TechShop and Inexpensive Tools

Mark Hatch and Jim Newton of TechShop

Mark Hatch and Jim Newton of TechShop

After the Cleveland CycleWerks article, many of you were less than pleased to see motorcycles produced in China for far less than could be manufactured here in the US, especially when, for various reasons, the company found production here almost impossible. It's a complex issue, about which I'll have more to say later, but it was interesting to see this article in the New York Times about TechShop. One sentence caught my eye and it was relevant to our discussion.

We've mentioned TechShop before, a place where you can become a member for $100 per month and have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment to make things, sort of a "doer's" club. But this is what I found interesting:

One of the company’s $17,000 lathes, for example, used to cost $250,000. (It seems that China has a knack for lowering not only the price of finished goods but also the equipment needed to produce them, Mr. Hatch says.)

So yes, the Chinese are producing products for less than we can, but they're making tools far more affordable, too. If there's anything most of us can appreciate, it's more affordable tools. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? As I mentioned above, it's a complex issue.

Link: New York Times
Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Related: TechShop
Related: TechShop is Growing


  1. pabsyboots says

    Regarding Clevelland CycleWerks theyr’e buying stuff overseas like any other importer check out amazing, I doubt they will succeed
    As for the tools whats the problem ? its called choice, buy Snap-On buy Sears buy Chinese it just more choice and choice is goooood !

  2. PaulN says

    Before this turns into a flag waving contest, I would like to say that I would be very interested in learning exactly what kinds of changes enabled this lathe to be manufactured for such a (relatively) low cost. There is much more than labor costs going into that equation. I suspect it’s largely driven by an adoption of existing technology vs. using a propietary process.

    Today I can buy a CNC mill that will do everything that I would need for less than $5,000 shipped. That’s a fraction of what it would have cost just 5 years ago, but this story is something else.

  3. Fred M. says


    “Chinese it just more choice and choice is goooood !”

    No, choice is not automatically “goooood !” Just because someone will offer something for sale does not make it “goooood !” Learn some ethics. Choices have ethical consequences. If you choose to buy all of your clothes from sweat shops that work children 12 hours per day, that’s not good even though it was a choice. If you buy tools from Chinese firms which just steal designs from American firms, that’s not good. If your company invests a million dollars designing a CNC milling machine, I don’t think you would think it was good that the Chinese were offering you the choice of buying a knock-off that was directly copied from your machine (after you did all of the NRE).

  4. says

    I’ve bought two pieces of “equipment” that were made in China. A drill press and a lathe. They were not expensive, but they were all I could afford at the time. They drill press has a motor, a belt and a shft with a chuck attached to it. It’s done the job for 22 years fairly well. All the “Features” have broken or fallen off, but it does a minimum job for what I need.

    The lathe is about 6 years old and every feature has broken and stopped working. Most of them within the first few months. Gears broke in half, threads stripped out and the works have always been extremely sloppy. I’m babying it just so it will cut aluminum. I guess I got what I paid for.

    If I buy anything at Home Depot which should be called Chinese Depot, anything I buy, I consider to be a stop gap, temporary repair. I don’t expect anything to fit very good or last very long. Same with a TV, stereo, computer or anything else. It may not last very long but at least its cheap. I’ve yet to see anything from China where I was blown away by super high quality. There is no Santa Claus and there is no free lunch.

    If you are an American manufacturer and you’re trying to be competitive against China in some market, the only thing left to do is reduce quality. I’m not talking about big companies with highly paid CEO’s and big Unions huge corporate office buildings. I’m referring to small companies all over this country.

  5. kim says

    WHAT? NO SANTA CLAWS?!? (Another illusion down the drain, not all that many more to go…)

  6. Chris says

    I would wager that a lot of these Chinese companies producing inexpensive items are actually owned and operated by Americans. What about the Japanese companies that manufacture in China (Sony, Toshiba, Canon, Honda, etc.)? Are their products automatically crap? I would also like to point out that America doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean image, with overpaid unions, lack of anything resembling customer service, and illegal immigrants often doing the dirty work in sweat shops as well.

    Much of this is just perception, or maybe even xenophobia. There are always bad eggs in an industry but there are also companies like Cleveland Cycleworks that treat workers well and put an emphasis on quality control.

    Ironically, Apple (from Cupertino California) came under fire recently when one of their suppliers that they contract in China violated Chinese labour laws (think about that one for a second), and Apple didn’t do a single thing about it. So not only are Americans abusing illegal immigrants in their own country while simultaneously overpaying union slobs, but they are abusing workers in other countries.

  7. David/cigarrz says

    American made CNC equipment is an illusion much like American auto’s. Mori Seiki, Mazak, Okuma, Makino and Matsuura to name a few are the worlds supplier of CNC machining equipment and have been since the 80s. Haas and Fadal are as American as a ford or Chevy are now. Anyone in the business knows this, and the reasons why.

  8. Kachunk says

    There is a mix of quality products that can be found (in any country).
    As David mentioned, there are lots of American companies now setting up standardized, ISO certified joint ventures in China. This brings consistency, safety and process improvement.
    I say designing in America (high paying, high skilled jobs) and manufacturing in China, (low labor cost, less environmental regulation, less expensive materials) seems to be where the market is trending.
    That being said, it seems a lot of companies are only utilizing China to be the cheapest product in the market, when they could be competing for high quality if they wanted to. Not sure – maybe raw material quality is the roadblock.
    For the record – I have a mix of cheap Chinese and domestic tools in my garage.

  9. says

    I retired from a German company with a large Chinese subsidiary. Late in my career I spent a fair amount time evaluating “German” parts made at different company locations from around the world including China. The best way to sum up my observations is to say that the Chinese will build to whatever level of quality they are held to by the company contracting the goods. If you don’t specifically demand a certain level of quality and outline what that means in detail, you get crap. But if you want the sort of quality we have come to expect or at least had in the past in Western produced goods, they can do that too.

  10. Marneyman says

    TUV standards in Germany will inspire a company to make sure quality standards are adhered to stringently. If I am not mistaken if a product is not up to TUV standards it cannot be sold in Germany. If we had something like TUV standards here we might have a fighting chance to compete with Chinese products (because the chinese products would have to meet quality standards dictated by our government), but then some people would yell and scream about more government regulation. I wish I knew how to make an umlaut.

    It is also wise to remember that before unions there was no such thing as reasonable working hours or weekends for the working man. They are by no means perfect, but they have their place keeping more greedy companies in check and keeping non union shops from doing things that might inspire their workers to unionize.

    For the record – I am not nor have I ever been in a union, I am just a student of history.

  11. Emmet says

    Loving the techshop growth here in the states. Makes me consider living in a city without giving up my passion.

  12. steve w says

    I hate to admit it but my shop is getting filled with Chinese tools I never used to be able to afford. Presses, tubing benders etc. I can now make my own chassis etc. where before I only wished I could. I think that is what you are saying.

  13. says

    I went from being a commision mechanic to commision service manager to a union aerospace job. I’ve been in a union for 22 years. It’s a love/hate relationship for sure. If you work your butt off and/or do great things you can’t be rewarded or compensated. If you suck and cause problems or defects they can’t get rid of you. But overall I’d say the company would bulldoze right over you/us without the union and we’d have no recourse. None. If you bring up an issue, they can’t ignore it.

    Companies that have retirement but no union can turn you loose prior to retirement age and you can do nothing. The supervisor can give all the overtime to his golf buddies or you may or may not get any benefits. In most cases though, labor is a very small part of manufacturing costs and I’d bet with the case of China, it has a lot to do with the government actually wanting their country to grow and prosper and build factories that put people to work. They’ll do whatever it takes. Here, our country is doing everything in it’s power to stifle and choke out growth. Big companys that have been overrun by their own unions and poor management should have a hard time and rethink how they do business.

  14. Jets says

    We, in Canada, have ‘slept beside the elephant’ for a long time and we are very aware of the power of the American economy. For example: one extra week of wine from California exceeds Canada’s entire production for one year. To consider: If every Canadian was to grab a handful of dirt and pile it in one place it would make a good pile. If Americans were to do it it would be 10 times bigger and if China were to do it… This concept is new to Americans as the “elephant” rarely notices it’s bedfellows until it becomes the mouse. China is well organized and is buying up Canadian mines, farmland and businesses for the “raw materials”.

  15. SteveD says

    The problem with the tools is that same as the one with the products. For most consumers it’s not a question of buying a less expensive Chinese product vs. a more expensive American product. The choice is actually the Chinese product or nothing.

  16. NAVEK says

    Being a small bike (sub 500cc) fan I have a lot of time for small concerns like CCW and Vento. The problem with them is finding a dealer that sells the machines. I very much liked the fuel injected 250cc Suzuki but it is pricey, especially when compared to the CCW Misfit. When BMW chooses to manufacture the engines for its 650 singles in China the writing is certainly on the wall, only writ large. The concept of, “we design them, they make them” sounds good but what do the other 95% of the workers in this country do? Especially when you consider the over-all level of education, especially amongst males is so dismally low in this country.I heard on the radio recently that “retail” accounts for 72% of the American economy. I cannot get my head around that. There is an old saying, ” We can’t do each others laundry”. Somebody somewhere in the country has to manufacture something, mine,harvest etc. ie produce something, a good or service that can be sold. “Retailing” Chinese made goods is an inexorable path to financial oblivion. Re. “Unions”. I think they have their place but push things too far, to the workers own detriment, as employers up-shop and move somewhere labour is cheaper. China! I saw in a documentary about Detroit that a lady janitor at one of the GM plants was earning $60 an hour before she was laid off and she was wondering where she was going to find a similar paying job! She was still looking a year later. Wake up folks, the days of well paid blue collar jobs are all but over. Some eager and enthusiastic Chinese person fresh from the farm will be more than glad to do the job for what Bubba pays for his lunch. On a final note we should remember that the Chinese now own more than 60% of copper production and the bulk of steel production is in the hands of two giant co’s, neither of them is American but one ( Mital ) is Indian owned. It’s a new ball game and we need to stop dwelling on what was, how we think it should be and deal with the reality

  17. Mark says

    “Ironically, Apple (from Cupertino California) came under fire recently when one of their suppliers that they contract in China violated Chinese labour laws (think about that one for a second), and Apple didn’t do a single thing about it. So not only are Americans abusing illegal immigrants in their own country while simultaneously overpaying union slobs, but they are abusing workers in other countries.”

    Check your facts. Apple did not “come under fire” (except in badly misleading news reports) — they performed their own voluntary audit of all their contractors and reported on the offending one themselves, demanding that the issues be addressed if they expected to get any further business from Apple.

    Back to the point, all the cheap Chinese tools I’ve ever used were garbage. The metallurgy was laughable. When a tool is so soft that it can be bent/broken/stripped by hand, what good is it no matter how cheap it is?

    The interesting question would be whether Chinese companies would be capable of building a high-quality product at prices significantly lower than US- or European-manufactured goods. What would Chinese hand tools of Snap-On quality cost? What about more complicated manufactured goods? It’s a bit telling that Highland opted out of having engines manufactured in China because they couldn’t deliver the quality, so instead they’re manufacturing in the USA.

  18. David/cigarrz says

    You are correct the Chinese are buying up all the gold mines and natural resources world wide it is the only way they can divest themselves of American dollars before they are worthless. They are willing to pay slightly inflated prices now to hold all the cards later.
    We can argue union or not all day but your are correct that the government in china will do whatever it can to promote private and state business and the world will gravitate to any business advantage that is workable. It has been my experience that the world wants to do business here. American corporations would rather do business here and not face the perils of cultural and language misunderstandings. Everyone would run home if the government would get out of the way and allow Americans do what they do best innovate, adapt and overcome. No one in the world can compete with Americans when it comes to solutions to problems and business is just that a daily exercise in problem solving. Toyota had to implement a plan called the Toyota way to actually teach workers to feel free to innovate and create solution to problems and produce more efficiently. We all know that American workers will quickly point out and speak out when things can be done differently to improve production or work conditions. Especially if it affects their paycheck or health, at least that is my experience in non union shops, it is the American nature it is part of what we are as free people. No one can beat American workers or business. The one exception being the government that has slowly beat down the giant that was industry after WWII one tax, one regulation at a time.

  19. todd says

    I think 90% of the Craftsman tools in my garage are made in China. They’re decent quality and there’s always the 100% guarantee. I’ve also been enjoying my Chinese ratcheting combination spanners. They look and feel like the best I’ve seen from Snap-On in fact I think they are from the same company that makes the ones for Snap-on. From what I heard there is one company that holds the patent and rights to produce them and that company is in China.

    You do get what you pay for and it’s generally a good idea to evaluate the quality of a tool before you walk up to the cash register with it. Remember, if you see something in a US store that’s made in China, it is being sold and distributed by an American company who evaluates (and dictates) the quality and durability of the items that carry it’s name. Don’t blame the Chinese for poor quality. Blame to importer that specifies it.


  20. David/cigarrz says

    I wanted to comment on your statement that for small business to compete, it has to reduce quality but in reality the counter intuitive thing to do is the only way to survive. Quality must be foremost, promised deliveries to customers must be sacred, Only the best employees making better than competitive wages can be counted on. That leaves controlling cost and expenses as the only area with any leeway to produce a profit margin, and sadly is the downfall of many small companies. Most small companies do not have the where with all to go outside the country for components and materials that would help control cost.

  21. Cameron Nicol says

    My company just bought a Milwaukee hand drill made in China. It was not cheap. We abused it using a 4ft pry bar to add some force to drill some big holes in steel. It didn’t even flinch. You get what you pay for. Cheap tools are cheap tools no matter where they come from.

  22. PeteP says


    You are in favor of TUV standards? I lived in Germany for 10 years, and my experience is that the TUV exhibits arbitrariness, capriciousness, and protectionism at their worst, especially in the vehicular realm. At its best, TUV is no better than SAE or ISO. At its worst it is the Gestapo. (I know, Godwin’s law again.)

  23. John McDowell says

    I would like to get back to the Tech Shop article. I realize the issue of survival as a financial issue. I still have to use my brain to create an idea to build something. If I think like a mechanic or machinist, then I believe the shop tools are important. But, when I can’t think like that, then where do I get help? I do not believe that a computer or microprocessor to run my engine is something I will be able to create. Sure, the “old” way will work, but what if I want to build an electric vehicle that requires that I fabricate a “invertor” or a regenerative brake system, or solar panels mounted on a curved surface? Good luck to the mechanical thinking types, but what happens to ideas outside of the box?

  24. Tin Man 2 says

    To those who think the US can be the designer/brain and China the manufacturer your in for a big surprise. India and China are educating and producing more Degreed Engineers/Designers every year … They will take your job for less pay very soon now. All we are doing is pooring all the wealth our forfathers created actaully making things and pooring it into China and other cheap producers for our own Greedy reasons. China will win in the long term because people are Ignorant and refuse to look at the long term effects of their actions.

  25. says

    I heard that in China they look much farther into the future. Like a 50 year plan! Where will China be 50 years from now?

    Corporations here plan for this “business quarter” or close of business today, not even 5 years down the road. We need to make money by the end of the year or we’re out of that business.

    Manufacturing is not a virtual business, it’s the real thing.

  26. Nicolas says

    agree with Mule on this point : business here is very short minded, it’s all about immediate profit with no long-term vision.

    Now that the discussion has segwayed from bikes to china to unions to politics, can we talk back motorcycle ?

  27. John S says

    “I think 90% of the Craftsman tools in my garage are made in China…”

    I’ve had my Craftsman tools so long I know they’re American-made. When I bought them the Chinese were still using wooden shovels to bury the 80 million peasants Mao “inadvertantly” starved to death. Last tool I bought was an old-fashioned pipe wrench. Home Depot had multiple Chinese tools at $10 and one U.S. made at $45. I bought the U.S. made one. Unfortunately, my career is moving to India for the 3rd time. So I’m starting over at 53 (for the 4th time) and won’t be buying much of anything anytime soon.

  28. Bigshankhank says

    I wish there were a Techsop near me, as it is I make do with what I can get.
    The problem goes much deeper than all this, down into the American Ideal and its education system. Noone wants their child to be the one with the tools in hand, they want little Billy (no offense to anyone named Billy here) to go to college because he’s better than blue collar labor. And so while all those “greatest generation” folks were busting their ass making america a great manufacturing powerhouse, they put their kids through college and promptly forgot that someone needs to keep digging the ditches. And their kids realized that their parents put them through school and they never had to work hard so they sent THEIR kids through school and when the kids didn’t measure up the parents pushed the gov’t to make college easier to get into and primary school harder to fail out of, the schools taught us that tradesmen were failures, and now the hardest job they want is selling cell phone appliances at a kiosk in the mall while they study futility at the local community college because they don’t know what hard work is. Meanwhile Mom and Dad realized that loyalty to their firm is just another way of saying you missed your chance to jump ship to a bigger company that will pay you a huge bonus for short term financial gains. Our education system is effed up and needs to be put back on track.

  29. says

    I sure love motorcycles! Politics make me sad, motorcycles make me happy! I’m goin back out to the garage where things make sense and use my multi-national tools with my American hands to do what truely makes me happy.

  30. Swagger says

    Man, it makes me sad when folks I hold in esteem turn out to be disappointingly shallow.
    John Prine said once: “Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven anymore….”

    I have a Jett 9×20 lathe in my shop. It’s the first lathe I could afford and it’s worked flawlessly for nearly 15 years. Nothing has broken, nothing has fallen off, it has never failed me and I beat he shite out of it. Daily for at least 10 of these years and it played a part in paying my bills for the entirety of it’s time in my possession. I picked up a 17×50-ish Clausing lathe in late 2000 and that fine American brute of a machine has been down.. (checking my log book) 9 times since. Nothing insurmountable but down just the same and you know what…that shitty Chinese made Jett? Still turning out parts and doing so very accurately.
    About a year after the 9×20 I picked up a Jett Bench top milling machine. It’s just a rinkydink belt drive (I know right!!) piece of crap…..that works. It’s nothing amazing but it works…every time. I also have a Tree 2uvrc right next to it and it’s been really great. Giant machines are awesome and if you can pick’m up well worth it. Does that mean that import machines suck. Hell no it doesn’t. That’s not to say that there isn’t junk out there but if you buy junk it’s your own fault for not knowing what you’re buying.

    Both of my little Chinese machines have held up remarkably and have undergone multiple modifications to allow for the diminutive size, not for a deficiency of function.
    Is every topic here destined to become a flag waving ceremony?

  31. matt g says

    I’ve bought some good Chinese goods and some horrible peices of garbage. Regardless they are artificially cheap:

    Very undervalued currency
    “Less strict environmental standards”- ha! How about NO environmental standards. I’ve been there and you can’t breathe the air. Drink water out of a pond would be instant death.
    Slave labor- say what you want about it building their economy- workers are a disposible commodity and once they are hurt they get thrown away.

    The Chinese are “building” their economy but really they’re taking out a bad loan.

    China is a great culture with an industrious past so you can’t blame them for doing it though- what with us waving around our money. It’s a sick mutually dependancy!

  32. Michael Y says

    Sorry, I’m a little late to the conversation but as a daily motorcyclist, naturalized citizen and advertising professional who’s worked for a number of automotive and aerospace clients I’d like to put my 2 cents in the ring.

    First, I believe we are living in a very special time where there is a renaissance of craftmanship, a resistance to the mass-produced and disposable. It can also be agued that it’s greener to rebuild and restore that to build new. What the challenge in front of us is, as I see it, is altering deep-seated consumer perceptions. Much like what happened with food, we Americans have been led to believe that mass-produced is automatically better and cheaper than the traditional, local, custom, home or handmade. We are discovering that it’s quite the opposite. It may be cheap at the moment of purchase but what about long-term costs? (To know more, google “cradle to cradle design”.) Consumers need to be re-educated in terms of quality and craft and frankly, need to expect to pay more for it.

    The other, more subtle issue I’d like to comment on is this idea of “buying American” which I struggled with for some time as someone who fancied themselves a globalist. I mention that I was a naturalized citizen because I think it is relevant to point out that I chose to be an American citizen and am fully aware of the differences in the rights of individuals between nations. The point that converted me to consciously support American business whenever possible is the plain fact that no other country has our Constitution and few others even have the rule of law. You have to ask yourself: do you really want to be (eventually) working for foreign masters who have a different notion of civil liberties? Do you really want to be empowering countries that have no rule of law? Or any country whose notion of human or civil rights is completely arbitrary? Not me, no thanks.

  33. John says

    Bought a Chinese socket set back in my 20’s and bloodied up my nuckles because the rachet slipped all the time and broke a couple sockets, they just split apart. Last time that happened I through that junk in the rubbish and never bought Chinese tools again. You get what you pay for.

  34. Mark says

    The American motorcycle manufacturing industry is being de-industrialised just like so many other Western industries over the last 40 years, no surprises there. Chinese workers will very likely feel the same pain when a cheaper workforce appears elsewhere and they experience de-industrialisation too. I don’t agree with some of the comments above about labour costs – they ARE a major factor. In year 2000, Chinese workers were paid on average 40 times less than US workers. US Workers did not add quite as much relative value to the products they made, but they were able to add lots of absolute value to high-end expensive products – same in Germany and Japan. This is the reality of offshore production, and it applies to everything from shoes to clothing and now to motorbikes. The issue is not “should I buy American” or “it’s so cheap to buy but will it be crap”? The issue is, would you rather have access to cheap goods made by people in sweatshops or would you rather have your own indigenous industry with well-paid folk just like you in your own backyard. You can’ thave both, the market won’t allow it and the firms won’t allow it either. I happen to be studying sweatshops at the moment so this is really current for me! :) And if you still think labour costs don’t matter, just imagine how much it costs to ship a motorbike halfway around the world and still make a profit. They guy who built it must be living on fresh air.

  35. joe says

    Most western countries are in the same situation as the US,flooded by cheap manufactured goods from China while their own manufacturing companies are closed down or almost non existant.Australia like many other countries with vast supplies of raw materials is now a giant quary for China, its home grown manufacturing all but dissapeared,unable to compete with the flood of cheap imports. Like it or not, its now the codependancy between China and the western countries. If we stop buying Chinese imports and they stop buying raw materials, the worlds economy will go down like the Titanic.

  36. says

    Wow, great discussion!
    Between this article and the last one, I’ve really been thinking a lot about my future in light manufacturing, be it bikes or one-off tooling.
    The guy from CCW saying , essentially “you 40 to 60 yr olds better move over, here we come” sounds a little personal.
    Hey, I’m not waving flags like I did as a younger man. Today I just want to make a living, and I’ve been right on the edge for a few years now. If there is a renaissance happening will someone send the customers my way before foreclosure?
    The bank does not accept “old school talent” as currency anymore.

    On cheap machines: look at auctions where you can find good used equipment, the brands that you know you can get parts for. Same goes for quality tools, hit the auctions.
    It is parts support that is the value of the machine. Everything wears out eventually, so you gotta be able to pick up the phone and order the parts, and no delay.

    On competing with China? One word: service. You just can’t call China for service, whether it is a change in prototype specs, or to quickly re-engineer and produce a failed part. I try to promote the convenience of one call service; I’ll understand the problem and take care of you.

  37. says

    On the price of hand tools, you can buy tools at garage sales every weekend of pennies on the dollar and that includes Snap-On. Buying a mill or lathe or a CNC machine center is a different deal, not avaiable at garage sales.

    On another note, I recently bought some Brembo brake components on EBAY. New! Very cheap. They came from Thailand and were horrible knock-offs of Brembos. I reported them to EBAY and now they are “Universal” brake parts which means cheap copies of someone else’s design.

    For the Chinese supporters here, how do you justify bootlegging other’s development work and then just copying the exact designs. Don’t Chinese have honor or pride in designing their own stuff?

    • twistedchild says

      “For the Chinese supporters here, how do you justify bootlegging other’s development work and then just copying the exact designs. Don’t Chinese have honor or pride in designing their own stuff?” – I find this funny, because more than a hundred years ago the Chinese gave the world so much advances (from gunpowder, porcelain, silk, to the fishing reel) and never made a dime off it. It was so bad that their emperor declared they would close their borders and that they would burn all their ocean going ships because they felt the rest of the world didn’t have anything to offer them and were just taking their designs… It is apparently called payback. Someone should study history first.

  38. David/cigarrz says

    I would certainly be pissed if I were you but when has it not been buyer beware. I myself have done the slow burn over Ebay purchases and it wasn’t made in China but it was my fellow citizen taking me for a fool. Knockoffs have been a scourge for a long time. Somebody is always ready to take advantage of honest people.

  39. says

    A Brembo radial master cylinder for $11.00? I should have expected junk, but it had Brembo logos all over it and the shipping was very expensive. I gave it a shot and learned a lesson……..again. There is no Santa Claus.

  40. AlwaysOnTwo says

    I’m not really a machinist or tool and die guy, but I learned a little from my cousin who happens to a certified master. In the last three years of economic downturn, three of the four machine shops in this rural Florida county have gone BK. I bought equipment at all three auctions.

    As a result, I have a fair little shop that only started out as a desire to tinker on my own toys. Now, bike buds drop by on a regular basis day and evening for shop time. I even pick up a paying job from time to time! LOL,

    The discussion, as I recall, was about TechShop, remember? I think any small group of guys that had a serious interest in wrenching at a level beyond the typical home garage could take this approach. It’s a little more time consuming, and requires someone with the property space for the building (or garage expansion), but it could be done just about in any community of enthusiasts. Maybe even a little crossover cooperation between a bike club and car club.

    Anyway, the auction route for acquiring the machinery worked for me.

    Did I mention anything about Chinese vs American tools? Nope, that wasn’t the original thread. I hate it when my wife goes sideways in a conversation…anyone want to start a conversation about that track?? Hehehe.

  41. says

    I am willing to bet that a decent quantity of my tools are from China. They are a huge export country. You could buy something in your local shop with a local brand name and not realize it’s been imported from China, without doing a little online research.

  42. says

    …as for the Tech-Shop, I think its a great idea. If your in a city that does not have one, check out your local technical school. Get to know the instructors. Most schools have night classes that you can take in the welding and machining departments. For $150 a semester you can machine and weld your heart out!!!

  43. China Biker says

    Well, I’ve been living and working in manufacturing, in China, for almost 12 years now. I also do some freelance writing for a Beijing-based newspaper and some teaching.

    My latest article in the paper was about the lamentable fact that in China, for the rapidly rising middle class, there is no education and no apparent interest in doing anything by hand. Shop classes are not taught in school. Children of the one-child policy are spoiled rotten by both sides of the family and would never lift a finger to so much as fix a flat tire or sew a button on a shirt, much less to craft something as complex as a motorcycle or any of its’ components.

    There are skilled workers here, to be sure. They do what is commonly considered dirty, thankless labor for meager pay. No one I have met in all my time chooses to do manual craft work as a hobby or creative pursuit. A Techshop would be impossible here – no one would even get the concept.

    But I recently raised this issue with my adult learners in an English class. They found it fascinating and they agreed with the frustration of not having any practical skills to balance out the mundane drudgery of daily office life. (Just like America!) Maybe they are a generation away from having the pendluum swing back again, back towards an appreciation for things well made by craftsmen and not robots. There is a feeling in the air that something has been lost in the financial boom in China, but it’s still fermenting I think.

    And, yes, educated Chinese are all too aware that so many of their homegrown products still fare poorly in comparison with the best of Europe, Japan and the U.S. Even comparable Taiwanese-made products are more expensive and carry higher status.

    My shop? Filled with Chinese tools. I’ve broken a few but actually if you know what you’re looking for you can get great value for money. Honestly, of most of the tools that I have, I don’t even know if they’re available for export. Sigh, I’ve been here too long….

  44. says

    We were talking about this during lunch at work today. It turns out even our beloved and hallowed snap-on is rumored to have outsourced some of their work to China.

    When I worked high-end retail, I found out that our shirts were made at the same factory that almost every other retailer made shirts at. Except ours had a different label, and ergo a different price in the US. Nothing really different about it at all.

    Not to play Devil’s Advocate but: For the rising cost of US labor, has the quality risen accordingly?