Comparing Carpentry Tools to Surgical Tools

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Comparing Carpentry Tools to Surgical Tools

What do surgeons and builders have in common? Power saws, power drills, chisels, scrapers, hammers, and clamps

Posted on Feb 17 2017 by Martin Holladay

Two hundred years ago, a ship's carpenter had many duties. In addition to repairing the ship, a carpenter would be called on to perform emergency amputations. Why? He was the one who had the saws.

Modern surgeons still require saws, as well as drills, chisels, scrapers, and grinders. As a lighthearted exercise that has almost nothing to do with green building, I recently got the idea to compare surgical tools with carpentry tools.

Full disclosure: This blog is for fun. It is completely empty of any building science.

Comparing prices

I assumed that surgeons are paying five times as much as carpenters for their tools. In some cases, that's true. But the price picture turned out to be a little more complicated than I assumed.

Before I could make any conclusions about tool prices, I had to do some research. I discovered that American and European manufacturers of surgical tools are reluctant to publish their prices on the web, making this research difficult.

However, Chinese manufacturers came to the rescue. Unlike their American and European counterparts, Chinese manufacturers seem eager to post prices.

What did I learn? The “WalMart effect” applies to some, but not all, surgical tools. Many Chinese manufacturers offer great prices on surgical tools.

A carpenter will pay about $129 for the rechargeable drill on the left.
The 14.4-volt surgical tool on the right, described as “suitable for arthroscopic surgery,” is manufactured by Shanghai Bojin Medical Instrument Company, and starts at $1,200.

A carpenter will pay about $80 for the reciprocating saw on the left.
The surgical tool on the right, designed “for cutting bone during joint surgery,” is available from Shanghai Bojin for $1,500.

A carpenter will pay about $595 for the Festool OS 400 shown on the left.
The surgical tool on the right, described as a “surgical electric plaster cutter saw,” is manufactured by Wuhu Ruijin Medical Instruments. It's a bargain at only $150.

A carpenter will pay about $8 for the Stanley chisel shown on the left.
The surgical tool on the right, described as a “orthopedic implant bone flat chisel,” is manufactured by Jinlu Medical. It costs $70 .

A carpenter will pay about $25 for the Bahco scraper shown on the left.
The medical tool on the right, described as a “bone scraper,” is another bargain at $36.

A carpenter will pay about $28 for the Estwing hammer shown on the left.
The medical tool on the right, described as an “orthopedic bone hammer,” is manufactured by Suzhou Gemmed Medical Instrument Company. It's a steal at $10.

A carpenter will pay about $50 for the Kreg bench clamp shown on the left.
The Gomco circumcision clamp shown at right (“designed to permit a single physician to perform circumcision quickly”) is available from Foremost Medical Equipment for $167.

If purchased in quantities of 50 or more, a carpenter will pay about 18¢ each for the dust mask shown on the left.
But for a real bargain, do your shopping in China. If you need to buy surgical masks like the one shown on the right, the masks are available for less than a penny each from Hubei Zhencheng Nonwoven Products Company (minimum order: 10,000).

Martin Holladay’s previous blog: “Fine Homebuilding Editors Interview Martin Holladay.”

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Image Credits:

  1. National Library of Medicine

Feb 17, 2017 10:28 AM ET

Tool ads
by Foster Lyons

Great, now my screen is littered with medical device advertisements. Otherwise very interesting.

Feb 17, 2017 11:38 AM ET

by stephen sheehy

I was OK until the circumcision clamp.

Feb 17, 2017 12:27 PM ET

Dentistry too
by Malcolm Taylor

Years ago, a surgeon drew my attention to the similarities between carpentry tools and the ones he was using to put pins in my broken finger - probably to distract my attention. But the seeds were sown in my mind, and recently when a dentist extracted a polar with nothing more sophisticated than a pair of pliers I formed a plan. Locals (and of course paid GBA members) may now attend my house anytime after dark for very cheap dentistry.

Feb 17, 2017 12:43 PM ET

Edited Feb 17, 2017 12:45 PM ET.

Response to Malcolm Taylor
by Martin Holladay

Carpenters can buy the Knipex right-angle pliers on the left for $33.40 on Amazon. The dental tool on the right ("Malik extracting forceps") is an incredible bargain at only $6.30 (with free shipping).

I'll be giving you a call soon to ask what you charge for wisdom teeth.


Right-angle pliers and dental pliers copy.jpg

Feb 17, 2017 4:32 PM ET

by Malcolm Taylor

Hold off a bit. i see the prices veterinarians are able to extort for their work compare favourably with that done on humans. I may end up specializing in domestic animals.

Feb 19, 2017 10:46 PM ET

A surgeon's sink is leaking
by Dan Kolbert

He calls the plumber, who spends about an hour fixing the sink and cleaning up. He presents his bill for $400.

"$400 an hour? I'm a surgeon and I don't charge that much!"

"Yeah, neither did I. That's why I switched to plumbing."

Feb 22, 2017 10:31 AM ET

Wood doesn't bleed
by Michael Maines

I've worked with several doctors who are hobbyist woodworkers. Some are quite good ( They like to say "the tools and techniques are similar, but wood doesn't bleed."

Feb 22, 2017 10:35 AM ET

Response to Michael Maines
by Martin Holladay

Whoever said "wood doesn't bleed" never tapped a maple tree on a sunny March day.

-- Martin Holladay

Feb 22, 2017 10:59 AM ET

Ha, good point Martin.
by Michael Maines

I've also heard "wood doesn't sue you when you make a mistake" a few times.

Feb 23, 2017 12:57 AM ET

Good enough?
by Rob Rowan

Surgeons have one great advantage that woodworkers (and metalworkers, mechanics, etc.) don't: They can be a little sloppy. I realized this years ago when I watched a video of a friend's knee surgery. The process looked anything but, shall we say, "surgical." I realized that a little bone-cutting/drilling outside the lines didn't really matter -- living animals repair themselves, wonderfully. Dead trees or your car, not so much.

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