Buying Tools – How Much Do I Spend

“We are not rich enough to buy cheap things” – Ancient Persian Proverb

Unless you are independently wealthy you have to budget the amount of money you spend on tools. In doing that you have to balance the quality of the tool, what you need it to do and how much it costs. A cheaply made tool that doesn’t function well or breaks easily will cost you more in the long run than a tool that cost more up-front but lasts longer. However you can spend money you don’t need to by buying tools that while expensive are worth every penny to someone who can take advantage of the level of precision that the tool offers, but you are not that person and will never be that person. Another thing to consider is how often will you use that tool and will a value priced tool be good enough. Personally I tend to spend more on my hand tools to get a higher quality as I know they will last forever and the technology will not change. For power tools I tend to go with a more affordable option or buy used. Let me give you some examples and reasons for my decisions.

Mechanics Tools (wrenches, sockets & screwdrivers) Pay More – I bought the Craftsman brand from Sears 25+ years ago and they are still going strong. I can’t say if the current production runs are the same, but they sure work for me. Plus the few that did fail were replaced for free by Sears. However I also bought a no brand set of impact sockets from Northern Tool and broke my own rule, but this set has been fantastic and they are not showing any signs of cracking or wear. Impact sockets take a lot of stress and I am surprised at how these have held up.

Circular Saw/Miter Saw: Buy on the lower priced side – I bought what I would consider “one step up” from the bottom and have been happy and had them for years. Now I do not use either of these on a daily basis so if your use pattern is different you might want to go higher up the price scale then I did. For what trim work I did the precision of the Ryobi miter saw I got was more than a match for my skill level. However I know a master craftsman that builds stairs that you wouldn’t believe that spent thousands on a miter saw but his skill level is high and he needs the more exact tools.

Handheld Grinders: I bought Cheap – I have both a 4-1/2″ and an 8″ right angle grinder that I got from Harbor Freight. The pricing on these was very low compared to other brands. But I only need these a few times a year. When I need them it would be very hard to get done what I need to do without them (mainly sharpening mower blades) but I just do not use them that much. I have to say I do not regret at all this purchase even it is one of my “cheaper” buys.

Cutting Things (Blades & Chisels): Pay More – I have found that investing more in quality cutting tools is wise. I’ve bought the bulk pack of sawzall blades and they were not worth the cheap price I did pay for them. Also spending a bit more on a circular saw blade will make the saw you do have perform much better. While not high-end I did buy a set of Stanley wood chisels and I did have to sharpen them but the do very well for me.

Cordless Tools: Homeowner grade – I have went with the Ryobi brand and I use the impact driver frequently. I would expect any brand you recognize and is sold in the big box stores would work for most people. Interestingly I know some contractors that also buy “value-priced” home owner grade cordless tools because they have found that it usually isn’t wearing out that causes them to replace these tools, it is theft, dropping or doing something you shouldn’t. Why buy expensive stuff for your workers to destroy?

Hand Tools (hammers, hand planes and the like): Pay More – For these tools you need to buy a brand that is recognized as quality, otherwise you will be disappointed. The big box stores do sell quality hammers (I have an Estwing that I bought 30 years ago) I have tried a wood plane once and it was close to worthless. I have done much better with used ones from eBay, a little clean up and sharpening and the work good. Lee Valley makes some absolutely wonderful planes, but at $250 and up I cannot justify spending the money.

In closing I would say do not let tool snobs prevent you from getting a less expensive brand of something you need. There is something to be said for saving your money and buying something that will last a lifetime, but keep in mind many power tools will not last that long no matter what brand they are or how much you spend so consider carefully how much you spend. Your best option would be to talk to someone who would have a similar use patter to you and see what they have and what they think about it. If anyone says with great enthusiasm “I would never buy anything but XYZ brand”, carefully consider their stance before you decide to follow them. My personal recommendation is to spend more money on non-powered hand tools and look for lower priced options on the power ones. Unless you are rich then I don’t think you will be coming to me for advice anyway.

Author: Jerry Ward

Working on creating a 10 acre urban homestead in S.E. Michigan. To pay the bills I work as a product manager/business analyst in the IT field. Now the admin of Save Our Skills

  • Illini Warrior

    Totally agree – not many of us have an unlimited budget – and we need to make choices ….

    Hard to justify buying tradesman/construction grade – at 3-4 times the homeowner grade price – when you have the one usage project or a projected use of once a year ….

    I love the garage sale & auction old tool bargains – the quality-durability-design of “grandpa’s” tools is sometimes unbelievable ….

  • mensa141

    Tip on Ryobi batteries. Get the 4AH Lithium batteries. Unbelievable charge and they do not seem to have much self discharge. These are the batteries every Ryobi tool user has been waiting for.

  • Fifth_Disciple

    If I didn’t know better I’d swear it’s a parallel universe and you’re my doppelganger or I have a long lost twin brother mom didn’t tell me about!

    My wife and I have an agreement. No Harley’s and no bass boats but I can have any tool that I’ll use regularly. Now, I started my tool box when I was 18. My dad always bought Craftsman hand tools and so have I. On occasion I have bought cheap tools because I didn’t think I afford better. I’ve found they’re more expensive when you have to replace them for the second or third time.

    I virtually never wear out a hand tool. Power tool’s do give up the ghost eventually. If you buy a middle of the road brand, replacement parts are available. Most of my power tools are Dewalt. I do have some Ryobi. They are actually an excellent tool if you use the lithium batteries. I dropped a Ryobi impact driver off the roof last year and broke the casing. Found a new one online for $7 and it’s back in the rotation.

    In my humble opinion a wife has to have good kitchen tools and a man should have good hand tools. Reminds me of the time the Mrs. came home from work and I had the microwave spread all over the kitchen table. She looked at me and asked if I knew what I was doing. I assured her I did. She came into the kitchen later and found me with a cup of coffee warming in that microwave. Since then she’s allowed me to have any tool I need.

  • Funny story about an agreement with the wife. We started our marriage with the agreement the if I sold one man toy I could buy another with that money with something like a free pass. So many years ago I sold an oscilloscope that I got for next to nothing for something like $400 and bought a pinball machine. I then had to buy her a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer with the rest of the money to keep the peace, and the mixer cost more than the pinball machine.

    However after 30 years of being an adult I do have to admit I have a pretty good collection of tools.

  • keebler

    recently(last month) I found lockable tool boxes on sale (sears) $ 99. each (6drawer) 2 piece unit “just put the wheels on it” now i’m filling them slowly as I find what tools (I use or need) . it’s so nice to have (2) toolboxes close ,one in the house,& one outside in my old Camper i’m rebuilding. no going back & forth looking for tools.
    K-mart has the 5 drawer on sale last week $89.99