You may know that I have had various full-time jobs, part-time jobs, and side hustles that substantially involve construction, trades, and fabrication work over the years. As such, while I don’t consider myself a professional carpenter/woodworker/electrician/etc., I’ve dabbled in most trades, have managed most trades, and feel like I generally have at least a vague idea of what I’m talking about. A recent customer service flop highlighted a stark contrast between two leading manufacturers of power tools, and it’s telling as we think about the near future of consumer products with regard to things like right-to-repair.
The Power Tools: Miter Saw, Table Saw
There are two power tools in question. The first is a DeWalt compound miter saw that I bought for $200 off the ‘zon. If you’re unfamiliar, miter saws– also known as “chop saws”- are probably the most useful saw in rough carpentry, and one of the more useful saws in a shop. The table, or bed, has a fence that runs perpendicular to the blade, which comes down in a simple arc from a rear-mounted hinge, to cut the workpiece. It’s most useful for cross-cutting boards– most commonly things like 2x4s or 2x6s. This was the second I had ever owned, and it was a bit smaller but comparably equipped as my first one, which was stolen in St. Louis (like all of my dreams and the rest of my power tools from the previous iteration of my construction life).
The second tool is a Bosch 4100 table saw with a 10″ blade. It cost about $600. This is the workhorse of all jobsite saws and can withstand serious daily use. I’ve changed the blade twice over thousands of cuts. As a matter of product reviews, there are a few deficiencies of the Bosch saw. The fence is mediocre and has to be squared up with every cut (as opposed to doing it automatically). The miter gauge that comes with the saw is laughably abject (I replaced it later with an Incra, which is hard to use because of how small the table is). But the motor is great, the table itself is great, and the stand that it comes with is reasonably ergonomic. Adjustments are fairly easy, and the measurements for the fence are at least vaguely accurate, though for non-rough work I had to measure the distance between the fence and the blade every time.
The Malfunctions, And The Fixes
The Bosch table saw is still cranking it out, but it has a hard time cranking up or down. The blade is attached to a motor housing that raises and lowers along a threaded rod, cranked by hand with a plastic wheel that is in turn attached to a series of axles and plastic gears. We all know what happens to plastic gears– they strip and wear out- and the threaded rods got covered in gunk. One day last fall, in a lisdexamphetamine-fueled fury, I disassembled half of the saw, meticulously cleaning the threaded rods, and restoring them to their former gleam, while greasing the guides that hold them in place. I cleaned and disassembled most of the mechanism and put it back together. And it still doesn’t work.
The miter saw, on the other hand, had a much worse problem, and this was that the blade had become loose and had bound up in a couple of workpieces, slashing apart the throat plate and making a positively terrifying sound. A blade binding– getting caught- can be extremely dangerous because you’re combining the extreme forces of a high-torque spinny thing that is tipped with ultra-sharp carbide teeth (9-9.5 Mohs) that will readily slice through softwood, hardwood, aluminum, and, well, human flesh and bone, with additional strain on a flexible steel blade. Power tools that get jammed can do unpredictable things. At least awful (in business we refer to this as “maxi-min”), they will foul up your workflow. At worst, they can kill you. My main carpenter and I disassembled the blade and put it back together. The blade washers and spacers looked OK. He had never encountered this problem. Nor had I. Tightening it did not seem to fix the problem.
So, I poked around and tried to figure out what was next for repairs. The Bosch saw was not under warranty. The DeWalt was basically brand new.
Unauthorized Repair Centers For Power Tools
DeWalt advertises that it has authorized repair centers that can fix things for you without requiring you to ship them back to the company. So, I packed up Ye Olde Miter Saw in the Honda. I first went to Electric Tool & Service Co. on Conant Avenue in Detroit. Conant is one of those weird streets that goes through both Detroit and Hamtramck, and this part of town is populated by a mixture of well-maintained houses, poorly-maintained houses, and poorly-maintained warehouses and storefronts, some of which disguise well-attended machine shops or retail establishments, their windows long ago bricked over.
Upon arriving, I called (to no avail) and knocked on multiple doors, before a charming young lady came out and explained that the business had closed a month ago. The owner, who also owned Hashbrowns Café next door, hadn’t yet announced plans for it. Well, strike one! Great. ReNu Power Tool & Supply Co., Inc. was next, in Highland Park. This was one of those “buildings that looks like it might be abandoned but ends up actually being full of brand new tools for sale.” An older and (bafflingly) thoroughly exasperated gentleman explained to me that they did not perform warranty work on DeWalt. They used to have a service center on Stephenson, he said, and this closed. After that, the company, he said, did not provide them with any written agreement about how much money they’d be reimbursed for working on the tools.
Alright, boss. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with that.
So they didn’t work on the tools. The gentleman did inspect my saw and told me something I already knew: that the spacers were missing (they were in my basement). But no, I don’t know how much it could be to fix, because I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’m not a marketing genius, but maybe you shouldn’t be listed as a warranty service center if you don’t provide *squints at page* warranty service. This is an interesting element of the business model. Warranty claims never make up more than a few percentage points of the gross profit on most products. It’s impossible to ever forecast what warranties cost the average company, and no one really publicizes this (unless you count the thoroughly abstracted data that shows up on a company’s financial statements). But one thing is certain, and that’s that DeWalt doesn’t want to pay out the $100-200 that it might cost Billy Bob Macomb County over at Re-Nu to fix the damn thing. That’s not only more profit than they made off the sale, it might well be more revenue than they made off the sale.
The flipside, of course, is that I’m going to never buy a DeWalt product again, so they lose bigly, as a convicted sexual abuser and Florida Man once said.
A Tale Of Two Customer Services
$57.23 later (they had some great unpowered and power tools on sale!) I left and tried to call DeWalt. They said they’d provide me with a QR code, and I could take the boxed saw to a UPS location to be shipped back to them at their expense. I pushed a bit harder and they said they’d send someone to pick up the box from my door, but this still doesn’t get me the box. I do not have a box large enough to package this thing, and I am not going to go buy one. Mostly because I’m not in the business of spending my own time and money to fix the problems of multi-billion dollar corporations ($15.617bn for Stanley Black & Decker, by the way, with an 11% profit margin, in case you were wondering– compared to Bosch, which is five times the size but less profitable). So, I am adopting a more insidious approach that involves me getting a new saw and returning the old one. (I will not be explaining further how I am achieving this other than to say that some other multi-billion dollar companies have an extremely permissive return policy).
In comparison, Bosch was easy to reach. I spoke to a gentleman who gave me his full name (and it was a real name, too, not a fake call center name like “Denzel Jackson” or “Dexx” or “Edward Granobles”). He indicated to me that while it was out of warranty, this was a “known issue,” and, while it could be avoided with careful maintenance, it did happen quite frequently. I was thoroughly grateful to this and all I have to do is drive out to Livonia to take it to a real, honest-to-goodness service center. Not like Re-Nu. I am impressed that I even got this far with Bosch without having to bust out the, “do you know how much money I spend on this stuff” line, which– pro tip- rarely works anyway.
- ✅ Bosch had more culturally competent customer service representatives than DeWalt.
- ✅ Bosch recognized that there was a problem and emphatically indicated that they wanted to fix it for me, even though the product was out of warranty.
- ❌ DeWalt did not adequately express concern about the massive safety issue with the saw.
- ❌ DeWalt did not adequately communicate with me about the repair process, as I explicitly asked for a box to be sent to me, and they told me they would, before indicating that it was only a shipping label.
- ❌ DeWalt’s phone menu is horrific and wastes a ton of time.
Companies that treat you like a number aren’t worth dealing with. Nor are companies that have no time for individual customers. Suffice it to say, Bosch Power Tools may have made a quite loyal customer today. I have a few Bosch drills that are going on a decade at this point and are still holding up great. The motor of one of them may require new brushes. These cost about $10 for a pair. I’m hoping I can walk out of this service center with a (functionally brand new) drill and a (functionally brand new) saw for the cost of what it might have been to buy a huge box to pack up my miter saw. I am glad to have at least settled this one thing.
No, I’m not being paid by anyone to write this, and much as I’d like to link to my Amazon Associates account to get paid on some referral links, I have discontinued that program. But invest responsibly in power tools, people! Read more Handbuilt content on construction.