The right tool for the job depends on you… and if you can use it as a hammer

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“The right tool for the job.” It’s a saying that my father used quite a bit.

It’s a saying, “the right tool for the job,” that’s so popular it’s been co-opted by other, non-trade industries, but I never fully appreciated it until recently.

From experience, I’ve learned it basically means “If you have the correct tool for the job, you probably won’t ruin things, and you’ll curse much less.” For my decades of putting tools to the test, it all comes down to one thing… can I use it as a hammer?

Of course, by that I mean, “Which tool will be the highest quality, most durable and the best bang for my buck?” But also, I’m probably going to use it as a hammer eventually, either because of frustration, rage or pure necessity. There are so many places to find yourself the perfect pipe wrench, drill press, or miter saw for whatever job you’re tackling, that it’s mind-boggling to think about. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 categories to help you decide not what tool is best, but what tool is best for you.

Homeowner tools

Congratulations, you just bought a house! You’ll need tools for up-keep, and repairs. Just go Craftsman, hit up Sears, or find a nice K-mart special-30 piece tool set. That’s all you really need. No need to spend a Corvette’s worth in tools for light-bulb fixtures and table leg repairs. Done.

DIY / hobbyist / garage-r tools

You’re a serious DIYer. You need a quality tool for the job but you don’t need the best tool on the market. I’ve worked on my car since I Corey's Dad-Tool Box purchased it at 14 using whatever tools my dad had. They usually weren’t the best quality, but I still use some of them to this day. Go Craftsman for hand tools or better. Their wrenches, pliers and hammers are perfect for everyone from the weekend track racer to the most Ron Swanson of us all. The higher initial price is out-weighed by the lifetime use of the tool. Just check for the warranty so you can replace it if necessary.

Full-time trade and craftsman tools

If you make a living off your tools, you’re going to want something that will pay for itself over the years. You need power, precision, and durability. The hands down consensus is that if you want the best tool that’ll last a lifetime, you want Snap-on.  If your company is paying, or if you can afford it, Snap-on is the best bang for your buck for any dedicated, daily wrench jockey. They have consistently beat any challenger for best in the business. If that isn’t a possibility, brands like SK, GearWrench, Matco Tools and Mac Tools offer replacements with warranties that are just as good with only a minor sacrifice in strength and durability.

Still not sure which tool is right for you? Start simple and build up from there. You may find that, most of the time, you need the basics but for a few specific jobs, it’s worth investing in the right tools. Like my dad always said, “The right tool… “

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Let’s talk machine tool suppliers: MSC Industrial vs Enco

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A quick internet search for “industrial supplies” will yield over 1.7 million hits, while searching for “machine shop supplies” displays some 105,000 results. What’s a machinist looking for machine tool suppliers to do?

Like looking for a descent restaurant, finding a good machine tool supplier can be hit or miss without some help. Word of mouth can go a long way and experienced shop owners and purchasing agents can offer a wealth of information. There are also online message boards filled with fellow chip-makers and their favorite supply houses. Let’s start with two connected companies.

Two machine tool suppliers, one company

MSC Industrial Supply and Enco used to compete directly with each other for much of the same machine tool supply business, leading the larger MSC to buy out Enco.  Although Enco is now a subsidiary, they print their own catalog and have very distinct business practices compared to MSC. Both houses stock a great assortment of common machine shop necessities, including cutting tools, raw materials, abrasives, measuring tools, etc.  Both companies, in my opinion, have great customer service.  The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and genuinely appear to appreciate a customer’s business.  Both MSC and Enco take orders over the telephone or via the internet and accept credit cards with no minimum purchase amount, and both are mail order only (no walk-ins).

MSC Industrial Supply

There are a couple of differences between the two companies, though, that set them far apart.  The question to ask yourself when choosing between the two is, “how quick do I need my order delivered”?

Machine tool supplier MSC Industrial Supply Co's logo

  If you place your order with MSC during normal business hours, you will receive it the next business day while paying only UPS Ground Rates, regardless of how they have to ship it to you for the next day arrival.

When you break your last odd-sized drill or tap and have a looming delivery date which you’d prefer not to be late on, this service is boss and can save a lot of headaches.  You’ll pay more due to higher catalog prices, but it’s there when you need it.

MSC also offers a considerably larger selection than Enco on just about all categories of goods.  Looking at cutting tools as an example, MSC lists over 40 brands of end mills ranging from import (Chinese) goods all the way up to top of the class manufacturers like OSG, Dormer, and Union Butterfield.  In between these two extremes are MSC-owned toolmakers including Hertel.

MSC has the reputation, as well as the vast inventory, to be considered both a machine shop supply house as well as an MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) supplier.

Enco

Machine tool supplier Enco's logo

Enco, on the other hand, is all about pricing.  They have a low price guarantee that I’ve found to be real.

[Enco] will verify the competitor’s price and offer it to you at the lower price plus an additional 5% discount.

For example, if you are purchasing a length of brass round rod and find a lower price at “XYZ Industrial Supply”, just give Enco a call with the specifics, and from there they will verify the competitor’s price and offer it to you at the lower price plus an additional 5% discount.  Enco also offers free shipping codes on a regular basis.  To qualify for free shipping, you must meet minimum requirements which usually range from $25 to $49.  You have to order ahead, though.  Enco ships UPS Ground and your order may take a few days to arrive.

While we’re discussing Enco, lets revisit our search for end mills.  Enco offers just three basic choices:  Interstate brand (Chinese), Hertel brand (company-owned, US made) and OSG (US and Japan made top shelf).

While Enco does stock limited MRO goods, it is mainly a machine shop supplier.

Of course, these aren’t the only two machine tool suppliers in the machine shop industry. Up next, we’ll cover McMaster-Carr and Grainger Industrial Supply. Like MSC and Enco, they have their own strengths paramount to themselves, and are like tools themselves that one should keep in their manufacturing pocket. Stay tuned for more!

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