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Not so dumb after all

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Tool companies are always coming out with gimmicks and add-ons. The dumb ones are obvious, but some that seem dumb at first sometimes prove quite useful.

Tool makers have to keep product lines fresh, but it’s tough to update a tool that does a basic task – such as drilling a simple hole – with something that’ll make you say good-bye to your old one. Most gimmicks are just that, and easily recognizable as such. But every once in a while a gimmick becomes something more. Here are three examples.

At a manufacturer’s tool introduction several years ago, a couple other woodworking writers and I shared a good laugh over a new laser-guided jigsaw. Why in the world would a tool whose main purpose is cutting squiggly lines (hence the name “jigsaw”) need a laser to follow a cutline? It wasn’t till years later that I used a so-equipped jigsaw to do some impromptu rip cuts. I’d never even turned on the laser before, but found it very handy for cutting a straight line. Sure, I don’t use a jigsaw that way often, but when I do I’ll always use that laser.

Speaking of lights, remember when they started adding flashlights to cordless kits? It didn’t cost companies much to throw one in, and they gave the kits a sense of value-added utility – even though few woodworkers ever took the flashlights out of the box. Why? Because they already had flashlights, and the kit flashlights were awful. Then came lithium-ion, and those flashlights suddenly became more useful. They’re small, incredibly bright, and those lithium-ion battery packs have a shelf life just short of Twinkies. The little one that came with my Ridgid cordless drill is now my main shop flashlight, while a similar one from Bosch is the one we rely on in the kitchen tool drawer.

I once thought if you looked “gimmick” up in the dictionary you’d see a picture of a drill/driver with an LED. Product brochures touted LEDs as the greatest thing ever (sometimes singing their praises more than the drill’s). The stupidity seems obvious: Who in their right mind uses woodworking tools in the dark? But sometimes it isn’t dark, just a bit too uncorrectably dim where you’re working. Like under my sink, where my 6’-tall bulk blocks both light of day and every light that’s turned on in the kitchen. With one hand on the driver and the other on what I was working on, logistics afford no way to hold and aim a flashlight. That’s the day I stopped laughing at tool-mounted LEDs.

There are plenty of other things like this that woodworkers love to ridicule. Center-dividing rules come immediately to mind – other woodworkers seem to find these silly, but I love them. Are there any tool gimmicks that have made you change your mind?



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