Hand Tools

How could the design of hand power tools be improved along Zero Waste lines?

This is a discussion of the design of drills, sanders, cutters, polishers, screwdrivers and other corded power tools that are mean to be held in the hand and applied to work.

Are there any parts that these tools have in common that could profit from being standardized?

After taking a number of these tools apart, I see that they all have these modules:

  • A cord for plugging into electricity
  • A power switch
  • A way to lock the switch in the ON position
  • A reversing switch to reverse the direction of operation (on some tools)
  • A handle that usually contains the switches.
  • A motor or armature for driving the business end.
  • The business end that does the particular job the tool is named for.

Essentially all of the parts except the last one are fairly standard.  The last one is of course what gives the tool its specific ability. There cannot possibly be a standard design for that, but there are so many models of each kind of tool that it is possible to imagine, for example, standardizing the business ends of all hand drills.

Keep in mind that standard doesn’t necessarily mean that all tools become  identical. Right now, there are thousands of designs that are used interchangeably around the world. Each one requires setting up different dies for the plastic or metal parts and that implies that parts will all be unique and generally unobtainable for repair. What if we could set up just a reasonably small number of designs, let’s say graded for quality, weight and strength. Let’s say that each one of the other parts also could be graded that way. Material specs, such as plastic or metal alloy, color, filler, decoration, brand logo etc. could be left to be independently chosen since all parts with the same shape should be replaceable for each other, even if they don’t look or feel exactly like the original.

The result would be that generic parts suppliers could now spring up since the total number of different generic parts would be modest. The Zero Waste approach might reduce the total number of different designs  but not as much as you might imagine. After all, the number of designs for all parts is still in the dozens or more, and if the choices are all multiplied together there are thousands of different ways to combine the parts. A top-of-the-line drill might make use of all the highest quality parts while the el cheapo version might choose to use all of the cheapest parts. The least robust versions would not be as intrinsically repairable as the better quality versions since individual parts (the armature for example) would be more likely to break or overheat but the overall repairability profile of the tool industry would zoom upwards.

Standardization is one of the most powerful tools in the Zero Waste toolbox.

22 thoughts on “Hand Tools”

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  7. Nice Hand Tool article.
    Sounds like you need open source to design standards…
    The argument for open standards to zero waste needs to be better explained. You still will have as many tools on the market as before, you might be able to reuse many of the parts again but then the cost will still be prohibitive. It’s cheaper to create a new plastic or electronic piece then to reuse it. The design will also constantly improve so last year’s models will probably not work for next year’s.

    Byron: I don’t understand all of your comment so it would be helpful if you could explain yourself at greater length but I will try. You seem to be making a common error in assuming that everything remains the same as now but a clever tweak just fixes the one problem we are focusing on. Yes, today, in a throwaway world, where raw materials are artificially subsidized by methods such as sending in the marines to grab them away from people who place too high a value on them just because they own them, new DVD players cost less than repairing one. But the commercial system needs to change to value protecting our planet as a higher priority than a corporation’s profit (Fat chance! I hear you saying). When tools can be repaired because parts are interchangeable, there may be the same number being used but far fewer being sold or passed on. And why are you assuming that tools obey the same fashion rules as ipods and designer clothing. Most tools remain unchanged for fifty years. There are many more interventions that will be needed to make a new model work. You can’t just use enforced standard thinking to bludgeon any new idea that threatens it. We need to be open to ways to make new ideas work, not to find ways to tear them down.
    Byron, mail to your website came back undeliverable. Why is that?

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