Chris Schwarz's Blog

When to Send a Tool Back

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:

  1. Bevel is ground out of square: Owner’s responsibility. Always.
  2. Flash of metal on an edge: Easily fixed.
  3. Iron plane sole perhaps out of flat: Not easily fixed. Send it back.
  4. Bed of plane ground out of square: Not easily fixed.
  5. Rough bit of lacquer or tear-out on wood: Easily fixed.
  6. 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.
  7. Tool’s weight is slightly out of spec compared to description. Keep it.
  8. Rockwell hardness of tool is two points out of spec. Are you sure you’re not a machinist? Keep it.
  9. Chisel’s sharp arrises cut your skin. Easily fixed with sandpaper.
  10. Chipbreaker won’t seat on the back of the iron. Something is warped, poorly tapped or bent. I’d send it back.
  11. Wedge won’t seat. Easily fixed.
  12. Wooden sole of plane out of truth. Easily fixed (and something you need to learn to do).
  13. Mouth of wooden plane clogs. It’s almost always your sharpening. Sharpen it and try it a few times.
  14. Socket handle of chisel keeps coming loose. Easily fixed with hairspray.
  15. Hammer or mallet head is loose. Easily fixed.
  16. Metal combination square is not square. If you didn’t drop it, send it back.
  17. Metal straightedge is out of truth. Same as No. 16.
  18. Coping saw won’t hold blade tight. Welcome to the world of coping saws.
  19. Your fretsaw won’t hold blades. Easily fixed. File the blade clamps to rough them up.
  20. 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

10 thoughts on “When to Send a Tool Back

  1. idbill

    Ok… So I have a Stanley Sweetheart Low Angle Jack ($160) that the bed of the plane is not parallel to the sole. (This was an issue a few years ago.) I took it back to the store and got another one… same problem. That particular store (aka chain store) doesn’t sell many of these, and when they are returned they don’t go back to the manufacturer but are considered a loss to the store. For the time being, I adding a piece of blue tape on one side of the bed which solves the problem, but it is hacky. [Disclaimer: I work as a demo instructor at this particular store, and need to use tools they sell there.]

    1. rtunas

      First off the Newer Stanley Sweetheart line tried to run on the history of the Sweetheart lines of the 1930’s. The quality of machining on the newer line is usually horrible and can not be repaired easily. My advice is to ship it back and spend your money elsewhere. I own a Woodcraft WoodRiver 62 low angle jack plane and all I did was sharpen the blade. The sole was flat to within .001 inches and the sides were perfectly perpendicular to the sole. If you keep and eye on the sales at Woodcraft they have the planes on sale frequently. I believe on sale mine was about $160. Normally they are $199.

  2. kwhp1507

    Hmm…. I’ve never thought about returning a tool because of a trivial “issue”. Maybe it’s because I was raised to fix it if you can, if you can’t -find someone that can. But with that said, I would never consider paying the ridiculous amount of money some of these companies charge for tools. $25 is WAY TOO MUCH money for a single chisel, and that’s not much for a “quality” tool.

    For shits and giggles I tried to harden some cheap Chinese chisels. It took a few quenches. But it holds an edge as good or better than the Erwin’s I use most of the time. I used a cup of water and a mapp and oxygen gas torch to heat the bottom forth up to the point it was no longer magnetic and quenched in the water. I sharpened it with diamond stones and dropped it tip first into my concrete floor from 5′. Didn’t do anything to the edge but left a knick in the floor. I do not know how hard it is, but I do know it works way better.

    Last thing I will add is, it’s not the craftsmans tools that make great things, it’s the craftsman.

  3. kmcleod64

    Regardless of the quality of tool having the knowledge of how to fix and sharpen tools could be considered an essentail.
    I did a Tool Tuning course with David Charlesworth a few years back, and it is probalbly the best investment in training I’ve done in woodworking, cant recommend it enough.

  4. BLZeebub

    I did get some funny looks from the Veritas people at a local woodworking show when I pulled out my handy-dandy [and ancient] 6 inch Starrett combi square to check square and flatness on several of their planes. They were all good but one attendant did look squeamish. Maybe it was the funnel cakes. LOL

    1. DaveS2

      Oops…
      “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.”
      I presume the unstated assumption here is new high quality tools (e.g. Veritas planes and Starrett combo squares) and not new ‘economy’ ones (Anant planes and Stanley combo squares) or used quality ones (old Stanley Bailey planes and Lufkin combo squares).

COMMENT