Whilst listening to the Restart Project podcast I heard a comment that the average drill is only used for 10 minutes in it’s lifetime and hence was a prime candidate for a sharing economy approach to tools.
Given that I typically use one or more drills for more than 10 minutes each week, this got me thinking about if that was a reasonable number or not. The restart people suggested I was perhaps an “outlier” in that I’ve a much higher usage pattern that a lot of people.
Janet Gunter kindly made some enquiries as to the source of the drill quote numbers. This lead to a selection of interesting articles and existing analysis and a couple of good quotes, one from Theodore Levitt’s 1969 book “The Marketing Mode”, in which he refers to newspaper man Leo McGivena.
Last year one million quarter-inch drill bits were sold — not because people wanted quarter-inch drill bits but because they wanted quarter-inch holes.
The other was Alex Steffen who stated in 2007.
Supposedly, the average power drill is used for somewhere between six and twenty minutes in its entire lifetime. And yet supposedly almost half of all American households own one.
My twitter followers also seem to buck that trend as most of the have multiple drills and over 90% own a drill and they keep them for a long time. This is not that surprising given what I know about my followers. These are not the people who use a drill for just 10 minutes.
I think there’s a few points that don’t seem quite clear. What exactly is an “Average drill”, what does “Used” actually mean and what does “Lifetime” mean. These are key to what the statistic actually means.
I’m guessing these figures refer to domestic drills and are probably excluding those people who actually use the drills regularly like myself, more a “typical drill” than an average one.
If you look at the seconds it takes to drill a hole and count that as “use” then sure you are going to get low figures. However, the job where that drill was used might be several minutes or longer if you are not very expert. If you borrowed a drill from a neighbour you’d probably say “can I borrow it for a couple of hours”, not “can I borrow it for 80s” as you’d need to return it before you got home.
Finally looking at the lifetime, if the drills actually do burn out after 10 minutes of drilling time or the batteries stop working then that’s terrible. If they are thrown in a skip after a couple of jobs that’s also very bad. However, drills are not really like mobile phones in that you feel the need to replace them every couple of years, as shown by the mini survey drills are kept for many years. They even get passed to the younger generation or charity shops. I have actually owned some drills that reached their lifespan but that was mostly because at the time I did not have the skills or parts to get them working again, mostly bearings, burnt windings or defective batteries. I suspect this is where projects like the Restart Project fit in to extend the life of these items.
So does this mean I’m against the idea of a tool library? No, quite the opposite. I’d be happy to join one if there was one nearby. It would be great for tools that I don’t use very often such as bigger SDS drills and there’s probably a few things I could equally donate.
The example of the lady in the restart podcast was a London renter who moved house quite often and hence did not want to accumulate lots of possessions. I’d suggest that there are many people in that same scenario without space for tools or without a regular need for tools who could benefit from a tool library.
- Tom Slee – The case of the power drill
- Nicholas Carr’s – Of drills and holes and Ronald Coase: the limits of sharing
Thanks to Jen Gale for some of the links below.
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