Drop Forged . . .

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There’s an old joke you may have heard about tools made in (say it like Trump)  . . . China. It says “drop forged” on the box it came in. Yup some dude in China dropped it, near the forge.

If you have ever bought such drop-forged tools you will already know the real-world punchline. 

The poor quality of these tools being no joke. But the temptation to buy them because the price seems so good is often hard to resist. 

I needed a chain riveting tool to finish some pre-spring rebopping of my Kawasaki ZRX1200, which included a new chain and sprockets. Installing the new chain entails riveting the links to together. A special tool set is needed for this. First to push the pins through the securing link plate and then to rivet the pins, so that the link remains secure at 170 MPH.

The tool looks kind of like a U-clamp, which forms the main part of the assembly. A screw-it-in fitting threads into the main body of the clamp and applies pressure to the pins, to force them through the link. You then insert a riveting attachment into this threaded fitting and use this to press out the sides of the pins, riveting the link securely in place. 

Assuming, of course that the threads in the U-clamp section of the tool aren’t stripped or easily stripped, being made of what as well be papier mache

Mine were.

A soon as I tried to turn the fitting into the U clamp, the threads gave way. This piece of pot-metal garbage didn’t even have the strength to undo a bicycle chain. That’s what I get for thinking $20 would buy me a tool that was stout enough to do the job on a 530 motorcycle chain.

So I went back to the forge – well, eBay – and took a roll on a new tool but one that also came from China, which is where practically all tools seem to be made these days. This set was better but usable only because I had spare parts from the drop-forged set. Though I paid for brand new, the set I was sent had been mangled by someone in China. The riveting rod had been placed inside the hollow screw-in fitting that attaches to the main U-shaped clamp, along with the spring that is supposed to provide some resistance. Someone had jammed both into the fitting, god knows how – or why. Part of the mangled spring was visible at the top end. This was beyond drop-forged.

It was drop-pressed.

The riveting attachment and spring were jammed in the tool such that they were practically fused together. A mangled part of the spring could be seen protruding from one end; it took a punch and a ball peen hammer to get separate them from the section of the tool they’d been embedded into. But now I had a ruined spring – and a useless riveting tool.

But hey, good news! I still had the spring from the other useless riveting tool. I realized that by combining the usable parts from both set of tools, I might just have one useable tool set.

And so I did.

The spring from the drop-forged set worked with the usable threaded attachment and riveting rod from the drop-pressed set.

Voila!

I was able to secure my bike’s chain.

There are two lessons to be gleaned, one for me – one for all of us.

The first being I should have known better than to cheap-out and buy the cheapest drop-forged tool available on eBay. When you buy cheap tools you usually get cheap tools. Often as not, you will end up having to buy new tools to replace the cheap tools you already bought. This is not the hot ticket for saving money – or aggravation. Resist the temptation to think you’ll be saving money by buying a cheap tool on the theory that you’ll only need to use it occasionally – because it may be useless, entirely.

Spending more to get a higher quality tool will usually get a tool that works and which will last. Ideally, for as long as you own it.

And after that, someone else will hopefully get use out of it.

The other lesson is one we’ve all had to learn. One that Ross Perot tried to tell us about.

Tools, generally, are of poorer quality now than they once were – before they were all (almost all) made in . . . China.

We were sold a bill of goods by politicians such as Bill Clinton, George Bush and Bob Dooooooole, who helped secure and assure Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for the Chinese regime back in the ’90s. Actually, for the American corporations that owned politicians like Clinton, Bush and Dooooooooole. Who were employed to enable the offshoring of the manufacturing of tools – and eventually, everything else – to China, where everything is drop-forged.

Perot tried to warn Americans about the bag full of cats (in lieu of rabbits) being sold to them on the notion that this would result in cheaper products. Which it did. Literally. We paid less – and got it. Even name-brand American tools that used to be lifetime tools became drop-forged tools, now being mostly made in . . . China.

But the corporations got more in the process. While American workers got less – in the way of jobs and salary.

And now we’re stuck paying twice, sometimes, to get one viable tool.

The Orange Man – for all his many flaws – at least tried to do something about it. Which is why it’s such a shame he did nothing to stop them from doing something about him.

. . .

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60 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve been using a Motion Pro chain press/breaker for going on 30 years. Hundreds of chains. It’s just starting to wear out.
    While I’m a big believer in buying quality once. I’ve been lured into the cheap stuff lately as well, only because I’ve had to set up a ‘temp’ shop at a remote location, knowing that my ‘good’ stuff will eventually be moved to the remote spot. In most cases the cheap stuff was a mistake with a few exceptions.
    And to chains themselves, nothing goes on my bikes but DID X-ring. I’ve experimented with most other brands, and they don’t last half the time. To me, a chain breaking on a street bike could be fatal. On a dirtbike you could crack the cases and be in a world of financial hurt.
    And for advice if you don’t know. The front sprocket wears the fastest, and if changed before it is to far gone, you can get 3 front sprockets to one rear, then do both and the chain.
    Just my two cents.

  2. My son is now the proud owner of the…”BOX”. More specifically, a chest, steel, rather sturdy, designed to hold .50 BMG belts. I believe each of these boxes held three, which each were 27 feet long, hence the phrase, “Give ’em the ‘whole NINE YARDS’ “. This box, IDK how it got into the family, but my grandfather had it on “The Ranch” (his 45 acre farm just south of Fresno), and when he passed on early in ’68, my Dad got it, and around ’95, after my Mom passed and he “downsized” from their house into an apartment, I got it. I gave it to my son in 2014 or so. Just imagine, it was nothing but an AMMO box, but geez, is this steel box ever STURDY. Typical of what my Grandpa had on “The Ranch”, he had a shop building (BTW, he’d also had a small dairy, and kept it up himself) with equipment I wish they’d been able to keep, but as we lived in MD at the time (Dad was stationed at Andrews AFB), and my uncle, who lived 200 miles away in Lancaster, simply had limited need even though he had four sons of his own.

    I’ve also passed on some of my Dad’s old tools to both sons, to pass on the “tradition”, as I don’t do as much car repairs as I once did, due to having late model rides and getting old, less manual dexterity, and diminishing eyesight. #1 son has the original Craftsman hand tools that have survived all these years from his great-Grandfather. The combo wrenches are noticeably lighter than present-day Craftsman stuff.

    It’s not just good tools that can be a family “heirloom”, but also the skills and experience to USE them.

  3. Yes, cheap is cheap. However, I gauge how much to spend, and what quality I need, based on usage. My opinion is that for the homeowner, Harbor Freight actually has really good stuff for this application. I think they are a good value. Snap-On, Craftsman, MAC tools, yes. Better than HF, but what about the usage? May not be worth the extra $$. My experience has been that the Asian tools have come a looooong way from my high school days! Yes, back in my high school days (early 80’s) that stuff was absolute junk.

  4. When my new chain needed riveting a buddy who used to work at a Honda dealer just used a hammer and punch to do it while I held a sledgehammer against the chain / link as a hard surface to hold back on. I painted the link so it was easy to check later. Still good years later.

    • Hi Landru,

      That method works; I’ve used it myself years ago. But it’s not as precise and I’m very persnickety when it comes to things like chains… on a bike that will be ridden at speeds above 150 MPH (just for you, Richard).

      • I do tend to ride at a slower speed whilst dodging potholes, masked blunt skulls, quarter witted bicyclists and texting pedestrians…….. Wild turkeys, suicidal squirrels, wayward deer and the rest of the fauna just add that extra hint of spice to riding.

  5. You should’ve bought it from rockymountainatvmc.com I’m an old mx and gncc racer, the tusk brand tools are top notch and pretty inexpensive, just FYI!

  6. Some Chinese stuff is high-quality, some is pure junk. The problem is that you just don’t know until you buy it, because so many old, trusted American brands have simply shut down U.S. production and slapped their name on stuff that they contract with the Chinese to produce. A large part of the quality control is based on how closely the parent company monitors their Chinese suppliers — or not.

    I bought a set of Metzeler tires for my motorcycle two years ago. The rear one arrived, labeled “made in Germany.” Cool. The front one arrived, “Made in China.” I freaked out, but ran the tire and it has been fine.

    With tools, it is difficult to buy stuff that isn’t foreign made any more. Generally speaking, Taiwanese and Korean stuff is GTG while China is hit-or-miss.

    But sometimes you simply can’t avoid Chinese shit. I had to by a pair of jackstands recently, upon which I trusted my life. It was almost impossible to find any that were not Chinese. I’m still alive, though… so I guess they’re GTG.

  7. As much as I espouse voluntary mutually beneficial exchanges. Global free trade has bee a race to the bottom for the most part. One can scarcely find anything on scam-azon or anywhere else for that matter that isn’t chinese garbage. I have craftsman ratchets and wrenches my dad gave me that are older than I am. It’s almost impossible to buy similar quality tools at any price these days. I previously had carhart hats made in USA That I’d get 4-5 years out of (before they went fake and gay) now their Indonesian/China-muh crap barley makes it a year before it disintegrates. There still is quality stuff out there (Germany and Japan seem to still produce decant stuff,) but it takes some digging. Brands that were top notch a decade or two ago have devolved into disposable trash.

    • There is no global free trade. As Walter Williams so succinctly put it when NAFTA was a adopted, (paraphrased) “We don’t need a two thousand page document to allow us to freely trade with our neighbors”.

  8. Whether it’s cheap shit from China or expensive cheap shit from China, it’s still unusable. That’s why I frequent antique stores & estate sales…rather have a tool made in USA in 1950 than anything made today.

  9. One of the tricks I learned as a teen when checking tools was to drop it on a hard surface; if it made a high pitched “ting” it was good, if it was more of a “thud” not so much.

  10. Tools. Must beware of something even in quality brand types. The higher price is often for the warranty. They charge more for very similar junk with a better warranty. Which means they replace the junk with junk. “Fap-off” (for those who watch AvE’s channel on the tube will know what brand that is) has been caught a few times on select items usually not hand tools, yet)

    I have tools from old Snap-On, Craftsman, and other defunct brands from before I was born to Harbor Freight. They all have their uses and purposes. I have good stuff, I have cheap stuff. I use it appropriately. About the worst thing I’ve gotten from the made-in-China ebay mill is the paintless dent remover tool kit. It works well enough and it hasn’t broken yet. except for maybe one of plastic puller things you glue on. can’t remember if was just worn or broke. Cheap stuff I usually get from harbor freight because I can take it back easily. Too concerned about what I’d get from the ebay mill tool wise

  11. The Turkish made “Stoeger” products are part of the Beretta family by the way. That said, I rather spend just a little more and get a genuine Beretta made in Italy or Tennessee/Maryland if for no other reason than they retain their value much better.

    • I have long been out of the market for firearms, being hip deep in them already, but one example of the advantage of the Turkish Berettas is that models Barretta no longer makes might be available from Stoeger. In past years that included the Cougar. An alloy frame, heavier version of the PX series. My son has a Stoeger Cougar, and the quality is excellent. Though magazines are as rare as hens teeth.

    • Hi Publius,

      If you can find a tradesman where the skill was handed down from generation to generation it is still there, but I agree with you much of the trades today is run through cheap labor. I come from a family of sheet metal workers out of Jersey. My great grandfather did it, my grandfather did, my father did it, but my kids and my nieces and nephews have very little interest in it. Most of them would prefer a desk job behind the computer rather than getting their hands dirty. Today though most of the industry has been roboticized. The CAD/CAM machines will pretty much cut out any transition that is needed and one no longer has to hand make their own slip and drives with nothing more than a piece of galvanized metal and a pair of snips.

      • That sounds more like a vicious circle to me.

        People will get interested soon enough.

        Probably around the time oil hits $300/bbl and the supermarkets are empty, but the lucky few with factory jobs are doing relatively OK.

  12. You get what you pay for. Most of the time. If quality is somewhat critical, never buy the cheapest. Adjust what on the scale you will pay to fit the quality needed. Making a living with it, or only needs to work occasionally. For my professional use as a plumber/pipe fitter, I have bought tools from Italy and Germany that were no higher quality than those from China. Or if they were, were poorly designed for the task intended. On the other hand, I have bought tools from China that did fit the bill. China makes some quite suitable tools, and also makes a lot of pure crap. eBay is probably the worst source for cheap tools. Since there is little to no motive for product quality, having little to no overhead or reputation to worry about. Check the reviews, and the seller rating. Except for some standby brands, Snap On, Milwaukee, Rigid, Craftsman, Cooper, etc., tool quality has declined if made in the USA as well.

    • Ahem, are you reading this Dewalt? Another once American well made tool manufacturer biting the dust after being bought out by Black & Decker. Even their drill bits are crap.

      When large companies start hunting and buying out small and medium sized businesses the jobs are usually shipped overseas and the quality quickly drops. If it is a publicly traded company I try to avoid it at all costs, because the shareholders seem to hold prominence over the customer.

      • Hi RG,

        It’s disgusting, this push to cheapen everything. Both as to cost – and quality. We went shopping for furniture a while back and the degree of crapitude was astounding. Particle board/veneer everything. It looked like crap. It was crap. But the prices? You’d think it was made of hand-joined hardwoods.

        • Hi Eric,

          Another reason that I veer toward the antique shops. It is hit and miss, but sometimes one can find some absolutely beautiful pieces of furniture made 50-100 years ago…dining room tables, end tables, bed frames, cabinetry, etc.

          Also, if you are willing to make the drive, Farmville is the furniture capital of the Mid Atlantic. It is 11 various buildings and 900,000 sq feet of space – everything from lamps to pictures to furniture to area rugs. Some of it is junk, but there are some other pieces directly out of North Carolina and Virginia (the quality is very good, and the prices aren’t bad). I usually drag hubby down there every three years with a truck and a trailer. It is called GreenPoint Furniture. It literally takes us all day (we leave at 7 AM and usually get back around 10 PM), but we stop for lunch at Charley’s Waterfront Cafe and grab dinner somewhere in Orange.

        • True Dat Eric,
          New furniture today is pure crap. We stopped going to furniture stores years ago; can get really great quality stuff at thrift stores such as Habitat’s ReStore. Plus it’s a win-win, good furniture at a great price and the money goes to a charity. Most of the items we’ve bought date back to our parents generation when there was quality stuff made in the USA (before it became the USSA).

        • Vietnam supplies the “hardwood” furniture these days. I sent a set back to the local furniture store – the nice looking wood 6 drawer dresser ended up with a warped top and looking at many of the wood frame pieces with exterior exposure were finger jointed. Not a single piece escaped the finger joints, guess no trees over 4 ft tall in ‘Nam these days. I liked the design style and the metal ball bearing drawer guides were nice.

          The problem is no middle price point – pay 3k for a dining room set (Broyhill) or $650 for a nice looking serviceable dining table chair set from G. knows where.

    • Had not bought any Craftsman tools in some time. I was not aware they were made in China now. Of course I’ve had no need to buy any new, since my old ones still work quite well.

      • I built my Craftsman when it was still US-made at the tail end of it being a poor man’s quality option. It was never really Snap-On level but they did in the 90s produce pretty nice polished mid-grade stuff and that’s what mine is mostly. The problem is that there’s always still a chance to break a socket or strip a screwdriver. Craftsman still honored their lifetime warranty but you’ll get cheap Chinese junk in exchange now. But that’s not really too bad. You get the POS to tide you over until you can flag down a Snap-On or Cornwell truck to get something decent. The problem is if you wear out a socket wrench you used to be able to get a rebuild kit but then they went to just a straight trade, which was OK if it was another US one. But now you give up a perfectly good handle that just needs a new ratchet for a pure junk one. And if you think you can just buy the junk one to get the guts they don’t really fit. Dammit.

        • In using Craftsman, from years gone by, the only real difference between them and Snap On was the ratchet ratio. Took less turn to reset the Snap On. Which is a big thing in a tight space. Also, Snap On was lighter and smaller, because metallurgy is a thing.

  13. I have a client that toured China. They went to Potemkin factories where the Chinese showed them that they are not beating America on labor, but rather beating us at our own game by the factory was completely robotic and technologically superior. They are insisting that I buy almost all the materials for this project from China. They are completely deluded into thinking that quality will be better, with a warranty. I am trying to council them of the risks, but they are not listening.

    • Just to be clear, the Chinese are quite capable of making really good top end stuff. They have just realized that Americans will buy anything cheap and so that’s where the money is. My first AK47 was Chinese- the wood finish was sloppy but everything else was first rate and made to work and last.

    • China builds what they are asked to build. In the case of the West that’s been a race to the bottom. There’s a few companies, like an Apple, who managed to mostly build high quality stuff still and their goal was purely to increase profit margin.

      But China is not stupid. They happily accepted the shit job building low cost, low quality stuff for morons all the while learning from us. They see the success Japan had at doing this to become a world leader. The Chinese are poised to lead the world if the demand materializes.

      • I agree, Anon –

        It’s not the Chinese. It’s the American corporations who used the Chinese system to exploit America – and massively increase the profits of the corporations – and specifically, the profits of those who run these corporations. I am in principle a free trade man. But it is absurd – dangerously idiotic – to even speak of “free trade” with countries such as China.

        • Or to speak of free trade with the US. Or much of anyplace in the world. Worldwide, governments have put their thumbs on the scale. And it ain’t in favor of the average middle class.

      • I know of one closed parts plant where a new tenant moved in that just happened to also be in the parts business….receiving incoming shipments from China and pre-sreening the defective parts before sending them on to the factories.

        • There are many broker businesses in the manufacturing world. Middlemen. They source the components in China, Vietnam, Taiwan, etc. Sometimes even at small companies in the US and other well established industrial nations.

          When there’s a quality issue it’s on the broker to sort the parts. When it’s a US supplier without a broker, or any supplier where there isn’t one, the supplier sends people to sort on site or the stuff goes back for them to sort. Although for overseas its impractical to send the stuff back or even send people so sorting is billed back.

          Everyone has a quality issue that results in sorting eventually. If this was a permanent situation for a broker to be sorting he should find a new factory to make the parts at unless he doesn’t value his time.

  14. One gets what they pay for and sometimes they even get crap when they make a conscious decision to spend more hoping they don’t get crap.

    I always chuckle at men and women who still spend big money on high end retailers like Prada, Coach, Dolce & Gabbana, and Armani in this day and age. Every single one of these products is made in China, Vietnam, or Turkey. The quality for a $400 handbag is more like $50 and lasts about two years. We have seen it in everything…clothing, tools, furniture, even food. We are a throwaway society. I have some beautiful Christmas ornaments from Baldwin that are 20 to 30 years old. At that time they were made in Pennsylvania. Fifteen years ago they moved the jobs to China and the price dropped 20%…it shows. I stopped buying them that day.

    Cheap stuff is why I stopped shopping at large retail outlets, I hang out at antique shops instead. I can find good quality items for a pretty affordable price that will last another 30 years or more. I have everything from furniture and holiday decor to dishes and books, yes, even a few gas masks (one never knows when Putin will have a bad morning or Uncle Joe gets the coordinates wrong). 😉

    • Turkey has, or at least has had, excellent tool works. Often bought from makers in other nations. A major firearms maker, at least used to be. Putting out some excellent arms at very reasonable price points, under the Stoeger brand.

      • I agree, when it comes to guns and tools, they make a very good product. Also, Turkish clothing is actually pretty sturdy when the fabric actually comes from Turkey. What I have found is when Turkish cotton is not being used, but the cheap fabric from the manufacturers instead, the product is second rate.

    • The loss of quality comes in two ways.
      1) inflation. Many people won’t pay over X shelf price so that shelf price must be held at all costs.
      2) style, consumption. People throw it out and get new regardless. So what was once quality becomes profit.

      • I agree, Brent. Corporations don’t become large conglomerates without selling a lot of widgets. Quality is not profitable. How successful would a company be if they made a table that lasted 40 years? Or a farmer’s tractor that lasted 50 +? The world has accepted that junk is agreeable to them. There are some brands that are known for luxury, but it is usually small items like watches or other pieces of jewelry, maybe a cobbler who has a small, handcrafted shoe company, a real fur coat manufacturer, etc.

        Today we have these horrible rental online fashion stores popping up. You rent a Coco Chanel purse for a month, a Burberry coat, or a pair of Jimmy Choos then return it at the end of 30 days. They charge you $100 (or however much) and one can walk around for a few weeks pretending they have something. One day these people will walk to their closet and realize they own nothing not even the shirt on their back.

        • “How successful would a company be if they made a table that lasted 40 years?”

          Very successful. Depends on your customer. I’ve worked on products in my career that would last the average person decades. 100% repairable too. But here’s the rub, the average person isn’t the primary customer, the professional is, commercial businesses. These customers beat the ever living snot out of the products.

          Seek out the commercial product then don’t beat the snot out of it. It will last. It may out last you.

          Of course for clothing there isn’t much option other than finding vintage or wearing work gear everywhere 😉

          • Oh I forgot there are still some craftsman in the world where you can get something that lasts a life time. here’s the catch: expensive and you might have to wait 2+ years. There’s just not that many people doing it.

          • These things still exist, you might find just one or two small companies, will have to seek them out and be patient with schedules and mainly be willing to pay the cost. Save up and then buy once, cry once. You have to look, as unfortunate as it might be, at what the FedGov and military are buying. The DoD and NASA especially are pretty strict about domestic sourcing.

          • Morning, Brent –

            I think an essential driver of cheapness – of throw-away everything – is debt. Too many people are comfortable with just buying something and then buying it again. Because they can just put it on the card. I don’t think it’s unrelated that back when quality products were much more the rule than the exception, most Americans shied away from debt. Many didn’t even have credit cards. When they bought, they usually paid – as in, paid cash (or check). For this reason, they were more choosy about what they bought. With a card, it is very easy to just . . . charge it. Again and again and again.

            • I agree. And with the average CC debt somewhere around 10k, it’s become the standard consumer economic plan. Another recent trend that is likely to drive it, is the cell phone. It’s going to be obsolete in a couple of years, so who cares? Now being transferred to the rolling cell phones called automobiles.

            • Cheap credit has distorted every aspect of society.

              There was cheap stuff in days gone by too. It didn’t last so we have survivor bias. I even have some surviving cheap stuff from a long time ago here and there. It had its place back then but people weren’t such consumers, they bought it because that’s all they could afford. Today well people are on a credit cycle. taxes, debt… control.

              Sacrifice and hard work are the only escape from the debt cycle. But then they call you ‘lucky’ and justify stealing even more with taxes.

        • RG,

          But will they be happy?

          (Not a fan of Schwab. But, hedonic adaptation is a thing, and I think he was referring to that when he said it.)

          Is happiness even the goal?

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