The Cost of Tools

Right before the LAP forum was shutdown, there was an interesting thread discussion regarding the cost of the Crucible Dividers.  At $120.00, this is not a cheap tool, but they are beautiful and like all things Schwarz and Daed are part of, extremely well-made. I am patiently waiting for the new stock to go live so I can purchase a pair.

Taken straight from  Check them out!

The original poster’s main problem with the dividers was that they are priced like a “luxury” tool.  Not sure what they were expecting, but even nice mass-produced dividers cost around $70 a set (starrett 6 inch round leg dividers are 68-61 for a pair), which isn’t exactly cheap.  Especially when you can purchase “dividers” for just a few dollars at several well-known retailers.   (As I was writing this, a video showing how the dividers are made was posted here.  Speaking as an engineer, this process could be scaled, but you would need to make thousands of dividers to bring the cost down. It would probably be hard drive the cost to less than $60 to $80).

The drive to low-cost consumer goods that produced the $8 dividers has skewed everyone’s expectation of price. This simple observation is what I think is the heart of both The Anarchist’s Tool Chest and The Anarchist’s Design Book.  Objectively, low prices are not inherently bad, but when that becomes the primary driving factor the quality tends to suffer as well.  The other factor is that many people look at the “original” cost of similar tools in the stanley hey-day and say, wow!  chisels for $2.70.  Everyone knows that inflation exists, but it’s a rare person who can rattle that number off the top of their head.  That $2.70 chisel is a $22.50 chisel based on the CPI-inflation calculator here.    Not quite the same great deal.  However, a tool-based inflation hedge could work as a retirement strategy. Bed-rock jointer planes sell for basically the original purchase prices on ebay.

My alternative to a 401K.

The tools that Crucible, Lie-Nielsen, Veritas, Blue Spruce Toolworks, and a host of other makers build are amazing in terms of quality and thought. These tools blow away the vintage tools in fit, finish, and form.  No plane that came out of the stanley tool-works had the machining tolerances of a Lie-Nielsen or Veritas plane, those tolerances were simply unachievable for the economics of the day.  But, these new planes are about two times the cost of the comparable stanley in real terms, so you do pay for those improvements.  The market for these new makers is probably not the “everyman” that stanley was aiming for.  It seems that a modern commercial woodworker has to be machine-centric to compete with the factory (if that’s even possible) and the handtool-only approach is probably not going to cut it for a house carpenter or someone making a run of furniture.

The bottom line is that a serious amateur can purchase a complete set of top-of-the-line handtools for about the cost of a tablesaw of similar quality*. That’s a strong argument that the “luxury” tools are still a fantastic bargain in terms of functionality per dollar.  Plus these tools are made by people who care.  A lot.  Spending a premium to support someone who is making things, partly, out of a labor of love is something I am totally OK with.

*I am comparing a 3ph 3 HP tablesaw like a powermatic PM2000 or a sawstop cabinet saw.  I would consider these “top of the line” with respect to quality and power. You can definitely find cheaper and this argument becomes more muddled there because of the quality/cost ratio. My tool list and cost breakdown is here for you to rip on.


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