Lord of the Fleas

February 5th, 2017

Plus Metrosexual Abuse

Sometimes I don’t know what to make of the Internet. It’s tempting to think of it as a reliable repository containing every type of knowledge you could hope to uncover, but the cruel truth is that it fails a lot.

Yesterday I visited the Florida Swap Shop to see if I could find a few cheap old wrenches to cut up and use for welding projects. I bought three, and I also bought two small adjustable (“crescent”) wrenches made by Williams. This company has made a lot of excellent stuff, and I was able to get a 6″ wrench and an 8″ wrench for eight bucks. They’re not in mint condition, but they work fine, and a new 6″ SK wrench costs about $22.

I cleaned the Williams wrenches up and did a minor repair on the bigger one. When I bought it, I didn’t notice that the jaws didn’t close all the way. At home, I took it apart (screw on the side of the wrench) and cleaned it up, but it still wouldn’t close. I finally realized the moving jaw could not slide out of the body all the way (necessary when it closes) because some ape had used the wrench to tap something. Hammer, wrench…what’s the difference?

The metal where the jaw slid out of the body was slightly deformed. I jabbed it with a file a few times, and now the wrench closes.

If you’ge Googling for information because you need help with ADJUSTABLE CRESCENT WRENCH THAT WON’T CLOSE, now you know what to do. Don’t lose the tiny spring that holds the knurled adjustment worm in place.

To get back to the issue that drove me to write today, the Williams wrenches had some kind of greasy black grit (or gritty black grease) on them. I’m sure you’ve seen this stuff. It magically appears on all old tools and in the bottoms of all old toolboxes. I had some success removing it with my amazing shower concoction (water, no-scrub cleaner, Dawn, and dishwasher rinse aid), but I couldn’t get all of it off.

That stuff works wonders on aluminum wheels. Ask my friend Mike, who used my last batch to clean the crud off the wheels of the Explorer I sold him. Without asking my permission.

I Googled today, and I saw a list of offerings. Which site was most likely to be right? People who write things on the Internet are usually ignorant; they just write for the purpose of filling websites. I wanted good information.

I chose Popular Mechanics, even though I knew better. There was a page about restoring rusty tools. The wrenches I’m working on aren’t rusty, but I figured black mystery crud might be covered as well.

Guess what Popular Mechanics says about removing rust? You soak your tools in vinegar and then scrape the rust off by hand. Are you kidding me?

I don’t like Popular Mechanics. I had a subscription, and I canceled. My take was that it was written by poser sissies who knew nothing about tools. It was full of useless articles about overly diverse-looking millennials who had tech startups (Wow! She’s a woman! And she’s Asian!). It also contained lots of material which appeared to be favorable press given in exchange for free tools. When a story features flattering photos of a new tool, plus gushing prose and a link to a website, hey…it’s an ad.

In the old days, Popular Mechanics was written by guys who still had the blood of dead Japanese soldiers behind their cauliflower ears. The target audience was actual men who had Vitalis in their short hair and surplus lathes in their garages. The magazine was full of useful stuff. Now, it’s useless. I mean, Glenn Reynolds writes for it. Come on.

Here’s how you take rust off of tools. You put them in a plastic bucket with a solution of water and baking soda or washing soda. You attach the negative clamps of battery chargers to them. You attach the positive clamps to submerged scrap iron. Then you wait. Every last particle of rust comes off, along with paint and everything else, if you wait long enough. You will end up with tools that are nothing but ferrous metal. It’s great. How can a magazine dedicated to tools recommend vinegar?

At least it wasn’t balsamic.

Another option: products made with phosphoric acid, such as Ospho or naval jelly. Apply. Wait. Rinse. Phosphoric acid loves rust and hates iron. It works.

I don’t know if pressure cleaners remove rust, but I’ll bet they do.

When you use abrasives to remove rust, as the magazine recommends, you take off sound metal. You’re not restoring. You’re altering. It’s much nicer when you can avoid removing steel.

I can just picture the Popular Mechanics writer, with his skinny jeans, Smith Brothers beard, creepy glasses, and punch-me cardigan, trying to use a Sonicare to remove rust from a pink-handled hammer without getting too dirty. They need to put him to work in a waxing salon.

If you want advice on tools, join a forum frequented by old machinists and woodworkers with missing fingers. They know what works.

Here’s the secret password: “Kroil.” If they don’t know what it is, you’re on the wrong forum.

Maybe instead of being disappointed, I should be glad I know more than Popular Mechanics.

I still don’t know the best way to get the black stuff off of tools. Maybe a good soak in gasoline, at least 20 feet from the house. I don’t have a parts washer.

Having visited flea markets exactly twice in the last 25 years, I am now an expert, so I will give you my take, which cannot be questioned. They work for three kinds of people.

1. People who know exactly what they want and what it’s worth.
2. People who like buying useless crap just to have a good time.
3. Poor people.

If you lack funds, a flea market can set you up with acceptable goods, cheap. If you’re a young man, and you need to put together a tool collection, flea markets are where you should be. Look at what I got. Two wrenches for eight dollars instead of fifty. You can also get well-made old furniture which is just beaten-up enough to look sort of chic in a college apartment. It will work better than Ikea crap, and you will be able to resell it for about what you paid.

Flea markets are also good for tool people who care more about how tools work than how they look. Me, I have a weakness for the shiny and clean, so I haven’t bought as many old tools as I should have, but I could have loaded up on quality wrenches and pliers for a hundred bucks.

If you can’t tell good stuff from bad, you will be skinned alive at a flea market, and you will come home with a lot of Chinese tools. Look for “USA” on everything you buy, and you should do okay. Use your phone to check prices.

I couldn’t get people to haggle at all. I got one dollar off the asking price for the three big wrenches. Maybe my clothes were too clean.

I’m happy. I tend to lose small adjustable wrenches, so next time it happens, I won’t lose much.

Maybe next week I’ll hit some garage sales.


Forgot to mention another reason the Internet is not as reliable as one would hope: queered ratings.

I bought a Ridgid Jobmax reciprocating saw attachment. You probably call this kind of saw a “Sawzall.” I had had great results with the drill, impact driver, and sanding attachments, so I figured the saw would be useful.

When I used the saw, I was very disappointed. It seemed to get bogged down very easily. I felt it was worthless. You could cut something like foam with it, but people buy this type of saw for wood and metal.

I gave it a one-star review on Home Depot’s site. One day a guy who worked for Ridgid emailed me, asking questions. I didn’t like being pestered about the review, but I responded. I said I wasn’t interested in being part of product development, because I figured that was what Ridgid wanted.

He said they weren’t trying to involve me in product development, and he said various things to defend the saw. He said it was only for light duty. Okay, but I still didn’t like it.

He thanked me for my input, and he said he would like to send me some Ridgid gear, so I gave him my address. Then he asked if it would be okay to take down my one-star rating.

No, it was not okay. It was disturbing and unethical.

I told him the Home Depot ad didn’t mention light duty. It said the saw “will tackle most any repair job.” I have never found the tool to be of any use at all. I don’t know why I didn’t return it. Maybe I thought some day I would have a job light enough for it to handle. I think my review was right on target.

He said it was intended for things like PVC. Coincidentally, I had to do a lot of PVC work last year, and I went out and got a corded DeWalt reciprocating saw. I was not about to try the Jobmax.

To be fair, today I put a 2 1/2″ PVC pipe in a vise and tried to cut it with the Jobmax. You would not believe how slow it was. I got about 3/16″ into the pipe and quit. It looked like I was going to be there a while. The DeWalt would have gone through it as if it were toast.

If you absolutely have to leave your sawzall at home, yes, take the Jobmax. It’s better than a steak knife. But don’t even let yourself fantasize about the possibility that it’s a real reciprocating saw.

I was not all that excited about the Ridgid gear. I like tool-related shirts, but Ridgid’s signature color is orange, so I felt it was unlikely that I would want to wear a Ridgid shirt. It turned out I was in no danger; after I refused to let them remove the review, he said they were out of shirts. I don’t know what they’re sending.

A cynical person might wonder if they always run out of shirts when someone refuses to change a review, but I assume he was telling the truth.

I agreed to let them send me stuff because there was some chance there might be something good included, and they offered before telling me they wanted to take the review down.

Now that I know they ask people to change their reviews, I wish I had turned down the offer.

The point of this story is to let people know that at least one company out there is asking people for permission to remove negative reviews. When I bought that awful saw, the reviews looked good, and I was shocked when I found out how useless it was. Now I wonder how many helpful negative reviews were abandoned by customers who like orange shirts.

I honestly believe the tool is bad, and I would never consider recommending it to anyone. As a customer, I want to protect people from this product, which disappointed me. It seems to me that Ridgid should put its energy into fixing the tool instead of the reviews.

If Ridgid is doing this, who else is doing it?

It’s a bummer, because I really like Ridgid tools. I have two Jobmaxes, a table saw, an oscillating sander, and two miter saws. Whenever I shop for a power tool, I look at Ridgid first, because I like their products and their warranty. Now I’m afraid to believe other people’s reviews.

Here’s what would really be bad: a review of a Ridgid tool, published by Popular Mechanics. “I give the Ridgid jigsaw two thumbs up, because it was great for cutting out the foamboard background for my bedroom shrine to Justin Bieber! It was so quick and easy, I didn’t even sweat up my man bun!”

I hope people are impressed that I didn’t whore myself out for a T-shirt. It will take more than that to buy me off. They should have offered me a free beer insulator.

If you like researching tools online before you buy, remember my sad tale of woe. You may only be seeing half of the reviews.

As long as I’m here, let me say I bought the Jobmax ratchet, and it slipped. If you buy one, make sure you test it thoroughly and apply for the lifetime warranty.

3 Responses to “Lord of the Fleas”

  1. Nick Says:

    Ugh, the Internet. I consulted Google for BBQ island templates and ideas. One of the websites suggested building the frame out of wood. Didn’t sound like the best idea for a BBQ grill. Gotta love the web.

  2. Steve H. Says:

    Ridgid got the last laugh. The box arrived today. No shirt. Instead they sent a Ridgid toque. For snowy days. Here in South Florida.

  3. Ron C. Says:

    I have been tooling up my auto repair shop with Harbor Freight items. The reviews seem to be fair and H.F. give both positive and negative reviews. Sure, for the most part their tools don’t approach the old American standbys such as Snapon and even Craftsman. But many of the old quality brands are now Chinese manufactured and quality can vary. My goal on tooling for my shop is function, not vanity.