A couple of days ago, I talked about 3 tools that I cheaped out on, with zero regrets. Today, let’s talk about a couple of times when cheaping out was a big mistake.
When it comes to things like this, your experiences might vary. Everyone’s needs and preferences are different.
Cheap Drill Bits
There are cheap drill bits, mid-range drill bits, and industrial drill bits. Sometimes mid-range drill bits are inexpensive, but that doesn’t make them cheap.
Cheap drill bits don’t cut well when brand new, they don’t cut cleanly, and they don’t work fast. Sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re dealing with, since cheap and junky drill bits can sometimes do a passing job in light materials. But step up to even slightly challenging materials, and cheap drill bits will only frustrate you.
Cheap drill bits are also more prone to breakage.
When I couldn’t afford a 29pc drill bit set, I bought a smaller 14pc set and made do. When I needed a few wire gauge or letter sizes for drilling holes to be tapped, I bought just those sizes. When my needs grew and my budget could accommodate it, I bought a good quality 115pc drill bit set (on sale).
I don’t cheap out on drill bits or other power tool accessories if I can help it.
Cheap knives can be slow and gritty to open, dull to cut, uncomfortable to use, and overall inconvenient.
Are there inexpensive knives? Yes. I’ve used $10-$15 knives that worked reasonably well for how much they cost. But I’ve also used $10-$30 knives that were practically unusable.
I have a small Gerber Paraframe knife, and it was a good go-to until I got more interested in pocket knives. I bought a larger Paraframe, and it was tougher to open and close. Gerber customer service tried to help me through adjustments, but nothing worked. For the money, I kept it, rather than returning or exchanging it.
Then there’s the Coast Skeleton knife, which I briefly reviewed.
A knife needs to open, be used to cut something, and then closed. If it can’t do these things easily, what’s the point?
Price doesn’t determine quality. A $30 USA-made Kershaw or imported Spyderco might be dreams to use, while a different brand’s $30 USA-made folder might have a gritty opening and flawed lock to the point where it could be dangerous to use.
When I started building up my tool capabilities, I upgraded from a no-name socket set to smaller Craftsman sets. First a few of the really small sets, then a 94pc set. Later, I bought more deep sockets separately.
A good ratchet will instantly upgrade one’s entire socket set. Just one tool, and everything works better.
I have a couple of inexpensive ratchets, and some better ones, including coarse-toothed Proto ratchets that I bought used or on clearance, and finer-toothed Craftsman ratchets I bought on sale or received as test samples.
Quality can vary for name brands, but I’ve had good experiences with Husky, Kobalt, Craftsman, Proto, Gearwrench, Wera, and Stanley.
No-name ratchets? I’ve had the slip on me, and I’ve had other issues, such as bad direction selection levers, and uncomfortable handles.
This is one tool that I wouldn’t cheap out on, ever again.
Cheap Safety Gear
The other day, I talked about having zero regrets buying inexpensive brand-name safety gear. That is true. But if given the option, I won’t do it again.
Maybe I will buy a pack of basic 3M N95 dust masks, in case I need a disposable respirator for quick field-use.
But for project use? Comfortable safety gear is more likely to be worn. Small features that might seem insignificant can lead to very different user experiences.
Goggles with anti-fogging coatings, vented respirators, face masks made with more premium cushion materials, ear muffs with soft ear cups – little things can make safety gear feel invisible, at least for a short time, or they can make you feel miserable.
Even if it means spending 4X more on disposable (sometimes semi0reusable) face masks, it’s worth it to me.
Cheap Work Boots or Other Footwear
I won’t cheap out on shoes or boots.
2 years ago, I suffered achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. It still flares up on occasion. I also have a morton’s neuroma on the same foot, which started at around the same time. There’s basically an inflamed nerve in my foot, causing some numb-tingling of my 4th toe.
Things get worse if I work too heavily in the house without shoes on.
Injury issues aside, I’ve had too many bad experiences when I cheaped out on footwear.
Back in college, I bought a pair of sneakers for $18. They completely wore out in 5 weeks or so. I tried cheap boots. They weren’t comfortable and leaked like a sieve.
I have found that I end up paying around the same for good footwear as I do inexpensive brands. My favorite brand these days is Merrell. Before that, Timberland.
While I spend more on these brands, the shoes last longer – a lot longer. Maybe they’re more comfortable, too.
You can save a bit of money on pricier brands if you shop towards the end of seasons, or with coupons. Buying “last year’s colors” can also save you some money.
With work boots, I’ve found that matching the style and fit is as important as going with a reputable brand. Brands like to boast fancy features, such as space-age nano-tube composite toe caps, but for me it still comes down to finding a shoe or boot that’s also comfortable and durable (with or without safety toe, depending on need).
We’ll have to talk about safety toe work boots another time. I have yet to find a safety toe boot that’s as comfortable as my Merrell non-safety-toe boots.
(My Salomon snow boots have endured their 8th season now. $112 over 8 years comes out to $14 per season.)