My father raised me using American-made tools, “always buy American” was his advice. When seeking advice on buying my own tools I was encouraged to “buy the best you can afford.” Well, what happens when the tools you can afford aren’t American made…just American companies selling tools manufactured overseas? Is it ever OK to buy tools manufactured outside the USA? This article examines power tools offered by Wen Tools to the entry-level DIY’er.
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It used to be you had to go to a knock-off store to find cheap tools that worked once, twice, three times and then fell apart. If you were desperate, these tools would get you through the one project you needed them for before cracking, shorting or otherwise breaking. Walking through a hardware store it’s now very challenging to find a carried product which bears a “Made in the USA” stamp.
In the course of pursuing profit, I understand why we embraced dispose-ability over dependability. After all, when “buy low, sell high” is applied at its most ruthless you eventually have to cut costs to the bare minimum. American wages can’t produce competitive products when 98% of consumers are used to being able to buy power tools for $19.98. So yes, eventually companies moved all their manufacturing overseas.
So if good-old American tools are no longer available or cost-effective, what are you to do? Thankfully, overseas manufacturing has improved significantly since the 80’s and tools are no longer the cross-your-fingers affair they used to be. Don’t get me wrong, gone are the days of heritage-quality tools that you can hand down through the generations. And maybe it’s unrealistic to think that a DIY’er should ever have access to quality tools of that caliber…so where’s the middle ground?
I’ve personally decided that I’m going to stop going by brand names and start looking at well-reviewed products with strong warranties and stateside customer service; if I can’t have “Made in the USA” at least I can have “CSR’d in the USA.” After much researching I came to the conclusion that, for most well-known American companies, a significant proportion of their internal parts are manufactured outside the US. A quick search of Ali Baba, a website dedicated to linking buyers with Chinese manufacturing companies, quickly revealed that most power tools you’re about to buy will ship directly from China (1 2 3). Don’t believe me? Take a look at the comparisons below. On the left are the Chinese product offerings from Ali Baba and on the right are VERY similar products being sold by American companies on Amazon.
How does a buyer choose between these very similar offerings? After all, the differentiating factors between competing tool companies used to be their features, heritage and the patents that powered their innovative design features. Now, it seems like the biggest difference between tools is what color plastic they use to cover their identical internal parts. When quality and features are all the same, price and customer service/warranty become the only differentiators. After much deliberating and reading hundreds of reviews, I decided to pick up a few tools from one of the better-reviewed manufacturers on Amazon: Wen Tools. I started out purchasing a scroll saw and drill press to see whether or not these ~$100 tools could compare to their more expensive counterparts, the ones that boast of being “Made in the USA with Global Materials.”
- Casting marks in the cast iron were not sanded/polished smooth, cosmetic so don’t care
- Mounting hardware (bolts) were of poor quality, replaced at local hardware store
- Sharp edges existed on critical parts (i.e. belt pulleys), easily filed down
- Safety inserts in the on/off switch very hard to remove
- Blower in scroll saw non-effective
- Aluminum pieces contained metal shavings, sharp edges
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- Wen Tools 8″ Drill Press
- Wen Tools Scroll Saw
- Wen Tools 14″ Bandsaw
Do you have positive/neutral/negative experiences with this product line?
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