Who Owns the Hand Tools?

Shop owners discuss whether to ask employees to bring their own hand tools. September 8, 2008

Should the owner of a custom woodworking business be responsible for supplying personal hand tools such as drill/drivers, batteries for such, measuring tapes, squares, and or routers?

We maintain a very large selection of tooling such as router bits, band saw blades, saw blades and all durables like screws, nails and sand paper. In addition we have a large selection of hand tools and power tools for common use.

I feel responsible woodworkers should supply their own personal hand tools that would include the above mentioned, drill/drivers, routers, measuring and layout devices as well as chisels and others. In most other trades such as auto mechanics, framers, plumbers and so on, the worker must have a set of tools. I also feel most individuals will treat the tools better if they have to supply them. We would offer secure areas in the shop for each employee to store their tools. We could even offer some sort of payroll deduction purchase plan if needed to assist with the initial outlay of cash to tool up.

I would like some feedback on what owners and employees feel about this issue. Thank you very much in advance, all feedback will be welcomed and valuable.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor R:
Yes to things like drills, batteries, routers. No to things like tape measures, square, chisels, hammers, screwdrivers, etc. The powertools wear out fast and expecting the employee to buy themselves a new router after burning it out or having someone else break it while working in the shop I don't think it would be right.

From contributor T:
If you supply all hand tools you have control over the availability and location of them. If you have the workers provide them you will end up with a random set of events over which you have no control. Some of these people will have complete tool kits and some of them will just have chests that just hold spare clothing and potato chips. Tool chests take up a lot of real estate. Often times they clog up the work zone for no benefit or worse yet are situated across the shop from where they are needed.

Figure out where you would want to have tools based on where you need them and how you would want them stored then do that. A blue shadow board with a blue hammer on one side of the bench with a red shadow board and red hammer on the other will keep you from hiking unnecessarily and make it real easy to know where to go when you need something.

Standardization is the key for custom shops. There are already so many things working against you that you ought to take advantage of opportunities when you can. This one represents pretty low hanging fruit.

From contributor X:
Employee's should provide their own hand tools depending upon their job description such as bench work. Installers should provide hand tools and power tools. The company should provide to all tape measures so everyone has the same tape measure that measures the same. Surprising as there can be a variance in tape measures. There should also be plenty of pencils.

Employees operating heavy equipment (saws, shapers, CNCís, presses, etc.) should at least provide an apron, hammer, nailset and pliers. The company should also provide to those that need them supply boxes which contains screws, nails, glues, clamps, air compressors and nail guns, drills, routers. It all depends upon your job description.

From contributor J:
I think that the responsibility for hand tools resides with the employee up to and including a screw gun. Beyond that (routers, nail guns, belt sanders, etc.) should be provided by the employer.

To maintain control of this you must set up at 'tool list' that employees are required to purchase and maintain by a certain date. To help with this you can also work out a company tool purchase system wherein the company purchases tools from the list for the employee and is paid back in installments be they physical payments or payroll deductions.

The idea behind making the employee responsible for tools is to increase awareness and personal responsibility. Someone will care for something a lot more if they have to pay for it.

From contributor T:
I would suggest that the answer to this question depends on your philosophy about production. For example, if you want lots of control over the process, and want to be able to monitor it and continuously improve it, then you should provide all these things and with a great deal of consistency. On the other hand, if you don't care too much about the process, then it would be fine to have the employees bring whatever they can afford to buy.

From contributor F:
My opinion is that it comes down to the type of work your employees are doing. The last shop I worked in did mostly commercial work, mostly one of a kind projects so it made sense for everyone to have their own set of tools. The set would consist of your most commonly used hand tools, measuring tools, and cordless drills. Everything else was provided by the employer.

On the other hand if youíre just knocking out the same product day in and out, then I agree with Contributor T that it's easier to have the tools needed for a given operation at that station ready to go.

So you need to make this decision based on your production needs and then put it into place. The key is that it has to be something in writing that a potential employee knows about before hiring. If youíre thinking about just requiring your current employees to start buying tools, well that's a whole different thread.

From contributor V:
I think if you are in a shop environment the employer is responsible to make sure the employee has the proper tools to do the job required. I have had employees that have brought in some tools of their own. This is great. It shows commitment on their part.

If you have an installer on your payroll you should provide tools also. Will an experienced installer have his own tools - perhaps. Again it shows commitment to his trade. If he is not on your payroll he should have everything including a license, insurance and trailer. I do feel that when you assign an employee a set of tools that they should be responsible for their care and maintenance.

From contributor O:
I am glad my good employees show up for work. They are generally responsible people and I provide any and all tools. Employees providing their own tools is unheard-of around here, but regardless, it is an unbelievable non-issue for me any way. Iíve never lost an item such a drill, etc.

I furthermore think that allowing employees to carry bags/tool boxes in and out of my shop would tempt some of them to take some tools out. Not so much the core crew, but the new employees that float in and out of jobs. Like I said, it is an inconsequential point. I realize it may be different in your situation.

From contributor S:
If you are a true craftsman , even though your employer supplies all the tools , I would prefer to use my own hand tools . Do you want to use a block plane or chisel that everyone else in the job is playing with?

I like to sharpen my own tools and what are the chances the last person to use it would touch it up after use . Drills are different, as well as sanders because they don't require the same amount of upkeep as planes and chisels. Even hammers are kind of personal. I don't like to go to use my finishing hammer to find the face all dented because someone used it to flatten a piece of metal. I went to use the block plane in the shop one day to find that someone had sharpened it on the belt sander. I supply all the tools but the journeymen I employ all still use their own tools.

From contributor K:
My employer supplies all tools, work clothes (including laundry), safety shoes (one pair a year ), and safety glasses.

From contributor R:
I supply all tools as there isnít an excuse for not getting things done. However it does bother me when I buy a new nailer and someone drops it on the floor and breaks the safety tip or gets glue all over it. Or they watch the spring from a pair of wise grips go shooting across the shop and donít retrieve it or they donít oil the air tools and wonder why they stop working. Anyway I supply all the tools in the shop. Installers must have all of their own tools.

From contributor V:
I have always supplied all the tools our guys use. They are not mechanics so they donít need to supply tools. I want a quality job done in a reasonable time. So I make sure they have what they need.

From contributor A:
In the twenty person cabinet shop in the Pacific Northwest that I work at employees supply all their own hand tools and a cordless drill. When I started the boss gave me a list of required tools. The cost to me is probably $500 for the tools.

A residential contractor friend of mine is moving toward giving his employees a list of tools to buy and a check to purchase them. The employee gets to keep the tools if they stay with the company. His idea is that the worker will take care of the tool better if he owns it. The contractor also gets to ensure the quality of the tools and that his crew is fully outfitted for the job.