If you get to know some toolmakers as friends, you’re likely to hear all kinds of wild stories about people who return tools for odd or non-existent defects. Think sidewalls of a handplane that are different in thickness by a few thousandths of an inch. Or cutting bevels of a tool that are ground 1° out of square.
But sometimes tools do need to go back to the manufacturer. Students would ask me all the time about a tool: Is this a defect? Should I send it back?
It’s a delicate balance. For me it comes down to this question: Is fixing the “imperfection” my responsibility? And can I repair it easily? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” then I tell them not to return the tool. Examples:
- Bevel is ground out of square: Owner’s responsibility. Always.
- Flash of metal on an edge: Easily fixed.
- Iron plane sole perhaps out of flat: Not easily fixed. Send it back.
- Bed of plane ground out of square: Not easily fixed.
- Rough bit of lacquer or tear-out on wood: Easily fixed.
- Tool won’t hold an edge. (See photo above.) Sharpen it a few times to ensure it’s not just a carbon-starved edge. Then send it back.
- Tool’s weight is slightly out of spec compared to description. Keep it.
- Rockwell hardness of tool is two points out of spec. Are you sure you’re not a machinist? Keep it.
- Chisel’s sharp arrises cut your skin. Easily fixed with sandpaper.
- Chipbreaker won’t seat on the back of the iron. Something is warped, poorly tapped or bent. I’d send it back.
- Wedge won’t seat. Easily fixed.
- Wooden sole of plane out of truth. Easily fixed (and something you need to learn to do).
- Mouth of wooden plane clogs. It’s almost always your sharpening. Sharpen it and try it a few times.
- Socket handle of chisel keeps coming loose. Easily fixed with hairspray.
- Hammer or mallet head is loose. Easily fixed.
- Metal combination square is not square. If you didn’t drop it, send it back.
- Metal straightedge is out of truth. Same as No. 16.
- Coping saw won’t hold blade tight. Welcome to the world of coping saws.
- Your fretsaw won’t hold blades. Easily fixed. File the blade clamps to rough them up.
- Mechanical pencil malfunctions. Would you take a gerbil to the vet?
I’m sure everyone defines what is “easily fixed.” My definition is something like: Do I have to tools and skills to do this in less than 10 minutes.
Oh, and one more reason not to send a tool back – you don’t want to become part of a story that a toolmaker tells to a group of people at a bar.
— Christopher Schwarz