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 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

The Drill Bits Are Here! The Drill Bits Are Here!  

12/26/2012

When we were kids going to the hardware store, buying a drill bit meant asking the guy behind the counter to go to a big case with millions of different sizes of bits and get what you wanted. Of course he didn't stock brad point bits for wood, and you had no idea why anyone would want a 17/64" but it was comforting to know that it was available.

Fast forward a few decades. The hardware store is closed, The local big box mostly carries blister packed bits from China in "popular sizes" and it's up to us on-line iron mongers to get you proper drill bits made for cutting cleanly in wood and wood like materials.

For years we only stocked a few sizes of bits, made in Germany, because the choice in European made Imperial sizes was underwhelming. About every twelve to fourteen seconds I get an email from some factory in China pointing out that they make the best drill bits and urging me to buy them.

When you order from China, or any place far away, you need to order in economical quantities. We know everybody likes a 3/16" drill bit so it's easy to order a bunch of those but what about 13/64"? Okay we all know that nobody actually ever needs that odd size - except when they do and therefore I have the following choices. Do nothing and just stick with large quantities of popular sizes; that's what all the larger retailers do. Or, I could order a few pieces of each size and hope we run out of everything at about the same time so we don't have one popular size out of stock for a long time.

When you are ordering from overseas the former solution isn't great for the demanding customer. And the latter solution means we will eventually run out of something someone needs right away. There is a third problem effecting some Asian makers. Unless you actually go to Asia and ride shotgun over your suppliers quality can be all over the map. For a small boutique company we just don't have the resources to have an agent in Asia. The fourth problem with European makers is that most of them have exclusive importers in the US who never stock every size, just the popular sizes. It costs more with a middleman because the importer needs to make a living too. Worldwide there are good makers, bad makers, and since the price of steel and machinery is pretty much the same worldwide, if you actually find something good, and consistent, it won't be that much less than sourcing stuff from North America.

And then of course the obvious point hits home. Why am I bothering with all this anyway? I'm a guy who tries to buy local. I shop at the green market. I get seltzer delivered from a guy in Brooklyn. So why am I wasting my time wondering what and who and how much I should be ordering from Asia or some middleman who doesn't understand my business. So the simple solution to all my problems is simple. Buy Local. And it's amazingly simple. I pick up the phone, dial a number, order drill bits in whatever size and quantity I need, and they show up. They are better made than anything I can buy internationally and since the factory is close by I can order all the odd sizes anytime I want to. I can give you, my customer, the widest selection (which will grow over time) and most important we keep the money in the family. It does cost a little more. We make less margin selling an American drill bit than an imported one. But I don't have to worry that I'm exploiting anyone, and I think I a getting a better product, and with the larger availability of sizes, I can get the product I want.

I should point out that we do import a few items from China and other countries in the third world and elsewhere. I have no plans to suddenly go cold turkey and stop. Certain items simply are either not made here, or the American company that makes them won't sell to us at anything resembling a reasonable markup. But just as we manufacture Gramercy Tools in the US, and we sell (for example) US made bar clamps that blow away the Chinese knockoff at just a very small increase in price, we figure you folks are savvy enough to understand the nuances of design that make the US made product a better deal, even if it's a larger cash outlay. We hope you support us and our manufacturers.

Check our our new drill bits made in the USA by W.L. Fuller of Rhode Island.

We have also just added a great pair of quick release vises and an inexpensive but real nice small vise both by Milwaukee Tool and Equipment Company to our catalog for the same reason.
Tags:Product News, Sales, and Promotions
Comments: 13
12/26/2012John http://woodworksbyjohn.com
Thank you for pointing out how the business end of all the primarily Asian import market works. I too buy American when ever I can and am glad you do too. Don't know if it's relevant or not but in the 60's when I was a teen, I worked in a small lumber yard. We had US Steel in the next town that made nails. They were packed in the box in rows, heads and points oriented. Well, enter the foreign manufacturers in places like Turkey, Yugoslavia, Israel, etc. that undercut the American manufacturers big time. This is when the first so called big box stores were coming and my boss explained to me that we could barely compete. We would get pallets of 50 lb. boxes of those import nails in and I had to peel off all of the stickers stating where they were made before packing them in the shed. I remember my fingernails being broken and bloody after those days!
12/26/2012Mitch Wilson 
I have been buying Fuller drill bits from my local supplier here in Syracuse for the past several years and they are great. I encourage your customers (and blog readers) to get moving and buy these drill bits. From what I understand, Fuller has been having issues, not with their manufacturing but in the front office, and they may not be around much longer. Maybe we can help them get back on their feet by buying their high quality, and American made, products. This is definitely one of those "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone" moments. Need a 3/4" extended length brad point bit for making dog holes in your 4" thick workbench top?
12/26/2012Niels http://materialogy.blogspot.com/
Such a tease!
I've been eyeing these for a while now, but the large sets have been out of stock. Have any idea when the 14 or 28 pcs set's will be back in stock?

I am really glad that there is an American made alternative. I've got some Teutonic bits that are great, but so teuer! odd-sizes=not so much.

As for Chinese drill bits, I've heard (horror) stories about the quality control and methods for bit manufacturing that have turned me off to the concept regardless of the cost.

oh yeah, some long bits WOULD be amazing.

happy new year!
12/26/2012joel http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com
We should have more back in stock shortly. Between the blog and general Xmas shopping we ran out faster than we thought - which is a good thing. If you place and order now we will of course fill it as soon as we can. The drills come from Rhode Island - so it's not like they will take a long boat ride to get here! - UPDATE the 28 pieces sets are back in stock!
12/26/2012djmueller 
The video on the Seltzer Man: poetry in water and CO2. I too, am a third generation business owner, and relate to this man's life's choices and pride of history.
12/26/2012Bob Van Dyke http://www.schoolofwoodworking.com/
The whole time I was reading your blog I was thinking- "why doesn't he just buy from Fuller in Rhode Island?"
Finally - at the end of all that going on about China and German bits!!
Fuller bits are the only thing I have used in the school since we started 12 years ago. I made the mistake of buying two well known German made bits from Woodcraft a few years ago. They were both about 6 thousandths under their stated size! Needless to say- the 7/8" diameter bushing did not go into the "7/8" hole made with those bits.....
12/26/2012Scott 
Whats a "lab bolt"?

Hint: from the milwaukee vise writeup.
12/26/2012joel http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com
Scott,
A "Lab Bolt" is exactly the same thing as a "Lag Bolt" except spelled differently (Fixed)
12/26/2012Lewis Ward 
Nice. Haven't seen Fuller bits around since Ithaca lost Smith Hardware about 30 years ago.
Chinese quality varies greatly. Buy "local."
Thanks Joel.
12/29/2012Eric Rusch Sr 
Some bits and a few pair of those nice bar clamps are going to be items "santa" forgot to bring me...
Thanks Joel.
Keep up the good work.
01/15/2013Paul Saffold 
I assume these are high speed steel and not high carbon steel. Correct?
Thanks for supplying quality products.
01/15/2013joel http://www.toolsforworkingwood.com
OF course they are High Speed Steel
06/10/2013Wilson E. Stevens Sr. 
I have not been able to replace some of my American drill bits, and purchased some China made. What a disaster. They kind of work for wood, but don't drill metal. I didn't know about Fuller making drill bits, and will check with you or some one to get some American drill bits. I was going to buy a drill doctor to sharpen my smaller drill bits, but I can replace a lot a small drill bits for the cost of the equipment.
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