By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more
Forum sponsored by:
Forum sponsored by allandale

What quality vs cost considerations drives your buying?

All Topics | Latest Posts

Search for:  in Thread Title in  
richardandtracy13/02/2018 09:06:32
938 forum posts
10 photos

One of the responses in a recent thread brought it home to me that quite a few people have totally different cost-quality assessments from me, and I was wondering what yours are.

I have often seen it said 'Buy the best you can afford'. Over the last 30 years I have been, accidentally, conducting an experiment to test this assertion with electric corded drills. In 1988 I bought a fairly expensive Bosch drill, and it was the best I could afford at the time. A year later, I came across a job where I was going to need to mask up, and effectively use the drill as a mortar rake in conditions that would seriously shorten the life of my expensive drill. So, I bought a cheap drill, as cheap as I could find. After that job, I used the two interchangeably, and when the cheap one wore out, I replaced it. When there was a horrible job, the cheap one always got used to protect the Bosch.

Now, 30 years on, my Bosch drill is just about worn out, as is my fourth cheap drill. So, I thought I'd look at the running costs over those 30 years, taking inflation into account. Over that time, taking inflation into account, the current value of my Bosch is £150. The current value of the 4 cheap drills is £100. And they had a harder life, always being chosen for the difficult, dusty jobs with large side loads etc.

So, is it worth buying the best you can afford? In the case of hand held electric drills, my experience would suggest that it's a foolish assertion. I know it's a limited sample, but is one where people have decided opinions.

Now, there are other cases. I have seen, and that is what prompted me to start this thread, the assertion that milling cutters should be bought to last a lifetime.


On the face of it, it seems sensible advice, but look more closely & the foundations to the assertion seem shaky. I'd like to explain:

  1. As time goes on, cutter geometry improves, feeds & speeds can be increased. How many cutters from the 1930's are viable now? That's a lifetime ago, so would fall into the category of 'Buy tools for a lifetime'.
  2. Inherent in the assertion is that more expensive = better. That is a fallacy as more expensive just means you have less money in your wallet. If you have had any experience of marketing people, you understand that they will always charge as much as they can, and value is not directly related to cost
  3. If a factory in a far eastern country churns out 50,000 tools using cnc machines at £5 each, does that inherently make them of lower quality than the same tool made as a one-off tool in the UK with a manual machine at £75? No, quite obviously the far eastern country is benefiting from investment that enables them to get huge production savings, and the UK company has squandered its competitive advantage by not investing in machinery.
  4. In 20 years time, will the hugely expensive tool do the job you want? Or would it have been better to invest in a tool at a lower price so you can afford another tool to do the job you need to do now?

When doing an assessment of cost-vs-quality, I look for the cheapest tool that will do the job well enough. Well enough means +/- 0.02mm for most of the work I do (for cost reasons at work we try to keep machinings to +/-0.5mm as any tighter tolerances is not often needed if the design is adequately thought through). If the tool looks as if it'll only last the one job, that is a weighting on the cost side, making the tool less attractive. Basically, looking at the tools ArcEurotrade sell, I reckon they have the quality about right, but if I can get the stuff cheaper, I'll be a happy bunny.

Where does your cost - quality dividing line sit? And do you have other considerations that come to play in most of your purchases? Do you go for a tool per job at one extreme, or a tool per lifetime at the other?



Chris Evans 613/02/2018 09:26:52
1216 forum posts

Depends on where you are in life I suppose. When I started my toolmaking apprenticeship I bought tools to last me 50 years. As my interests in motorcycles and cars grew I bought tools to last me 50 years. I still use many of those early purchases. Now at nearly 70 I buy tools to do the job, milling and lathe tools from the likes of ARC are fine, my machining is now a hobby not a livelihood. Over the years I have worn out many corded drills working on my old properties, the best ever was a Black and Decker "Professional" the fore runner of DeWalt.

martin perman13/02/2018 09:38:39
1254 forum posts
57 photos

Re mains electric hand drills, I worked for a company that supplied automation usually mounted on conveyor systems and we installed a system in a Black and Decker factory, the automation tested the finished drill and I asked what the life span of their drills were and was told that a DIY unit had a life span of constant use was 24 hrs which didnt seem that long until you thought about how long it took to drill a hole. I had a B&D drill and once a year I would take it apart give it a thorough clean and re grease the moving parts, that drill lasted 25 years, my current drill is about 10 years old but doesn't do much work as I rely on battery drills because of ease of use. I have Angle grinders, a B&D one that is 25 years old and is used for grinding and is occasionally stripped and cleaned and another cheap unit used for wire brush work it is also 15 + years old. Cleaning does it for me.

Martin P

John Haine13/02/2018 09:40:28
1987 forum posts
112 photos

An excellent one-man builder I know (now retired) always bought the best professional electric drills, having found that even quite expensive domestic ones gave up the ghost after a year or two.

IanT13/02/2018 09:41:25
1117 forum posts
107 photos

An interesting question Richard.

I've probably followed a different line of thought to yours. I purchase cheaper tools (some power tools for instance) where I am not going to be using them so much - my theory being they don't need to be built for hard work. I do tend to avoid cordless power tools and have Bosch drills and routers that are still giving very good service after many years.

However for my frequently used tools and machinery - I do think it's worth buying "quality" - as you will gain not only longer life but also a nicer tool to use and one that may be more accurate. I am not attempting here to distinguish between where that "quality" tool was made - as I am sure that some far-eastern tools are very good quality - and also good value!

So if I was starting over - I would invest more in those tools I would be using frequently and save in those areas where the tools are simply nice/convenient to have from time to time...



IanT13/02/2018 09:47:37
1117 forum posts
107 photos

I should perhaps add that my "quality" machines (as opposed to tools) are mostly old - as I couldn't afford what I really wanted at the time and therefore spent an equally valuable currency (e.g. my time) to get them usable.

I wouldn't advocate this approach to new-comers but if you have very little spare cash it may be worth considering...and if they become worn or faulty - you will know how to repair them..



Brian Wood13/02/2018 09:51:57
1608 forum posts
35 photos

Hello Richard,

That is an interesting question and to be honest I have never given it the detailed analysis you have just laid our so well. I have though always bought better quality tooling for the 'capital' items and paid rather less attention to what might be termed the expendable elements.

I remember many years ago that serious articles were printed in Model Engineer about sharpening tired hacksaw blades and thinking even then as a child what a rather pointless activity that presented. Yes, I know such things were hard to come by in those days during and after the war and for many there was perhaps no alternative, but I am reporting my thoughts in isolation here.

I don't suggest that such detailed analysis should be the order of the day now, not even by a hardened accountant I will continue to regard my approach as the one I feel comfortable with and not worry myself over the lesser minutiae.

I well recall a hugely expensive mistake that hit Rolls-Royce in the early days of RB211 fan engine production. Electron beam welding was being used in vacuum to make the many joints in the titanium alloy compressor drums and to prevent beam impingement on the remote side of the joint titanium alloy plates were used to run the beam into after penetration

Production commenced and a batch run of real components were made that were found to have brittle welds contaminated with iron. The cause was traced to the accounts department who had without reference substituted mild steel plates in the re-order for the Ti version. I know this is incidental to what we are talking about, but it makes the point that others can throw spanners into workings that you are completely unaware of and ruin the most carefully costed plans.

It will be interesting to see what others think

Regards Brian

BDH13/02/2018 10:09:18
791 forum posts
68 photos

The R-R example just goes to show that accountants should not be allowed anywhere near an engineering project.


Samsaranda13/02/2018 10:12:40
461 forum posts
4 photos

Bean counters have a lot to answer for in the decline of manufacturing industries here in the UK.

Dave W

Ady113/02/2018 10:12:47
3249 forum posts
423 photos

In 30 years most of us will be deid

The market has changed in that time since the 1980s. Nowadays they can do reasonable quality at a very low price

If you don't want to use it to do a job then you paid too much for it

(My expensive Bosch from the 80s packed up recently too btw, might be the brushes)

Bill Pudney13/02/2018 10:18:25
380 forum posts
11 photos

I have often followed the "buy the best you can afford" mantra. Generally it works fairly well, especially where power tools are concerned . However, for me, it gets a little bit grey when actual cutting tools are concerned. I have some first class milling cutters for instance, Dormer, Sutton etc. I also have some really cheap ones from China. The surface finish and actual cutting performance is better with the quality tools, so I use the cheap ones for roughing to size. So they get a lot of hard work, and because they are cheap they get pushed pretty hard. I still have the cheap ones, and the "good" ones are still good.

The areas where I don't like to compromise are measuring instruments Mitutoyo, Moore & Wright etc, and drills and reamers, principally Dormer.

I'm still using the Black and Decker drill, Dad gave me as a wedding present in 1969!!



Mick B113/02/2018 10:39:57
618 forum posts
38 photos

I think a lot of talk about 'quality' is really little more than fashion gossip.

I buy a tool to do the job in hand. I'm not in production, so I don't have distinct running lines and specials - I don't know what the next job will entail, so I have limited capability to estimate the future utility of any but the most fundamental of tools.

I've bought expensive tools that have been less than excellent, and cheap tools that have given decades of hard service - and the other way round, too.

I think that very often you just can't tell how durable a tool is until you put it under the stress you bought it to handle. You just have to make your judgement and take your chance, and brand names are not always reliable - especially since, as so many of our lost engineering companies show, they sometimes rest on their laurels once established, and lose their drive.

pgk pgk13/02/2018 10:56:20
1106 forum posts
278 photos

The discussions are never that simple. I'm pleased that he OP made the point that price is what it can be sold for and not alway a reflection of quality. Quality is sometimes obvious from balance, construction materials etc but brand names get sold, are subject to hype and rumour too and then there's the changing cost of technolgy and new innovation.. brushless and inverter motors, better and worse control boards and changing legislations on components for less toxicity.

In machinign I'm just a hobbyist so generally it's the cheapest that will do the job but in my past professional life I owned lots of equipment and tools (surgical and support) and the biggest problem there was not so much the quality of the tools but how staff used and abused them. When the first carbide insert scissors and clamps came out they were very expensive and superb... but they still didn't survive being lost or dropped or tossed haphazardly into sterilizers and bounced against each other by folk in a rush.

The most dramatic cost change was with washing machines. We ran ours non-stop 8am to 9pm - load after load. i used to buy mid-priced domestic units and the manufacturers always gave me an extended guarantee saying that they supported them in childrens playgroups etc so they'd support my use too. The repair chaps caried common pares and used to turn up at least monthly to put on new doors where my staff broke the catches and we physically wore the machines out within 2 years.. so I bought another one. We ran two so we always had a spare.

Then they brought out the new backflow regs and wouldn't let me retrofit in-line backflow protection and for various reasons we couldn't fit the air-gap headers demanded. So we rented an 'industrial quality' machine with in-built backflow protection and guaranteed next day response. It cost half the price of a bought new domestic machine to hire per month. It broke down almost as often and the repair folk would turn out as promised within 24hrs.. identify the problem but then order parts and we'd wait a week before they actually fixed it. Basically they were the same machines with a little change to the internal plumbing and in a stainless steel cabinet.

But sometimes brand quality does work out. I had 15 mitsubishi a/c units.. serviced every 6 mths. Over the years we needed 4 new motherboards and several new pumps. For my home I bought daikin and over almost the same time period never had it serviced and never had a problem. The savings in servicing costs alone would have more than paid for replacements.

Jon Gibbs13/02/2018 11:00:56
738 forum posts

+1 for Mick B1's comments.

For hand tools things are easier to judge IMHO but I'm not averse to fettling cheaper tools to improve fit or finish if it saves me a few bob.

But, especially on branded expensive goods like powertools, it is hard to know how good the quality is sometimes. I have had various blue Bosch tools that have been great and some that have been very disappointing. I also have cheap powertools that have been going for years.

I'd like to always by good quality but in practice, I tend to look for good value on quality tools when I know it's something I'll use often, or again quite soon, and buy cheap and cheerful when it's for a specific job where it's unlikely to get used again and will sit on the shelf. So, I have decent 1" and 1-2" micrometers but budget pairs of 2-3" and 3-4" micrometers on the basis that they're better than my calipers but I'm not using it very often.

For cutting tools and disposables I'm not sure it's easy to judge either in these days of offshore manufacture and rebranding. I tend to apply the same principles as above if I can resharpen them, versus chucking them.


Martin Kyte13/02/2018 11:05:20
1302 forum posts
9 photos

Cheap tools make quality tools last longer.

Always have a set of cheap drills in hand otherwise you WILL use your workshop set around the house.

regards Martin

KWIL13/02/2018 11:28:36
2993 forum posts
55 photos

+1 for a cheap set. I also have a set in the workshop that is only used with a hand drill (powered or hand) as well as "the sets" that are only used in machine tools. My earlier experience of a Bosch router blighted that brand for life I am afraid.

larry Phelan13/02/2018 11:35:11
544 forum posts
17 photos

There was a time,40/50 years ago? when the tools you bought were made by the maker whose name was on the box,so you knew what you were paying for.

As we all know,that is no longer the case,since most of these names have long since been sold on,as these makers no longer exist,or have farmed out their production to who knows where. The result is that you dont really know what you are buying,as I know to my cost ! The name now means NOTHING. I have some woodwork tools,well known names,which are nothing more than rubbish,I also have some woodwork and metalwork tools with little or no names which are just as good,at less than half the price.

So it seems to be a case of take your pick,or perhaps pot luck. Dont be too quick to shoot down cheap tools,they dont pretend to be anything other than what they are,and they do the job. Maybe they wont still be around in 50 years,but then,will you?.

Hopper13/02/2018 11:45:59
2799 forum posts
44 photos
Posted by richardandtracy on 13/02/2018 09:06:32:...


So, is it worth buying the best you can afford? In the case of hand held electric drills, my experience would suggest that it's a foolish assertion. I know it's a limited sample, but is one where people have decided opinions.



One thing you did not factor in is the inconvenience of four cheap drills dying on you just when you need to use them and then you have to go to the nearest shop and buy another one. I get so sick of junk stuff breaking down and inconveniencing me that I will pay the extra money for the better quality stuff that is less mucking around to deal with. It just works. For a long time.

However, the problem then creeps in where once-good brands are now not so good. Some Bosch products fit this description but I have no experience of their drills. I know the Milwaukee and Makita brand drills are not as sturdily made as they once were. Australian Sidchrome spanners, once as good as anything in the world, are now made in China and pretty ordinary.

I've been through the same with motorbike batteries. Buy the reasonable cost brands and two years later, I'm pulling half the bike apart to change the dead battery -- again! So have gone back to the hideously expensive Yuasa brand batteries. They cost twice as much but last twice as long, so value for money is the same, but the inconvenience of changing a battery is halved. Much better value in my book.

Fowlers Fury13/02/2018 12:37:44
235 forum posts
52 photos

Cordless drills as one example of the cost/quality dilemma -
"Hopper" makes an important point IMHO about factoring in incovenience. I would use a 'cheap' cordless drill maybe once every few weeks, charge it and put it back. Next time I reach for it, the battery is flat. Inconvenience then represents waiting around whilst it recharges, or digging out the old corded drill if the job was near a mains socket.
The batteries were the weakness with cheap cordless drills i.e. drills made down to a price.
Eventually so fed up with the routine I paid for a DeWalt costing maybe 3 times as much as a "cheap" one. Now that drill can be retrieved when needed and its battery has held the charge. Yes, my usage pattern is not good for any rechargeable battery but somtimes it's easy - as Hoppper illustrates - to put a value on inconvenience.

"Quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten".


steamdave13/02/2018 12:40:59
372 forum posts
29 photos

My experience of buying an expensive 'made in West Germany' milling machine has taut me that cost is not always synonymous with quality.

The Sieg type copies of my machine were about 1/3 the cost but are probably just as good, maybe even better in some respects to what I have. Problem for me is that I couldn't go down to a local tool retailer and 'twiddle the knobs', but relied on advertising hype (If W.German, it must be best) to select my purchase.

The Emerald Isle

All Topics | Latest Posts

Please login to post a reply.

Magazine Locator

Want the latest issue of Model Engineer or Model Engineers' Workshop? Use our magazine locator links to find your nearest stockist!

Find Model Engineer & Model Engineers' Workshop

Latest Forum Posts
Support Our Partners
Expo Tools July 14
Eccentric Engineering
Eccentric July 5 2018
SPG Tools October Seventeen
TRANSWAVE Converters
Allendale Electronics
Subscription Offer

Latest "For Sale" Ads
Latest "Wanted" Ads
Get In Touch!

Do you want to contact the Model Engineer and Model Engineers' Workshop team?

You can contact us by phone, mail or email about the magazines including becoming a contributor, submitting reader's letters or making queries about articles. You can also get in touch about this website, advertising or other general issues.

Click THIS LINK for full contact details.

For subscription issues please see THIS LINK.

Digital Back Issues

Social Media online

'Like' us on Facebook
Follow us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter
 Twitter Logo

Pin us on Pinterest

Visit the Model Engineer
Exhibition website

Model Engineer Exhibition