In a nutshell, Bad Dog Tools is all about replacing what many of us see as disposable accessories, like drill bits and grinding wheels, with alternatives that last and last. Though it’s not a new concept, buying quality that lasts over cheap, throwaway items is, if anything, more important in today’s economy than ever before. To get a bit of history and an understanding of just what this oddly named group does, I spoke with Joe Strong, who, along with his wife, Ann, owns and runs the company.
“My father, who was a machinist, bought a company called Sinco. That was back in 1978,” Joe recounted. “It was a packaging company, and their equipment made it easier to package one of his inventions: a cutting and sanding disc designed to go on a bench grinder. It was called the Handi Disc. I became a salesman and sales manager for the company.
“For the next 10 years we sold Handi Discs all over, including in Sears stores. At one of the hardware shows, someone approached wanting to market our line. He also suggested a name change, since Sears had more or less appropriated the name Handi Disc. We came up with the slogan ‘less bark, more bite,’ and an appropriate name to go with it: Bad Dog Tools. Both aptly described our products.
“My father was a carbide expert, and he taught me a lot about what could be done with it. In simple terms, carbide is a powder made of a mixture of carbon and metals, in our case titanium and cobalt. The powdered mixture is blended together, put in a mold, and pressed at very high pressure. It is then sintered, or fired, in an oven. The mixture, fineness of grind, pressing and sintering all contribute to the final product. It’s a pretty incredible substance; you can mix it in many different ways to get a wide range of characteristics.
“We started getting into products that were usually made of steel, and as a result, were usually considered disposable. Drill bits are a good example. Everyone buys them and replaces them frequently. In the late 1980s, we introduced drill bits made of carbide. About that time, my father left the business and my wife and I took over completely.
“The big problem with normal high speed drill bits is that the thin ones snap under pressure. We combined a carbide tip, for ultra-long cutting and the ability to stay sharp, with a more flexible shaft that would take shocks without breaking. The result is a bit that lasts far longer than normal steel bits. Admittedly, much of the hardware industry is not in favor of that. They would rather sell more bits. We take a different tack, and sell you bits that won’t wear out. In fact, we guarantee them for life.
“The challenge selling such tools is that unless you show people the difference, they will not pay more for something that looks similar and appears to do the same job. You can tell them, but seeing is believing.
“At first we thought we could sell through hardware stores, doing demonstrations for the few people who were there. That worked in that we sold out whatever we brought, but we soon realized that it was too small an audience. After all, we couldn’t show everyone at every hardware store that our bit will cut right through a hardened file. Industry shows offered more potential buyers for each demo, so we took our show on the road and started selling at woodworking, hardware and home shows, demonstrating exactly what our products will do.
“We did well, and as people asked for other items, we added products. For example, we looked at Forstner bits and saw there were potential improvements. People were asking for a classic woodworking bit fitted with our carbide, so we created Rover Bits. They look a lot like Forstner bits, but have cutting teeth on the side edges so they don’t bind and lock up in wood. The carbide means they stay sharp and cut cleaner longer.
“Once we did that, we found that you can actually cut a curve or angled hole more easily with them. Of course, that means the shaft has to tolerate side stress, so we built it out of the same steel we use in our drill bits. The result is a bit that drills faster, lasts longer, can cut curves or angles, and can actually mill wood to make keyways and mortises. To cut a mortise, simply drill a series of holes, and then run the bit sideways back and forth to clean out the web. It’s great for pocket holes, too.
“Our Saw Dog blades, made for table saws, chop saws and handheld circular saws, are another example of improving what exists. Like other good table saw blades, they cut wood beautifully. However, ours will also cut through the things that give normal blades fits. They’ll cut through carbon fiber, various composite materials, like non-wood composite decking, and even metal, like hidden nails.
“Our router bits are also tougher than most. In fact, you can even cut sandstone or marble with them. Needless to say, they last a whole lot longer in the sort of problem woods that tend to dull other cutters. We also offer a sheet metal nibbler, called the Bad Dog Biter, which will cut through materials that normal nibblers won’t. When you are drilling metal or glass, which our drill bits will do, you need a lubricant. For that, we developed Bad Dog Drool.
“Over the years, we’ve gained thousands of loyal customers. For instance, we sell about 10,000 sets of drill bits per year, and have been doing that for two decades. Nevertheless, we are still a small company of about 20 people, half of whom are demonstrating salespeople. We are not in places like Home Depot® or Lowe’s®; we sell direct online, and at trade shows where we demonstrate. At this point, we have a reputation that gives us a lot of word-of-mouth sales as well.”
It’s quite obvious that Joe and Ann are very content with what they do. “My wife and I make a living doing what we like best: making customers happy by giving them tools that are better than what they are used to,” Joe said proudly. “You can’t ask for more than that.”