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Tuesday, October 24, 2006


A disappointment

For all of Marx's talk about a "dictatorship of the proletariat," very few Communist dictators have actually come from a working class background. Ho Chi Minh is about the closest I can think of to an actual proletariat dictator; he put in his share of time baking pastries and washing dishes for a living. But Lenin and Castro were lawyers, Mao was a librarian, and Stalin dropped out of seminary to become, well, a Communist party thug and bank robber. Marx himself held a job as a newspaper editor. There aren't too many famous Communist dictators who put in long hours on the factory floor, and I don't know of any Communist ruler who held an industrial engineering degree.

It seems one of the hallmarks of Communism has been a centrally planned economy run by people who were rather clueless as to how to actually run a factory or other forms of production. Russian lumberjacks sometimes left their trees to rot because the leaders had demanded they must cut down a certain number of trees and hadn't bothered to figure out what they would actually do with them. Mao demanded steel production be doubled, a goal his lackeys pretended to meet by building jury-rigged furnaces that could barely make pig iron. Sometimes I have to wonder if Marx though that quality control was some instrument of capitalist manipulation.

That's a bit of background to one of my rules about buying tools: I do my best to avoid any tools made in a Communist country. It's been very rare that I have actually had a tool from a Communist country live up to my expectations. Sometimes, though, the high cost of a good quality tool makes me opt for the cheap way out, and I buy a tool from Communist China. Usually when I do that I get reminded of why I don't like to buy products made in the People's Republic of anywhere. I'm not a Buy American fanatic - I'm the Germans and Japanese make good tools, for example. Bosch and Makita come to mind. But I am against buying cheap, shoddy tools, and it's rare that I have found Communist Chinese goods to be anything otherwise.

In many cases, the tools wear out in an incredibly short amount of time, or are made with such low precision as to cause trouble. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the Chinese socket wrenches were made from the steel created in those wooden fired open hearth furnaces from the Great Leap Forward.

The latest disappointing tool I've bought that was made in China was a Cobalt electric impact wrench. Cobalt is the house brand from Lowe's Home Improvement, and they get their tools from all kinds of manufacturers, so I'm not out to tar all of Cobalt's tooks with my brush, just this particular one. To Cobalt's credit, this wrench has not actually broken. The problem is that it seems to have about as much torque as a cordless drill. I thought I'd get it to break some of the bolts on the Nissan's axle loose. Wrong. It does a decent job of spinning a bolt that's on rusty threads after I break it loose. But it doesn't actually do much to free stuck nuts. I can actually apply more torque to a nut using my trusty 18" breaker bar without a cheater than I can with this electric impact wrench.

So, if you're looking for an impact wrench, I think you're likely to be disappointed with this one. It can save a little bit of time, but it can't actually break bolts loose, at least not the sort of bolts that you really want to get with an impact wrench. You might want to save up a bit and get a higher-end electric impact wrench like those made by Milwaukee.

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