Author Topic: The Moustachian approach to buying tools  (Read 2885 times)

Grantstacey

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The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« on: June 08, 2017, 04:28:09 PM »
Hello Everyone,

This is my first post to the forum. I would really appreciate your opinions regarding buying tools. I am a professional cabinetmaker and millworker. The company I work for specializing in custom made, premium quality cabinets and furnishings typically working for the most un-moustachian people on the face of the planet. Since my indoctrination to the MMM way of life I have been cutting back on expenses and frivolous spending in all areas. However, I would love to hear your opinions regarding the purchasing of premium quality tools. I typically buy Festool when it comes to power tools and similar level of quality hand tools. Is it ridiculous to spend this kind of money on tools when I use them for work on a daily basis and have found over the years that there is indeed a large difference between your standard grade of tools and the premium grade? I always write off any purchases I make for work but I can't help but cringe sometimes when I make these rather expensive purchases. Let me know what you think.

Thanks!

thesvenster

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2017, 04:34:07 PM »
I'd say you are certainly ok buying expensive tools, they are literally the tools of your trade and they make you money. Now, you might look to be careful about where you buy your tools by shopping around for the best deals, and also evaluating which tools you need top quality for and which you can go a bit cheaper on.

So just take a honest look at what you "need" and what you "want."

lthenderson

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2017, 09:54:16 AM »
In my experience, buying good quality premium tools is much cheaper than buying strings of cheap tools that you have to not only replace from time to time but spend lots of time fixing the crappy jobs that they do. I do lots of woodworking and have built cabinets in the past and I started out with cheap tools simply because that was all I could afford back then. Had I to do it all over, I would have waited until I could afford a good tool to begin with. Note though that I have never owned or used anything by Festool. I mostly stick to upper mid-range brands but if I did this for a living, Festool would definitely be on my short list.

ketchup

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2017, 10:12:14 AM »
For true "tools of the trade" that you use every day it makes zero sense to cheap out (as long as you can cash-flow them).  Get the good stuff that will last and will save you time and produce a better result.  For hobbyists, the cheap stuff tends to be "good enough" often enough that it makes sense to at least start there.

Examples: My GF has expensive fancy camera gear, because she makes her living as a pro photographer and shoots tens of thousands of photos a year.  I have fairy-basic-tier mechanic's tools, as I am a very non-professional and only work on our own cars.

mtn

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2017, 10:16:18 AM »
I ref hockey. My skates cost $700 new (I bought them on closeout). No reason to cheap out on them--fact is, I weigh 200 pounds and am very strong. I would break cheap skates. It would be silly to keep buying cheap skates.

Tools for me? I don't do much with them, but I do know that every time I cheap out on a tool I end up hurt or pissed, or both, and eventually replace it with the real one. Don't cheap out on tools--especially if your livelihood depends on it.

FWIW, the only cheap tools I keep around anymore are an emergency set I keep in my trunk. $15 at Harbor Freight--It gets me the things I need for an EMERGENCY roadside repair. Otherwise I'm figuring out a way to get the real deal.

thesvenster

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2017, 10:55:51 AM »
You'll just have to be honest with what your tools of the trade are. Your table router? Buy the best one. The truck you use to deliver the cabinets and do bids? You can go inexpensive there.

Not really directed at you, but I actually love cheap tools because you can abuse the hell out of them without feeling bad.

ketchup

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2017, 11:02:16 AM »
You'll just have to be honest with what your tools of the trade are. Your table router? Buy the best one. The truck you use to deliver the cabinets and do bids? You can go inexpensive there.

Not really directed at you, but I actually love cheap tools because you can abuse the hell out of them without feeling bad.
This is also true.  Vehicles are a case where people get stupid sometimes because "it's for the business."  My GF and I like to joke about tripling the value of our car by putting her case of camera gear in the back seat.  She'd much rather have $5k in camera shit and a $2k car to drive to her photoshoots than the opposite.

mtn

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2017, 11:17:12 AM »

Not really directed at you, but I actually love cheap tools because you can abuse the hell out of them without feeling bad.

This is actually a good point. If I have to do something on my car that I think might end up with the tool breaking, I'll use HF/Yardsale tools the whole time, leaving my vintage Craftsman in the box. Things like getting that damn rusted bolt off of my brake caliper. Broke two HF wrenches in the process.

trollwithamustache

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #8 on: June 09, 2017, 11:23:45 AM »
It depends?

A cheapo multimeter is super useful checking a few car battery type things a few times a year.  At the end of the day, that's all I really use it for so the fancy fluke isn't worth it. I've only used my pipe wrench once, it was pretty expensive for a drawer decoration and the cheaper Harbor Freight one would have been fine.

The Drill/impact driver gets used all the freaking time. I hope I bought one that will last! (Makita)

Finally I'm not sure this is actually worth it, but I've got some cheap metal hand tools that appear to be decent steel but poor surface prep. I coat them with Balistol (oil) and the rust hasn't spread. Now they need a quick wipe before use, but a little care has gone a long way.




Dicey

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2017, 09:39:45 AM »
I think the temptation to buy All.The.Tools might be strong. Rather than address just the quality, which you should buy, address the number of times you're actually going to need X tool and how much utility it adds to what you already own. Just because it's how you earn your living doesn't mean you get to ignore the Wants vs. Needs analysis. It's fine to spend the money as long as you're smart about it. Assuming, of course, you have the cash.
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cadillacmike

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2017, 09:21:16 PM »
I still have the 3/8 drill and scroller saw that I bought over 30 years ago. I bought decent ones, not the most expensive, but something that was solidly built. They get regular, but not heavy use, and I've never had a problem with them. Same with some socket sets and hand wrenches. US made. All of the cheap asian sockets either proves to be inaccurate or broke over time.

Spork

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #11 on: June 11, 2017, 06:39:51 AM »
I still have the 3/8 drill and scroller saw that I bought over 30 years ago. I bought decent ones, not the most expensive, but something that was solidly built. They get regular, but not heavy use, and I've never had a problem with them. Same with some socket sets and hand wrenches. US made. All of the cheap asian sockets either proves to be inaccurate or broke over time.

Same here.  And the 3/8" drill was probably the bottom of the line Craftsman (because that was all I could afford).  I've abused the hell out of it.  It still works as well as the day I bought it.  I don't know that buying the same level of quality today would have the same results... though I think (with inflation factored in) today's drills are cheaper in price.
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cadillacmike

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2017, 12:14:37 PM »
I still have the 3/8 drill and scroller saw that I bought over 30 years ago. I bought decent ones, not the most expensive, but something that was solidly built. They get regular, but not heavy use, and I've never had a problem with them. Same with some socket sets and hand wrenches. US made. All of the cheap asian sockets either proves to be inaccurate or broke over time.

Same here.  And the 3/8" drill was probably the bottom of the line Craftsman (because that was all I could afford).  I've abused the hell out of it.  It still works as well as the day I bought it.  I don't know that buying the same level of quality today would have the same results... though I think (with inflation factored in) today's drills are cheaper in price.

It was a Craftsman, but it was closer to the top of the line. It wasn't their hammer drill, but a newer electronic rather than sleeve reduction motor with a keyless chuck. Same motor type for the jigsaw and they are both fine to this day.

BudgetSlasher

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2017, 03:46:37 PM »
I've found that good tools can be had on craigslist for a great price if you watch long and act quickly.

I see nothing wrong with buying good tools when they are the source of your livelihood or in cases like mine my tools will more than pay for themselves when compared to the cost of custom cabinets. I also have learned that if you buy cheap tools, even if just for one job, you will mind up buying that tool again and replacing it with a good tool.

As has already been said differentiate between a "need" and a "want", in the case of a business it might be better to look at it from the point of view of cost against increased productivity. 

When it comes to Festool here is where I stand; a Festool will be better than a higher end Bosch/Dewalt/Makita, however in most cases it is well beyond the point of diminishing returns; the difference is nowhere near the jump in quality from say a harbor freight miter saw to the high end. For example a 12" DeWalt sliding miter saw costs around 600 dollars, but the 10-1/4 inch is almost 1500 dollars. True that Festool can lock the cut depth to make dados by taking multiple adjacent cuts, but unless you are either trying to be portable, a table saw a router or a radial arm saw will all make a dado as well or better (and probably cost less, even after buying the miter saw). There are some things that only Festool has, the domino system comes to mind, and if your joint of choice is a floating tenon (which is probably better than dowels, biscuits, or pocket holes) . . . well then yes it probably is worth it as it will increase productivity.

All of that being said, I routinely am watching and learning new woodworking skills from youtube videos and I often receive a reality check when I see people way above my skill level using an inexpensive Ryobi tabletop band saw, that I wouldn't have even considered or using an old planer that you can pick up on craigslist for much less than a modern lunchbox planer, but I had passed up because it was too heavy and would have required some tuning up. The list goes on and on harbor freight screw drivers, princess auto air compressors. I guess it all comes back to need vs want.

Edit: (just to be clear) I am not saying that Festool is overpriced garbage; far from, when I have gotten the opportunity to use them, I find them to be excellent tools. I also find many other brands to be very-good to a-little-less-excellent (and I find a certain group of fanboys who believe everything non-Festool is complete junk intolerable.) If you have a need that only a Festool will meet or that last little bit of excellence increase is worth it in terms of your productivity . . . well go for the Festool.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2017, 03:52:35 PM by BudgetSlasher »

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #14 on: June 11, 2017, 11:30:25 PM »
I generally agree on buying quality tools to support your profession. And to not cheap out on related gear such as comfortable work boots and safety gear. 

I am no cabinetmaker, but I would imagine paying top dollar for sharp tools such as router bits and saw blades, but less on things which are not less critical for achieving a good outcome.

Grantstacey

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #15 on: June 14, 2017, 01:10:27 PM »
Hey Everyone,

Thanks for the response. It is great to receive varying opinions on this matter and reassess this particular situation. Here are my own personal thoughts in the matter in response to what you all have written. I find this discussion vary interesting and adaptable to many other situations of this sort, where working professionals need to be smart about how they invest their money in their business.

From my own personal experience I have found Festool to be much better bang for my buck for a few reasons. Their tools last much longer then the equivalents that I have owned from companies like Makita, Dewalt, Milwaukee etc. One example being Makita's drill set, I replaced 6 batteries over the 5 years that used this tool before upgrading to the Festool equivalent. I intially made this upgarde because I need the right angle drill chuck to fasten cabinets and hardware in tight and confined spaces. I was greatly surprised when I discovered the batteries lasted longer and I have never had to replace a Festool battery.

I totally agree that the most important factor in this whole equation is assessing your wants vs. your needs correctly and making sure you have the tools you need only. Furthermore buying them outright for cash is definitely the only acceptable method. Festool does come up for sale second hand on occasion but it is very seldom and typically is comprised of vacuum accessories. I really believe this is further proof that the company makes a quality product which lasts as people who buy them keep them for life.

I will continue to keep my eye out online for the rare opportunity to buy secondhand.

Thanks again for the input!

ncornilsen

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #16 on: June 14, 2017, 05:00:30 PM »
I have a few ways of doing things.
anything electronic that I need to use alot, will be name brand... IE, I have a dewalt angle grinder I use the hell out of, and a Miller welder. If it's something I am trying to decide on renting vs buying, I look at my needs. do I need the sophistication of a rented high end unit/ or will a simple unit do it?  for example, I needed a tile saw. Renting one for a day was more than the cost of a new harbor freight tile saw, which has decent reviews. I didn't need complex mitering, or to cut huge tiles. So I bought the HF one.  Used it for three days, cleaned it, boxed it up... if it works the next time I need to do tile, great. If not... well, who cares. I can make an assessment again at that point in time.

I bought a $350 3-in-1 metal shear/brake from harbor freight. A few other vendors sell the EXACT same tool for 2 or 3 times that cost. I did put 5 hours into taking it apart, dressing some surfaces, replaced some bolts, etc. to make it work right, but it's been worth every penny since. I'd never buy a $2,000 version.

I buy Wiss hand sheetmetal shears, I buy old craftsman hand tools (new stuff is junk) when I can find them. they never wear out and can be bought incrementally, easily. I buy the odd harbord frieght wrench set if I need to cut/bend a specialy wrench, but that's rare.

BDWW

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #17 on: June 14, 2017, 05:11:58 PM »
I build custom furniture, and I don't skimp on tools. Like many above have mentioned, I bought many cheap tools early in my career, and can't think of many that have stood the test of time.

I personally have never seen the value(cost/benefit) in Festool*, I have a smorgasboard of Bosch, Makita, Milwaukee,Porter Cable, etc.  I simple try to find the best tool for the job, and don't worry too much about brand as long is it is a premium brand/tool.

*Aside from the domino, and I have been toying with replacing my slider with a Kapex.

The one brand I can definitely voice my experience against, Ryobi. I have spent for more than I'd like to admit(early on) on those pieces of junk and always regretted it.

nereo

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #18 on: June 14, 2017, 05:21:09 PM »
I've always been afraid of picking up a Festool (for fear I might like it too much).

As others have said, know your needs from wants, and good tools in particular pop up on Craigslist and estate sales fairly frequently.
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sokoloff

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #19 on: June 14, 2017, 08:10:46 PM »
Not really directed at you, but I actually love cheap tools because you can abuse the hell out of them without feeling bad.
This is actually a good point. If I have to do something on my car that I think might end up with the tool breaking, I'll use HF/Yardsale tools the whole time, leaving my vintage Craftsman in the box. Things like getting that damn rusted bolt off of my brake caliper. Broke two HF wrenches in the process.
I'm pretty much the opposite. I bought some SnapOn tools (used and even there shopping patiently until I found a good deal) so that I break fewer tools (and bust fewer knuckles) and round fewer corners on hard-to-release fasteners. I have only broken one SnapOn tool and that was from ridiculous abuse. Run of the mill loosen a rusty bolt on a suspension? No problem (you may need to use penetrating oil and/or heat in addition to force, but that's true of anything).

Lots of mechanics start out buying a cabinet full of SnapOn tools that you can pickup 15-25 cents on the dollar when they get out of the business. Still expensive, even at 75% discount, but they're a lifetime purchase.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2017, 06:49:01 AM by sokoloff »

BlueMR2

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #20 on: June 18, 2017, 05:54:45 AM »
My approach is to buy the cheap tools the first time.  If/when I break it I then consider upgrading to the premium brand.  If you use it enough to break the cheap one, it's a worthwhile investment.  If you don't use it enough to break it (or the cheap model is "good enough"), why buy something nice...  Apply some common sense though.  Exceptions for emergencies and/or things I'm 100% certain I'm going to use a lot and know the cheap models aren't good enough.

younggunner

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #21 on: June 24, 2017, 05:28:35 AM »
"Quality will remain long after the price is forgotten".
-Henry Royce (founder of Rolls Royce)

When your cheaper tools are falling apart in a year or two, and your quality Dewalt, Milwaukee, etc. are stil going strong after 10+ years, I don't think you will remember a 25% more expensive price tag. 

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #22 on: June 24, 2017, 05:45:35 AM »
I purchased almost all my tools at either garage sales or Craigslist. You can often get nearly new tools for a pittance because a lot of people make big plans for DIY work and then decide they would rather watch TV and hire someone to do the job. The tools just sit on a shelf in their garage until you can buy them at discount.

That works for other stuff too, which is why I was able to get a nearly new bread machine for $30.

VCaddy

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #23 on: June 24, 2017, 09:09:44 AM »
I buy once, cry once.  Good tools, and the right tool for the job make doing the job a pleasure.  I buy used, I've built a few sets out of socket or wrench bucket deals, take advantage of my connection at an industrial supply, wait for 30% off deals at places like Zoro.  Tools like Wright grip and Proto ASD wrenches, Bondhus hex keys, and Felo screwdrivers have eliminated rounded fasteners from my projects.  No more wasting time removing trashed fasteners that cheap tools destroyed. 

the_fella

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #24 on: June 25, 2017, 12:18:22 PM »

Not really directed at you, but I actually love cheap tools because you can abuse the hell out of them without feeling bad.

This is actually a good point. If I have to do something on my car that I think might end up with the tool breaking, I'll use HF/Yardsale tools the whole time, leaving my vintage Craftsman in the box. Things like getting that damn rusted bolt off of my brake caliper. Broke two HF wrenches in the process.

I recently replaced my front struts and sway bar links. There are two bolts that hold the strut to the steering knuckle. I believe they're 23 mm. Anyway, I was able to get one side off with my impact. The other side wouldn't budge, so I used my Harbor Freight breaker bar. The breaker bar is a 3/8" drive and the socket is 1/2" drive, so I had to use an adapter. I got one of the bolts out, then the Craftsman adapter broke. I had to go to AutoZone and buy another one to get the other bolt out. I now have a 1/2" drive breaker bar as well. I was legitimately surprised to see the Craftsman adapter break and the HF breaker bar be unaffected. I'm sure you know this, but HF does offer a lifetime warranty on all hand tools, though they do play it a bit loose with what they consider a hand tool. Right about half of my tools are NAPA branded, and the rest are almost all Harbor Freight, except my manifold gauge set and a couple of other smaller items. I've had very few problems.

the_fella

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #25 on: June 25, 2017, 12:28:59 PM »
I'm not a professional mechanic, but I do the majority of the work on my car and my mother's car. I have no issue buying most tools from Harbor Freight. About half of my tools are NAPA branded, which came in a kit from when I was in trade school. Most of the rest are from Harbor Freight or various sellers on ebay. The only tools I've had break is a Craftsman 3/8" female to 1/2" male adapter and a reverse drill bit from HF, though I'm not counting that as a "bad tool" since drill bits are especially prone to breaking, especially when drilling metal.

I have an air impact and impact sockets, an air angle die grinder, a battery-powered drill (which I have used to drill out spot welds in metal), a portable jump box (used for jumping your car when there's not another car around), a set of Allen and Torx "wrenches", two breaker bars (3/8" and 1/2"), a set of ratcheting combination wrenches (one of my favorite tools), and others I'm no doubt forgetting, all from Harbor Freight. I have yet to have a problem with any of them. I also have an 8 gallon air compressor that originally came from HF, but I bought it from a guy on Craigslist for $60.

paddedhat

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #26 on: June 25, 2017, 03:33:08 PM »
When it comes to power tools I have  many name brand (Dewalt, Hitachi, and Makita)  ones that I bought as "refurbished". They were online purchases, typically from either factory, or factory authorized, repair centers. I have never had an issue with any of them, and it's always interesting to open the box when they arrive. I have a really sweet Magnesium framed circular saw that was about a third cheaper than the lowest price otherwise. It was apparently dropped when new, since every part of it was new, except the blade shroud, which was replaced with a slightly used one that had another owner's initials etched in. My Makita angle grinder was sold as refurbished, but brand new, sealed in the box. My Hitachi leaf blower was stupid cheap, and arrived with no receipt, or instructions, in an unmarked box. The explanation  I found was that there was a manufacturing error involving two small fuel hoses that needed to be replaced, or the thing wouldn't run. They got hundreds of them returned, swapped out two fifty cent pieces of hose, and sold them for half price. One of the refurbishing outfits explained that the tools you receive can vary from brand new (due to a manufacturer's decision to dump them cheap) ,  to  unused, and undamaged, but returned to the manufacturer for many reasons. They may of been in great condition, but non-functional before the repair center repaired them, or they may have been returned with missing parts, accessories, packaging, etc. and can only be resold as refurbished.

So far I have never been burned using this option, and I do it whenever I can, including household stuff like a vacuum cleaner and a laptop.

crimwell

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #27 on: June 26, 2017, 07:51:37 AM »
When it comes to power tools I have  many name brand (Dewalt, Hitachi, and Makita)  ones that I bought as "refurbished". They were online purchases, typically from either factory, or factory authorized, repair centers.

got any links/names? i've never realized this was an option

paddedhat

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #28 on: June 26, 2017, 08:14:12 AM »
When it comes to power tools I have  many name brand (Dewalt, Hitachi, and Makita)  ones that I bought as "refurbished". They were online purchases, typically from either factory, or factory authorized, repair centers.

got any links/names? i've never realized this was an option

I have had good luck with these guys:

http://www.cpoindustrialpowertools.com/makita-reconditioned/makita-reconditioned,default,sc.html


Other purchases were from ebay and Amazon.  If you are researching a particular tool on Amazon, click on for "may be available from other sellers for less" link. This will often take you to resellers who have great prices on returns and reconditioned stuff. I have occasionally purchased from these sources, and gotten 20-30% off Amazon's best price, for a tool that was new, but didn't have the factory packaging or paperwork.

Spork

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #29 on: June 26, 2017, 08:45:18 AM »
When it comes to power tools I have  many name brand (Dewalt, Hitachi, and Makita)  ones that I bought as "refurbished". They were online purchases, typically from either factory, or factory authorized, repair centers.

got any links/names? i've never realized this was an option

I have had good luck with these guys:

http://www.cpoindustrialpowertools.com/makita-reconditioned/makita-reconditioned,default,sc.html


Other purchases were from ebay and Amazon.  If you are researching a particular tool on Amazon, click on for "may be available from other sellers for less" link. This will often take you to resellers who have great prices on returns and reconditioned stuff. I have occasionally purchased from these sources, and gotten 20-30% off Amazon's best price, for a tool that was new, but didn't have the factory packaging or paperwork.

I've also occasionally gotten a link to the side on Amazon that offered an Amazon returned item.  They're about 1/2 the original price and are usually for something stupid like a scratch. 
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bostonjim

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #30 on: June 30, 2017, 07:57:18 PM »
Woodworkers out there: I am in process of putting together some basic hand tools for a foray into furnituremaking, and I was wondering: are expensive chisels worth it?  Is it just that they take and keep an edge easier, or is there something else?

AnnaGrowsAMustache

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #31 on: June 30, 2017, 10:38:12 PM »
I would personally buy the best quality tools I could, and I would expect to have them last a lifetime if I took good care of them. Buy once and buy quality. Anything else is false economy.

doggyfizzle

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #32 on: June 30, 2017, 10:54:35 PM »
Depending on the type (electric or handheld) Harry J Epstein is a great website to look at for quality hand tools at good prices - in fact great prices in many or most cases.

crimwell

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #33 on: July 02, 2017, 08:43:55 AM »
When it comes to power tools I have  many name brand (Dewalt, Hitachi, and Makita)  ones that I bought as "refurbished". They were online purchases, typically from either factory, or factory authorized, repair centers.

got any links/names? i've never realized this was an option

I have had good luck with these guys:

http://www.cpoindustrialpowertools.com/makita-reconditioned/makita-reconditioned,default,sc.html


Other purchases were from ebay and Amazon.  If you are researching a particular tool on Amazon, click on for "may be available from other sellers for less" link. This will often take you to resellers who have great prices on returns and reconditioned stuff. I have occasionally purchased from these sources, and gotten 20-30% off Amazon's best price, for a tool that was new, but didn't have the factory packaging or paperwork.
awesome, thanks!

BDWW

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Re: The Moustachian approach to buying tools
« Reply #34 on: July 05, 2017, 02:46:06 PM »
Woodworkers out there: I am in process of putting together some basic hand tools for a foray into furnituremaking, and I was wondering: are expensive chisels worth it?  Is it just that they take and keep an edge easier, or is there something else?

Short answer, no.

Long answer, it's really based on personal preference. I'll preface by saying that some truly cheap chisels may be horrible to fettle/work with. They can have just horrible steel, or a bellied back or something. But anything slightly above bottom of the barrel will be fine.
For cheap chisels, you'll like just have to spend a bit more time flattening the back, and establishing a proper bevel the first time you use them. More expensive chisels will be closer out of the box, but all chisels will need some attention before being used.

As to why it's personal preference: cheap chisels generally using a mild tool steel, while some more expensive chisels use a harder steel.
The harder steel will take more time to sharpen, but will hold an edge longer. There's also more risk the edge will fracture(break), say when chopping a mortise.
Softer steel will sharpen and dull faster, and less chance of fracture.

I prefer a milder steel, as it's just easier to touch up and keep razor sharp.

I have a lot of different chisels, but as a reasonable suggestion, you can't go wrong with a Narex set.

edit: Also, I prefer chisels with a ferrule and tang rather than a socket. In my experience socketed chisels have a habit of falling off the handle when humidity changes.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2017, 02:51:33 PM by BDWW »