice things like how they all use the same drive housings, one for step pulley and another for split sheave variable speed.

    When one company discontinues a model, they’ll sell the patterns and tooling to another company. For example, I have an Enco (not Emco!) milling machine identical to the Grizzly G0731. http://grizzly.com/products/8-x-30-Vertical-Mill-with-Power-Feed/G0731

    Enco hasn’t made that style of mill since Grizzly started selling them. Hmmm. Did Grizzly buy the patterns etc. or did the actual manufacturer just change the paint from green to white and put Grizzly tags instead of Enco tags on when Enco was done selling them and Grizzly wanted a line of mills that size?

    1. I’m going a different direction on machine tools. Buying 50’s and 60’s American heavy iron. Got a 16 x 78 Axelson circa mid 50’s for almost scrap prices and a Van Norman mill from the same vintage and seme larger peices (28″ x 11.5′ c-c Sidney Lathe for example). This is larger than most hobbyists use but I had the room and lifting capacity to handle it and am getting the best manual machine tools ever built for scrap prices. However the Chinese are building good glass scale DRO’s (Ditron) that I’m retrofitting them to as to bring them up to 21st century standards.

  38. Remember that most US made cars would be declared unsafe in the rest of the world. And remember that the Japanese had to tighten the tolerances on many american-designed parts to get then to wear correctly. Xenophobia can only get you so far.

    1. US auto/truck manufacturers have a different set of rules for export. The stuff they build here has to comply with thousands of safety/pollution laws. I saw one Peterbuilt truck when I was in the Middle East that did not use tempered safety glass for its windows.

  39. South Bend lathes are now made in Taiwan, under the ownership of Grizzly. The ‘great recession’ is what made that deal possible. Grizzly didn’t want to have South Bend products made in China. Taiwan has long had a reputation for tools almost as good as Japanese tools (after they got past their crap period after WW2). Grizzly found a factory that was going to have to downsize and lay off a bunch of employees. They were happy to get the South Bend contract.

    Current South Bend lathes are not *exact* copies of various generic Asian designs all the other companies sell. they have quite a number of changes, whether or not those changes are *improvements*…

    One new lathe from the new South Bend turned out to be a flop. Their 8″ swing (diameter, not radius) 8K was based on the so common 9×20. Different headstock, better quick change gearbox, the apron shape changed to resemble the old 9″ Workshop lathe. They even beefed up the bed a bit. But what was NOT changed was the 9×20’s worst feature, the cross slide and flimsy compound slide mounting ring. To make matters worse, instead of a gear drive to the gearbox, the SB 8K used cogged belts and pullies. Combined with an 8″ swing it was no replacement for the venerable 9″ Workshop lathe.

    Come the end of 2015 they clearanced the model out with a sub-$2000 price and it’s no longer in their catalog.

    Had they made it a 9″ swing and improved on the 9×20 in EVERY way, essentially designing an all new lathe, it would have been a good selling product. Making it 90% different/improved wasn’t enough, especially not when the 10% was things that needed improved the most.

  40. You know, the market decides these things. People decide what quality they need as adequate in a tool and then buy the cheapest thing that meets that. All this article is really saying is that yes, more expensive tools that are more carefully made, are better. A more relevant question, though, is how much better they really need to be. I mean, a Crescent wrench from China probably does the job just as well or nearly so as the one from USA, or, for that matter, a much cheaper Pittsburg one from Harbor Freight. Yeah if you’re a true lover and connoisseur of a fine adjustable wrench and use it constantly for a particular purpose, buy the best one you can find. Most people – the cheap Chinese one will do the job perfectly. (I have at least 8 adjustable wrenches, probably half of them American Crescents.)

    I have literally thousands of tools, I use tools every single day for most of the day, have done for about 35 years. Also, I love tools. For some purposes, you need a superb quality tool, and a good one is worth what you’ll have to pay for it. However, for many other purposes, a cheap tool is perfectly adequate. The other thing about cheap tools: they are a game changer. When a minigrinder from HF costs $17 rather than $90 for a Makita or $125 for a Porter Cable, guess what? You can afford to actually buy 2 or 3 or 10 of the cheap ones and set each one up with a different grinder wheel. Digital caliper? I have an SPI that cost $150 many years ago (Swiss made). I recently got one from China that’s not quite as good. But it only cost $14 and it works. And I can afford to get 2-3 of them and keep them in different places around the shop. Digital infrared laser pointer thermometer? Never could justify the $200+ ones. Saw a cheap Chinese one for $40, found it quite useful. Bought two, now use one in the kitchen! Can I justify a $150 brad nailer? Nope. Can I justify a $20 brad nailer? Yep.

    Now places like Harbor Freight, when they first opened you could count on their tools being crap. Now? Well, some of their tools are excellent, not all certainly. Last year I bought a dual action sander – it’s actually been better quality than the Porter Cable. It was not super cheap, but still less than half of the PC. I bought two. You have to go on a tool by tool basis, but believe me, the stuff is serviceable and if you don’t like it, you’re not out much money.

    The other thing is, even the Swiss are now making theirs in China. So are the Japanese and the Taiwanese and the Germans.

    The country of origin basically has nothing to do with it. A manufacturer, or if a manufacturer production or parts to China, they can either do that well or do that badly.

  41. What a product is worth for you? Its price or its actual effectiveness?
    The design intent: from the value of an idea to the value of a product. “Intent is what makes a good product, not a country, everything else is just melted rocks and dinosaurs that came along for the ride.”
    This article is excellent

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