Why Are There So Many Bad Tools?

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Greetings, fellow ruminators, timber-trimmers, and cast-ahrn consumers. While following some links related to my day job, I came across a very nice explanation for the poor quality of woodworking tools and supplies. Despite its name, Moen's Law of Bicycles seems to hit the mark.
In my area, woodshops in schools are used only for adult education; the kids don't get to touch the stuff. These kids grow up, and either move out of the area or become engineers, marry someone in marketing, buy a newish, salmon-colored stucco home, and after a few too many hours watching TLC, set up a shop in the carhole.
There's nothing wrong with any of that, but it explains the selection of tools at the big box stores, and increasingly, even at less general-focus retail establishments.
This isn't merely a case of snootiness, as I'm just one of the bozos I described*, and I clearly don't get everything I could out of my BT3100, so I don't need a Powermatic 66. Yet.
Anyway, with that buildup, here's the link to Rick Moen's laws (don't miss Tactical Stupidity and Moen's Law of Inefficient Immolation). Reprinted without permission, below the link, is the bulk of the Law of Bicycles. See what you think.
<http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/lexicon.html#moenslaw-bicycles
Moen's Law of Bicycles
"Good customers make for good products". This is my explanation for why an ignorant customer base causes merchandise quality to decline, on account of unhealthy market dynamics, e.g., in retail computer hardware and software. In the mid-1970s, bicycles suddenly became very popular in the USA. The masses suddenly entered the market, few knowing anything about bicycles. Many could distinguish poorly if at all between good equipment and bad; good customer service and bad. Consequently, poorly made bicycles (which cost less to make) undercut well made ones (and poor customer service out-earned the good variety), because their superior value ceased to be perceived. Over time, overall quality of available bicycles declined considerably, almost entirely because of this dynamic with customers, recovering only after the fad ended, years later.
Quality thrives only when people can tell the difference. When they haven't a clue about products and how they work, schlock merchandise prevails. One can see this process at work in retail computing gear and software: People who know least about computing always insist most on achieving bottom dollar. In a way, this is understandable: You want to exercise control over the process, and, if you're dirt-ignorant about computing, the only place to exercise control is over price. Gradually, this effect tends to drive good merchandise out of the market entirely, leaving a generous selection of cheap crud.
*My house does have exterior stucco, but it's not a salmon hue. Instead, it's a nasty blue/gray, perhaps left over from the mothball fleet or one Keeter's router tables. The nasty gray/blue (mostly) covers nasty yellow, which is probably not the original paint color, either, based on the other homes in this late '50s subdivision. Oh, and I've only got basic cable, so no TLC, and unfortunately, also no Woodwright's Shop. The two local PBS stations seem to be too busy trying to help us throw "Idea Parties." Maybe some of us need a Clue Party.
Ahem.
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This could be interesting.
But, if you only have basic cable, you are paying too much and still don't get the DIY (do it yourself) channel, and you aren't getting the best woodworking show: Wood Works. Run right out and get satellite.
Steve

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On Mon, 22 Nov 2004 19:47:13 +0000, Steven and Gail Peterson wrote:

Hmmm. That $16 per month I'm paying isn't getting me much, but it's as much as I'm willing to pay.
To put it another way, there's no chance I'll get satellite. There is a chance I'll just cancel cable.
Maybe someday I'll need a redwood-n-copper front gate, and I'll wish I had this opportunity again. But I doubt it.
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"Buttonhole McGee"

I think that's a bit overgeneralized. When people do become familiar, like with bycicles, they demand better quality. True, the mass market is for low grade products but even they are better due to technology than say, the low end bikes just short years ago. Most hobbyists don't want to pay top dollar for a tool but the top dollar tool is available for those who want it. The law I believelin effect is the law of supply and demand.
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On Mon, 22 Nov 2004 11:52:57 -0800, "Fletis Humplebacker" <!> wrote:

Sucks, doesn't it. I've been wanting a combination head square for a while now, and I was drooling over the Starret LV sells for around $150- but I don't *need* something that accurate. So, I dug around for forever and a day, and found that the only other version available to me (that I could find) was a "Tool Shop" one for $10. I knew it was going to suck. I came back to look at it at least three times, and finally thought to myself "it can't be $140 worse" and brought the sucker home. Turns out I was wrong. It's not only thin enough to read the paper through, but the inner ring of the protractor is powder-coated (guess how long that lasted before it started to grind) and the screw that attaches it to the ruler actually falls right out if the the head is removed for some reason. ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!!! Where in the %^&* are the reasonable-quality $60 tools? Guess they're too expensive for the DiY/Walmart crowd, but not flashy enough for *pros*. Dammit.
Aut inveniam viam aut faciam
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Prometheus asks:

Highland Hardware has a square for $40 that might fit your needs. I've got a similar one, same price, and it serves decently, but is not as good as my Craftsman American made...but that costs, IIRC, about $120.
Charlie Self "Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing." Redd Foxx
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<snip>

I've had a couple different combination squares over the years, and although I can't speak for the Starrett, every one I've ever used the spring & screw would fall out if removed from the ruler. This includes the combo head, center finder head and the protractor head.
--
Nahmie
The law of intelligent tinkering: save all the parts.
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On Tue, 23 Nov 2004 06:35:08 -0500, "Norman D. Crow"

Perhaps it's just me, but I really don't think they should. My carpenter's square doesn't do that, and I rarely need to remove the combo head on that. On the other hand, to use any of the three heads on the combination set the other two need to be removed- what are you supposed to do to keep the screws in place, duct tape them everytime you use the tool? I guess someone somewhere along the line figured they could save a tenth of a cent by eliminating a washer inside. Aut inveniam viam aut faciam
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Buttonhole McGee writes:

Yes, with a proviso. Someone, somewhere needs to take the responsibility for educating the general run of customers in any particular area. The only way you get guaranteed access in such a situation is to be either a manufacturer, distributor or retailer. Unfortunately, not many start-up woodworkers (bicyclers, computer users, HDTV users, whatever the hell) even seem able to get the concept of spending some time in their local library or visually grazing through a local bookstore/magazine shop.
In an area about which I know little (primarily because I don't give a large rodent's tuchus), I found a couple funny articles on HDTV and home theater systems in the local (Raanoke, VA) newspaper this morning. One guy posed proudly in front of his seven remotes.
Astounding.
Charlie Self "Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing." Redd Foxx
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There is a simpler one, - a tiny bit cynical, though, but to the point. I read it somewhere already in the 70'es:
"There's a fool born every minute. If I can sell my tin chisel to one in ten only once, I'm still a millionaire."
Bjarte
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I wondered where those extra cans of Rustoleum wandered off to.
UA100
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On Mon, 22 Nov 2004 17:09:31 -0600, Unisaw A100 wrote:

Well, I have to say that shade looks a far sight better on a router table, or a battleship, than peeling off my house.
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On Mon, 22 Nov 2004 19:20:06 GMT, Buttonhole McGee

<SNIP>
Thats a pretty fair explanation and with woodworking it seemed to happen right after the New Yankee Workshop started airing on PBS.
Norm made it all look so easy and suddenly woodworking went from professional to hobbyist status. Prices on everything related started taking major upward jumps, catalogs appeared from no where, tool quality took a dive and a whole shopping cart full of useless gadgets appeared.
So much for the value of television.
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On the other hand, if you just want a bicycle to tool around with the grandkids for the few years that they will allow themselves to be seen with you, do you really need a $3,000 2 lb aluminum specialty whizzit italian 47 speed grand touring bicycle with corinthian leather saddlebags, or will a K-Mart 5 speed suffice? Just like if you are tooling up to make tomato stakes do you really need a PM66 and a couple dozen different LN planes? If you are a serious biker, shop at a bike specialty store, spend the $3,000 and expect all the best in bells and whistles. If a serious woodworker don't buy your serious tools at K-Mart.
Dave Hall
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Good woodworkers don't blame their tools. Yes it's nice to have good tools... I have over $30,000 worth in my shop - and it's only my hobby shop. I work at someone else's shop during the day. But to be honest I can do all that I need on a Dewalt cheapo table saw as I can on a powermatic 66 for a hell of a lot less. If I'm a pro then of course I want good tools but if I only turn the saw on once a month or less as an amateur then no. I see nothing wrong with cheap (crap) tools. It allows those who don't have much to do a lot for a price they can afford. If you have an obscene amount of money then you buy what ever the hell you want regardless of your skill level, which I see a lot at the local guild. There a lot of rich guys with the best tools money can buy doing some increadibly shitty work out there.

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On Tue, 23 Nov 2004 03:12:08 GMT, "johnny rotten"

Actually it's almost exactly the opposite. A professional's skill and experience allows him/her to comprensate for the failings of his/her tools. An inexperienced worker can't do that nearly as well and needs good tools.
(The issue of productivity for the professional is another matter.)
--RC
Sleep? Isn't that a totally inadequate substitute for caffine?
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Buttonhole McGee wrote:

Oh, I dunno. I have a $200 computer that's got a 40 gig hard drive, a 2 gig processor, half a gig of ram... Sure, I got crap video and crap audio, a crap mobo with only two slots, a comparatively small drive, no DVD stuff, but damn, I got a ripping fast, perfectly functional computer for $200.
It wasn't all that long ago that I paid $800 for a CPU. Not that much longer ago that $1/megabyte was a steal for hard drives. (That's really scary when you think that the average low spec drive today in 2004 is probably 80 gigs. By the old standard, it's an $81,920 drive. For $75. Damn.)
I just don't think it's quite a fair comparison. How much do people NEED a computer to do? My cheap computer does everything the dual 5 GHz 10 terabyte 4 gigabyte mega ultra hoo flutzy of my dreams could do, only slower, and maybe a little less of it. It spends 90% of its time with a CPU load average of near 0%.
I think the fact that super el-crappo low budget Wal-Mart consumer computers today are a lot faster than the one I'm using now is really great.
That's not at all the same thing as saying I love HF tools and I'm happy to own my Suckmeister 3000 TS with extra sloppy arbor, double decibel, ultra anemic motor, and extra flexible fence.
--
Michael McIntyre ---- Silvan < snipped-for-privacy@users.sourceforge.net>
Linux fanatic, and certified Geek; registered Linux user #243621
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Silvan responds:

Computers are probably a special case. My first PC (not my first computer) cost me about $2800, 20 meg hard drive, 640K RAM, 5-1/4" floppy, 12" amber screen, and that was IT. I wanted to fill out the RAM (IIRC, to I gig), and was quoted a price of $1100. Hard drive went belly up, and it cost me about $300 to replace it with a 32MB version.
About a year ago, I bought a second hard drive for this computer: a 120 gig USB portable that also works on my laptop. The laptop has only a 15 gig hard drive, while this desktop came from Dell with a 120 gig (now considered fairly small, since a buddy of mine got a 250 gig for about the same price, but that's what 18 months in computerland does: my hot 3 gig Pentium IV, with a gig of RAM is now fairly slow [yeah, right], but only in comparison to some of the new stuff).
I wonder what computers will change to when they finally switch over to 64 bit paths and write some programs for that.
It should make keeping track of CAD woodworking drawings a lot easier.
Charlie Self "Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing." Redd Foxx
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Charlie Self writes:

Wouldja believe ONE MEG!
Jeez. Early morning fingers.
Charlie Self "Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good." H. L. Mencken
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Charlie,
I know you have been around long enough for this. I think tools--at least the better ones--have been getting better and are more affordable. The price you pay for a shop of better tools today is less, in terms of what your paycheck will buy, than it was 30 years ago. The 12v Dewalt drill I bought in June of 1993 cost $159 which is about what I would pay for a BETTER grandson of that 12 volt drill today over 11 years later. My craftsman wood lathe cost about $300 in 1973 and the same one (probably off the same tooling but better components) was selling at Home Depot for $300 before it went on closeout this year for $199!!! My large bench drill press cost $135.15 (Taiwanese, of course) in December of 1978. The same thing would cost about the same today (and also Taiwanese or Chinese, of course). I have a Milwaukee 3 v screwdriver that cost about $100 in the latter 80's and is selling for about the same price today--in fact, I think I might be able to get the 2 speed model for about that price or maybe a hair more today.
Tools may not be dropping like the computers, but they are sure a good value today. Twenty or 30 years ago I would not have given the Porter Cables or Milwaukees a second look, because they were out of my price range. That is not true today and not even true for people my kid's age.

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