Most tool reviews aren’t really reviews. They’re press releases dressed up with a lab coat and a clipboard to look respectable.
For experienced woodworkers, these faux-reviews are easy to spot and ignore. What are the signs? They’re missing key information about the tool’s place in the market compared to its competitors. Even more telling, the writer wields statistics to discuss the tool (14.4-volt batteries with an intelligent trickle-charger) but omits the numbers that show the writer did anything but read the box (What amp-hour are those batteries rated for? What are the cells made from?).
But mostly you know these are tarted-up press releases because they offer no conclusions. They are a waste of the world’s ink and your time.
There are two other kinds of tool reviews that are worthless. One kind is the “smart guy” review where the writer dislikes almost everything about the product. These are uncommon in the woodworking press but occur frequently in other channels. Basically, if the reviewer dislikes everything, then he or she looks tougher and smarter than the people who make the tool. Reading these reviews is like listening to a self-affirmation. The only thing you learn is that the writer is full of himself.
On the other end of the spectrum is the reviewer who chugs…. Oh rats, I can’t say that word. But it begins with a “c.” This type of review is so common in the woodworking press that I’d call it the dominant form. I always wonder: How can the reviewer type so well with both of his hands wrapped around the toolmaker’s?…. Oh wait, I can’t say that word, either.
This kind of review is as lazy as the press-release style, but with none of the integrity or self-respect.
These reviews are easy to spot because they are like watching an infomercial channel and make you want to take multiple showers.
Which brings me to the difficult question: How do I read a tool review? After discarding the three types of reviews above, I’m left with almost nothing to read. So I judge tools differently. I look to see what tools and brands show up in photos in magazines and books and on the job site in my neighborhood.
More on that strategy next time.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. There is a fourth type of review out there that appears only on the Internet. It’s usually a 5,000- to 20,000-word essay on the tool that takes it apart and analyzes every one of its components. These are difficult to digest because there is too much information and little perspective on what all the bits of data mean in the real world. So I don’t seek these reviews out myself.