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If a department-store screwdriver has a lifetime warranty, why would you ever spend 10 times as much on a prestige brand? After all, if the screwdriver breaks and it is replaced for free, then it’s the last screwdriver you’ll ever have to buy, assuming you plan to live just a single lifetime.

As a tool snob, I will argue the case for exquisite hand tools for as long as the beer holds out. I will defend the superior finish and perfect balance of professional-grade tools for the entirety of an Elks Lodge all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner, and will make my closing arguments only after the spumoni has been eaten and the carafe of burgundy has been drained.

When the crickets stop chirping and the sun begins to rise, I will stress the importance of knowing that the tool in hand is at least as reliable as the mechanic using it. And as our friendship is strained to the brink and you have long abandoned your dedication to the dime-store screwdriver, I will wish you no harm and hope that you forever avoid the despair of breaking a 2″ ratchet at Yellowstone National Park. With a hailstorm approaching, the buffalo are not likely to lend you one of theirs.

My grandfather, father, and stepfather all relied on Snap-On tools, but my dedication to fine hand tools is not based on blind dedication to a brand. With the precision of surgical instruments, Snap-On continues to engineer tools that immediately feel as if you have been using them for your entire life.

However, since I am not a professional mech-anic, I no longer buy Snap-On tools. Sure, they will sell to us amateurs through the Snap-On website, but we are not extended the same warranty that professional mechanics enjoy.

Nonprofessionals are required to send a letter to Snap-On describing planned purchases and then wait for a reply for nonprofessional warranty information. And, if the tool breaks, there is no practical path for repair, as that is handled by the Snap-On franchisees. Try calling a franchisee and tell them you need a tool repaired that you purchased from their website. With a warranty that can’t be used, Snap-On has made it clear that they are not interested in selling to amateurs, and I’ve learned that you can’t force companies to do business with you.

As amateurs, we need a comprehensive tool store. In addition to the premium brands from Europe and the United States, the ultimate amateur tool store would sell a professional-grade house brand that would be designed by individuals passionate about the elegance of tools.

With best-in-class quality control, these tools would be exhaustively tested against leading brands and, rather than anecdotal reviews, the tools would be pushed to the point of breaking. The results would be published with graphs and photos to show the point of failure of comparable brands. Naturally, we would expect these tools to be reasonably priced with a straightforward, unencumbered warranty. This is no quixotic exercise, as such a store exists in Japan.

Enchanted by the design of high-quality hand tools but disappointed by dirty, disorganized Japanese tool retailers, Masato Takanokura opened the pristine and hip Factory Gear tool stores and published a tool magazine of the same name. Recently, Takanokura visited my shop along with his chief tool designer, Kazumi Nakajima, and I was terrifically impressed by their deep knowledge of hand tools. For six hours, we examined my ancient tools as they pointed out subtle design features that made the old tools better — and stronger. Takanokura and Nakajima are seriously geeked-out tool guys and they bring this obsessive eye to their house brand of meticulously detailed hand tools, Deen Tools.

With such attention to finish and quality, how can Deen manufacture such beautiful tools for a fraction of the cost of the prestige brands? Forget your preconceptions about tools imported from China, because Deen tools are made in Taiwan. And they are exceptional.

Cheap Chinese imports will be here for a long time, but with the right individuals designing and steering manufacture, we are going to see more extremely high-quality products coming from China.

Check out Factory Gear at f-gear.co.jp and Deen Tools at f-gear.co.jp/deen

Mister Jalopy

Mister Jalopy breaks the unbroken, repairs the irreparable, and explores the mechanical world at hooptyrides.com.


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