Rick Schwolsky
Rick Schwolsky

It's been four-and-a-half years since I first wrote about the lack of, and need for, performance-based testing standards in the tool industry, and standardized, meaningful language for reporting performance results. At that time, representatives from the top 10 major power tool manufacturers agreed with the need.

Yet today tool companies are still free to test their products as they see fit and report the numbers they think will put their products in the best light. And we've been trained somehow to compare amps, torque, and horsepower as measures of power and performance in electric and cordless tools. If only it were that easy. Simply put, without standards to determine how these specifications are derived or defined -- the numbers are meaningless.

As you'll learn in Clayton DeKorne's article, Playing the Numbers, performance specifications derived without standardized testing and reporting methods boil down to little more than marketing -- with a capital "M."

Nothing has changed -- including our call for standards. There's still broad consensus from all major players in the industry -- manufacturers and retailers alike -- that standards are needed, and would benefit everyone involved. The big hurdle of course is creating a consensus around just what those standards would be and who would develop and administer them. We suggest that the Power Tool Institute (PTI) may be the most likely candidate, but they wouldn't even return our repeated phone calls and e-mail requests for their input into this story. Given that many of PTI's active members spoke on the record in favor of standards, maybe we can still make our case, even if another, or new, organization steps up to this important challenge.

We are not suggesting anything like an industry conspiracy here. Every product engineer I know at each of the major manufacturing facilities I've toured industry-wide strikes me as being brilliant, honest, and extremely professional in carrying out their product development and testing processes. In fact, these are the very people at each company who say they favor standards, even though they point out that their methods would be the best models. But the implications of non-standardized testing and reporting are disturbing when it comes to how companies position and market their tools, especially with the growing wave of manufacturers who test their competitors' tools to discredit their performance claims. Even if they do use a third-party lab to do the testing, the lab uses the criteria of the company paying for the tests. So do comparative charts mean anything? We say, without standards, the answer is, "No."

What should you do? Look beyond the numbers and focus on the work you need to get out of a tool. Get your hands on the tools you are considering and test them for yourself. If you can't, you're buying at the wrong store. And as DeKorne points out in his story, features are just as important these days as power ratings, so look beyond the numbers and get a feel for overall design, balance, and convenience. Then put it all together before you look at the final number -- on the price tag.