Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Buying a drill

Let me tell you about my recent experience trying to buy a drill, and why it haunts me, and what I think it all means.

I swaggered into Lowes on Sunday, feeling manly, torn jeans, with a dirty wad of cash in hand, ready to buy a drill. I was in Lowes mode. Most dudes know what I'm talking about. I parked my dad's truck right up front in the "loading zone" which we all know is just secret code for "If you have a dinged up truck, you can park here." So I did.
Mission: simply buy a drill. Easy peasy.

Tool world, Lowes. 4 PM. Sunday. This is cake. I'm sorta leaning towards a DeWalt because that's what my father-in-law uses, but I'm not married to the idea. I swagger through the front doors of lowes, cowboy style like in a saloon with those swinging shutter-doors, and I start shopping, and I immediately I realize I'm in over my head. The sheer level of choice involved with a drill purchase these days is completely off the charts. DeWalt alone had 18 different models available, each with a manly name and a feature-oriented description card that listed a price and rattled off some acronyms I wasn't familiar with.

A few examples:
14.4 volts, cordless, drill/driver. This is probably what I want, right?
Well, don't speak too soon. The 14.4 volt cordless drill driver also comes in an XRP version. Better warranty. More power. Bigger. More man required to swing this thing around, which I'm good with. But I start to have some doubts - how do I really know how many volts I need? Is battery life a real concern for a guy like me? Hell, do I need batteries at all? How much drilling will I be doing away from civilization? In a post-apocalyptic America, will drill batteries function as barter for food, sort of like ammunition? All questions I had no answers for.

More drills:
9.8 volts. Barely enough drill to call itself a drill. Right? I'm just saying that. Really, I have no idea how much 9.8 volts is, and the subsequent effort to turn volts into RPM's would blow the top of my head off like a pez dispenser, so I had to move on.
18 volts. Lithium Ion. Very nice shit here. 1/2 keyless chuck, though. I've always preferred 80/20 for my chuck. But that's different. This drill is the Kobe beef of drills. OK, I'm just saying that. I'm getting confused, and my metaphors aren't making much sense.
Well, well, well - what have we here? Not only a drill, but a HAMMER drill. 18 volts. A man of a tool, ready for both drilling and hammering. Pistol grip? Hol E. Shit. I had this thing halfway to the counter to buy it before doubt crept in again. And it occurred suddenly that those few men whom I've seen use a drill as a hammer were never really the cool-calm-collected fellas that I sought to be like on the proverbial job-site (in this case, my shed.)
Now this seems modest. 14.4 volt, XRP, cordless drill/driver. XRP seems to mean "middle of the road." Wait a minute, did I already see this one or not? I'm starting to lose track.
Combo package. Shit just got real. That's a drill, a sawzall, some other stuff, and a badass flashlight in one $300 box. A real value, I think. There's really no way NOT to get all of this, plus the box gives me someplace to put it all during the 99.999999% of my lifetime that I'm not using or thinking about the drill whatsover. So, $300 then?
OK, don't panic. I'm a manly dude just shopping for a drill. And I'm digging this one. 10 Amps, not bad. Pistol grip, sorta GI Joe style, but OK. Hammer drill - again, maybe not what I'll use it for, but fine. $139. Wait, $139? Something must be wrong with it. And I notice now this is Amps and not Volts or Watts, which probably doesn't really matter since I don't know how to mathematically convert any of the above into force anyway, but for the sake of comparison this little beast appears to be operating in his own little Amp world, and I'm philosophically not OK with that. Plus, in hindsight, it has a cord, and I can't be tethered to the grid in this wild, wild world of hammering and drilling. Let's move on.

Again. Amps. Out.
A $300 dollar, 18 volt, manly hammer drill with more features and acronyms than I could stand to read about. A solid tool for sure. Also can be used for shooting skeet.

Again, with the Amps. You're literally killing me, Walt. And if this is a screwdriver, can it also drill? Or is the spinning motion of this economy purchase purely limited to screwing?

At this point I'm in need of some assistance, anyone - preferably a dude in a blue Lowes Apron, but maybe not - who might offer some clarity on the matter of drilling the world...crickets. But things look up for a moment because at the end of the aisle back near the checkout, I see Charlie Clarkson, endurance racer extraorndaire, so I go talk to him for a while about racing and other things that I actually know something about. But sadly, he goes his own way, and I trod back to the lonely world of tool world and continue browsing.

More drills.

$119. Modest. I'm not even reading the acronyms anymore, just looking at price tags. Every minute I'm not buying a drill, I get angrier and angrier.
Given my level of confusion, I think keyless sounds like a nice feature at this point. So if I happen to lose the "key" or whatever I put in the ignition, all is not lost. Considering buying this one and returning if if the power, grip, cord, color, bit, chuck, Amp, etc is not to my liking.

A half-pistol grip. Rage against the forces that say you need it or you don't. You can go halfway.
Still, more. It's getting a little like Alice in Wonderland, and I feel like I've been here before - only instead of a Cheshire cat to taunt me along the way, I've got a Lowes employee who doesn't know shit about shit...Just kidding. There are no Lowes employees at Lowes. I'm all by myself.
Still, even more.
I like this one. 12Volt Max. It actually has a maximum. Again, given the confusion I'm feeling here, it could be nice to have a drill with a governor that will keep it slow in case shit starts to get out of hand once I've got her home and realize I'm in over my head.
18V, NiCad XRP. A very big deal . I think that's also a Corolla model. Am I buying a car?

At that moment, I realized I was actually yearning for a car salesman. And so I had to call it. I put my tail between my legs and backed out of there, got in my motley truck and headed for home, drill-less.

On the way home, HUM was playing on the radio. Which kicks old school ass, and its appearance here on the blog will certainly make at least one rider whose name ends with "er" happy.

The whole situation gave me pause. Unrestrained capitalism can be paralytic in a bad way. Don't get me wrong; I like choices. But what good is unlimited choice when we, the consumer, have driven the price point on products we know nothing about so low that our "wholesale" distributors don't have the obligation or margin to answer the most basic questions about those products.

Let's bring this back to something bike related. It is my grim realization that buying a bike can be almost exactly like this. Gigantic bike store. Unlimited choice. Bro employees who must be sending it somewhere out back while you doddle around aimlessly in a world of skinny/fat/tall/small wheels and suspension components and frame composites with a perplexed feeling that a)they all appear to roll but b) which one will roll the right way for me? And no real ability to figure that out on your own.

It is, also, my firm affirmation that Blue Ridge Cyclery will never, ever be anything like Lowes. And the experience of buying a bike doesn't have to be as confusing, frustrating, and outright emasculating as my experience not buying a drill was.

If you've got a suggestion for a local hardware store in the same spirit, drop me a line.


  1. 1) Hum kicks ass.
    2) I had the exact same drill experience @ Lowes. Even called my dad in lieu of salesman. Went home w/ no drill. Did research. Still didn't have a clue. Went back for the 18v Li-Ion. Whatever.

  2. Been there. I hate Lowe's. Ended up buying the older model of this rascal: Craftsman 17191 19.2-volt C3 Cordless Drill/Driver. I've used it for 5 years building bridges at BRS and your farm. The screws seem to still be holding...

  3. Check out Meadowbrook Hardware on Preston. I'm not even sure if they HAVE a drill, but they'll have 3 people in paint-schmattered aprons standing in line waiting to answer any drill-related question. They can even tell you what color drill you prefer.

    If, for some reason, they fail to have the perfect drill for you and you're in the midst of a drill-related emergency, you could walk across the street to Martins as a backup plan.

  4. I second J's comment -- Meadowbrook rocks. You walk in, there is a guy standing there: "What can I do for you", you tell him, he leads you to the thing you need, hands it to you, and says "What else?" If that's it, he walks you up to the cash register and you're out of there. You are 100% guaranteed to spend less time and less money there than at Lowe's. Yet everyone starts out at Lowe's, for some reason

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