Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The High Cost of Cheap Tools

Have you ever heard the saying “You get what you pay for”? Well, the longer I live, the more cases I find of that being true. Cheap shoes wear out quicker; cheap knives break; cheap clothing looks like it came from Goodwill after a few washings; cheap cars have more problems; and yes, cheap tools are just that, cheap tools.

I just finished changing the timing chain on one of our cars. This is always a hassle of a job, especially the first time you do it on a vehicle. Then you’re having to figure out what to remove, where the bolts are and how to get to the bolts on the thing that’s in the way of the way of the part you have to remove to get to the timing cover.

While a lot of my tools have been replaced by higher quality brands (mostly Craftsman) through the years, I still have a few el-chepos that have been around for years. Most of those were bought when I was younger and couldn’t afford good tools. Then there’s a few were bought when I was on the road and needed something quick, so I bought what was at hand. It’s actually amazing they’ve lasted this long, but then, the one’s which have lasted are ones which haven’t been used much.

In the course of this project, I had to make 5 trips to the store, just for tools. That doesn’t count the other trips for parts, and to exchange the wrong part. One of those trips was for a 24 mm socket, something that was lacking from my kit. After all, everyone uses 24 mm sockets, right? But the other four trips were to replace tools that broke. I lost 2 sockets, a screwdriver and a harmonic balancer puller on this job. That’s quite a bunch of tools for one simple… okay, fairly complex repair job.

The only one of those tools that really surprised me was the screwdriver. I’d had that one a long time, used it a lot, and thought it was better than it really was. Well, when I tried to use it to pop the timing chain cover off, the tip snapped off. So much for that one.

The real cost here isn’t the tools themselves; it’s the time it takes to go out and buy replacements. Every time I busted a tool, I had to get cleaned up and go to the store for just one thing, that tool. Even worse, because I was in a hurry, I just went to the auto parts store and bought what was on the shelf. In other words, I bought cheap tools again; maybe a little bit better than what broke, but still not all that great. Then, when I got back, I had to get myself motivated to get started all over again.

Tools are an investment in your future. The tools you buy today should last you a lifetime; at least, if you invest in good quality tools. Cutting corners on something you rarely use may make sense, but not on the stuff you use all the time. Nor does it make sense to compromise on quality for tools that will be under a lot of stress. Better to buy quality than for you to get stressed.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Teflon Coated Paint Brushes?

You wouldn’t think, after all the centuries that people have painted their buildings, that someone could make a real change to something as simple as a paint brush. It would seem that the designs we have today would serve for any need. Oh yeah, there’s the paint sprayer, which I suppose could be considered a newer form of paint brush. I guess we could call that an innovation over the paint brush, but it’s an innovation that has existed for a long time.

Styles, materials and construction have been standardized for what seems like a long time. I guess if someone invented a new material that works better, which would be an innovation, but nothing like that has happened since the invention of the nylon paintbrush. At least, nothing like that has happened until now.

Shur-Line has actually broken through this idea that the paint brush can’t be changed. They didn’t design an electronic paint brush, or one that paints by itself. Nor did they come up with a self-cleaning brush, but they’ve come up with the next best thing; something that I had thought wasn’t even possible.

This new innovation is a Teflon™ coated paintbrush. Believe it or not, they have come up with a way of Teflon coating each and every bristle of the brush; along with applying a Teflon™ coating to the handle. Well, we’re all familiar with what Teflon™ coating has done to make frying pans easier to clean, so it would seem that the same treatment would make cleaning paint off of our brushes and roller covers would make them easier to clean; and it does.

Not only does this Teflon™ coating make cleaning our paint tools easier, but Shur-Line claims that it makes the process of painting easier, saving as much as 30% of the painter’s time. As a former Manufacturing Engineer, I am always interested in innovations which make any job easier, especially innovations that save time.

If these Teflon™ coated brushes actually save 30% of the painter’s time, as Shur-Line claims, this is the greatest innovation in paint brushes since the handle. I am looking forward to the opportunity to try one of these innovative brushes out for myself.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

An Air Nailer for All Places

Over the years, I’ve become a big fan of nail guns. My admiration for them has come out of the simple problem of not being able to nail things, especially furniture pieces and frames, the way I want to. Oh, I can drive a nail just fine; the problem is in getting the workpiece to hold still while I drive the nail. It doesn’t matter how I clamp the workpiece, it still seems to move as I’m driving my nails in. I don’t know how many times a beautiful piece of work has been ruined because the corners didn’t come together after I nailed them.

Okay, okay, I know, I’m supposed to be the expert; but you know, being an expert doesn’t make one perfect. Anyway, this is where my infatuation with nail guns came from, the desire to get the nail in, without having the pieces move. When I use an air nailer, I can be sure that my corners will stay the way they are supposed to.
I’ve always used pneumatic air nailers, because I haven’t liked the other options available. The electric air nailers I’ve tried never seem to have enough power to drive the brads all the way. On the other hand, cordless units have plenty of power, but you’ve got to buy the gas cartridges for them. I’m an old cheapskate; I don’t like having to buy something extra.

Well, somebody has finally come to my rescue and created a gas driven, cordless air nailer, that doesn’t require those expensive gas cartridges. Senco, the leader in air guns for many years has just recently come out with their “Fusion” gas driven, cordless nailer, in both 15 gauge and 18 gauge versions.

The unique thing about this nailer is that it doesn’t exhaust the gas, but reuses it. Let me explain. The gas cylinder, which is filled with non-reactive nitrogen, is a sealed unit. Just as with all other gas driven nailers, whether pneumatic or cordless, it is this compressed gas which drives the piston to drive the nail in. But, that’s where the similarity ends. Once the nail is driven, a gearmotor pushes the piston back into battery, compressing the gas once again and preparing for the next shot. The battery is a fast recharging Li-Ion battery, meaning that there is very little down time waiting for recharge. In fact, with two batteries, one should never have any downtime.

The innovation in this unit is the way that it uses the same gas over and over to drive the nails. This makes the unit truly self contained. There is no need for an air compressor or for gas cartridges. The only things that have to be provided are the nails, and battery recharges.

Great job Senco, this one looks like a real winner. I wouldn’t be looking to buy any stock in air compressors in the near future.