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JOEL Joel's Blog

When Good Tools Go Bad and Other News


When Good Tools Go Bad and Other News 4A good 30 years ago, when I worked at Black & Decker, one important factoid that was bandied about was that the average homeowner used their power drill less than two minutes a year. Or some such ridiculously low number. This gave B&D and just about any tool maker an excuse to make the tools as cheaply as possible. I worked in the professional division where of course customers tended to use their tools eight hours a day. Day in and day out. We used ball bearings and aluminum housings. In time of course cheap tools drove out the professional grade tools and professionals started getting used to tools that would need to be replaced for every job.

Festool has brought a return to professional quality and their tools come with a three year warranty. Part of a good store's responsibility is repair, so when customers have troubles we hear about it. If you are a hobbyist chances are you will never wear out a Festool in your life. Professionals on the other hand beat the crap out of tools day in and day out and may eventually have to bring it in for a little maintenance. This is one of the things Festool owners sometimes have to get used to. With the old disposable consumer grade tools if something stopped working you threw the tool out. With Festool, while it is theoretically possible to burn out a bearing or something, most of the time it's just that an expendable part inside the tool has reached it's life cycle of a few years and the tool is actually fine. In general the following things go need maintenance when there is a problem:

The tool starts intermittently or starts and then stops. Chances are this is caused by the cord or the plug on either end of the cord. Get into the habit of every time you attach a "plug-it" cord to your tool you twist the plug 90 degrees. This is really important to establish good electrical contact. If you don't you get a poor contact and even if the tool works, internally you will get arcing, heat and general blackening of your plugs. When this happens it damages both the male and female side of the connection. So even if you try another cord the socket in the tool might be damaged. And if you use that cord on another tool, the other tool might not make a good connection. And it gets worse than that. Since both sides of the connection are blackened, oxidized, and don't give good contact any other tool or cord that is connected will also not have good contact and the arcing and plug damage can continue and spread to the formally good tool or plug. The solution: replace the cord, and if need be replace the socket on the tool. We stock the cords and we either have the internal sockets or can order them for you. It's a ten minute job to replace them.

Another cause of the same problem can be a damaged cord or sometimes the socket on the vacuum isn't making good contact. It's really hard to pin all of this down. If the cord is bad - replace it. On the vacuums as you constantly plug and unplug tools side pressure on the plug over the years can push the brass contacts away so that they don't make good contact anymore. You can replace the socket on the vac or unplug the vac from the wall and then spread the internal prongs a little.

The tool will not start. The first thing we look at are brushes. We can replace them, you can replace them, we can send the tool back to Festool and have Festool replace them. It's a two minute job and if we don't have your brushes in stock we can get them. Brushes are considered expendable and if you use your machine a lot you will eventually wear out the brushes. They are inexpensive to replace. In the picture above are a pair of worn brushes we pulled out of a sander. They are short, one has a tell tale plug sticking up. They need replacing and the tool will be as good as new.
Because of the professional build quality even if a pair of brushes wears out the bearings and the rest of the tool are good for years to come.

Another albeit rare cause of tools not working is a bad switch. It happens but it's rare. If the tool doesn't start and the brushes look fine that might be the cause. That's a reason to bring the tool in for repair.

In other news Festool pricing is due for an increase on March 1. Tools are going up an average of 3% and accessories are going up an average of 3%. So if you are planning to buy anything soon you might as well do it before March 1. I'll have more details next week about the price rises and some exciting new tools from Festool. Next week I'll also write about increasing sander pad life - which is easy to do and will save you time and money and also help you sand better and easier.

Join the conversation
02/14/2012 Christopher Schwarz
Just a note from my personal experience: In all the professional power tools we burned through at the magazine, the No. 1 cause of failure was a tie: Either the switch or the cord, usually where the boot intersects the housing. We did replace brushes at times, but I'd always pull the switch before the brushes.
02/14/2012 flink
I've got maybe two hours of run time on my three-year old drill press. But those two hours could never have been done with a hand drill.
02/14/2012 J Kohn
As a professional cabinet and furniture maker I follow the advice my father taught me,"buy the best tools first so you don't have to replace them later". With that said tools that carry a five year warranty are a good bet, I swear by both Festool and Bosch.
02/14/2012 Terry Kelly http://tkellyfurniture
I thought when tools went bad they started bouncing checks, staying out late, calling in sick when they are not, stuff like that, lol I've had good luck with Makita, Bosch, some Dewalt, Milwaukee is good but you get what you pay for.
02/19/2012 Hans
Festool is alright, but have you ever heard of Mafell? you might want to check them out. i'd be very happy if you guys would carry these machines.
02/25/2012 fhyatt
I've been a framing & remodeling contractor for 17 years & the tool that impresses me the most is the Skill worm-drive saw. My crew grumbled about the weight but I still use the same ones from 17 years ago.
02/28/2012 Richard
During my carpenter apprenticeship I spent a summer on a framing crew building apartments/dorms for a local college. The boss had an old Skil worm drive and two brand new B & D worm drives. The old Skil was missing the top handle and blade guard and rattled like a bucket of loose parts if you shook it. At the end of the job that fall he threw the two B & D saws in the dumpster because they weren't worth repairing and packed up his old Skil.

I had a Skil worm drive for more than 40 years. I used it on the job for 20 some years, kept it oiled and had the leather seals replaced at one point. After I quit the trades I used the saw around the house and on the occasional job for friends. I just gave it to a young friend who is taking up wood working and remodeling as a side job. She'll likely get many more years out of it.
03/22/2012 Andy Patrick
I've worked as a carpenter over here in England for 25 odd years and gone through a number of makes of power tool. At the moment I have a mix of Mafell (as good as Festool), Bosch, Festool, Metabo and a Protool saw. None of these tools have been cheap but they do last.
An Anglo American anecdote. When I was an apprentice in the early 80s I was working on a job near Buckingham Palace and was right on the street with tourists passing by. I was piloting some holes using a hand brace when an American stopped to chat, mostly because he couldn't believe I was using such an antiqueted method of drilling. He said his son was a carpenter and had two cordless drills, why didn't I use one of those. well, they were a very new thing over here and would have cost me around about three weeks wages and they were pretty cak in comparison to today's drills of which I seem to have six.
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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.