A bad workman always blames his tools

What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘A bad workman always blames his tools’?

A bad workman blames his tools (or other external factors) when his work is poor.

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘A bad workman always blames his tools’?

This phrase is believed to first originate from British collections of proverbs, such as that put together in the 16th century by John Ray in his work “A Compleat Collection of English Proverbs”. However, phrases of similar meaning have been recorded as early as the late 14th century by Geoffrey Chaucer, in “The Tale of Sir Thopas”.

Following its use in proverbs, the phrase became more entrenched in English literature and common speech by the 17th century.

There are many ways to convey how a poorly performing person blames other factors for their poor work, but this particular phrase is used well into the present day worldwide.

What are some notable uses of the phrase ‘A bad workman always blames his tools’?

In more recent times, the phrase has also been used in political speeches. For instance, former President of the United States, Barack Obama, referenced the proverb to criticise those who blame external factors such as government regulations for their business failures, rather than looking at issues of their own performance and adaptability to meet better standards.

Similarly, the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used a variation of the proverb in a speech on economic reforms to stress the importance of self-reliance and personal responsibility to encourage industry change and innovation to better adapt to the times.

The universal recognition of the principles the proverb conveys is evident in its use in other languages and cultures. This includes:

Ein schlechter Handwerker beschuldigt immer sein Werkzeug


El mal obrero le echa la culpa a sus herramientas


À mauvais ouvrier point de bon outil


How do you say ‘A bad workman always blames his tools’?

Hear is the correct pronunciation of the phrase:

Cari Mayhew - Author at Phrase Finder

Cari Mayhew

Lifelong learner, phrase fanatic, and lover of literature across multiple genres. Cari Mayhew has a passion for expression, and a keen curiosity for how phrases begin and how their use transforms over time. She is often found looking for the ideal idiom to convey her thoughts and musings.