Tool Buying Guide – The Goods, The Brand & The Money

This article is written from experience through inexperience.

Before working as a joiner my knowledge of tool brands was limited.
I’d look at the various manufacturers I was mildly unfamiliar with, think back to what my dad bought then look on eBay for something similar. After scanning for the cheapest seller would reluctantly part with my hard earned cash knowing I was taking a largely uneducated punt.
Minimal research. Maximum risk.
The totally and utterly wrong approach. To anything.  

As the years have flown my exposure to various grades of tools, coupled with working along side some very smart people my education (via learning and osmosis) from the what, how and when to use a tools through to general savviness in life has improved my thought process albeit with a succession of bad decisions along the way.

Like you perhaps, I needed a reliable, responsible and honest resourceA person with sufficient knowhow who’s used tools repetitively and more importantly can testify based on actual working knowledge and experience.
Someone thats actually used the tools they’re peddling. If you’ve driven with a DeWalt, burned a Black & Decker, struggled with a Festool, abandoned a Bosch or hijacked a Hitachi. I want to know why.

There are indeed some genuinely excellent resources online but I’m still concerned at the lack of authority from many sites. Often I see too many keen-to-please, quick & dirty reviews built on neat & tidy, albeit bulky descriptions offering partially qualified insight without actually understanding the reality nor context of how a tool may be deployed.

Critical Thinking – The RIGHT approach

It’s crucially important to exercise a reasoned approach when making any decision in life. Especially one that involves parting with cash.
As humans our impulses and emotions, notably fears can obstruct objective and rational thinking.

I strive as an adult, a parent and someone who’s lived a colorful life to encourage critical thinking to anyone I believe has a decision to make.

Core attributes of critical thinking include:

  • Applying solid and sound standards.
  • Evaluating information that can be confirmed, compared and corroborated through reliable sources.
  • Reasoning logically
  • Reflecting and re-examining 
  • Keep asking questions before reaching a conclusion. Then question again.

This process of evaluation ISN’T easy. Focus, remaining pragmatic and being as objective as possible when placed in a varying situations can cause stress. However, with practice and discipline you can make reliable, informed decisions to better your life. Patience is key.

So, my two criteria using critical thinking are:

1) Know exactly what the project or job requirements are.
2) Allocating the right funds when buying a tool based point 1.

Planing a purchase for repetitive tasks could mean spending more on tools for a desired output. Consumable components (blades, drill bits, sand-paper, etc) will of course need to be changed but the actual tool itself should be highly durable. I’m talking years. 

Built to Last

Many brands promote their tools with some form of the ‘built to last’ tagline.
This adage, however pithy, varies from tool to tool as well as brand to brand. Without actually knowing the task or duration of your project you’ll possibly make a purchase with the best of intentions yet down the line unwittingly fall into a ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ trap.

Experience (inexperience) influences choices regardless of budget.
Perhaps your buddy suggested Milwaukee so you buy a $200+ drill/driver you’ll use once in a blue moon.
Or your brother told you his SKIL drill worked great so you buy a $50 drill/driver as your designated workshop workhorse. Or some store had a sale on.
Yes, you may be pleasantly surprised by the longevity or consistent performance from a tool in the latter two, however tools are usually designed and built for purpose thus marketed accordingly.

Making a decision

For niche, around-the-house or infrequent projects you may believe a lesser investment is warranted. For the deemed ‘one-off jobs’, can you justify purchasing an expensive tool based on brand or recommendation? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
People, I believe, want to be helpful. Its natural. And will volunteer information based on personal experience.
Only you know the person and how reliable their accounts are however to the novice or uninformed, someones ‘authoritative’ word may be deemed gold, and often based on this rationale a questionable decision could be made.

See point 1 at the top of this page.
What are your requirements? And what quality of finish or output are you aiming for.
Everything is relative.

Broken? Chuck it

We have been living in an increasingly disposable society and things don’t look like changing anytime soon.
There are bursts of regenerating projects, trends of up-cycling, recycling, et al but only in pockets of society, and in my cynical opinion, often based on image, i.e. ‘look what I’ve done, how cool is that!’ then flog it on eBay rather than a genuine necessity to build then encourage this behavior and educate. Maybe I’m wrong.

Production Standards

Kettles, ovens, amplifiers, record players, most domestic appliances and household items are usually cited as inferior compared to their predecessors from decades ago.
Materials and components sourced from the far east are blamed for this decline in standards with ‘product value’, a reflection of this. Sometimes this blame is justified though brands and more specifically component manufacturers, must be in tighter control of their own standards regardless of where parts or components are sourced.
The responsibility is to adhere to these standards and justify a reputation, built up over many years that instilled consumer confidence in the first place.
And as consumers we should care more about the specifics of products rather than just crack on with the job.
Price first, quality second. Buy again third.

Generation XYZ

Older techniques were relative to resources and materials around at the time.
Many products made 40, 50, 60 years ago were heavier, clunkier, chunkier and on many occasions, hand-assembled. Phrases like ‘they don’t make ’em like they used to’ get banded around, usually from an older generation or from enthusiasts or experts in a particular field.
But this is not always an accurate reflection.

Put a 1970’s circular saw next to a something made in the last 5 years and you’ll see obvious differences and improvements. You’ll no doubt appreciate the engineering of the era but I seriously doubt you’ll swap you’re 2015 Makita for a 1st generation, unrefined, bulky tool with questionable safety features and inefficient motor.
On the other hand, put a 1970’s Bang & Olufsen turntable next to a something from 2015 and you’ll likely see the reverse in quality.

Decisions Decisions

So what do we do?
We should perform research then make informed decisions based on reliable sources that are cross-referenced with other reliable sources.
We should test or use a product to gauge how well it serves our need.  Ergonomics, handling, power and other relevant features consistent with our requirement.
We should not put our trust solely in the hands of general sales staff, who may indeed be proficient with some form of knowledge and/or have the gift of the gab; by all means listen to what they have to say but ask them for comparisons with other tools in this class. Ask if they’d buy the tool – if not why not? Ask questions.
Gauge their authority and expertise. Look online for authoritative opinion and contact the resource for help. People are only too willing to put their 2 pennies worth, which usually sparks discussion. Pick out what you need. Read reviews. Make an educated decision

Knowledge is power and could save you money.

A weight off your mind

An odd rule of thumb thats influenced consumers if something’s well made has been weight.
I’ve heard many people subscribe to the ‘if it’s heavy it must be well made school of thought. Yes, a heavy thing can have positive qualities. It can be reassuring. It feels more tangible, more real. You have to exert extra effort to use it thus working harder. You can respect a heavy tool by the fact they could be awkward or cumbersome to use.
Or sometimes its just plain heavy.

Conversely, improvements both in manufacturing and production have resulted in lighter, safer, more efficient, cleaner tools designed with stronger materials and built on evolving technology that at the very least, matches base performance of tools made from yesteryear.
These improvements have opened a huge market with many ranges and classes to suit everyones pocket. However, you have to be conscious of exactly what you are purchasing, and specifically, what for.
Your tools must be fit for purpose.

My dad’s Black & Decker drill has lasted over 25 years. It was frequently used and it lasted. And probably still works to this very day; it was pinched a few years ago…probably as it was that reliable!

same as what dad had – basic, effective & reliable

You’d probably need an arm like Stallone to use it continuously.
It was heavy but totally fit for purpose. The same with his Black & Decker jigsaw; well engineered and utterly reliable. And like Stallone, they’re survivors from another era. Taken many a beating and still around, displaying their spoils and well respected.
How does this correlate to modern standard in manufacturing? Have there indeed been improvements across the board that will be reflected upon in years to come with a salute of approval?

Back to the Future

It’s the year 2038.
I’m beavering away in my retro futuristic garden workshop. On the bench is a state of the art Milwaukita Power Drill 9000 (the two tool giants merged in 2031) in classic Cadbury purple.
The RoomPlan app on my iPhone XXV scans the studio, producing a hologramatic X-ray of all the studs, cables, wires and joists as well as an mockup of where the shelves will go in various arrangements. A cool, stoic computerised female voice advises of speed selection, drill bit choice, gear setting, angle of attack, screw type and appropriate pressure based on wall material.

As I pick up the Milwaukita I glance at the partially open door of my tool cupboard.
Gazing longingly in my direction is a familiar, if somewhat scarred, orange and black B&D drill/driver, circa 2016.
I put down the 9000 and fondly jaunt down memory lane toward to cupboard and poignantly smile at my old friend before lifting the iconic B&D, Hex logo and all, rising into attack position. I’m suddenly transported back to 2018, fondly recalling memories of dad’s orange drill from the 70’s.
I locate the cable end, stick it into plug socket then squeeze the trigger…

Well, I’d genuinely love to believe the technology of 2018 has the wherewithal to last deep into the late 2030’s.
The current standards in electrical and mechanical technology have vastly improved from the 1980’s yet the overall quality of tools and appliances in general are often compromised by economical factors.
Cheaper plastics, fittings and packaging is evident with certain brands, or ranges within those brands. Materials are often sourced from mega-mass manufacturing behemoths usually located in the far east with varying standards in regulation.

Good ole ‘Made in the U.S.A’ or ‘Made in Great Britain’ stamped on the side of a box has relevance, and rightly so.
Historically, anything with this iconic marque was and still is perceived as a having a certain high standard. Robust, reliable and honest, made by people sharing the same values and attributes.
Quality does have a price.

Is it all about the brand?

I’ve used many tools manufactured by many brands. Brands when they were privately operated and brands that merged with others or were bought by larger entities. Have I noticed a change? Yes. Usually the price but to be fair, I don’t believe there is a ‘bad’ tool out there per se.
They all needs to be put into context.
Some brands produce tools which are better performers, more consistent performers than others. And manufacture a variety of ranges (sometime too many of the same tool) to perform conditionally. Over time reputations are built and more importantly must be maintained, however competition is rife. And thats not just from other manufactures.

The online community of second-hand sellers through eBay, Facebook, Craigslist, etc has made the already overcrowded market a huge challenge for generating new sales.
So how does one overcome this 2nd hand thorn in the side?
Promote Promote Promote and Incentivize.

Brand Loyalty

Loyalty has been, ironically, rebranded by marketing experts to attract consumers to keep us sweet (tied-in) regardless of whether we actually need something or not.
Such is the competition, its easy to see why we’re enticed by their charms and eventually locked in, incentivized to upgrade regularly or buy the full ‘one-battery-fits-all’ range.
And it works for a lot of people but I will state for the record, we’ve (the joiner shop) bought some excellent tools based on buying that first tool. That original tool zero (see point 1 again). A combination of demonstration and reliable testimony from reliable sources influences our decision.

Search the internet and you’ll find people arguing, mocking and insulting each other over brands they use and others they’d not touch with a barge pole. By all means, read these buy use your judgement and separate the emotion from the fact as best you can. 

I have no loyalty to brands.
They can run marketing campaigns or promotions all they like. I have a loyalty to the truth and evidence of work based from previous jobs. If the tools we used were reliable, powerful, ergonomic, efficient, safe, durable and had all the features we needed + more, we’d be inspired to buy from the same manufacturer time and again. If the purse strings were tightened, research from reliable sources would influence other choices.

Who’s the King? Its a Royal Family

I’ve used many tools for professional and personal projects.


  • Milwaukee
  • Makita
  • DeWalt
  • Festool
  • Panasonic
  • Bosch
  • Hitachi
  • Ryobi


  • Black & Decker
  • SKIL
  • Draper
  • Ozito
  • Dremel
  • GMC
  • Stanley

There are of course loads of other brands making excellent equipment though I’ve highlighted ones I use regularly.
Having worked with untold saws, drills, sanders, etc over the years I can honestly say you get what you pay for though some surprises, pleasant and not so will pop up along the way.
Not everyone is building houses, laying pipelines or drilling hundreds of holes into plywood every day so buying tools fit for purpose and frequency is important.

Some people I know are awful tool snobs and wouldn’t be seen holding a Hitachi or Ryobi. 
And I know by experience there is absolutely nothing wrong with Hitachi, Ryobi nor SKIL nor Black & Decker for that matter. As I’ve suggested, it may be wise to spend more on your most demanding tools then buy more tools as you need them, i.e. pay more for tools you use most frequently and less for those you don’t. Makita, DeWalt and Bosch may fall into the former category. Ryobi, Black & Decker and SKIL may fall into the latter.
NOTE: Ryobi and Hitachi make excellent consumer and professional grade tools that are relative to the demands. As joiners we use both makes at home and in the shop.
If you opt to have multiple tools running from the same compatible battery packs (most manufacturers have their own technology for this) thats sensible but it’s relative to the demands of the job. It may not work out long term.

My tick boxes don’t even fill a half a column of A4 paper.
What do I do exactly? Well, my bread & butter is building things made from wood, MDF, MFC, ply and other wood-based materials.
I drill, screw, sand and saw. A lot.

So what do I need?

  • Reliability. I want it to turn on. Stay on and be consistent.
  • Plenty of batteries. And those that last at least 3aH
  • Ergonomic. If I’m going to be handling a tool for hours it has to be comfortable, relatively light and have good balance.
  • Tough – I drop tools. Knock them over. Step on them. Boot them across the room. No, I don’t mean to but I do.

So, what do we do?

The list above probably is sound for everyone who uses a tool so its nothing new nor revolutionary. We all have best intentions to be smart with our purchases. 
Savvy or not, we can often be swung by a bit of savvy marketing or seasonal promotions then make purchases we later kick ourselves for. Not knowing exactly what we bought or not spending that extra few bucks to get what we REALLY needed is a kick in the teeth.

My parting thought is a reiteration of the importance of buying a tool that suits your purpose and fits your budget by making informed decisions before parting with your money.
You will find many brands offering many varieties of tool. Drills that drill beyond drilling, sanders that sand beyond sanding and saws cutting like its going out of fashion. Online or in-store you will find these tools everywhere, all with promises to keep.

Sadly these promises can be conditional, ambiguous and often broken.
And sometimes we get surprised by the under dog. The Italian Stallion becomes more than a match for Apollo Creed.

Do your research, test the tools and speak with professionals if you can.
People will try and sell you stuff without any real authority. Be wise. Be savvy. Be careful.
Don’t rush into making decisions and look for what suits your budget. There IS always something that WILL fulfill your need.

The tools are out there…