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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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The Discount Tool Store

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

My good friend Mark has money… lots of it. He married well, but he also works hard, and he is smart. Painfully smart. After smartphones became ubiquitous, I often surreptitiously had to look up words he sprinkled casually into conversations, obscure scientific, historical, and philosophical references, and even more obscure bits of trivia that most mere mortals would never know. Two Ph.D's will do that, I guess.

Once, as I walked past his Porsche in the driveway, his wife's BMW, and the Ferrari "summer car" in the garage, through their mudroom with a gallery's worth of original art, through the kitchen with about an acre of granite on custom cherry cabinetry, and into his dedicated music room with some quarter-million dollars worth of high-tech audio gear to listen to his newest piece of audiophilia, I noticed his gleaming Halliburton briefcase standing next to his special "listening chair." I asked, innocently enough, "Why would you spend fifteen hundred bucks on a briefcase that is arguably about the ugliest briefcase on the planet?" His answer? "Because I am cheap."

"Cheap?" I was laughing hysterically, of course, having just walked past a collection of cars that exceeded my total net worth.

"Yeah, cheap. I used to buy expensive leather briefcases that were beautiful, but were torn up after a year or two and had to be replaced. I have had that Halliburton case for ten years. I get sick of replacing stuff. So I buy the best and keep it forever." Most of us do not have anywhere near Mark's disposable income… not even close. So we usually buy the best we can afford and hope for the best.

My "Sticks In The Mud" buddy Jim is notoriously frugal. I can't hold a candle to his parsimonious ways. Yet, sometimes Jim does spend money and buys the best. I sought advice from Jim a while back when I wanted (needed) to purchase a metal detector (this was right after finding a hidden piece of metal in a board I was jointing – the hard way… boy I hate changing jointer blades!). Jim directed me to a metal detector that cost $140.

Figure 3 - The metal detector couldn't
find this staple between two pieces
of 3/4" poplar.

Well, that is a lot of money, so I did a little internet surfing and found that the deep discount import tool seller (you know the one) lists a metal detector that looks almost the same and costs just $40. It took me about 30 seconds to find a coupon that would bring the price down to $32. So I bought it.

Figure 4 - It couldn't find this #6 X 1"
wood screw either

I could elaborate, but this metal scanner is complete garbage. Oh, sure, if I place it in direct contact with a 55 gallon drum or the cast iron top of my band saw, it will beep… but that is about it. I placed a staple between two 1 X 4s, ran the scanner across, and it never made a sound. So I put in a #6 wood screw… it couldn't detect that, either.
Figure 5 - This 6" long spike wouldn't
even trigger a beep!
Finally I grabbed a big 6" long spike… the "metal" detector was quiet as a church mouse. I kept checking the thing by placing it on top of my cast iron band saw table, and it beeped every time. In desperation, I put a paper clip between two sheets of paper, and it couldn't find that, either.

The directions, such as they are, refer to a "sensitivity adjustment" located under the rubber grip. Upon careful examination, and some exasperation, I realized that removing the rubber grip would involve cutting it away with a razor knife, so any adjustment is pretty much out of the question. I wasted $32, but I harbor no ill feelings… everyone should get a second chance.

Figure 6 - The only way I could tell if
the thing was still "working" was to
put it next to the cast iron table of
my band saw... then it beeped!

The double doors of my shop allow me to occasionally receive a new piece of equipment. The door threshold, however, is 5-1/2" above the driveway. Equipment can be wheeled to the door on a pallet jack, but I need a ramp to get the pallet jack up and through the door. Undeterred (or uneducated) by my previous bad experience at the deep discount foreign tool seller, I went there for a set of truck ramps, advertised to handle 1200 pounds. With my coupon in hand, I paid $145 for the ramps and got ready for my new equipment.

The shipping weight of the equipment I ordered was listed as 520 pounds. If I add in the weight of the pallet jack, ~275 pounds, and the delivery guy, say 200 pounds, the total weight would be 995 pounds… short of the rated 1200 pound capacity. When the equipment arrived, we rolled the pallet jack up the ramps (and neither one of us was on the ramp… we were walking on either side, so deduct ~200 pounds), the ramps gave way, buckled in the middle, and the aluminum deck separated from the side support rails. Another $145 wasted. Now I am harboring some ill will for the deep discount foreign tool seller.

Mark was right. Sometimes it is more frugal to pay more and get more lasting value.

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