View Full Version : OT (or not?): Beginner's tool quality woes

07-12-2007, 07:07 AM
All right, you guys have certainly been through this and there's probably been already more than just a couple of threads on the topic. Still I need to let out some pressure and hopefully get some advice so please bear with me.

When I got my mini-lathe and mill some time ago they were equipped with some basic tooling only so I started building up a tool inventory. Very soon I met with quality issues, most of them just annoying rather than serious. Some examples: square screw heads on the new QCTP tool holders too large for the key supplied with the unit, T-slot nuts don't fit in the mill table slots, bad angle plate castings, center finder & wiggler set downright crude. The two first examples are brand accessories specified and sold by the German / Chinese manufacturer, whereas the two others are Indian and purchased from other sources. Of course, there's always a remedy for all this, like get new Allen screws, use the file, send it back. I've used all of these and the net result is positive. So far there's been a free keyless 13 mm drill chuck with a MT 2 arbor, a free machining job to fit the QCTP to the top slide of my lathe plus free shipping both ways for everything in compensation so I shouldn't complain. However, I'm wondering if this is something I'm in for with my future purchases.

On the positive side the few pieces of industrial quality tooling I've got are great, both in performance and visible quality. Anyway, the prices being what they are I guess I'll mostly keep on getting the economy stuff. I've got some questions to those of you who didn't fall asleep reading above text. Are there any Asian tool brands that are clearly better than the rest of them or is it just a lottery? Any major quality issues with brands like Vertex or Soba, these being the ones offered by most German or British tool sellers? How about B & R (Sieg)? Comments are welcome.


07-12-2007, 07:16 AM
There is one area where it pays to stick with the expensive "industrial quality" tools and that is cutting tools. I have yet to see a Chinese (or Indian) made tap or drill bit that can compare to the quality of English, European or US brands. This is especially so in the case of taps. The nice thing about these types of tools is that you can build up a complete selection a piece at a time as budget allows. As the old saying goes: There is no substitute for Quality.

Your Old Dog
07-12-2007, 07:19 AM
Jouko, I pretty much have to order stuff out and see what it looks like when it gets here. Most of this depends on just how fussy you are. I work out back in the barn as a hobbyist and can't afford to be too fussy so I rework what I can if I can buy it cheap enough.

Some might be able to answer better if they knew where your interest lies. You want to build telescopes, tripods or trains!

My Dad used to kid me about putting a $100 saddle on a $10 horse :D

07-12-2007, 07:29 AM
My Dad used to kid me about putting a $100 saddle on a $10 horse

Yeah, but it makes the rider comfortable.

07-12-2007, 07:37 AM
Evan & YOD,

your replies very nicely echo one of my mother's favorite sayings: "Us poor people just can't afford to buy cheap stuff". No explanations necessary. So I guess it's like: think what I really need, take a deep breath and get the good one, let that nice-to-have stuff be even if the tool chest still has some empty space.


07-12-2007, 07:48 AM
Truman -

This reminds me of a story... The topic was the price of motorcycle helmets. Since I don't ride and have no idea about the world of 2 wheels, I asked about price and quality regarding headgear. The answer was simple, straightforward, made sense to me and was one I could understand.

"If you've got a $10 head, get a $10 helmet."



07-12-2007, 08:38 AM

07-12-2007, 08:49 AM
After going throught the learning curve buying tools and equipment, I have come to the conclusion that it is usually not worth going cheap with anything that has to do with workholding and cutting. Drill chucks that wobble and slip or a tap that jams/breaks don't make my day.

As far as Vertex is concerned, I have a 6" rotary table that is very good although it needed a tuneup before first using it.

It appears that Soba is an Indian made series of vises similar to the Groz line sold here in Canada by Busy Bee. Don't buy without looking over them. I've had good and bad experiences with them (2" tilt/swivel: excellent, 4" swivel: so/so- it has been replaced by a 4" anglelock style made in Taiwan).

The Bison series of chucks/tools made in Poland are good as are the Tos lathe chucks made in the Czech Republic. Dormer taps are excellent. All my drills are from the Precision Twist Drill Co., except for a no-name chinese letter set in Jobbers length that I rarely use (the screw machine length set is used most of the time).

Nearly all my drill chucks are now the Jacobs ball bearing series as well as a JKP 130 keyless and a 1.5mm Albrecht. All except two were bought new on E-bay at what I consider bargain prices. One has to be patient but I now have accurate, non-slipping chucks that I could not have afforded at retail prices.

I am pleased with a recent purchase of Glanze CCMT insert toolholders purchased from Chronos in the UK.

Good luck,


07-12-2007, 11:11 AM
When I got my mini-lathe and mill some time ago they were equipped with some basic tooling only so I started building up a tool inventory. Very soon I met with quality issues, most of them just annoying rather than serious.

Truman, I feel your pain. Most of us here have gone through Chinese mini-mills or lathes or Mill/Drills.

Think about these machines as unfinished kits. If you get a Mini-Lathe or Mini-Mill with a good casting (not warped, and no major voids), there's a bunch of tweaking/tuning you can do to make it a lot more reliable, accurate, and fun to use.

A cheap and easy fix is to replace any bolts and screws. The Chinese machines have infamously bad bolts, and replacing them with good Western bolts makes a big improvement. For the folks in the 'States -- don't get your replacement bolts from Home Depot or Lowes -- those are made in China too!

Another thing that helped my mini-lathe a lot was to re-tap all the threaded holes with a good, sharp tap. I think they give the guy one tap at the beginning of the day, and by nightfall he/she is just poking holes in the casting with a blunt dowel pin :)

Finally, you're not alone -- there are a ton of enthusiast sites for the Mini-Mill and Mini-Lathe (and the Mill/Drills). Here's Frank Hoose's collection of links of modifications that you can do to improve your Mini Lathe. There are similar pages with mods to the 9x20 lathes, and the Mini-Mills and Mill/Drills:


07-12-2007, 11:18 AM
The best Asian brand I've found consistently is "Vertex". "Mitutyo" is way "up there" with the best in the world.

I coughed up my coffee when I saw Vertex (which is made in Taiwan) and Mitutoyo mentioned in the same sentence :)
Mitutoyo is up there with Starrett and Brown & Sharpe. In fact, I prefer Mitutoyo calipers and micrometers to the Starrett and B&S.

OSG is another Japanese company that should be mentioned here: they make very fine taps, drills and endmills.

07-12-2007, 06:44 PM
Phase II is a good Asian brand also. So is Yausa

07-12-2007, 08:03 PM
About a 2 years ago I bought a 1/2" Glanze CCMT lathe tool bit set from Grizzly (it was on sale and cheap), it came with Valenite CCMT inserts, I've had very good results, and the tools were made in India. Very good fit and finish, use the boring bar that came with the set all the time. I also have a 1/4-20 tap that was made in India, after 3 holes, the once straight 4 flute tap, now looks like a cork screw, I was surprised that it twist like that, but it didn't snap.

All 3 of my mills were made in Asia, I would love to have better, I just can't justify the replacement of very good working equipment, with anything else. They all work good and the type of work they are used for, they fit the bill, would rather use the money on more and better accessories.

I'm sure all of us have bought inferior product, either by choice or where "shocked" when you opened the box. Many of us have limited budgets, and often have to make do, but you don't save money when you have to rebuy it 3 or 4 times.


07-12-2007, 09:03 PM
well for turrniung tools i got a set form busy bee that uses the triangle bits great for aluim and othe soft metals ok on steel if you take your time and realy light cuts , i have leanred to make my own HSS tools form blanks and they rock for anything i put them to so far , as for drill bits i use HSS and cobalt drill bits and i dont cheap out on them Center drills i use the cheap HSS ones and they work great my chuck for my lathe is a metabo and my taper MT2 is a Groz my new live center is a Groz HD revolving center and i still use my cheper smaller no name one... i have the busy bee adjustable tool post and its works great i had to dril the center hole a slight bit bigger for my mini lathe when i had it and its a perfect fit on my new 10x18 busy bee lathe i use shimms in my factory 4 way tool post for my HSS bits and i use a colbalt parting tool ,, for boaring bars i cheaped out on the busy bee ones and thoes i dont like so iam going to learn to make my own or buy a really good set ,, you get what you pay for in alot of cases ,, sometimes cheaper is better but sometimes its not.....

i dont have my mill yet but soon and iam going for a middle of the road model milling machine but the tooling iam going to go for the besti can afford for it andin time my lathe will also get the higher quaility tooling as well..

07-13-2007, 10:23 AM
I have to agree with Evan, when it comes to drills and taps, buy high quality! I started off with the Harbor Freight TIN coated drill bit set and one by one, replacing each drill bit with a high quality USA version as needed. As for Taps, buy the best you can afford, no ifs ands or buts

07-13-2007, 11:02 AM
I was wondering, unless you order directly from the manufacturer most online catalogs don't mention the brand. So how can you tell?

07-13-2007, 10:05 PM
If the brand is a well known quality brand they mention it. It's when it is nothing to brag about they don't say or don't even have a brand except M.I.C. to give.



07-14-2007, 12:19 PM
I'm cheap. Well, maybe thrifty. This doesn't mean I shy away from discretionary spending; it simply means that since money only spends once, I try to get the very most mileage from it.

For a long, long time when confronting big purchases, I'd do the research, find out what I wanted, look for a good used one, and end up settling for one that was not quite as nice. Then I'd lavish time and money upgrading that one, eventually end up unable to stand it anymore finally getting the "good" one, and usually since I had genuine need at the time, I didn't have the luxury of waiting for a deal.

No more. That's too expensive.

I try to forecast what tools I'll need, and I keep my eyes open for deals. I have a bunch of eBay saved searches, and look on my local (DC-MD-VA) Craigslists every day. When one shows up, even if I don't need it this second, I pounce. An example? I had a succession of oil-less compressors which were forever needing repair, quitting mid-paint job, and generally p*ssing me off. I looked on ebay and CL for a year and a half for the deal I wanted, and ended up with an American made 5hp-2cyl-2-stage-60 gallon speedaire for $300. Actually, it ended up as a Millermatic 185 mig w/ an 80 cu'ft tank of C25 plus the compressor for $800. Even though I won't have the new garage floor in for another month, I just found the air dryer of my dreams, and have a bid snipe cocked and ready for tomorrow when the auction closes...

I get the best tools I can afford or have room for, usually used or distressed freight, and I don't pay alot. When I need a tool now, I bite the bullet and buy good stuff.

I've *never, ever* said "wow, you know, this tool is just too nice..."

07-15-2007, 01:39 AM
For the hell of it, has anybody tried Loew's Kobalt brand.

Wanted a 6-32 tap, S'inlaw and I went to a tool supply store, bought 3 6-32 taps, 6 bucks each, #36 drills, 2 bucks each.

Loews sells Kobalt 6-32 for 3.78, tap and drill, package says "No hassle guarantee", take back to store, get new, no " broke the tap", outa luck.

Guaranteed, regardless. Haven't broken, haven't used one yet, if I do break one, will go back, see if they honor it. Have about 600 holes to tap in brass.

Don't know if they will do the trick. I don't have a clientel, if I can't finish it today, get to it in a couple days, after I have had time to go back to Loew's.

YMMV. If you gotta have it done now, you might have to buy the absolute best. I don't care what brand tap you buy, it is still a very hard, brittle, piece of tool steel. Still can be broken.

You know, it all depends on what you are making. If you are making a small piece, and break a tap, you can either burn it out, if you can't use a tap extractor, or you can make another piece. If you are making a turbine shell, 5 to 10 tons of formed and machined steel, if you break a tap, you GOTTA get it out. You don't scrap the forming and welding and machining that got that piece to you. You break a 3/8-24, that holds the diaphragms in place, get it out somehow.

If you burn it out, you likely burn out the hole, have to weld fill it, redrill it, retap it. If you weld the hole full, you likely change the steel's hardness, because you have ALL that metal as a heatsink to cool the weld too quickly. Makes a hard spot. Even harder to tap.

A GOOD hand on a tap wrench can do it. When I worked at a company that did just that, I asked for a tap wrench. The Boss said we don't provide them, if you want one, go buy it.

Said screw you, pressed a nut on the tap I had, used a ratchet, sensitive,in my mind, hands, I was a pretty good mechanic.

Little fat guy who had 25 years service, most of the crew had been laid off many times in the last 10 years, came over and looked at what I was doing. "Oh, special tap?"

"Nah, look, just press on a nut."

Goes to the Boss, "look at him". Boss comes over, again, "Special tap?", "Nah, just press on a nut."

Walks away, I finish a whole bucnha holes, come rating time, "Must learn to do the things the Elliot way."

I will either do it their way or I will do it elsewhere.

I did do it elsewhere, left them after less than 6 months.

Why in the hell I got into that, I don't know. Just plain pissed, I guess.



07-15-2007, 04:05 AM
The most expensive tools are the ones you have to replace early and often.

11-27-2007, 06:20 PM
"On the positive side the few pieces of industrial quality tooling I've got are great, both in performance and visible quality."

I think you are hearing a general nod of agreement on that one, but if you want to save money, you can stay out of the complexity curve while staying in with the good stuff. An industrial grade piece of HSS is very cheap, and can be ground into the shapes required for general turning, freehand, by anyone with a grinder. It is also the only thing that can be pressed into use in certain unique situations, so eventually one will probably go down that learning path. It's only really in the routine but somewhat complex shape area that index tools offer an advantage to the HSM.

On drills and taps, I have managed to get by with the crap. I buy sets of both. I have found that tap and die holders should immediately be chucked, I think they are dangerous in some cases, as they will snap and throw bits around. I pick up good ones at antique tool sales or buy the rugged ugly ones industrial supplies sell. I have had good luck with the taps and dies themselves, and one should keep in mind that these tools break in delicate sizes in good quality. Us proper tool proceedure, lubricant, and scale down you expectations a little. I obviously wouldn't use one of these things on a custom bolt action refurb, but for general use I haven't had any problems. Once I use a tap or drill up, assuming it's because I used it a lot, I will replace it from the good stock at an industrial supply.

With drill bits I find quality varies a lot at the cheap end. I have bought some stuff that comes from a lower end brand, and it wouldn't even drill through a single piece of stainless of 1/8". And at other times a cheap deal drill set has been made of remarkably good steel.

I have a routine for hand sharpening drill bits that works pretty well within a few thou, and I can nurse the junk along if I run into a tough job. But generally I shove that stuff over to the wood side of the shop. I certainly wouldn't quarrel with spending a little more to buy a better set of drills and getting a predictable quality product.

11-27-2007, 06:25 PM
There is one area where it pays to stick with the expensive "industrial quality" tools and that is cutting tools. I have yet to see a Chinese (or Indian) made tap or drill bit that can compare to the quality of English, European or US brands. This is especially so in the case of taps.

Agree completely, although I'd throw OSG (Japan) in with the very best of the Western endmills, taps and dies.

I've found the same is true with lathe tool blanks -- the Chinese and Indian HSS tool blanks are horrible. The heat treatment is very non-uniform, and they just don't hold their shape like a Western tool blank.

One big difference in drills, taps and dies, is whether they're ground from the solid, or rolled. The cheap Chinese drill sets are rolled, and they're neither sharp, nor straight.

A ground drill bit is so sharp you'll slice your hand open pulling it out of the box.

11-27-2007, 06:27 PM
"If you've got a $10 head, get a $10 helmet."

That's classic -- thanks for that Phil!

11-27-2007, 08:47 PM
"If you've got a $10 head, get a $10 helmet."

then they musn't make $100 helmets, the $100 heads aren't in the market for a street bike

hehe, running for cover :D :D :D

J Tiers
11-27-2007, 09:40 PM
I have no idea how things work in Finland.......

However, here in the US there are "estate sales", basically where the family of deceased folks sell off all the unwanted contents of the house.

There are also "garage sales", where people sell off their unwanted stuff.

And of course "flea markets" where anything and everything may be for sale, but the goods are "as-is, where is, with all faults". If you want to escape "without fleas", you must carefully examine any purchases.

The newspaper has a section for people to sell unwanted items also.

I have outfitted my shop almost entirely from these sources, including lathe, mill, large drill press, grinders shapers, filing machines, a large amount of tools and tooling, and the toolboxes to organize it. All good brands, much of it top brands. Also lots of metal stock, much of it labeled and tagged with alloy.

This works best in a larger city. My relatives who live in a smaller town get very few such sales in their area, but they are often good when they do occur.

The very good thing about these sales is that often the tools and equipment is older, better made, professional quality items. I don't buy junk.

Even cutting tools such as taps and dies. I just recently picked up a box of taps and dies.... $20, the cost of a couple new good quality items. Box was full of mostly Bendix and Greenfield brand, at least 80% of which was sharp and very usable. I only set aside about 20 taps that looked bad, nearly a hundred were sharp and good. Many of them still had the protective coating on the tip, others were obviously sharp, and most taps were the "spiral point type.

Why say all this?

Because if there are any such sales where you are, you can spend less and get better quality by this 'recycling" than by buying new.

And, the regret when you break a tap etc is far less when you paid very little for it used than if you just bought it for full price.....