Sunday, December 26, 2010

When Should You Consider Buying Professional Tools?

One of the questions all of us do-it-yourselfers constantly face is: “How much can we afford to spend on our tools?” On one hand, we can easily say that all those tools are an investment, and are ultimately saving us the money we’d otherwise have to pay someone else for doing that work. On the other hand, there are other things (like bills and food) we occasionally have to pay for.

While we all would like to buy the best of everything, most of us realize that isn’t practical. Not only do we not really need the best of everything, but there can be an element of overkill. Spending $350.00 for a welder that you are going to use once isn’t a practical investment. On the other hand, if you make your own wrought iron fence, that $350.00 investment in a welder has probably more than paid for itself.

When one buys professional grade tools, they are usually paying for two things; convenience and life expectancy. The convenience part comes from options that may be built into that professional tool, which may not be available on a cheaper model. The life expectancy comes from how well the tool is built; professional tools, being better built, usually last longer.

Let’s take our welder as an example. If one buys the cheapest welder they can find, they can probably do some basic welding. But, the welder is going to be limited in the amount of power it has, which in turn is going to limit the thickness of steel that can be welded. It will also probably only have a 10% duty cycle, limiting the amount of time that the operator can actually spend welding. Finally, that welder is going to be limited in the choices of welding power, wire feed speed (if it’s a wire feed welder) and welding wire/rod sizes it can use.

On the other hand, each of those limitations is reduced as one looks at more and more expensive welders. The trick is finding the balance between just enough, and too much.

When we talk about life expectancy of a tool, we’re talking about how long we can use it, both under normal conditions and abusing it, before it breaks down and has to be repaired or replaced. A professional needs tools that aren’t going to break, or at least not for a long time. The typical professional will put more wear and tear on a tool in a month than a do-it-yourselfer may in years.

So, is there any time that a do-it-yourselfer should buy professional grade tools (besides just because he wants them)? I’d have to say yes, there really is. If you have some area of work that you do repeatedly, especially work that saves your family money; it is worth investing in quality tools for that type of work.

For example, if you always seem to have older cars, and do all your own mechanic work, you would be well advised to have some good quality mechanics tools, especially a good ratchet and sockets set. While investing in new Snap-On tools may still be a little bit extravagant, you can get some good deals on used Snap-On stuff on eBay.

Or, if you are about to do a major remodeling project on your house; adding a couple of rooms, you might be well advised to buy a worm-drive circular saw. If you are going to build cabinets, definitely invest in a quality table saw.

Basically, I guess what I’m saying is that the decision to buy professional grade tools should be based upon how much money those tools are going to save you, and how often you will use them. That’s the only true justification that works. Otherwise, all you are doing is feeding your hobby.

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