Why Are They so Expensive?

Posted on 08 June 2017

 

Well, I hate to disappoint, but the truth is simple: Because that’s how much it costs us to make them, and not shoot ourselves or starve our kids.

Because this is supposed to be a full and informative blog entry, however, here are some additional sentences:

When we started working out the business plan for Crucible, I referred to it as “The Last Tool Company.” I know that’s a terrible name, but it helps to imagine it in Samuel L. Jackson’s voice. And as a mission statement, I still think it’s solid.

Oh – important context I forgot: You need to NOT be thinking “last man on earth” when you hear that name, or it’ll ruin the whole thing. Think about something like “the last word in car repair,” or better yet, “the last ninja you’ll ever need.” And again, think of Sam Jackson saying it. And if that doesn’t do it, maybe imagine some explosions in the background….

No? OK, fine – crappy name. I already conceded that. But the point is what it means, because for me it’s fundamental. It’s meant to say that our goal is to make the last tools you need to buy.

When I think of a Last Tool, here’s what I mean: Chris Vesper’s bevel gauges. Several years ago, Jameel Abraham gave me one of Vesper’s gauges as a gift. I think he wanted to date me, but it doesn’t matter because after I used it, I knew immediately that I was holding my last bevel gauge. I’m never buying another one.

Well, not unless someone steals that one, I mean. Or I buy another, larger version to keep it company. Or the mothership comes and takes me away, but then thinks better of it and sends me back to earth but without my tools.

Other than that, though, that Vesper gauge is my last bevel gauge. And do you know when Crucible Tool is going to make a bevel gauge? Never. Because Vesper stole the idea before we got around to having it. It’s perfect.

So that’s the sort of tool I mean when I say that name. To myself. In my head.

Now please understand that we don’t have anything against “first” tools at all. We just don’t want to make those. We aren’t interested in making anyone’s first pair of dividers. Your first dividers should be stolen from somebody, like your friend’s cousin who failed out of architecture school. Or bought from a sweaty guy in a heavy trenchcoat on Canal Street. Or from some other unsavory place, like an abandoned storm drain or the mall.

And you should lose those dividers immediately because they’re terrible. It’s doubtful they’ll even work. What were you thinking? Lose them, before someone accidentally sits on them in the passenger seat and sues your unkempt self.

Good dividers are for after you’ve bought and actually used dividers a bit, and find out they’re actually useful. After you’ve started to care about your tools a bit more ­– maybe even a bit too much. Maybe you care so much about dividers that you ought to consider therapy – or at least your wife thinks so, in those times when she looks at you with that slack-jawed “what is wrong with you” look but decides not to kick you out yet.

And if you get there, it’s time to think about buying your last pair of dividers.

And those dividers? They’re the ones we wanted to make.

From that standpoint there’s only one way to design. Here it is: ease-of-manufacture, price, marketing, packaging, international distribution channels and “what the market will bear” don’t exist. We just want to make them the best thing we can imagine in a divider set.

 

After the design is the best thing we can imagine making, and we never ever want to lay out dovetails with anything else ever as long as we walk the earth … then we shift gears.

Only then do we start trying everything we possibly can to make them easier to make, and faster, and therefore less expensive. Anything we can change or shift that doesn’t lessen the tool is fair game. But if it makes the tool less useful? Not a chance. 

And in the case of the dividers, we ended up with a design that cost more than we wanted it to. But it costs what it costs.

Do we think everyone needs these dividers? Absolutely not. Stick a 1/4-20 bolt through a couple toothbrush handles, cut the heads off and sharpen the ends. Bam: dividers. Or buy a pair from Wal-Depot for $6.50 on rollback. Seriously – they’ll work fine, and we’d much rather think you’re making something with Home-Mart dividers than making NOTHING because you got the idea you can’t until you buy our dividers. 

And if you like the dividers we make, but just can’t justify that much money? I hear you.

So next up, I’ll show you how to make your own by hand. You’ll need a decent hacksaw and a file or two, and some steel. But you can make your own last tools. And you can do it for the price of a couple chocolate mint applesauce lattes, or whatever people in foofy-coffee land are drinking this week. 

Why would I do that? Like I told you: I’m a people person. I’m a river of understanding and goodwill. I’m a giver.

But first I better go make sure my wife hasn’t chucked my stuff in the driveway. 

— raney

 

 

 

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6 comments

  • Michael Keller: June 28, 2017

    Damn straight.

  • raney: June 12, 2017

    Hi Bill,

    Thanks for being understanding – we really are making great strides getting the divider production worked out, and we WILL be able to keep up with orders and keep things in inventory eventually.

    That is indeed a CNC mill. basically the goal for Crucible is to have outside firms do the manufacturing for us. TO be honest, none of us had any spare time at all before we started Crucible, so manufacturing the tools. in the long term is a non-starter.

    However, we did figure out pretty quickly that being able to develop the manufacturing processes ourselves was going to be critical to getting some things made the way we wanted. Mostly this applies to the tools made by machining processes, which is mainly my wheelhouse; the dividers being the first – and likely the most difficult and intensive – product that we did all the development for in-house. So the programming, fixturing, and all the processes got done here, and we made the first batches here until we found a manufacturing partner.

    I’ll do some more writing on that partner (Machine Time, in Lexington KY) and the owner, Craig Jackson, in a post later on. Suffice it to say we won the lottery in getting connected with him – he’s a first-rate machinist, inventor, and all-around brilliant guy, and we’re developing a relationship with his shop that is absolutely not the norm, and is critical to us being able to do the things we want, the way we want.

    get developed here in the Lab. Programming, fixturing, and most of the process in general get done here, and then we hand it off to the firm doing our manufacturing.

  • Bill Morison: June 12, 2017

    Raney:

    Thank you for sharing your business philosophy in such entertaining detail in your recent posts. Explained, what we see happening at Your Last Tool Co (aka Crucible) makes perfect sense. I will leave my desire for immediate gratification at the door. Finally obtaining a set of dividers will just be that much sweeter, knowing some of the thoughts that animated its design and production.

    A couple questions: Is that a CNC machine in your driveway? Have you now decided to do the CNC work yourself?

  • raney: June 08, 2017

    Santiago -
    We stamp these by hand – and so there is some variation in depth and exact positioning. But as the guy who does almost all the stamping, I’d correct them if they looked that shallow in person. A second strike is easy to line up and make if needed.

    Not sure what exactly is up in that photo. I do know that those are from the first sets we finished, and I considered them prototypes. My tolerance for stuff in prototypes is pretty broad, so it’s possible I just gave them pretty wimpy stamps, or that I ended up doing some additional grinding/polishing after they were stamped.

    The ones we send out are most definitely somewhat variable in both placement and angle, for intentional reasons. To me, maker’s stamps are not meant to be ‘precision’. In fact, I prefer that it be somewhat obvious that they were done by hand. Its the ‘human’ counterpoint to precision in other areas.

    But an incomplete stamp isn’t something that would pass our QC.

    raney

  • Santiago Carmona: June 08, 2017

    Hi Raney,

    Can I ask, why the CRUCIBLE TOOL logo on the dividers doesn’t have a uniform look? looks a little blurry.

    Thanks

  • Dan Currie: June 08, 2017

    Nice post – this is the message that really captures everything.

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