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”

  1. I have to say as a rookie to the internet I never realized there was so much info to be had. You must have spent a lot of time putting it together. Thanks! I don’t know if I understand the concept as well as I should but I’m persistent.

  2. Great recap from you, I might have found myself stuck here if I hadn’t found your blog, thanks for your info

  3. I like this post, and I like your site. I know how tough it is to keep up a blog regularly. trust me, I struggle! LOL Keep up the good work!

  4. I am very impressed with the article I have just read. I hope the writer of zerowasteinstitute.org can continue to provide so much practical information and unforgettable experience to zerowasteinstitute.org readers.

  5. From Daniel: Can I quote you on my blog if I link back to this page?

    To Daniel: Yes that would be fine.

  6. Good to see some open minded thoughts. Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. Marc

  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?

  8. WOW! Is all I can say! I really love your blog and it’s obvious that you put a lot of hard work into it! Keep up the good work and back to writing! You’ve got me hooked now!

  9. This is a spectacular entry. Thank you very much for the supreme post provided! I was looking for information on zero waste for a long time, but I wasn’t able to find an authentic source until now.

  10. I must say I really like your writing style it is so much better than most blogs I read.

  11. Great post. I’ve been searching for this exact information for a while now. I’ll bookmark it in the public bookmarking sites to get you more traffic.

  12. I came back and I re-read all the articles over again. As the author of zerowasteinstitute.org, you have done an excellent job.

  13. Glad to see that this site works well on my iPhone , everything I want to do is functional. Thanks for keeping it up to date with the latest.

  14. Good Comments. I agree with your point.

    Thank you. I hope you can put some of the recommendations into practice.

  15. Thanks for keeping it real. Your information is good and happy I found it while searching yahoo for a car part. I bookmarked your site on my reddit account so I can check back with ya. Peace out from Lexington, Ky.

  16. Great Post! I personally really enjoy your article. This is a great website. I will make sure that I stop back again!.

  17. Thanks. some fantastic info here, keep it up. I cannot really leave a more constructive remark as I’m a bit out of my depth but I will be checking back here for further updates.

  18. This is a really good read for me. Must admit that you are one of the coolest bloggers I ever saw. Thanks for posting this informative article.

  19. I must say, I absolutely love your blog. Maybe you could tell me how I could keeping up to date with it? I feel I should let you know I discovered this site through Lycos.

    Since you love the site so much, why don’t you provide a real email address instead of a phony?

  20. The tool sector is becoming more and more difficult. I agree with your article and think this is information that should be shared. I’m going to show your information from Hand Tools The Zero Waste Institute with people at my work. Thank you for posting this. Nice website layout btw.

  21. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about this and love learning more about this topic. When possible, when you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is rather helpful to me.

Leave a Reply