You may know one guy that rolls in his 30 thousand dollar toolbox and looks down his nose at your Harbor Freight special.

The question of do you need to buy expensive tools can be answered by asking yourself several questions. Can you afford it? Do you need it? How often will you use it? Do you know how to use it? What is the difference between the expensive tool and the cheaper one? Is there a brand that you trust more than another?

The assumption is that the better the tools the better the craftsman but this simply isn’t true. I’ve seen masters of their craft perform miracles with the cheapest of tools. Skill and experience will always trump an expensive piece of equipment. That isn’t to say that a high end tool doesn’t have it’s place in your tool box but funds are always limited. So make the intelligent choice in your selection of tool.

Let’s take a strong look at each of the questions to get a better idea of whether or not you should pay out for that expensive version of a tool.

Can you afford it?

Cheap doesn’t necessarily mean inexpensive just like expensive doesn’t necessarily mean that it is quality. The price tag isn’t what I’m talking about when it comes to whether or not you can afford it.

Unless your last name is Rothschild, chances are that you have limited funds to pay for your tools. But it not only is a matter of paying for the tool once.

There is a difference between cost and price. Cost is what you pay one time, that number on the sticker. While price is what you pay over the life of a product.

The price of buying a cheaply made tool is the risk involved with it. The risk that it will break at the worst possible moment and ruin the piece that you are working on. The risk that you will have to go buy a new one after a short period of time because the metal snaps or the mechanism jams or the handle falls off. The risk that it will catastrophically fail and injure you in a way that will require more than a curse word and a piece of duct tape. The risk that this all may happen while the person signing your check is in front of you.

In buying a poor quality tool you risk not only having to pay more in replacements over a period of time but also the time that you might loose as a result.

Another consideration is the quality that may be lost. Let’s say you buy a cheap cordless drill. One where the chuck slowly breaks after a period of time and begins to wobble the bit inside the chuck. Ruining the hole in that piece of metal or wood. Then you have to spend time trying to figure out how to fix it or make the hole work with the rest of the project.

In buying a high ticket tool the risk is loosing it or having it stolen. This is the same for any tool but it stings just that much more with something that you’ve paid a substantial amount of money for.

How often will you use it?

I recently purchased a cement mixer for a home improvement project. It was a cheap one in the range of 200 dollars. Why did I choose this poor quality tool? There are much better mixers out there that mix a lot more concrete  and have stronger motors with better mechanisms. I bought it because it was better than mixing 150 bags of concrete by hand and far faster. Once I’m finished with this project the chances that I’ll ever need to mix this much concrete again is extremely low. So the choice between a 200 dollar mixer and a 1000 dollar mixer is easier.

In determining the balance between time/money  it won out.  Mixing concrete is hard work. I might be able to mix 5 bags by hand before coming tired. I can mix 10 or more with way less difficulty. I didn’t need to pour all the concrete in a day. And it was simply too far away from were a concrete truck could maneuver to pour it.

On the other hand I after 8 years of daily use I finally had to buy a new cordless drill. I gladly paid the massive 300 dollar plus for my drill. Why? Because I do use it everyday. Because I know the quality of my last drill and how it performed over time.

Even if it didn’t last nearly as long for whatever reason I know that I would get my money out of it. That is the question you have to ask, Will I get my money back out of this tool? What is my ROI on this tool, my Return on Investment?

Do you know how to use it? Experience and skill is king when it comes to tools. A 100 dollar screw driver will not make you a better electrician than a 1 dollar screw driver will. But knowing that you need a JIS screwdriver instead of a Phillips screwdriver will.

Knowing how, when and what kind of tool is more important than the quality of a tool. If you take a Nascar Pit Mechanic and give him a set harbor freight tools and a regular DIYer a set of Snap-On tools the Nascar guy will still be able rebuild an engine faster.

What is the difference between the expensive tool and the cheaper one?

Most of the time the difference between an expensive tool and a cheaper one will be the material used in manufacturing it. Plastic gears will be replaced with metal. Cheap iron will be replaced with higher quality steel. It may be stainless. The power of the electric motor might be greater.

All of these factors will combine to create a tool that is either longer lasting or quicker in use.

What isn’t necessarily guaranteed is the fact that the tool will be more ergonomic and easier to use in the hand.

However, if it is a tool that you will use on a fairly regular basis it is worth the added expense of paying for these design and material features.

For example, if you use a drill rarely or are purchasing one to have just in case you will need one in the future a lesser quality brand may be okay to purchase. But if you use a drill on a daily basis for construction purposes then a high quality drill will be a must.

It can potentially save you time due to the increased power but also stand up to harsher treatment. Saving you money in the long run by being serviceable,reliable and faster.

Is there a brand that you trust more than another? If there is a brand that you have a definite lean towards then obviously you will gravitate towards buying that particular tool. Especially tempting is whether or not you have accessory tools or batteries that can combine with that tool.

This isn’t always the best choice as some other brand may have a far superior product in it’s line up than the brand you currently have a like for. Also, sometimes that brands offering simply doesn’t work as expected. I bough a wrench from a brand that I like and respect, the quality of the steel was fantastic. It even advertised an interesting feature that intrigued me into purchasing one even though I have multiple sets of wrenches.

But it didn’t live up to the hype. The feature worked but at the expense of making the rest of the wrench practically useless. I found myself just using my older cheaper wrench instead of the new high speed one.

So take it on a case by case basis.

What are the important aspects of the tool? Ask yourself what you will be using the tool for. What do you hope to accomplish by having the tool.  What criteria should the tool have in order for you to consider it to be a good tool?

If it doesn’t perform the job that you intended it for or if the performance is lackluster then you should immediately return it. Have a low performing tool in your tool box taking up space is just a waste of time. Eventually you will go ahead and purchase the better one. It is way better to buy the tool that you need rather than to buy the tool twice.

The on exception: Test equipment and diagnostic equipment.

Multimeters especially come to mind when I think of this. Is it worth risking your life to save fifty or a hundred dollars for a multimeter? I don’t think so. Having a great brand with a well known history of quality in a test equipment is important. Not only for the safety of the product but also the reliability of the data that it displays.

So buying an off brand oscilloscope or obd tester is in my humble opinion a very bad practice. Having a cheap multimeter is dangerous in extreme. You might not die but you might burn yourself pretty badly if it explodes because it doesn’t have built in safety  features.

While you can skimp on hand tools depending on what they are, how often you’ll use them and what you want to accomplish. Never cut corners on testing equipment.


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