Pros and Cons of American-Made Tools

"Buy American" seems like solid advice, but beyond patriotism, what are the real pros and cons of buying tools made in the U.S.A.?

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Buying American” means supporting local communities and bolstering the economy at every level. It may also give you a slight edge if you have warranty issues.

But is buying American always in your best interest? We’ll take an honest look at the pros and the cons of seeking out American-made tools.

Downsides of Buying Tools Made in the U.S.

Hard to Identify: It can be surprisingly time-consuming to find a product made in America, by an American company. You’d think it would simply be a matter of looking at the label, but some manufacturers use a prominent American flag on the packaging to distract from small-print country of origin.

To make matters even more confusing, the legal definition of “Made in the U.S.A.” or “Assembled in the U.S.A.” is vague and can vary by location. In June of 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a proposal to clarify the exact definition of “Made in the U.S.A.”, and it’s a question that’s not likely to be resolved soon.

Keep in mind that non-American companies manufacture goods in the U.S.A., and American companies can make and assemble products overseas. The more complex a product, the less likely it is to be 100 percent made in America. You’ll have to decide whether your primary concern is the tool as a whole, or drilling down to the level of batteries and circuit boards.

Higher Cost: On average, American-made tools cost more than their imported counterparts. That investment can be well worth it if you’re buying a tool that will last for years. But, if you’re looking at a one-and-done project, or an application that will involve massive wear and tear, you may be better off buying a lower-priced tool that you can view as disposable.

Not Every American Product is Superior: If you want the best in class, sometimes you have to go outside of America’s borders. If you buy a Ferrari, you want it to be made in Italy!

Here again, the complications of international trade muddy the water. For a quality track saw, for example, it’s hard to beat the German engineering behind Festool. Not American-made, right? But Festool does have American manufacturing facilities. Similarly, Milwaukee’s Sawzall is a quality power tool made in America and found on worksites nationwide. But Milwaukee is owned by TTI (Techtronic Industries), a Chinese company.

Given all of that, is it worth the trouble of tracking down tools made in the U.S.A.? We think so, and here’s why.

Benefits of Buying Tools Made in the U.S.A.

Craftsmanship: It’s true that there are foreign companies that make quality tools. But companies with multiple quality tiers usually have a domestically made line with higher quality controls, and a budget line that is shipped in from overseas. Companies turn to overseas manufacturing to help reduce costs, and once they’re in cost-cutting mode, other parts of the manufacturing process can take a hit as well.

Feel Good: Anyone who works with their hands can identify a quality tool by the way it “feels right.” Buying American can give you the emotional equivalent of that comfortable grip. Sometimes, that alone makes it worth paying a little extra.

The Impact on Local Businesses: Tools manufactured in America boost the domestic job market, and draw on a higher percentage of locally sourced suppliers. There’s a ripple effect on the local economy, from other manufacturing businesses to the stores and restaurants that cater to workers.

The Impact on the Environment: Shipping tools around the world consumes fuel and generates an increased carbon footprint. Similar to the “eat local” movement, supporting American tool manufacturers makes a difference on a global level.

Higher Price for Good Cause: American-made tools cost more. But that higher price stems from stricter environmental controls, better wages and human rights protections that are not replicated in all international locations.

Tool Brands That Are Made in the U.S.A.

Here are just a few of the companies whose power hand tools are made in America.

MagLite: Founder Anthony Maglica has been outspoken about his commitment to producing his flashlights in the U.S.A., and has advocated for changes in the way “Made in the U.S.A.” is legally defined.

Purdy: Based in Portland, Oregon, Purdy paint brushes are still handmade in the U.S., and each one comes with the initials of the person who made it.

Stihl : This is a brand known to anyone who uses outdoor power equipment or chainsaws. This German company is known for its commitment to American manufacturing. Their largest production facility is based in the U.S., and many of the products they sell overseas are actually produced here in America.

Wright Tools: These high-quality hand tools are made in Ohio with domestic steel, and carry a lifetime warranty. (Note that their budget line, Cougar Pro, is made in Taiwan.)

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.