ARE TOOLS MADE OVERSEAS OF POOR QUALITY AND IF SO WHO'S TO BLAME

Forum: Power Tools

Quite frequently when someone ask about what tool to buy online folks chime in with which tool to buy and then the conversation usually ends up with one or more persons saying this brand use to be great when it was made in the USA. Has anyone really had a direct comparison by having the product made in the states and the newer product made in China or somewhere else overseas side by side?
I’m wondering is this claim true that non-American products ar inferior is really true or is it our “buy American” fervor kicking in ? If you feel they are inferior who’s fault is it? is it the manufacturer for not requiring high enough standards for the products they order from overseas? Is it our fault for wanting lower prices? Or is it just the fact there made by people getting very low wages?
What’s your take on the subject?

woodworking classes, custom furniture maker

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22 Replies

Glaros Studios ...

Well. .. “Overseas” isd a big place! Lol.
I’ve found that even with North American tooling, things seem to be getting poorer in quality all the time. Look at a Unisaw from the 50’s and then look at a newer one. The old one has heavier castings, cast iron base etc…lots of tin now… Things made in China seem to always be crap…things made in Germany seem To be fantastic…. There seems to be no quality control in Chinese factories so if parts are made there you may have issues… Mind you, not everyone can afford high quality so there is always a place for the Cheaply made stuff. I tend to buy used for that reason.

a1jim ...

Good points Angellos but don’t you think that if the US manufactures demanded quality from whoever makes the tools that they would be made better?

kiefer ...

It’s all about profit and we just stand by watching .
Tools are still designed in the west but that will change as more and more technology is stolen and given away and soon we will not be able to afford even the stuff made overseas as our manufacturing is disappearing .
Tools today are better then they where back in the good old days because of technology and modern materials but they have come to a point of where they can not be repaired easily and are just replaced .
A lot of tools that we have today did not exist years ago or where not affordable and most of the talk about the quality of old tools is just nostalgia .
Take a look at hand tools like a hand plane iron or a carbide tooth saw blade and compare .
Plane iron material is far better today and a saw blade lasts and cuts far better then back then and who had a random orbit sander back then or even a decent router .
Tools change and advance with technology and that’s all good but we should not forget the old tools as they are part of our history and I still love them for what they are .

Glaros Studios ...

True about the technology advancements, they have been fantastic. I was referring more to the quality of the materials, castings etc.. ie, metal gears in a drill used to be fairly standard. ( i know you can still get them in the higher end tools). I once shredded a brand new Makita 3/8" electric drill drilling 3/4" holes in spruce 2″ × 6″‘s (plates) with a spade bit. That just shouldn’t happen. I had the gears go on a 13" Jet Planer too. It hadn’t seen much use and never any abuse. I replaced them and was appalled at how soft the metal was. (made in Taiwan I believe)

Jim… I would hope so but the almighty dollar seems to be the main thing they are looking for. Maybe if the consumer demanded quality (and backed it up with their spending dollars)?
After my experience with the drill (they didn’t stand behind it) I went 20 years without buying another Makita product.

With blades, carbide equipped modern blades have no comparison. With knives and chisels it depends on who made them.

a1jim ...

Klaus
I hadn’t thought about it but you point is valid about haveing tools that didn’t exist
years ago,other than comparing modern tools to those masters of old who only had non power tools. Technology is one thing and quality control is another.All said and done our country is subject to the WalMart mindset. I have to admit I would have far less tools if all I could buy are tools in the Festool price range.

a1jim ...

Angellos
I think we all have our brand names we stay away from because of bad experiences ,my bad experiences are products from sears everything from table saws,routers and even riding lawn mowers. Try to get parts or items repaired under warranty was like trying to get information from a foreign government .all this on products that should have lasted much longer than they did.

Glaros Studios ...

Yeah, I guess that would a whole other discussion! lol

Manitario ...

I think that most businesses follow the money; cheaper production allows them to lower tool costs, which helps sales and boost profits. In some ways, this has been going on since the beginning of the industrial revolution; machines taking the place of human labour in order to both increase production and decrease costs.
North America had a huge head start in the manufacturing industry compared to eg. China; as well, restrictive foreign government polices and domestic trade restrictions kept the bulk of North American tool manufacturing in North America. As the manufacturing capabilities of other countries has improved and trade restrictions have lessened, businesses have moved to cheaper manufacturing, as has been the pattern for the last 250 years.

I think that the quality problem in many of today’s tools is not simply because they are made overseas; the technology to build tools is not particularly complicated, especially considering that China also builds microchips and eg. satellites. I think that the main issues are that companies are continually looking for ways of reducing production costs, and consumer demand for entry level tools is much much higher than it was eg. 50 years ago. If a company can get away with putting plastic gears in a drill and making it cheap enough so many people buy it, then even if it breaks in 2 years instead of 20, the public will slowly have its perception changed on how long a tool is “supposed” to last. Especially if producing a tool with plastic gears allows Joe Weekend Woodworker to go down to his local big box store and be able to afford it today, rather than having to save for it. One of the last companies to sell North American made woodworking machinery, General, stopped its N. American production a couple of years ago, I think largely because they were having trouble selling the N. American made tools. For example, you could buy a 6" jointer made at their plant in Quebec for ~$4000, or buy a very similar one made by them at their plant in Taiwan for ~$800; which one do you think they sold more of….Another example is Northfield Machinery http://www.northfieldwoodworking.com/
Excellent, N. American made tools but prices that are unaffordable to 99% of hobbyists and small woodworking businesses.

I don’t think that we’ll ever see N. American made tools offered at a price point that most of us can afford, and therefore we probably won’t see too many tools brought back to be made in N. America again. I think that the best we can do is to spend our money on tools that are well made, not simply the cheapest at the BORG, and call out the manufactures that make crap tools or offer crap service. In this fast paced internet based world one bad review carries a lot more weight than ever before.

Mike40 ...

I won’t pretend to know much about marketing but it seems to me that tools, or anything else for that matter, are produced to hit different price points for different market segments. The quality is usually determined by the price of getting a product to market, though admittedly not always. I think that when high priced quality brands are are not up to snuff it is usually due to a lack of quality control and/or poor design rather than deliberate downgrading. My 18" bandsaw for example is Chinese made with some pot metal parts in the guides which are easy to strip out when adjusting and tightening. Nevertheless it performs very well and being aware of it’s week points helps me to use caution when making adjustments; i.e. not to over-tighten screws. This saw cost me about half as much as I would normally pay for a bandsaw of this capacity and power rating, so I cannot expect the the top quality materials, machining, etc. you would get in a much more expensive tool. That said I am very happy with its performance in every way and I’m glad that I can enjoy the benefits of a bandsaw with this capacity that is within a price range I can live with, otherwise I would just have to do without. On smaller purchases I try to buy high quality, but usually not the top priced stuff. This my take on the subject and it works for me. I think it it great when America manufactures tools, but they too are ruled by the market place.

a1jim ...

You both make very good points Rob and Mike.

Thorreain ...

I don’t know too much about pricing now vs then. Here is something to consider, I bought a mid priced drill 35 years ago it was $200. That was at the higher end back then and it’s still going strong. My favourite tool. Back then I bought tools with weight in mind, and how it felt. The heavier the more metal, the smoother running the closer the tolerances. But here is the point, the company hasn’t sold me a drill since…where is the profit in only selling one of anything because it lasted a lifetime. They have my loyalty but if I don’t ever need to buy another my money stays in my pocket. It may be by design that things don’t last as well as they used to, even North American made.

Jeff B ...

I buy most of my tools at Harbor Freight. The reason why I do that is the last few “name brand” tools I bought, including my Ridgid R4512 table saw has a tiny little “Made in China” sticker on them somewhere. So long as you don’t buy the lowest price option on a tool at Harbor Freight, the quality is fine. My 20 inch Harbor Freight drill press is a well made workhorse. If I’m going to end up with a Chinese tool, I might as well pay a Chinese price for it.

mike1950 ...

Lack of quality is the buyers fault- If you buy quality it will last, if you buy cheap crap it will not. In our quest to obtain more tools if we buy and demand quality, we may/will pay more initially but in the long run will will have more because we only buy once. The buyer has control, we need to use our money wisely.

a1jim ...

Thanks for your comments folks

Mike40 ...

I bought my Combination machine, a delta 10" bandsaw, a 2hp shop vac and a drill press all about 20 years ago. These machines were all on the inexpensive side constructed for hobbyists. I still use them daily and without any replacement parts. I have replaced my bandsaw with a larger unit and I gave the Delta to my son who is still using it regularly. I have added some other higher quality machine tools since. I am very satisfied with the performance of these machines, but if I had to do it all over again I would consider buying even better quality and larger capacity machines because they seem to last forever and you get more pleasure from using them. It took me a long time to realize the value of quality tools. I have used this experience to buy quality stuff since, especially power hand tools and I haven’t been disappointed. I don’t buy the best, just good.