Thursday, October 14, 2010

Heritage Tools? Not Any More

           I remember when I was growing up that my best friend’s dad was a machinist who worked in middle management of a big machine tool company.  He had a beautiful wooden chest on his workbench in the basement at home with fine measuring instruments in it – calipers, gauges, and fascinating special tools.  These were tools that would last several lifetimes and became family heirlooms, of sorts.  They were made of the finest metals and were relatively expensive.

            Most boys eventually put together a set of tools, and later build on that to sometimes fill a toolbox that they use as adults.  I’ve got a Craftsman® multi-drawer tool chest on rollers that holds a collection of various tools I accumulated over the years.  I always tried to get tools in the mid-price range that would last and serve me well.  Sears was always the place to go, but local hardware stores also carried a variety of well-known American tools like Stanley®, Estwing®, Channellock®, Vise-Grip®, and others.

            One day in the 1980s I broke a metric socket while working on a car.  I was in a hurry to get the job done, so I went to a new store that carried all kinds of tools.  Many carried the brand name Buffalo®, and that sounded like a good American company, and the price for a whole set of metric sockets was really cheap, so I bought it.  The original socket held up for decades before it succumbed to my overpowering abuse.  The new one lasted a month, and then I looked more closely to discover the “Made in China” imprint.  This was a new wave of throw-away tools that truly aren’t made to last, but will get the job done.  And if it breaks, it won’t cost much to buy another.  Of course, this keeps production going on the other end of the chain, too.

            Once these tools became entrenched in our retail landscape, the superior-quality American tool sales slipped and slid downward.  These great companies, like Black & Decker®, Skil®, Briggs & Stratton®, began looking for ways to lower their costs to become more competitive.  No way, said the unions.  Our state and federal governments also made more rules, regulations, restrictions, fees, taxes, etc. that simply increased the cost of production, which must be passed on to the consumer.  Their only recourse was to build factories where these problems don’t exist.  So now, when you look for those American brands that you grew up with, be sure to look at the packaging to see where the product is made now.  You shouldn’t be surprised.  Here’s a list:

            Channellock®                      USA
            Crescent®                            USA
            Wiss®                                   USA
            Nicholson®                           USA
            Estwing®                              USA (Rockford, IL, my hometown)
            Johnson®                             USA & China
            Vise-Grip®                           China
            Weller®                                 Mexico
            Irwin®                                    China
            Plumb®                                 China
            Porter-Cable®                      China & Mexico
            Great Neck®                         China
            DeWalt®                                Mexico
            Milwaukee®                          China
            Ridgid®                                 China
            Vermont American®            China !!
            So, if you want to buy someone a gift of a tool this Christmas, birthday, or for whatever reason, get them something that’s still made in this country, regardless of how nice the packaging and tool itself looks.  Check the back of the package and see where it is made. 

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