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?
Leave a comment below!
Just purchased a wen rotor zip tool to replace my Dremel
I would like to see you down the road reciews
Mark Huey says
Although it is hard to find tools made in the USA, it is not impossible. There once was a time when people actually took pride in what they did and what went out the door. This was the reason you didn’t see the casting Mark’s you refer to. Law suits did the rest of the work. Manufacturers decided, after the outrageous fines imposed after such a suit made them realize QC was now necessary. Sharp edges, debris, just about any foreseeable injury could happen. This, of course, led to slightly higher costs as more time was necessary to ensure product safety. Coupled with union demands for ever increasing wages, and safety, led many businesses to move overseas. It only took so long before they could no longer run on their reputation as quality, durability, reliability suffered. Yes, it is true, these companies have made tremendous strides in their product quality but that quality is not offset by the overall quality of their products. As with the automotive industry, it is not in their best interest to make products that are of such high quality as to have such a long life span. Critical components are made of plastic and designed to fail. However, the thing that makes me the maddest is what I found out about Stanley/Black and Decker. They are the proud owners of Porter Cable, DeWalt, Mac Tools, Proto, and many others. They advertise that THIS is the latest and greatest version of a tool but don’t support the ones sold. This is especially true for their cordless lines. They no longer sell replacements batteries, touting better battery life for new cordless tools. What a crock. These same battery packs can be made for their existing products. Now this will become yet another environmental nightmare. Let’s all throw our older cordless tools in the garbage, let’s not be stewards of our one and only earth. I wrote them letting them know how I felt, and their answer was basically, “we don’t care.” I guess it’s because they own all competitors and plan to get your money one w as y or another. I am going to look around for other options. I will say my pile of functional, but useless cordless tools is getting larger every day. Look on line and you can find tools being sold by those who do not work with tools who might have inherited a full collection from a relative. Older, first run steel tools are available out there. Recycle those into your collection. Most have not come close to their life expectancy.
If your local electrician started making refurbishing battery packs would you buy them?
There isn’t enough demand for older model batteries.
The few that want one, want it to be indestructible, immortal, and five bucks.
Then, they’ll complain it’s too heavy/too light, or the indestructible, immortal battery from another dimension that requires actual magic powers to make, isn’t “user-fixable”.
Then after all that, the consumer will complain how “weak” the indestructable, immortal, extra-dimenstional tool is, because another brand released a model with 10 more volts.
I won’t explain how to make your own batteries here, as if you don’t know, it can kill you. If you want to know, I’d say start by becoming a certified electrician.