On Rip-off Artists


If you are semi-aware of the woodworking tool industry you know there are several classes of toolmakers.

  1. People who try to make new tool designs that have never been seen before.
  2. People who improve old designs that are no longer in production and are no longer patented – they are in the public domain.
  3. People who copy successful tools, lower the price and put the original maker out of business.

The makers in category No. 3 will never get any good ink from me – only grief. We won’t sell our books through their catalogs. We won’t even mention their names (if we can help it). Until they stop stealing – and that is the only word for it – they are dead to us.

Want to read more? Check out this post from Kevin Drake of Glen-Drake Toolworks, who has been ripped off more than anyone I know.

— Christopher Schwarz


About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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89 Responses to On Rip-off Artists

  1. John Lewis says:

    You got that right son lol

  2. Lignarium says:

    We are importers and exclusive agents for different brands of high quality hand tools in New Zealand and we are fighting against people like category No.3 all the time, without forgetting that parallel importing in New Zealand is legal(another pain in the bottom), we have to fight against copy makers mainly from (China/ Taiwan) offering a low quality cheap tool from one end and parallel importers selling direct to the end user putting out of business any of our retailers across the country.

    I hate them.

  3. hgordon4 says:

    So true. And it’s a sad commentary on our society that so few people still value quality. The buyers that purchase the knock-offs are just as bad as the purveyors. The buyers that don’t know better are – to turn a phrase – “low information consumers”. Perhaps they can be educated…

  4. fitz says:

    Even were the quality the same (which it never is), I’d give my money to 1 & 2. They earned it.

  5. Matt Merges says:

    On a similar note, I was lucky enough to hear John Economaki of Bridge City Tools give this rant during a presentation (based on a conversation he had with Chris). This speech is what made me decide to only ever buy quality tools from reliable sources ever again — no matter the price:


  6. Dave Reedy says:

    The bean counter disease is not limited to manufactured products. The company I worked for before retiring went “Global” for engineering services about 10 years ago. They found engineering services in India, Turkey, Poland, Mexico and even Russia at a fraction of what it cost to keep me on the payroll. They finally realized it was costing more to fix the mistakes than it would to have the work done in house. Then the bean counters attacked again. They started buying out us engineers with 30 or more years of experience and backfilling with new college grads at a portion of our salary and benefits. We’ll see how that works out.

  7. gburbank says:

    The “national chain” mentioned in his article permanently lost my business years ago with their chinawood-river ripoffs. The small toolmakers that formerly sold their products through them have every right to be outraged. Soon we will be left with only poor copies of low quality and we will be back to the tool desert we had in the 1980’s. Anyone who used the Lion miter trimmer can tell you the chinese copies are aweful. What they can’t tell you is there was also a foot powered pedestal version (the miter master) also made by the pootatuk corp. Small makers provide a larger range of products. The big ripoff artists focus only on the best sellers, driving down price and quality to the lowest sustainable point.

  8. I don’t care if it’s a tool, a piece of furniture, or even a bushel of apples, it’s always better to buy from small businesses.

  9. John Switzer says:

    The best we can do is try to educate those we deal with on the difference. Personally I prefer to go out of my way to buy from the small and local specialty makers and dealers whenever possible. That includes tools, clothes, work boots and what ever for daily life. But that is getting harder all of the time.
    As a small maker of tools and hardware I know it is difficult to be original sometimes. You think you have a new idea and then you see where someone else has done something very similar before. Now thats different than copying outright I know, but I still try to avoid it when possible. Maybe thats why I like to make things inspired old designs and techniques.

    • John,

      Totally agree with you.

      There is a fundamental difference in being inspired by old designs and blatantly copying new work. Good people (like yourself and others I respect) do the former and not the latter.

    • gburbank says:

      tools inspired by old, out of manufacture designs, and then re-worked to improve them with modern materials and tolerances in no way causes harm to the origional producer, while producing a higher quality tool in the process. Taking a current maker’s products and mass producing them with “price engineered” quality to undercut the current maker causes irreparable harm to the current maker and the quality of available products as a whole.

  10. Chris – I have to ask; was this inspired by any recent or particular products? I had seen a marking gauge that is strikingly (pun intended) similar to the Tite-mark recently.

    • I write about this topic regularly. This particular post was in response to Kevin’s thoughtful post.

      It is a constant fight. I could write this post every day….

  11. Patent expires. New maker enters the market. Original company retains its too-high price. Are we slow wet Swedish grinders just out of luck?

  12. stevevoigt says:

    Damn right, Chris. Thank you.

  13. woodworkerme says:

    there are times I look at the prices of some of the new stuff in the way of hand tools and I can not justfy the cost. I buy a lot of old tools ,take them apart clean paint adjust put them back together and they look and work like they are new. even my big power tools are old but brand new.

    • woodworkerme says:

      I do understand the problem with knockoffs and I will say you get what you pay for so keep making to stuff the way it should be made … cause you can buy it cheap and replace it over and over. till you realize that you would have payed less to buy the real thing in the first place .

  14. Wesley Beal says:

    I’m too much of a noob to know what national chain is a perpetrator of this. Wish I knew, so I could avoid patronizing them.

  15. FIG Woodworks says:

    This is a problem that has been on going in Australia for some time, in our case we are just too close to China. As for our customers they have all been taught that low price is king! This has come about through national debate/discussion driven by our leaders most of whom are former bean-counters, in my humble opinion all bean-counters should locked in a back room and never be let out or have any input to the running of a business.

  16. beshriver says:

    I think the problem lies in the market. Most woodworkers want quality tools for a fare price. I, myself have been looking for a good quality mid priced plough plane. You can’t buy one american made. For me buying from Canada or Mexico is no different than buying from the chinese. Give me old and rusty and I’ll make it sharp and shiny. And all the boutique tool sellers can whine and cry while the figure out how to charge more for less.

  17. Bob Snyder says:

    Time to finally go buy that new marking gauge.

  18. David King says:

    I strongly encourage reading William Baumol’s economics treatise, “The Cost Disease.” He makes a great macroeconomic explications of the forces people who make, build, innovate, and care for, are up against as they compete for a place in the global economy. I truly appreciate and am inspired by the depth of this conversation on what we value and hold dear in this world. Legacy is probably not too strong a word. Thank you,

    David King

  19. It’s a very simplified view. In a simplified way, you’re right.

    Well, maybe not entirely. There’s not only ONE plane (company for example). There are many tool makers, who offer good price-quality products, in a huge range of price.

    In case you don’t talk about patented tool designs, but you are able to produce something from the public domain area cheaper, why not to sell it? In case there’s a quality difference, people who want great quality tools would pay the price. And of course, we (I) want to know, which tools to avoid, in case I can’t afford a high-end tool.

    • I’ll say it another way: If you copy someone’s design that is in production – even if it is not patented – that is wrong.

      Case-in-point the Tite-Mark. Kevin is a one-man operation. Patenting and protecting the design would be impossible. When it was released, how did competitors respond?

      Lee Valley: Designed a new marking gauge with micro-adjust but stayed away from the Tite-Mark mechanism entirely. It doesn’t look like the Tite-Mark. It doesn’t work like the Tite-Mark. Veritas, as always, took the high road.

      Chinese makers (I don’t even know which factory makes these): Saw the Tite-Mark and makes copies that are indistinguishable from the Tite-Mark (minus the brand name).

      It is very simple for me: Copy someone’s work that is in production and you have crossed the line.

      • toolnut says:

        “I’ll say it another way: If you copy someone’s design that is in production – even if it is not patented – that is wrong”

        I don’t condone businesses that copy anything anyone else has innovated. That said, if an inventor doesn’t patent his design, he opens himself up to his design being copied (legally) or worse stolen and patented by someone else and then they sue the original inventor for infringinging on “their” design. Yes it’s wrong, but you’ve given up any chance of proving it’s wrong in court without the patent. If your business is built around a design, in order to protect it you need to protect the design. In a similar vein, would you print any of your books without copywriting them? I’m not condoning copying, but you can be put out of business real quick if you don’t protect your intellectual property. In the case of patents, yes they are expensive, but without the protection, you really don’t have a business.

        • In a small business, you can easily be put out of business if you DO protect your patent or copyright.

          Obtaining a patent is expensive. We couldn’t afford to patent a tool (if we had one).

          But what is worse is defending an infringement. If you copied one of our books and sold it, we’d be helpless to stop you. The cost of taking you to court would make us close our doors. So copyright and patents are a toothless tigers when it comes to one- and two-person businesses.

      • toolnut says:

        I know it’s a tough decision for small business owners. A lot of big corporations will look at what they think you’re worth and litigate you out of business; but a friend of mine is a patent lawyer, if you have to go to court, they don’t get paid unless they win ( for a percentage). Some corporations will settle knowing it’s the law firm they are fighting and not you. ( As a side note, I think the fees were waived for patents they originally filed. And the got very rich defending them.).

      • gyegreene says:

        (Sorry — I can’t figure out how to reply to Chris’ comment (“It’s too expensive to file a patent”) directly.)

        Is “too expensive” a fact-based assessment? This — http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2011/01/28/the-cost-of-obtaining-patent/id=14668/ — indicates that for a small mechanical device (e.g. a marking guage..?), it’s about $4,000 for the “placeholder” application, and $11,000 for the full gonzo.

        And most of that is laywer’s fees: you’re certainly **allowed** to do it yourself — or have your brother-in-law the paralegal do it for you (for a case of beer and a pizza). In which case the filing fees are about $2,000.

        For a (tax-deductable?) business expense, $2,000 seems pretty reasonable. And (as noted elsewhere in the comments) a necessary thing to do, to prevent someone else from patenting **your** device out from under you — and then telling **you** to “Cease and Desist” from manufacturing your livelihood.


  20. bernardnaishb says:

    There are a lot of problems illustrated here.

    The first is that patents and design rights cost a small fortune to establish and an even larger fortune to maintain and enforce. The best way to protect a design is to make and sell it to everyone that wants one before anyone else can do so. Competitors are not rip-off artists they are simply in business and competing. You may not like it (I do not) but it is simply free enterprise at work. See Adam Smith.

    The second is that new tool offerings from USA makers are seldom made available elsewhere in the world! Shipping costs are usually too high for us to buy direct. You need an agent overseas to consolidate and so minimise these costs.

    The third is the exotic pricing adopted by some manufacturers. I do not mind premier pricing if that is justified by the quality of the product but a five to ten times increase over the usual cost of competitive products is not wise or sustainable. It turns tools into jewels and I am not surprised that others lust after that gravy.

    The fourth is that entrepreneurs are seldom good business people. Tool makers are not exempt. You may be very creative, exceptionaly charismatic and offering exquisite products – you also need to be good at corporate strategy, marketing, selling, distributing, exporting, book keeping, stocking, accounting, production engineering etc. etc. etc That is the world of business.

    • Bernard,

      I know most of the toolmakers, big and small. I know their businesses fairly well (it’s my job). Here is my observation:

      The more expensive a tool you make, the poorer you will be.

      The people who make the most money are the offshore importers who bring in drill bit sets. Those people make out like bandits. The people who make individual tools would make more money bagging at a supermarket.

      This is not because they are bad at business. The toolmakers who are poor at business last only a year. This is because these tools take a lot of labor. And it is all the makers want to do with their lives. I’ve never seen a maker with an “exotic” price scheme. It’s labor plus materials plus enough to live on.

      So copying their work is wrong in my eye.

      • bernardnaishb says:

        It is morally wrong to copy another man’s design! I will not buy them nor support the activities of their firms. I think it is fabulous that you have raised this fundamental moral principle and I support your initiative. The problem lies with our economic, political and legal systems. I do not know the answer but it probably lies with every one of us speaking out and acting on our beliefs and values.
        Regards, Bernard

  21. Amen. I’m surprised the US doesn’t ban the importation of foreign items that violate patents, etc. …or do we, and things just slip through?

  22. Mark says:

    That national company that keeps coming up, we have one here and it’s one of the things that got me into woodworking in the first place. Why? Because of the man who owned and ran that particular store, not the merchandise “corporate” was pushing. He brought in the high quality tools and educated his customers as to why they were the better choice. I never doubted him. The man’s words were a reflection of his honesty and integrity and his staff followed his lead. It’s where I first met Chris. Sadly, he no longer owns the store and it’s gone back to corporate hands. My guess, a victim of a lousy economy and an Amazonian mind-set. I was in there for a few items last week. The changes were jarring and not for the better. They even had a display of the Chinese knock-offs, planes and chisels, that imitated the type of display usually associated with Lie-Nielsen, as if to suggest there was any comparison. Pathetic. Where once I would have walked in and been greeted warmly by everyone, now nobody even says a word. I don’t even know who most of these people are. Most of the original staff is gone too. Where once you could pick up a Lie-Nielsen #8 and take it for a drive or see and purchase first hand, the products of most of the small tool makers, (the former owner sought them out), you can now only try a poor imitation. Even many of the power tools have been downgraded. Oh, and their once beutiful workshop, where many learned important techniques for use and safety, is now gone as well. No doubt it was deemed a liability and unprofitable by the corporate brain trust. I walked out of there genuinely saddened by what I saw. They’ve lost me as a customer. From now on I’ll be patronizing a place in the “highlands”, even though it’s more of a hassle for me to get there.

  23. Walt Scrivens says:

    Chris, I tried to post a comment on line, but the web site won’t accept mu google login. Here is what I tried to post:

  24. Wesley Beal says:

    I’ve been thinking some on parts of this issue this morning. I think that anything that can be done to promote second-hand tool sales, making it easier to do, easier to trust, easier to find out about, will help.

    Good, upstanding woodworkers are no more immune from price pressure than anyone else. Yes, we can understand that the initial expense of a quality tool is eventually overcome compared to what we will spend on cheap tools over time, but still the price of a tool is a factor anytime we make a decision to get one.

    Depending what work you tend to do, paying less for a tool that isn’t as essential to your way of thinking about woodworking is I suspect something any one will take as an opportunity to save money.

    This isn’t meant to excuse people buying rip-off tools – my guess is most people don’t even think of it, anymore than I do when choosing a cheaper brand of cereal at the grocery store.

    One small step a small tool maker might consider would be to buy-back used tools whenever possible, and resell them at a lower price than the brand new ones – even if the tool is just as good as it was freshly made.

    Small toolmakers reselling their own used products isn’t the only solution. It’s about making the used market more accessible to people. Many aren’t comfortable with eBay (it takes a lot of trust that isn’t always rewarded). Finding ways to better promote used tool sales will take a bite out of the sales of cheap knock-offs. It won’t eliminate it, but it could put a dent in it.

  25. Ryan Starkey says:

    I started out wasting time with some box store whatever tools when I got into woodworking, I noticed quickly that when the process I was doing at the time, whether a dovetail, a cross-cut, drilling a hole. etc. was “wrong”, it was one of three things, my ignorance/inexperience, refusal to sharpen a blade promptly, or the cheaply made tool (that wouldn’t hold an edge anyway. I decided to go the quality tool road, and slowly build a proper set. (starting with chisels). In the middle of this ATC came out (thanks Chris) and reinforced my half formed thoughts. Quality means I can rely on these well-made (i.e. usually expensive) tools, made by passionate people, not to be part of the equation. My Bad Axe saw isn’t the reason I didn’t cut right to the line, nor the Veritas plane making powder instead of shavings, it’s me. This saves time and frustration in the long run, I can concentrate on bettering myself and not usually worry if it’s the tool.

  26. Brian Clites says:

    Dear Chris,

    First, Thank You. You have done much to educate me on the value of tools, and the value of people. I am a slow learner, but I am starting to recognize a transformation in myself.

    Second, although LAP does not sell books through the Chinese-franchise-that-shall-not-be-named, I see plenty of your books at my local WC store, because you still collaborate vigourously with Popular Woodworking. You and I have corresponded on this before. I do not know why I am so critical of you. Part of it is that, on a barely-conscious level, I feel betrayed, a bit, when I’ve just spent five or six hours’ wages on a LAP title only to see you then advertising a tool chest design being published in an upcoming magazine issue (particularly a chest that looks like it would cost most of us $400+ and 20-some weekends of labor).

    Third, I am personally conflicted about my local WC. Their employees are nice people, who rely on local business for their jobs. They don’t make tools, they sell them. But, by the same logic, I’m sure you care deeply about the value of what John does at LAP. My local store has also started carrying Hock and Lee Valley again, two brands I know you respect.

    Lastly, wood itself is the crucial component that keeps me driving back into the parking lot of my local Chinese franchise. Do you know of a good resource for finding lumber mills that sell furniture-grade woods? Is there, for example, some kind of telephone directory that those of you in the trade have access to? I’m not searching for exotics, just domestic species like sugar maple, walnut, ash, and white oak. I live in NE Ohio.

    As always, an appreciative apprentice.

    • Brian Clites says:

      I forgot to ask you about resources for finding smaller classes. I am signed up for Marc Adams and Woodrights’ lists, among others, but cannot find anything within three hours of my home. Might you expand your blog to include a list of schools and retailers that you support, including smaller ones that are perhaps “under the radar” in terms of not being large enough to host you as a teacher or prominent enough to carry LAP books? Thanks again.

    • snwoodwork says:

      LAP- can control where books are sold. PWW- can’t control where books are sold. As for lumber, http://lmgtfy.com/?q=lumber+mills+cleveland+oh. Good luck.

    • Brian,

      I have no control where PW sells books with my name on them. Most are books that are compilations of material they own. I don’t make any money — none — from these products. What would you have me do? They own that material and can do with it what they please.

      I don’t understand why my working with PW on a tool chest article would be disappointing. I never stop exploring different aspects of the craft. I learn and discover new things every day and share about 90 percent of that here for free. Free. I still need to eat so I write articles about my research. I do not have a job other than writing, building and teaching.

      The tool chest article in no way erases my earlier published works on tool chests. It is another design I have developed after four more years of research. It is not better. It is different.

      Finally, chain stores of all types are generally the most expensive place to buy lumber. It is worth your while to join local clubs and meet fellow woodworkers to find better sources of wood. Try an LN show. Lots of great and enthusiastic people come to those events.

      Sorry to disappoint.


      • Brian Clites says:

        Hi Chris,

        You’re never a dissapointment. You are a great mentor. A human one. It is, as I tried to suggest, unrealistic of me to expect otherwise.

        I was just trying to share my feedback with you because, you know, some authors (myself included) have trouble seeing their own blindspots, or anticipating how their various endeavors might make their audience feel.

        You’re a hero to many of us. Thanks for speaking out against corporate bullies and cheap manufacturing. I’m with you on those accounts all the way.

        And thanks for the lumber suggestions. Once I can find a real lumber yard, I might find the scratch to build my son the dressers from Campaign Furniture, which I know he’ll cherish for years to come.


      • lashomb says:

        Find your local woodworkers guild… good chance a lumberyard offers members a discount. I was surprised when mine admitted at a meeting that members made up a majority of their business.

    • tsstahl says:

      Regarding wood sources. Put the word out among your circle of friends, colleagues, parishioners, whatever. Involve the SO, too. Be careful what you ask for because not long after you will be INUNDATED with offers of wood. Most of it is crap, unless you heat with wood. However, some of it will be prime stuff you would be hard pressed to find at any price.

      Hit your State’s agriculture web sources for local sawyers, as well. These are hit, or miss in my experience.

      Good luck!

    • cmhawkins says:

      Keim’s lumber is in NE Ohio and has excellent quality and great diversity in lumber, burls, shorts, and turning wood. . It is located Charm. Website is http://www.keimlumber.com/.

    • Woodfinder.com is always a decent resource for finding a local lumber mill. Then again I’ve found Google works just as well.

  27. Chris,

    Reading through the comments, particularly the ones specific to fighting the copyrights and cost associated with the fight, is very disheartening.

    I work for a multi billion dollar corporation. We spare no cost to fight counterfeit products. This expense isn’t because we’re afraid of loosing sales to the Chinese counterfeiter, their product really sucks. It’s because we want a consumer to enjoy our product. It’s about the reputation.

    It REALLY sucks that it’s so expensive to fight knock offs, etc.

    Another thing that’s jacked about the laws, is the fact that if you DON’T fight it out in the courts, your legally saying it’s OK. I see legal fights quite frequently that the general public perceives as stupid or frivolous – think AB/InBev taking some poor craft brewer to court. If AB/InBev doesn’t do it, it moves the lineup the sand closer to the product they are trying to protect.

    Kind of like Don’t Hate the Player/Hate the Game.

    And no, I don’t work in the alcohol biz…

  28. And for what it’s worth, I love my Tite-Mark gauge, purchased through Lie Nielsen. Great product!

  29. Sean Hughto says:

    I have no dog in this fight, but personally hate the copiers and seek to give my business to the folks like LN, LV, Glenn Drake, Blue Spruce, Dave’s Shaves, Woodjoy, and on and on. I do my best to avoid giving any business (it goes without saying I wouldn’t buy the knockoffs) to those who make or carry knock-offs. That said, it can be awfully hard to be completely pure in such a boycott when you need a bit of wood or some other doodad on a weekend or the like. So “dead-to-me” is more “in and out of a long coma to me.” One other thing. I’m not judging, really I’m not, but I notice you sometimes teach classes in the dead’s parlors – a seance?

    • Sean,

      I have taught at two Woodcrafts in my life. One was north of Detroit before all this copying began. I don’t teach there anymore. The second was in Atlanta. That store was owned by Steve Quehl, who supported small makers. He carried LN tools after the schism and this was also before the copying cranked up. I don’t teach there anymore.

      I also teach at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, which is physically connected to a Woodcraft but is owned by Bob Van Dyke. It is not owned in any way by Woodcraft.

      Sorry to get specific here but I take my reputation seriously and am transparent on these issues. I’m not pure or perfect — no one is — but these are the facts.

      • Sean Hughto says:

        I apologize. My point was more that it is hard to be perfect in such boycotts as the lines get blurry when other factors get introduced. As Bruce says, It’s hard to be a saint in the city. Oh, and Rockville.

      • Sean Hughto says:

        “physically connected to a Woodcraft … [but] … not owned in any way by Woodcraft.”

        I see. Hence my confusion.

        • I know you’re just trolling me here. And I can appreciate that.

          Do you have a relationship with the owners of The Woodworker’s Club? Do you know the history of the place? Have you talked to them about this issue? Asked them about their relationship with corporate?

          I have done all three. And that’s why I teach there.

  30. leeboyz86 says:

    As more of a wannabe than an experienced craftsman, I have not always cared that much where I obtained my tools, as long as they functioned for the purpose intended. Price was a consideration, but wasn’t always how I chose to make a purchase. That said, more often than not, if it looked good and was cheaper, that was the way I went. But many years ago, I became a collector of antique tools and began to learn about quality in materials, design and production. So now, I pay way more for tools than most people would believe is reasonable. I learned this lesson by trial and error, mostly error. Thanks to blog postings by experts and the advice of experienced craftsmen & women, now I know where to find what I need (or admire) and I am willing to pay the price.

  31. Also, this post is not about one store. Or one company. There are dozens of stores that sell and promote copied goods.

    If it were about one company I’d have the guts to name it.

  32. drewstout says:

    I had an epiphany about a year ago when I was talking to a friend who quit his job to become a full-time artist. He’s made a conscious effort to buy local whenever possible and to eschew mass produced goods. I’m not suggesting that’s the only way to live. But it made me realize that the trend in our society had gravitated toward disposable items, perhaps as a way to satiate our short attention spans. Buy a quality wooden dinner table and chairs, and you won’t be able to afford a replacement any time soon. But buy something from Ikea and you are guaranteed a new look every few years. Plus, you get to make fun of people who don’t keep up with the latest trends.

    Anyway, I’ve begun saving for higher quality goods instead of relying on the instant gratification of cheap, replaceable stuff. This means I’m slowly replacing my tool collection piecemeal, even going so far as to make some of my own. I find by taking this approach I’m much less likely to amass tools that collect dust. (Of course, my soon-to-be-completed-if-this-bloody-Antarctic-weather-ever-goes-away tool chest will help keep the dust off them as well.)

  33. A friend told me recently about an exchange with Christopher Schwartz. Something like this:
    “Why don’t you just publish the plates from Roubo, instead of insisting on publishing the entire book?”
    Schwartz: “…that will never work, you have a bad idea. You don’t understand publishing.”
    Then, a couple of years later, publishing Roubo’s plates was Christopher Schwartz’s good idea, and so he published Roubo’s plates.
    Moral: Chris is always right…

  34. zowtiak says:

    I can’t, but I can, believe someone tried to return knock off hammers. I used to work in the golf business, and we send some clubs back to s manufacturer. They called us back to notify they were counterfeit clubs. Only the trained eye would know.

    • durbien says:

      I guess I don’t fully understand the Drake hammer case. He’s alledging someone bought hammers advertised as his through WC (or, I suppose, JW) that were forgeries? Wouldn’t that be considered mail fraud? I would think those laws have “teeth” – especially to a national retailer.

      • zowtiak says:

        Some say imitation is the highest form of flattery. I’m not sure who would be liable here. Regardless, it was 2 sales that Drake hammers did not get.

  35. Wesley Beal says:

    I’ve read a lot of different viewpoints put down in the comments here (not counting the ones that are by now off on some other topic altogether).

    As an English Major that’s never run his own business, my opinion is that the price issue has to be confronted.

    I don’t suggest that small tool makers lower their prices. I think most offer fair prices for the work they put into their tools. I doubt the people buying knock-offs are out there seeking a tite-mark gauge for cheap. I suspect they’re walking through the store choosing what looks to them like the best marking gauge on the shelf.

    Perhaps what’s lacking are fair tools, not as nice as the small custom tool makers are putting out, but fair user tools that aren’t complete cheap crap.

    People, and not just lousy good for nothing jerks who care for nothing but themselves, or even people who just don’t know any better, are going to be influenced by price. There’s no getting around that.

    The small scale craftsmen making excellent tools offer a product that there is a niche for. Not everyone is going to plunk down that kind of cash for every tool in their box, but there are a lot of people that will make the occasional purchase of a tool of that quality, and others that will over time at least fill their boxes with only tools of that caliber.

    If the tools available are very nice tools such as we’re talking about, and cheap knock-off crap, then cheap knock-off crap will always be sold, and the small-scale craftsmen will continue to have their work ripped off.

    • drewstout says:

      I think part of the problem is economy of scale.

      A few years ago when I really got into building electric guitars, I kicked around the idea of selling them as a side business. But I realized that even if I went with the cheapest parts I could find, my cost (not including labor) would be $300-400 per guitar. You can find a decent Chinese knock-off of a Fender or Gibson for less than that.

      I’d even thought about using cheap materials and setting them up to play beautifully. But the problem with that is the people who value a quality setup want the quality parts as well. Plus I’d have to charge more for my small-volume labor.

      There was basically no way I could compete on the bargain market, even if I wanted to. If I were going to try selling custom guitars, I’d have to focus on the high-end models that offer a level of craftsmanship and quality that you can’t find from cheap imports. But that raises the price to the point that not many people could or would buy them.

      I think it’s the same for hand tools. There’s really no decent middle ground for small shops. Their costs are always going to be significantly higher, either in terms of materials or labor. The only way to make it work is to focus on a level of quality that cannot be copied easily.

      • Wesley Beal says:

        I agree with this. As described, I can’t really call the inability to create and sell at a lower price point an unethical situation. I doubt a small scale craftsman can compete in that price range even if there were no foreign imports. It still sucks that you can’t go out and do this, of course. Larger scale productions would still dominate.

        I’m unfamiliar with the specific instances being talked about here. Tite-Mark is mentioned often, so I’ll ask this:

        Is a cheaper product being offered that shares the design of the Tite-Mark?
        or, is a cheap product being offered that says it IS a Tite-Mark?

        If the former: a cheaper tool that shares the design features of the Tite-Mark, then I have to ask:

        Are the people purchasing this knock-off people that would buy a Tite-Mark if they didn’t purchase the knock-off?

        If the cheaper tool is of the same quality of the Tite-Mark, this puts Glen Drake at a distinct disadvantage.

        If not, and if it isn’t being labeled a Tite-Mark, then I’m not sure Glen Drake has that much to worry about. It’s offensive to see your design copied, but I don’t think people walking into a store and picking this up off the shelf are people that would have purchased a Tite-Mark in the first place.

      • “The only way to make it work is to focus on a level of quality that cannot be copied easily.” I think that sentence holds part of the key. I think it is true whether the business is small or large. The other part of the key is to have a clearly defined target market, without worrying too much about people who don’t fit into that target.
        A striking example of this can be seen in the power tool business: Festool’s target market is the finish carpenter/installer/renovation contractor. They focus on the needs of that target market and provide innovative products that meet those needs. Their market has three principle needs: 1) Easily get their tools to and from the customer’s jobsite, 2) Perform the job quickly and professionally with a high level of quality, 3) Don’t make a mess, and leave the jobsite as clean as or cleaner than they found it.
        To meet their target’s needs, Festool has created tools that beat any competitor, by an extremely wide margin, in their ability to collect dust while the tool is being used. Paying close attention to their target market’s workflow, Festool realized that it is far less expensive for a contractor to keep the dust confined while the job is being done, than it is to have to clean up afterward. No competitor has been able to come close to Festool’s ability to completely catch the fine dust that otherwise fills the air and invades every nook and cranny in the working environment. If any dust does escape, it is usually a few crumbs of heavier particles that fall below the tool, and are easily caught by a simple drop-cloth. It is part of the reason that Festool’s customers are willing to pay over $600 for a circular track saw, over $600 for a vacuum cleaner, and over $1400 for a sliding compound miter saw.
        Other reasons are that Festool carefully designs all their tools to work together as a system, they pay attention to the customer’s need to keep his tools well organized and easily transportable with their systainers, they build the tools to last and to work under difficult conditions (check out this test done by a customer, and they make repair parts available for many years, even after a tool has been replaced by newer models.
        You won’t find many Festools on Ebay, because those who own them usually keep them “til death do they part.” Among the few Festool items you may find on Ebay are things like router collets that are offered for sale at prices above the price new from Festool, apparently looking for foolish, gullible customers. I haven’t seen any knockoffs for Festool, at least not any that their target market would buy.
        Admittedly, the smaller the business is, the harder it is to achieve a “level of quality that cannot be copied easily”, but it is not impossible. But it is essential that every business carefully define who their target market is, and not worry too much about those that don’t fit that target.
        Lost Art Press has done a pretty good job following these principles. It does achieve a level of quality that cannot be easily copied in its target market. It won’t sell any books to customers who only buy their books from Amazon.com, but those are not in its target market, and Chris does not worry about them. People who are interested in learning, using, and keeping alive the time-tested skills of the hand tool joiner/cabinetmaker are beating a well worn pathway to his door, and they are finding a level of quality that is very hard to beat.

  36. beshriver says:

    I feel like this entire post took a left turn somewhere…maybe my fault…sorry…but in defence of the one guy…every time I try to type Chris’s last name all of my I devices autocorrect try’s to add a t…annoying.

  37. This is always an interesting subject. I work at what I’d call a medium sized global company so I see quite a bit of both sides of this. Patent protection is a strange thing. We always look at what our projected forecast is on something before patenting it. If it’s less than $2-3 million we don’t bother because that’s what our patent lawyer figures on average it costs to defend a patent. Smaller guys can’t afford that and if I was in their shoes I wouldn’t bother either. As for the off shoring I have a lot of mixed feelings on that. I think a lot of people confuse quality with performance especially when it comes to tools. Quality in an industrial sense is making the part to print 90 whatever percent of the time. If it sucks to use that’s a performance issue. Tools are a lot like cars I think(ever seen a Chinese F150 knock off? I have) you can buy a built in Mexico Chevy econo crap box or you can buy a Mercedes Benz both will start when you turn the key and move forwards or backwards. Same as you can go buy a Buck Bros turd at Home Cheapo or buy a Lie-Nielson. They will both make shavings and sharpened every once in a while. In both cases I’d say there isn’t much difference in quality because they do what they are supposed to do new but nobody is going to argue there is a mile difference in performance. I think you could say the same things about durability.

    Maybe I’m being a bit of a troll here and got a little off the topic of knockoffs but I think we need to do a better job of distinguishing the differences between quality, performance and durability. Oh and I’ve had things I’ve designed knocked off. As they say in china “You have patent? Good for you.”

  38. lashomb says:

    Wow, so much trolling. Thanks for linking to the article by Kevin.

  39. ststewartdvm says:

    In theory, the patent system is how we handle this. You innovate, you collect your rent off your innovation for 20 years, then the innovation becomes public domain. In practice people have detailed well the problems with the patent system here.

    I strongly disagree with Chris’s quote that “I’ll say it another way: If you copy someone’s design that is in production – even if it is not patented – that is wrong.” Innovating does not give you the right to a lifetime of rent collection. Patents expire so that other people can build on your ideas or yes compete with you. In the construct he makes, when do ideas pass into public domain? When is the drug that your insurance company is paying at least a grand a year for go generic so you can buy it for $10.00 a month?

    I also think that Chris is ignoring the idea of market segmentation. The people that are willing to buy the high end tools that are mainly being discussed are collectors, professionals, and enthusiast amateurs with disposable income. To them, the price is going to be a lesser issue than the name, how well the tool works, and the small things that differentiate the tool that may not be immediately obvious. Chris is surrounded by these people and makes the majority of his income off this group. The other world is the guy starting out with a very limited budget trying to get into the hobby/craft. The ATC and Mr. Siemsen’s project are a great start in trying to help people avoid tool shaped objects, but I remember the first two years when I started, I had a $600 budget for each year woodworking and I needed to have something to show for it so SWMBO would be ok with this journey. The guy I started as was not in the target demographic for these tools, but now I am. There may be a tiny overlap between these groups, but generally speaking you are not going to be in both these groups at once. Anything that increases the number of people in the second group with eventually make the target audience in the first group larger.

    My last question is why doesn’t Chris lump Mr. Lee in with the knockoff group? I have a large number of his tools and love almost all I have purchased from him. It seems that he does a lot of hitting that middle ground quality tool that is much like a new idea brought to market by other people, but without the premium pricing. My examples for this are his saw filing jig and his marking gauge. I own both these tools after failing to see value in the original maker’s prices, and I love them. Why are he and his company different?

    I would welcome the community and Chris’s thoughts on this.

    Scott T. Stewart, DVM

    • Thanks Chris for this interesting blog. There are many aspects to patents, patent rights and so forth, and I have no interest in weighing in. I got the low down on that in managing technology development with the federal government in my former career. The concern by Kevin Drake and you is really about a loss of personal and business ethics and appreciating the gifts of others. I agree that knockoffs pose an unfair condition. The idea that an unethical situation (stealing technology) can be viewed as okay by some because “it is just business” is the real issue here. Just look at what happened to American cutlery and you can see where a hands off approach can lead. It drove the American cutlery business under. But fortunately some folks can and still will buy a high quality pocket knife made by a small business in America. Let’s hope that enough people continue to value quality and fairness. It was my dad who taught me “If you buy tools buy good ones,” so I appreciate the quality of LN or LV. I don’t own a Wood River plane. Some might dwell on the aspect of disposable income and that might be fair sometimes, but what matters more here is personal and business ethics.

    • Wesley Beal says:

      I think Scott Stewart makes a lot of excellent points here. I also think discouraging the overseas garbage from clogging the market is a worthwhile endeavor, and to accomplish that we should hope for a more robust “middling-tool” market. Personally, I’d love to see an established company like say, Lie-Nielsen, open up a “restored used tools” division that would make large volumes of used tools available at a more middle-of-the-road price range with the added assurance a consumer would get from purchasing from an established business.

      I understand taking offense at seeing your design taken and put on the market, but were these consumers who were going to buy your product in the first place? If not it’s alright to take offense, but I’m not so sure it’s a full blown threat to the existence of these craftsmen.

      • tsstahl says:

        Regarding Lie-Nielsen guiding their own used tool market. If you check ebay, you’ll find Lie-Nielsen tools typically sell within 10-15% of their new brethren.

        The tools are already warrantied for life.

        I see no business case for LN to wade into their own secondary market. But, it’s not like anyone listens to me, anyway. 🙂

        • Wesley Beal says:

          Definitely true about LN’s resale value. I was actually imagining a company that took in all brands of used tools, such as the millions of Stanley planes out there today, and refurbished them.

      • snwoodwork says:

        There are people who do just that, restore old tools and sell them. Chris has mentioned a guy who restores eggbeater drills; from the pictures they are nice. The problem is that if Glen-Drake is running the thin margins I imagine they are, I bet it’s not worth their time to resell their products. The Tite-Mark sells for $89, they might buy one back at less than 50% (not real likely the owner will want to sell it for that), replace/refurbish/cleanup the gauge, and then resell it for what, a $10 discount after labor costs? I doubt there’s much incentive financially for anyone to buyback and sell their products. Especially if they make quality items.

  40. Jon Hammer says:

    Does anyone want to spill the beans on who is selling counterfeits so that I don’t have to wonder who we’re all cryptically talking around? I know about WouldCraft, but I am aware of no others.

  41. Ken Smith says:

    As a patent attorney who left engineering after 25 years to attend law school for just the reasons described here, I can tell you that it is expensive to obtain a patent (although I think that the numbers cited above are a bit high). This frustrates me as I am often not able to recommend a patent because of the cost and difficulty of enforcement. Unfortunately, the preparation of a patent can take quite a bit of time. However, before you throw up your arms and assume defeat, at least talk to a patent attorney and ask about the viability of design patents and reduced application fees available from the patent office.

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