Monday, September 6, 2010

Tools are meant to be broken

First, a word about our recent hurricane preparedness craze - our preparations served as a well needed drill and excercise, Hurricane Earl providing little more than a light drizzle and mildly elevated winds. We are back to business around the dockyard, and all conditions are normal.


Back to business, and much sawdust was made in the Framing Bay as the construction efforts on the 25-foot Launch resumed. The shaping of the keel is going very well, though I am not quite sure yet how I will go about cutting the concavity in the bow and stern sections, and the midships rabbets where the flat at baseline elevation is actually at -7 millimeters. But that is for another day. Today I killed the second power hand planer in as many months, completely frying the drive belt. Luckily that is a relatively easy repair, I just have to wait for a new belt. But I was thinking about all the tools I either break or damage on a regular basis, and what I've learned from that. And before someone jumps to give advise on proper use, I can assure you that the failure is only marginally related to user error at best. These failures have to do with prolonged periods of working hardwoods, or doing other jobs that push their capabilities harder than what most people probably do, or can.

It is basically as follows: there are three main grades of power tool quality, and each has a reasonably predictable durability and therefore service life. And each has its place.

The first grade of power tools are those that seem ridiculously expensive, built like tanks and never fail. Examples are industrial or professional grade high production volume top brand name power tools. Of these I have none. But someday when my obsession with building boats for NHS is starving my kids (which I don't have yet), I might have one or two. Given the current level of operations, I can neither afford them or justify the expense to the NHS Finance Director.
The second grade of power tools are commonly available in quantity from the local Lowes or Home Depot. They aren't always the cheapest but they get the job done, and last for a good while before crapping out. Their accuracy is good, just fine for what I'm using them for, and they make up the backbone of my tool inventory. Most are produced by companies with names you'd recognize, though many of the same companies also produce the aforementioned crazy expensive hyper desirable production machines. But the prices will tip you off which ones I'm talking about. Today's casualty was a Ryobi electric hand planer, a prime example of a common tool in the shop.

The third grade of power tools are the most fantastic and most frustrating at the same time - the cheap knock offs that are okay for occasional use. I buy mine at Harbor Freight - and they are so inconcievably cheap that sometimes its hard NOT to buy them! And sometimes you make out - I've got a circular saw from whatever that generic company name of theirs is, and it has lasted the past year, despite fairly regular use. And then there was the generic electric hand planer that lasted a whole hour before catching fire. That was classy. I have so many 'sea stories' from that project.... but I digest.

Point is, for power tools my recommendation is definately the second option. I understand and really appreciate the first category, and the third category CAN be okay, but the second, mid priced power tools are the way to go.

Funny thing, almost all of my screwdrivers, sockets and wrenches are from the third category - after all I don't break them nearly as often as I lose them, making the cheapest option the most cost effective in that regard. It's also funny that I'm writing something fairly obvious with the assumption that someone is reading this... yeah that's a laugh.

Oh well.

Back to work!


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