Product Warranties vs. The Big Chain Stores

Posted by Steve on Tue, 07/14/2015 - 11:05am

The NJ Tool Show is an annual event that my tool-nut friend and I eagerly anticipate all year. We get to see all the latest innovations in shop tools, from programmable laser cutters that sliced with such precision that they could duplicate a business card in 6 point type in a piece of oak veneer to shade tree inventions that seemed to have no practical use at all.  It's tool porn, no doubt about it.

At one of the shows, maybe 2001, I ducked outside into the freezing January weather to grab a smoke -- a habit I'm glad to say I kicked many years ago. Outside I met a district rep for a well-known German power tool maker. We chatted about the show and I expressed surprise not to see either Home Depot or Lowes in attendance. After all, both were huge tool retailers in the NYC area. He grunted and said that the worst decision his company had ever made was to bring in big chain stores as retailers for their products.

I commented on how much cheaper it was to buy tools from these stores than from dedicated tool stores like A.W. Meyer. "Guess it's their volume advantage, right?" He said I was correct, except not in the way I thought. These stores were able to use their clout as volume sellers to make the companies build models just for them, cutting corners to save costs. He said that's mostly why they're cheaper. "Wait. Are you saying that the same tool bought at a big chain store isn't the same as one bought at, say, Wankel's Hardware on 3rd Ave?" Yup.

The Tormek Blade Sharpening System

Posted by Steve on Sat, 04/11/2009 - 1:12pm

Shop owners love to brag about the incredible tool buys they've made on eBay, at flea markets and at estate auctions. Like my $50 Hitachi framing nailer and $125 radial arm saw.

But most of us have also made purchases we're less proud of, like the $100 "miracle corner clamping system" I bought at a tool show which turned out to be utterly useless for anything besides building the tiny box the salesman demonstrated at the show. Naturally, we don't talk much about those overpriced white elephants, which is probably why these hucksters are still in business.

Then there are those purchases that fall somewhere in the middle: useful tools with staggering price tags that don't really justify the tool's performance. When I purchased the Tormek T7 wet grinder at the International Woodworking Show in New Jersey, I was afraid I'd made just such a buy. After purchasing the optional jigs and accesories I needed for my planer and jointer blades, knives and scissors I walked out of the convention center almost $700 lighter.

Indeed, there's not much to this tool. It's basically just a slow-turning motor with a couple of wheels, a plastic bath tub and a steel frame. But it does an excellent job. Over the past four years I've taken for granted how much it's meant to always have sharp blades, chisels and knives in the shop.

Sure, experienced old timers can accomplish this manually with a sharening stone but it's a skill I don't have nor am I particularly eager to learn it with my expensive blades. There's more to it than just rubbing a blade against a block, like maintaining the precise bevel. Get this wrong on a 12" planer blade and you might as well toss the set and buy new ones.

That's how I balance -- or possibly rationalize -- the cost of the Tormek. I was spending a hundred bucks a year on new planer and jointer blades before the Tormek but I haven't bought a single set since. As an added bonus, I have scary sharp chisels, scissors and kitchen knives too.

In fact, if you've never had a knife professionally sharpened before you don't know how sharp they can be. Perhaps for liability reasons, brand new, store bought knives are usually pretty dull by comparison.

Leaf Vacuums and Big Ideas

Posted by Steve on Thu, 10/23/2008 - 12:06am

In my relentless quest to acquire every possible tool before I leave this planet, this weekend I picked up a leaf vacuum.

Thanks to my neighbor's regrettable decision to plant a bunch of poplars in his yard, all of which grew to over 60 feet in a few short years, my back yard maintenance has increased several-fold, especially this time of year. If you have any experience with poplars you know that they shed like sheepdogs. It was all the excuse I needed to invest in a new electric tool. No more acoustic brooms for me!

Lowes carried Black & Decker, Toro and Troy-Bilt. They were all 12 amps, all fairly heavy, all injection molded plastic and they're probably all made in the same Chinese factory. So I looked for details on the box to close the sale. The B&D had a "metal impeller". I wasn't sure what difference that made, but it was ten bucks more than the others so it had to be better, right?

I wanted to write a review of the Black & Decker but it died on me five minutes into its maiden voyage. The motor started making a clicking noise, slowed down, started smoking... I took that as a clue.

I've never had much luck with Black & Decker, from the toaster oven that caught fire to the power screwdriver than came apart in my hand. Okay, their stuff is pure crap. I mostly acquire B&D junk only by way of well-meaning gift givers. Folks, I have no product advertisers here for a reason.

Lowes took the return in good spirit. The nice lady at the return desk said, "Another one, huh?" I thought she was asking if I wanted to replace it, which I didn't. Instead, without looking up she pointed at the wall where there were two more expired B&D leaf vacs.

Got a shop? You need this stuff!

Posted by Steve on Sun, 02/24/2008 - 10:52pm

Last weekend, my boss and I made the trek to the annual NJ Woodworking Show. Jeb has a pretty nice woodworking shop but his passion is car and motorcycle restoration. He's done several old bikes -- Velocettes and Moto Guzzis -- but his current project is a 1955 Land Rover. The Rover looked like it had been parked at the bottom of a river for the last fifty years but after two years he's nearing paint and finish, which means he needed supplies, which means we both needed to hit the show.

I've been looking for a decent steel tool deck cleaner for a couple of years. Nothing I've tried worked much better than WD40, #00 steel wool and carnuba wax. Jeb told me that he'd had good results with Boeshield and, sure enough, we found it at the show. It's expensive but it was worth a try.

Yet another "cool tool" article

Posted by Steve on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 8:52pm

I've blathered a lot on the blog about the coolness of routers but another tool I use quite a bit is a biscuit joiner.

Wuzzat? A social dinner roll? Bread glue?

It's a tool I first saw TOH demigod, Norm Abrams, use back in the 80s. Okay, let's be honest: Norm has a shop full of bizarre, narrow purpose tools. But a biscuit (or plate) joiner is really useful, especially for edge-laminating boards as I'm about to do here. It can also be used to strengthen mitered corners or to insert alignment pins. I did the latter when I installed the heavy mahogany header in my garage door surround.

Ten gallons of sawdust later...

Posted by Steve on Thu, 02/22/2007 - 4:03pm

I finished cutting 208 feet of bolection moulding for the wainscotting in the bedroom reno and guess what? I needed 216 feet to complete the job, dammit! I knew I was cutting it close (literally) but I only had a couple of (expensive) red oak 1x8s left which I need for the wainscotting shelf. I'll dig into my red oak scrap pile and cut the remainder this afternoon.

Anyway, I was right. A bolection moulding a/k/a inset panel cap moulding a/k/a rabbeted panel moulding is just an inverted base cap profile with a rabbet. After my router bit quest, I settled on a $28 base cap bit from Woodside.

Tool Show Post Mortem: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Posted by Steve on Sun, 02/18/2007 - 11:09am

I'm glad the Somerset Tool Show moved back it to the Exhibit Center because it was suffering at the Ramapo convention center. There were lots of new vendors this year, and lots of new tools.

My primary misson however was finding a router bit to cut the bolection mouldings for the wainscotting in my bedroom reno. The router bit yodas I was counting on for enlightenment were no help. One guy even told me I needed a shaper to get that profile. He must have noticed me looking at him like he had two heads because he followed up with, "...but maybe not."

The Somerset (NJ) Woodworking Show - any NYC area bloggers going?

Posted by Steve on Sun, 02/11/2007 - 1:08am

Feb 16-18, 2007
Garden State Exhibit Center
50 Atrium Drive
Somerset, NJ
(exit 19, Route 287)
Sponsored by Wood Magazine

This will be like my 8th or 9th visit to this show. It's like a crack house for woodworking junkies. Every conceivable tool, useful or not, is on display and usually being demonstrated. At least half of my present shop was purchased at one of these shows, including my Delta X Unisaw and Dewalt SCMS. I also load up on all my sandpaper, nitrile gloves and other consumables for the year. The prices are that good.

If there's an answer to my still unanswered question, "what router bits do I need to make bolection moulding?", this is where I'll find it. All the router bit gurus are there from CMT, Freud and Whiteside.

I've never done a seminar there but there are two that are particularly timely for me at this stage of the bedroom reno: Doors & Drawers and Understanding Finishes. Most of the seminars are free, BTW.

Labor Day Snoozer

Posted by Steve on Mon, 09/04/2006 - 1:11am

This was the first Labor Day weekend since I got this place that I wasn't knee deep in some h/i project. Last year I was in the middle of the guest room renovation. Now, I'm waiting for lumber estimates so I can start on the master bedroom rehab. I took the opportunity to hack on my Drupal software here and to play with the Categories and Views modules on a private Drupal instance. Nice software but, man, does it need a coherent manual.

We got some of Ernesto on Friday/Saturday. The wind down here on NY Harbor was pretty fierce so there was clean up to do, which is about as clumsy a segue as I can make to my house topic o' the day: compressors.

I've got a 20-gallon compressor. It's one of my favorite tools in the shop -- not just for what it typically does but for some of the oddball uses you can put it to, like drying off a washed car and blowing out the shop after a sanding marathon. It can even take out a mosquito at six feet. Today it was my broom.


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