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JOEL Joel's Blog

Are Acme Mfg. Products Really That Bad?


Or is the old adage "a poor workman finds fault with his tools" true. Having a just turned seven year old son I am spending more and more time watching the trials of Wile E. Coyote (Super Genius) on YouTube. The basic mantra that my son and I repeat all the time is "never order anything from Acme" because Mr. Coyote constantly is let down by the products he orders.

Mr. Coyote is a good craftsman, not for fine work, but he's fast and resourceful. He can build a wooden track for a rolling bomb in no time at all, and all the many launch pads and extra equipment he needs for his hunting get assembled quickly as if by magic. I wish I could work so fast. He also comes prepared. If he needs a stick of dynamite at the last minute, he has it with him. Same with rubber bands, rope, and the occasional white flag. The folding door he uses for introducing himself to his victims is lightweight, portable, and ingeniously made.

So what's the problem? Why does his Acme flying Batman outfit suddenly fail? Is it Acme's fault that Mr. Coyote isn't a great pilot? Is Acme to blame if their anvil falls at the wrong time?

I'm thinking that the real problem is not the quality of the Acme tools, but that they are meant for consumer use, not for a professional coyote hunting of roadrunners and rabbits.

We get customers like this in the store all the time. Your average consumer might be perfectly happy with a regular Home Depot cordless drill for the five times a year they use a drill, but the serious amateur or professional quickly finds out that that inexpensive drill doesn't last very long with constant use. Then they find with top of the line professional tools like Festool that the same quality that allows a tool to last long (three year warranty) also allows for better smoother bearings, less vibration, less noise, more accuracy and overall faster performance. Just what you need to catch a road runner.

Maybe Mr. Coyote keeps buying Acme products because when he was a kid they were better made and he is just used to them. Maybe as he grew up, and started hunting harder quarry he just outgrew the capabilities of Acme products and didn't realize it. Maybe Acme doesn't make them like they used to. In any event I don't blame the Acme Mfg. Co. or Mr. Coyote. I blame a lack of education and information. I would like to mention that as of this writing Festool USA does not import any of their anvils, cannons, rubber bands, grenades, bat-suits, or other hunting paraphernalia into the US. Why? I don't know, but I assume there are good reasons for it. Until that changes maybe the real reason Mr. Coyote keeps buying Acme is that he doesn't have a good alternative. On the other hand if Mr. Coyote needs any quality power tools I hope he considers Festool and considers Us, a full line stocking dealer, as a good source for tools.

Note: Above is a link to one of many videos about Mr. Coyote. All of them are fun. This is a later video that features some of the ACME equipment.

On another note, I got an email from Kevin Lippert of the Princeton Architectural Press who thought, correctly, I might be interested in great show of a British artist's recreations of benches from American utopian communities. You can read about the various utopian communities listed in the exhibit in the show catalog here. and towards the end of the catalog there are pictures and descriptions about the benches that were used in the various communities. This is a great, very interesting round-up of different takes on the design of a very useful, very simple household item.

Join the conversation
01/10/2012 SFPaul
A few houses down from my girlfriend's place in Berkeley, the owner has a hand lettered sign in the correct font on his garage that reads "Acme Labs". The house and garage are not in the best shape, I must add. I laugh every single time I see it.
01/10/2012 Bill McCaffrey

I think also that Mr. Coyote does a little too much "bigger is better" thinking. Like using a chainsaw where a chisel would do. Quality tools are a must, but the right tool for the right job is also key. I never think he found the right tool.
01/10/2012 Matt
Wile E appears to be more of a prosumer/enthusiast than a true "professional". Indeed, a professional would take far longer to assemble the various Acme kits than does Wile E., and would not seek out the Rube Goldberg style of deployment that Wile E. adopts. A professional roadrunner predator would be a dreadful bore to watch.

I wrote a paper once on Wile E., examining him as the cartoon avatar of Camus's "Myth of Sysiphus." He is a deep fount of meaning, whom we can analyze from hundreds of different angles and never get to the bottom of it all.
01/10/2012 Alfred E.Mewman
While one may argue about the costs/benefit of quality tools there is also the law of diminishing returns. Too many times I see tools and articles that far out price their utility. The business end of hammer is just that. The business end of the drill is particularly related to the business end of the "drill".
Curious how craftman from days gone by managed to produce so much, so well with just the AC"me"; tool company to supply their needs.
"Curious how craftman from days gone by managed to produce so much, so well with just the Acme tool company to supply their needs."

Alfred raises a good point. The answer lies in the quality and variety of tools that were manufactured for hand use. If you have to produce stuff for a living getting the right tool is critical. In the 19th century each trade had specific hand tools for maximum efficiency just for their trade. Saws would be carefully filed for the task at hand. Fortunately there is a hand tool revolution going on and new hand tools are available that approach the functionality and selection of the early 19th century. And, while the prices might seem high, tool prices as a proportion of income has dropped even now. A full toolchest would cost in 1800 about 25 pounds, or at 30 shillings a week (a very good salary) or about 16 weeks work. 16 weeks worth of salary for a top cabinetmaker in today's market would be enough to equip many tool chests with the same tools.
02/21/2012 nate
Joel brings up a great point. I can't help but wonder how much of today's expenses have tipped the scales. Insurances are a bigger deal now than ever before and much of today's life also has an expiration date. Electronics play a huge role in our day to day, I am typing on one now, and they are not cheap and don't last as long as my Bedrock planes. Not trying to turn this into anything other than the point that many tools may cost less dollar to dollar now, but I feel there are more hands waiting to take the money we have as well. Just a thought, great article and responses.
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.
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