Buy fewer, but buy better: Tools

Most of the things we bring into our homes will eventually end up in landfills. If, however, we make conscious choices to buy durable and well-made products, then we can reduce both the amount of waste we create and the amount of clutter we bring into our homes.

When it comes to tools, be honest about what you really need to own. Unless you’re a contractor, you probably don’t need to your own drywall lifter or demolition hammer, especially when those types of tools can be easily rented when needed for DIY projects.

There are, however, several basic hand tools that every homeowner will eventually need. When buying these tools, consider either the quality of the product or the quality of the warranty.

Quality of the Warranty

When I was in high school I had a part-time job working at a Sears Hardware store in the suburbs of Chicago. Occasionally I would work shifts at the service desk. In that capacity, people would bring me sad and misshapen Craftsman hand tools. It was my job to smile and give them shiny new replacements.

Sears takes the “complete satisfaction” warranty that covers their hand tools very seriously. It’s also worth noting that Craftsman hand tools are rather inexpensive when compared to other professional-quality toolmakers, especially when you consider that you’re basically buying a bundled insurance policy with every covered tool.

When the warranty is that good, you might feel the product’s quality is irrelevant, provided you’re willing to deal with the hassle of actually schlepping a broken screwdriver into the store to pick up a replacement.

Quality of the Product

Most of the higher-end tool manufacturers don’t offer a warranty as good as Craftsman. That doesn’t mean their tools aren’t made as well. In fact, most contractors and mechanics would agree that the quality of tools made by the companies listed below exceeds the quality of Craftsman Tools:

  • Snap-on Hand Tools: Generally better made but more expensive than Craftsman. No lifetime warranty.
  • Klein Tools: Favored by electricians and linemen.
  • Lie Nielsen: Heirloom quality woodworking tools that are almost too beautiful to use, as shown below. Someday my wife will finally take the hint.

25 Comments for “Buy fewer, but buy better: Tools”

  1. posted by Suzyn on

    Garrett Wade is another good source of high-quality hand tools. garrettwade.com

  2. posted by Kathryn Fenner on

    I had a great boyfriend decades ago who taught me this. I still have many of the kitchen tools he gave me. Buy top quality knives, pots and pans, and so on and you will never have to replace them.

  3. posted by mike on

    Mmmm… Lie Nielsen tools are so nice to work with.

    Veritas/Lee Valley also makes very good tools and they have a much larger selection than Lie Nielsen. They are less expensive than LN. Again, these are predominately for woodworking.

  4. posted by Own fewer tools | Driven Daily on

    [...] Here’s the link:  Buy fewer, but better tools [...]

  5. posted by chacha1 on

    I think it’s funny that the bit about “buy fewer” got a little lost here in favor of “buy better” and a Honey Hint. ;-)

    Perhaps we could skew this back toward uncluttering by looking at consolidating collections (DH and I had So Many Screwdrivers!!), tool rental options (what CAN you get at Home Depot?), and reality checks (e.g. how likely are you to use that RotoZip … ours was a wedding present, but we’ve used it exactly once in eight years). Which tools work for which tasks, and under what circumstances is it worth keeping a particular tool? Is it “worth” filling up space with this stuff when a) your space could otherwise be used for daily activities and b) replacing the average tool is the matter of one or two hours’ wages?

    I think this would have been a natural follow-on from the whole paying-for-storage thing. How many people keep ancient tool boxes because the stuff belonged to Pop or Granddad? When does sentiment start costing you, in time/money/space/goodwill?

  6. Avatar of PJ Doland

    posted by PJ Doland on

    @chacha1 – I had intentionally highlighted that first section to make it clear that it’s the most important point to take away, despite its brevity.

  7. posted by Ruth Hansell on

    There are tool lending libraries in many communities. Type in ‘tool lending library + your town’ in your search engine to find if there’s one in your area.

    In divesting yourself of not needed tools, check and see if you’ve got a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store close by, they’ll take tools and building supplies in good condition and re-sell them.

    Ruth Hansell

  8. Avatar of PJ Doland

    posted by PJ Doland on

    Wikipedia actually has a page listing communities with tool-lending libraries.

  9. posted by Mike on

    Very true. I once owned a post-hole digger and a bench grinder. After both sat unused for three years, I finally sold them for a song at a garage sale.

    The “essential tools” list is fantastic and is pretty much right on target. One thing I would add for anyone who has to do yard maintenance is a branch trimmer — whether a hedger or a pole-chainsaw depends on what kind of foliage your yard contains. Unless you have a landscaping service taking care of it, in which case never mind. But that’s a cost-benefit equation you’ll have to do for yourself.

  10. posted by stagepin on

    Also remember, the more tools you have, the more likely it is that you’ll get called over to help your friends with their issues. You have to be really buddy-buddy with someone to help them fix their sewer pipe. Ask yourself if you really want to be that intimate with your friends.

  11. posted by Brian Beck on

    Snap on tools are warrantied for life against breakage, but not if you wear them out, which is what usually happens with those.
    But if you wear them out and then they break, that’s covered.

  12. posted by Lisa D on

    There are also neighborhoods that have organized tool sharing on a neighborhood level, with great results. As people borrow more tools and interact with each other more, they become more comfortable listing more items on the list and it grows. If you think about it, even items such as lawnmowers aren’t used THAT often, and could be shared.

  13. posted by Joe T. on

    Not exactly on topic (unclutter), but I recall well the Whole Earth Catalog’s (circa 1970) advice on tools: Buy cheap, until you know you are going to use that tool often; then buy the best you can afford.

  14. posted by Daniel on

    My dad got suckered into buying an outrageously expensive Kirby G3 vacuum cleaner 19 years ago. He eventually gave it to me because it was more convenient to use a Panasonic upright.
    The Panasonic has been fixed 5-6 times, while the heavy duty Kirby continues to perform like new using it’s original belts and attachments.

  15. posted by Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com on

    this is the eighty twenty principle at work here with tools. Totally agree. Its like when donald trump said buy better shoes because they will benefit you in the long run.

  16. posted by Donnie on

    I would somewhat have to disagree with this portion of your website. A real man can never have too many tools. I am a prime example of someone who has a workshop full of tools from Craftsman to Klein, from Makita to DeWalt to Porter Cable to Milwaukee. Lincoln Arc Welders, Hobart Mig Welder, Airco Oxygen Acetylene, two different sizes drill presses, two different size table saws, three different size and style miter saws. Airborne air compresser, and two twin tank compressors,Paslode nail guns…. POINT BEING….Craftsman has hands down the best hand tools on the market. However, I have owned numerous Craftsman electric and rechargeable tools and they do not hold a candle to the workability or power of Makita, Dewalt, and Milwaukee. Every hand tool (wrenches,screwdrivers, etc.) are either Craftsman or Klein. During the past 30 years I have rid my inventory of all Craftsman power and electric tools as they can’t compare to the other brands in quality, ease of use, or workmanship. In large table equipment, the workmanship and precise abilities of Craftsman are much inferior to other national branded and many import tools of the same or cheaper price points. Using all of these tools as a hobbyist, tools are one segment that you get exactly what you pay for and Sears should stick to their guns on the hand tool categories and leave the power tools to those companies that can offer a premium quality product at a equally competitive price for values offered.

  17. posted by Claycat on

    I didn’t know Donald Trump said that about shoes! My mother said that since I was a little girl, and I have taken it to heart. I am sixty, and my feet are in pretty good shape!

    On the tools: When I had my MIL’s estate sale, the extra tools were the first thing to go. We still have some excellent hand tools, but my FIL had a large amount. If I had known how highly they are prized, I would have charged more. :)

    My precious father taught me to use tools when I was little. I am handier with them than my husband. ;)

    Those woodworking tools are gorgeous! I like to cut woodblocks for printing, so I definitely appreciate those. I have my FIL’s woodworking tools!

  18. posted by Joe T. on

    Donnie,
    I used to think the same of Sears Craftsman hand tools, that they were all you need for quality. Then I said so to my mechanic, but he disagreed strongly, saying that they’re junk. I asked why he thought that way, and he took me immediately to a big Craftsman wrench with damaged edges. He said that’s typical of Sears wrenches, but never happens with a wrench from a better brand.

    Though I still think Craftsman is normally just fine for the typical homeowner.

  19. posted by gypsy packer on

    Buy your Craftsman tools on Black Friday or in the week or two following. They make sets of battery-operated tools which are invaluable for small to fairly complex projects, and the batteries are interchangeable.
    Second hint, for us gals, is: Do purchase the flowered feminine stuff. Men steal tools. All men, no exceptions. They will not steal a flowered hammer, screwdriver, or anything pink.
    The iPhone app “Where’s My Stuff” does prevent tool theft.
    In this rotten economy, good sets of Snap-on and Craftsman tools can be purchased from pawnshops, but inspect them carefully for damage.

  20. posted by OogieM on

    Be sure the tools you are giving up are actually easily rented in your area.

    We’re a good 75 mile one way trip from the nearest Home Depot, and about 30 miles from the nearest tool rental place with much of anything. In general if we need a tool at all it’s a lot cheaper to buy it once, even if we only use it once every 8 years or so because of the cost and time involved to try to get to a place where we could rent or borrow one.

    Craftsman tools may be nice but warranty and replacement isn’t any good when the item you need to fix is broken now and the Sears store is 150 or more miles away!

    We have an agreement in our house. We watch the budget on lots of things but tools are off limits, If anyone needs a tool we buy it, the best we can afford, no questions asked.

    This has saved us hundreds in repair bills and fuel and time costs to try to borrow or rent one.

  21. posted by Bob Allen on

    Buy good tools and you won’t be sorry. That doesn’t have to mean the best or most expensive. Cared for, used properly, and not abused, moderately-priced tools (like Craftsman) will both do the jobs well and last a long time. I have Craftsman tools, both hand and electric, that I have had and used regularly for 30 years without a single problem. Now, if I made my living with tools, I would buy professional quality tools.

    My only exception with the list of essentials is that I would recommend a good cordless drill — one of the best purchases I have made. But, that’s a personal preference.

  22. posted by empty on

    What is wrong with 4 in 1 screwdrivers? I have one and find it very useful for nearly every one of the normal day-to-day tasks that require a screwdriver.

  23. posted by Shalin on

    Quality over quantity, I agree. For geeking out on tools, check this out: http://toolmonger.com/

    Enjoy,
    S

  24. posted by Adam on

    I have a Leatherman, a hammer, a (corded) drill, a multi-bit precision screwdriver, and a tape measure. I have tackled many, many problems with this lightweight kit.

    Oh, and a Sharpie.

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    [...] Reduce clutter: buy fewer but better tools [...]

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