The Three Options
Plum Blossoms and Three Cranes, by Ito Jakuchu (1716~1800). The Japanese crane is a beautiful bird with a red cap. Apparently these birds are looking in three different locations for a mislaid tape measure. No pockets or belts to clip anything to, you know, so they are forever losing tools.

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.

Well done is better than well said.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Purchasing woodworking cutting tools long-distance based only on pictures, what you read online, and the vague descriptions retailers provide can be confusing and frustrating. And squawking BS meters are not reassuring.

In this post, we will share some insight to help Gentle Reader avoid the most common mistakes.

If the following is obvious please do not be offended. We are confident our discerning Beloved Customers and intelligent Gentle Readers will discover somewhere in this post what is called in Japan a “stork in a rubbish dump 掃き溜めに鶴,” which perhaps translates better to a “Jewel in a garbage pile.” We trust there are more jewels than garbage to be found in this article.

Risks & Psychology

At C&S Tools we understand the risks and stresses inherent in long-distant purchases. After all, not much can be discerned about a cutting-tool’s quality or performance from online photos and retailer’s product descriptions alone. We believe the best way to reduce uncertainty, alleviate customer’s concerns and calm BS alarms is to treat customers they way we want to be treated.

The difficulty faced by the consumer in assessing the quality of woodworking blades based on photos and generic descriptions alone, combined with the curiously short-sighted tendency of consumers nowadays to demand lowest possible price without considering the consequences to quality and performance, has created a strange psychological syndrome we call “Chinese Logic.”

This pattern of logic goes something like this: “Product A looks identical to Product B, but B is 1/3 the price, so B must be better.” Makes perfect sense, right?

In our professional experience most corporate procurement processes, as well as those of many private individuals, wallow ass-up in this shallow logic, but whether corporate or private, construction or real estate, the results are almost always wasteful and embarrassing.

But wait a minute, as Lieutenant Columbo always mumbles, is it just possible that Chinese Logic may be valid? We live in a Wally World where most products readily available to the consumer are “Made in China.” After all, if the choice is between Turd A, sorry, I mean Product A, made in an unnamed automotive bumper factory located in Southern Guangzhou by untrained farmers (not blacksmiths), and Product B, made in a mystery manufactory located just outside Shanghai where untrained farmer’s wives (not blacksmiths) normally sew decorative cushions with embroidered images of kittens, puppies, and ducklings, the only discernible differences between the two Products will be outward appearance and price. Actual quality is not given serious consideration, leaving only perceived quality rattling around noisily in the consumer’s head, cushioned by smelly patties of marketing BS, of course.

If the consumer doesn’t care about performance and intends to use, toss and replace said turd, sorry, I mean “product,” in a short time anyway, no big deal. But given time and enough repetition could this experience have a Pavlovian doggie drool effect on consumer’s buying habits and maybe even their psychology? You bet your sweet bippy it could.

Of course I’m safe from such mind conditioning because of my most excellent tinfoil cap with its curly copper wires and red fringe (I added a groovy red fringe recently to confuse those pesky alien drones that follow me everywhere), but I worry about thee. >~(ツ)~<

When, however, the desired product is a cutting tool such as a chisel, and not a pretty polyester pillow embroidered with adorable yellow ducklings, the wise man will immediately realize that, if the choice before him is either Turd A or Turd B, he needs to find better options, none of which will involve car bumpers, embroidered pillows or Chicom ordure.

BTW, none of our products or their component parts are made in China. Indeed, everything from the steel in the blades to the wood in the handles and blocks, and even the hoops are made in Japan by Japanese craftsmen. Everything. No exceptions.

Assess the Retailer

Sorry to digress. I almost fell off my soapbox and kinked some wires on my most excellent hat! (ツ)

The real-world performance of a blade depends little on outward appearance, and not at all on cheap talk or even pretty pictures, but almost entirely on the crystalline properties of the steel resulting directly from the skill of the blacksmith (or factory in the case of most other retailers) in forging the blade and heat-treating the steel, properties that can be confirmed only through actual use. So it’s no wonder people have a hard time telling jewels from rubbish.

A few of the practical difficulties we must overcome when attempting to buy quality woodworking cutting tools long-distance include the following:

  1. It is impossible to judge the crystalline quality of steel and the quality of a blade lamination in tools from photos on websites or in catalogs alone;
  2. It is impossible to judge the crystalline quality of steel by simply holding a tool; One must actually use it hard and sharpen it a few times;
  3. Many marketing claims are unreliable because, even if they are not intentionally overly-optimistic misrepresentations for profit, they are written by shopkeepers and/or people in marketing departments that have never used a plane, chisel or saw except to maybe cut open a box of printer paper. They couldn’t discern the quality of steel in a chisel even if they sat on it. For a long time. And wiggled around. So we must assess the veracity of the retailer’s claims.
  4. Most online retailers offer no real warranty, and even if they do, the customer ends up paying all the costs required to benefit from it, an expensive proposition internationally. When considering any purchase, much less a long-distance one, wisdom urges us to select a retailer willing to repair or replace defective tools. And we need him to pay the shipping costs if his tool is indeed at-fault.

If we can’t reliably assess the tools long-distance, the next-best option is to assess the seller and his warranty. Here’s a few common-sense suggestions:

Read the retailer’ product description and information carefully and ask questions. Beware of retailers who provide only sketchy information lacking details and who won’t or can’t answer your pertinent questions.

Understand the source of the information being provided. There are exceptions, of course, but most websites selling tools take a blurb from the wholesaler’s or distributor’s marketing people, dress it in a short skirt and high heels, and trot it out curbside. Sometimes they trip on those heels exposing their spotty unmentionables. How embarrassing! Often the information they put out has a peculiar odor you can detect if you pay attention. We recommend you look for first-hand, accurate information without unsightly undies, hairy legs wobbling on high heels, or BO.

Understand the retailer’s practical experience with the tools, because this will help you assess the veracity of his claims. Does the fella selling the tools or the person recommending a particular tool or brand of tool to you have personal experience with that tool or brand, or are they just parroting claims by a wholesaler or distributor who, like him, has no direct experience beyond selling, and maybe sitting on, chisels?

Here are some questions you might ask: Have they cut mortises with the chisels they sell? Have they planed beams with the handplanes they sell? Have they cut kumiko panels with the saws they sell? How many times have they sharpened, by hand, the tools they sell? What angle did they sharpen the blade to? How did the tool perform? Most stories invented by marketing czars or e-commerce pukes will begin to fall apart at this point.

Be Knowledgable. If you don’t have it already, you will need to gain some knowledge on the subject to enable you to ask relevant questions, ascertain the retailer’s level of knowledge and experience, the truth of his claims, and the suitability of his tools to your needs. This means finding valid sources of information and studying.

At C&S Tools we provide reliable information, without smoke and mirrors, to help buyers make wise decisions. For free. We reveal who we are and what our experience is. We have used similar tools as a woodworking professional for many years, purchased the tools we carry with our own money (no gifts or freebies) and personally tested them to destruction, so we can share valid, useful opinions. We will provide details and helpful guidance instead of the usual corporate silence or marketing department weasel words.

Seek relevant recommendations from experienced people who know what they are talking about. Whenever possible seek the advice and recommendations of friends or people you trust who have direct, hands-on experience with the tools sold by the retailer in question, not just some guy sitting in his Mom’s basement trying to justify his own tool purchase and desperate for some company in his misery.

Beware of advice from the guy who claims to have decades of experience, but in reality bought his first Japanese tool only 3 years ago and has never been paid a dime for using it. Yes, there are too many of those “experts” out there.

Beware the trolls and orcs on the forums. The amount of truly useful information and advice to be found in those roiling cesspits is too little to measure.

The experiences and opinions of our customers recorded in our “Testimonials” page may be helpful.

Make sure the retailer provides a valid guarantee, one that won’t cost you money to benefit from. More on that below.

The Warranty

We do our best to follow the ancient principle Benny Franklin puts forth in his saying quoted above: “Well done is better than well said.”

Before you lay down your money, make sure the seller has a guarantee for defective materials and workmanship just in case the tool turns out to be more rubbish than stork. Honoring a warranty of this type internationally can be expensive, in fact ruinous, if the tools are routinely defective, but a responsible retailer selling quality tools should be able to handle it. We believe it’s only fair that most of the expense of making good on the warranty be borne by the retailer, not the customer, a principle that has been called having “skin in the game.” What do you think?

At C&S Tools we offer a full warranty on materials and labor. If the tool is either defective in materials or workmanship, or not what we represented it to be, and on condition that (i) your expectations for hand-forged tools are realistic (perfection is unattainable); and (ii) you have done your job correctly and not abused the tool or failed to maintain it properly, we will either replace or repair the tool or refund the purchase price. If indeed we or the tool are at fault, we will also pay all pre-approved shipping costs. That’s truly the best international warranty in the business, one we put in writing in all our invoices without weasel words, and one we honor.

If you have a problem, simply let us know by email and we will respond. You will not be told to “take a number” from a dispenser that looks like a hand grenade and be left to stand in line. You will not be ignored.

Free, Useful Information Without Strings

Knowledge is power.

There’s a lot written in plain, mystery-free language in the many pages in this blog to help you learn what you need to know to make wise decisions about Japanese handtools. We encourage you to plug-in to this power, no cords attached

While we’re on the subject of cords, you may have noticed that this blog is unusual in that it has no advertising, and no sponsors, not even promos for video games, home-security systems, or mammary enhancement cream. It produces zero income by itself. Foolish as it seems, we have no SEO strategy. Patreon is a brand of non-stick frying pan, right?

Please notice that we do not have an “internet platform” and there are no links to e-commerce pages. We only sell tools to people who want them enough to directly ask for them instead of just clicking virtual buttons because keeping product in-stock is not easy with the dramatic decrease in active blacksmiths nowadays.

If you ask a question, make a comment, or purchase something from us we will never share or sell your information. We hate data miners for they are filthy sneak-thieves.

The Three Options

We will conclude by directly addressing the title of this article.

There is an ancient, venerable saying, a version of which goes like this: “You have three options: (1) Beautiful Appearance; (2) High Quality (cutting performance in the case of chisels, planes and saws); and (3) Reasonable Cost. Choose any two.”

The four corollaries to this saying go something like this:

  • A wise man may obtain a maximum of two of these three options;
  • Some are lucky to get one out of three;
  • The careless often get none out of three;
  • The fool believes he got them all.

We have clear objectives with regards to these three options, with measurable standards and specifications.

We place highest priority on highest-quality materials, skilled hand-forging, and rigorous heat-treat to ensure the ideal crystalline structures are formed and maximum possible performance achieved because they are working tools for professional woodworkers. This is absolute.

Reasonable price is a close second priority because they are working tools for professional woodworkers.

Appearance is third because they are working tools for professional woodworkers, not “safe queens” for collectors. Perfection is unattainable, but the pursuit of it is extremely expensive. Indeed, beautiful appearance in a hand-forged tool is an attribute we dearly love and have spent oodles of cashy money to obtain, but it is a difficult thing to achieve, requiring a well-polished eye, advanced skills, and many hours of expensive handwork with files, efforts that contribute nothing to a working tool’s performance, so we assigned it lowest priority.

To achieve both the target appearance and price, our blacksmiths shape with fire, hammer and grinder and finish with sanders, not scrapers or files. The results look pretty good, but are not up to Ichihiro’s standards of beauty (the chisel at the top of this page is an authentic atsunomi by Ichihiro). Fortunately, the prices are not up to Ichihiro’s standards either, thank goodness.

What are your priorities?

Monkeys and Peach Tree by Ito Jakuchu (1716~1800). In our interpretation, this painting illustrates three potential options: Will sharp-eyed Mother Monkey be able to pull two or three yummy peaches to within her grasp? Will Father Monkey risk going further out on the limb to help extend her reach? Will hungry Junior Monkey lose patience and leap for the peaches possibly tumbling all three monkeys down the cliff? The “suspense” is killing me. (ツ)

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please click the “Pricelist” link here or at the top of the page and use the “Contact Us” form located immediately below.

Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, fascist facebook, or thuggish Twitter and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. If I lie, may I never find graceful storks, but only Chinese excreta.

5 thoughts on “The Three Options

  1. I agree regarding China, in fact I agree with everything you’ve said, but I’ve given up on preaching to people that don’t care. What they do care about is how much money is left in their pockets and China addresses that. They produce a turd, polish it up and flog it off for half the price, and it’s not like anyone is unaware of the con. They are, but no one cares. So I no longer care that they don’t care. It’s an uphill battle that I no longer care to fight. What I am concerned about though is the ever ongoing price increase of lumber. We have reached a point where it’s no longer financially viable to work wood and I can only speak for my own country, Australia. To build a traditional tool chest out of pine will cost me $400. To build a basic bookshelf $300, a coffee table $400 and my 8ft English workbench $600. These woods are just pine alone. If you’re looking at hardwoods, then double it or triple it. Where is the common sense in this? So is woodworking being reserved for bankers, executives, doctors and other professionals with a 200k or more salary. This is what we need to address because without wood, our tools, however well made, are nothing more than pieces of metal. The timber stock I have is my left over from my previous business. Once that is gone, well, I just don’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To reduce the cost of lumber, one must sacrifice time and convenience. For instance, make friends with tree surgeons and landscape contractors. Buy a chainsaw mill. Dry your own lumber. It takes some industrial or agricultural space and time. The price is right and the wood is sometimes marvelous.

      You should make an effort to visit and become friends with the small sawmills and sawyers in your country. There are no doubt guys who make lumber on the side in small operations far from cities and industries that will sell to you if you go to them. Now that adventure would make an interesting series of blog posts, one I would watch on YouTube! And they could use the publicity. After all, you are not the only one facing the problem your described.

      When I lived in Ohio, I would travel North and buy lumber from a small diesel engine-powered Amish sawmill. It always took two trips: The first time to see what logs they planned to saw (or I could ask them to saw), and again to pick up the wood. No telephone, so I had to visit and send letters. Great people. Great wood. Time consuming, but rewarding.

      Regarding China, I agree their customer base are like pigs always seeking more sh*t to wallow in, uneducated, unrefined porkers who don’t mind the taste nor the low nutritional value.

      On the other hand, most of our customers are people who realize they have purchased “turds” before, found them wanting, and want to replace them with real tools made by real craftsmen to real standards. We don’t expect anything of amateurs until they have gone through this progression.

      Most of our customers are from word of mouth; They almost always become repeat customers too. The blog contributes little to the bottom line. We have a hard time keeping tools in-stock due to the dramatic decrease in productive blacksmiths nowadays. But we do have enough tools for the few who can tell the difference.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You put a smile on a grumpy face when you gave that most perfect description of China. In the past when I was in business I had a healthy relationship with my timber yard. But as I ceased as number of years ago and the people changed that relationship is gone. The second you mention you’re a hobbyist they do not want to know you. I have never had dealings with small mills before and that could be the answer I was looking for so thank you. Btw I’m not certain if I asked you this before but do you have a website from where you sell your tools?

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s