Shun the Copycats


Recently a new crop of Tite-Mark ripoffs have entered the market. They’re half the price of the real thing, have folksy American brand names and are made in Taiwan.

The easy knee-jerk reaction is to blame the Far East for these rip-off products. But I can assure you that Chinese and Taiwanese factories are not the first ones to blame. In my years of covering the Asian tool manufacturing market I learned how these products get made.

  1. A North American or European person seeks to rip off a product and make money by pirating someone else’s intellectual property.
  2. They send an original tool to one of the many Far East companies that specialize in tools and ask if the object can be made for $20 or some crazy low price.
  3. The factory says yes and makes it.
  4. (The final step is an important one) We buy it.

If I were still a woodworking journalist, I’d buy some of these copycat products and examine the way they were made to prove my point. But these days I don’t want to give these guys even one measly sale.

So honestly, if you care about the future of domestic hand-tool manufacturing in North America, don’t support these clowns. Otherwise, Godspeed to Walmart.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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47 Responses to Shun the Copycats

  1. Scott Hall says:

    In simplistic terms it is us, the consumer, that has driven manufacturing off-shore. We were unwilling to pay the higher product prices that supported our higher salary demands. I applaud your efforts to support and restore domestic skilled manufacturing.

    • Jeffrey Silverman says:

      Totally agree, most consumers focus on price and not quality. We see this in many products on our shelves. So many such that the “original” or higher quality product is no longer available in most stores.

      • tsstahl says:

        “…the “original” or higher quality product is no longer available in most stores.”

        And this is the crux of the problem. Far too many products simply position themselves as ‘quality’ through price and advertising. The race to the bottom has run. I want a 25 year refrigerator. To get it I have to look at commercial offerings that cost in the low 5 digits. WTF?

  2. Steve Jones says:

    Maybe you should repeat this (spot-on) rant once or twice a year. But it’s still OK to buy English, right?

    • denvergeorge says:

      Don’t forget the Canadians. Lee Velley makes lots of wonderful stuff in Canada.

      • Mike says:

        Whenever I hear things like “buy american (and canadian and UK are ok too)”, the word “xenophobia” comes to mind.

        Yes, there is a lot of crap coming out of Taiwan. But there is high quality stuff too. BCTW chose a Chinese (I think, might be taiwanese) manufacturing partner for their tools, and John sold his business to that partner. I have plenty of taiwanese machines in my shop (sawstop, powermatic), in fact there is no way I could afford to outfit my shop with all Euro machines. Yes, grizzly was my foray into woodworking and I know plenty of people who have a shop fully of grizzly and are more than happy.

        (And please don’t say I could afford all American hand tools and lose the cords. Sorry, I have zero interest in milling or ripping lumber by hand. I have a full time job, travel at least 50 nights a year, 3 kids… and a long honey-do list).

        Its always a trade-off between quality and price, and country of origin is just a side show.

        I think Chris discussed this on “book quality” video. Yes, you go the the far east when you want a book cheaply produced. But you can also get top quality printing out of the far east.

        • Wes Smith says:

          I think the issue here is theft of a design and theft of a brand; not so much the quality.

  3. Ronald Stephen says:

    I fell for that exact tool when I first got interested in hand tool woodworking. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference (at least for a tool noob) between a copy of a common design (like a common wooden marking gage) and something like the TiteMark that is unique and still being sold by the inventor. They used to hang pirates for a reason.

  4. Barry MacDonald says:

    One word; alibaba. Send digital drawings…receive quotes from a long list of manufacturers.

  5. potomacker says:

    I’ve seen it all before. This recent model appears, in fact, to be an upgrade.

  6. Tom says:

    Totally agree! Let’s Make American Tools Great Again!

  7. Iain says:

    From an article in NYT about Bikers and Harley Davidson and the justification to avoid buying US Made goods: “If I get a T-shirt made in the U.S.A., it’s going to cost about $8 more,” Mr. Cox said. “I looked far and wide to try to get a shirt made in America, it’s just they get you, they gouge you.”

  8. John Hippe says:

    Totally agree! Buy quality. Support artisans. I recently had this lesson repeated for me. I was on a sailing trip and had forgotten to pack a can opener. No problem, I thought. Stop in to grocery store and pick up an inexpensive model. Got out to the camp site and the #%#@ing thing did not even work. I know, buyer beware, but there is a special circle in Dante’s hell for people who knowingly manufacture and sell crap that won’t work or will break in a short period of time.

    • I don’t disagree, but feel the need to point out that these makers of 87 degree “squares” are just making what the consumers at Home Depot are demanding.

      • John Hippe says:

        Agreed. Most people seem to buy based on price point rather than value. Why pay $375 for a saw from Bad Axe when one can buy a saw shaped object from Home Despot for $13?

        • Jeff Faulk says:

          On the other hand, the great majority of people aren’t doing work that needs a Bad Axe. They’re lopping off bits of two-by or butchering some cheap pine one-by. For something like that, honestly the saw-shaped object works okay. The rest of it is on the user and their knowledge or lack thereof.

          • Klaus N. Skrudland says:

            Even though most people get by wth a saw shaped object, I don’t think buying such crap can be justified that easily. Buying quality is about sustainability and environmental thinking. Whether the user has woodworking skills or not, the tool he/she uses should be made to last.

          • denvergeorge says:

            I may not “need” a Bad Axe, but man does it go through wood like a knife through hot butter. No pressure needed, just guidance. Did a 28″ crosscut the other day and it was easy. Probably going to have to get the rip now. I don’t mind spending good money for quality tools – they just make the work so much easier and more enjoyable.

  9. Richard Mahler says:

    I would not call them clowns. Clowns are meant to be amusing, laughable parodies of human nature though some people find them creepy. The people you describe are the same old capitalistic opportunists America has bred since we shipped over from the other side of the planet to steal another people’s land and rape the natural environment. It began with Columbus and continued with Jamestown and Plymouth. We will have it with us forever, what we coyly, laughably refer to as the new Yankee Ingenuity.

    • Danny Entin says:

      Complaining about the very market economy that also creates all of the great products we enjoy.
      Seems like ‘capitalism’ also brought us Lee Valley, Lie Nielsen, Lost Art Press. In fact, seems like Mr. Schwarz has had more capitalistic endeavors than JP Morgan.
      The theft of intellectual property is not a crime of the market economy, it’s just ethically wrong.
      I support TiteMark, I have two of their tools. I also have a much older (and smaller) marking gauge by Starrett. But if not for a market economy I wouldn’t own either.

      • jayedcoins says:

        With respect, I think you’re mistaking “capitalism” and “market” for being the same thing. Markets can and do exist without necessarily being “capitalist.” The word “capital” is right in the name — the complaint here, from me, would be that the capitalism we practice rewards people with capital more than it rewards people who provide labor, or those that actually make an innovate. In our society, capital accrues to capital far more than it does to labor. It is more rewarding in our system to already have the money that allows you to reverse engineer someone else’s unique or innovative design, and then farm production out to the lowest bidder on a larger volume to take the market share.

        • Joe says:

          Capitalism isn’t the problem, people are the problem. And people who don’t assign personal responsibility to other people’s indiscretions and instead blame the system are an even larger problem.
          Capitalism brings a higher standard of living, unlike most other economic systems throughout history. And items such as tools have been copied and remade for hundreds if not thousands of years. And those with money have nearly always gotten richer disproportionately throughout history and long before capitalism was practised.

        • mike says:

          Can you let me know which countries of any size have a more functional market economy than the US?

          Personally I will accept the risk of a few people selling cheap knock offs (their success will be dictated by the quality of their products anyhow) in order to have a market economy that functions as well ours.

  10. Kurt T Bosch says:

    Couldn’t agree more with all of the above comments, that said, any chance on a post with just a list of web links to companies that make top quality woodworking tools (power tools as well maybe?).

    Otherwise, please carry on with your rant, I, for one, happily endorse heaping scorn and criticism on all of these manufacturers and the idiots that support them.

  11. Jeffrey Silverman says:

    Its that last part that we can all control. I suspect we are all guilty of that with many products, and then we blame others for the cheap quality of goods.
    Great post Chris. We all need to support the manufacture of quality goods

  12. Joe says:

    I won’t even shop at Harbor Freight. No chance I buy this.

    Glen Drake tools comes to the Lie-Nielsen events where I live. I’ve bought three of his plus other items at the events. Mostly because I want them to come back each year. They are the ones most responsible for teaching me to saw to a straight line. Now I can with any saw. Don’t worry, Lie Nielsen gets plenty of my money at these shows and I am quite happy to spend it there. I actually save my birthday and Christmas money each year for this event.

    • Jeff Faulk says:

      They don’t sell this at HF, but it’s easily found on Amazon. HF actually doesn’t have that many knockoffs per se. Their situation is more that they’re buying the lowest grade tools made at the same Chinese factories that make tools for the hardware-store brands like Ryobi, Black and Decker, Dewalt, etc. Look at a power tool review in any magazine sometime, odds are good that the lower-priced tools will be noticeably identical apart from different colors and slight variations in case design. That’s because they’re all coming from the same place; as the price point goes up, they get more carefully made with some upgrades, but it’s still the same basic manufacturer.

      • boundboardbag says:

        I’ve seen little evidence they are more carefully made. For more expensive machine tools Harbor freight has had a bunch of knockoffs.

        On a practical level Glen Drake (and brands like Starret – the company doesn’t they shat on the stanley brand) provide replacement blades, different blades, and long lasting product support. If you are interested in tools not toys, this can matter.

  13. waltamb says:

    Thanks for writing,

    I’m away from my computer and will reply when I can.

    We are cleaning up after the disaster…

    just lost almost everything we worked 32 years on. Thankfully the house is at least still standing.


  14. Matt Lynch says:

    I do not “need” a new Tite-Mark gauge, but I figure the best way to combat this problem is to not purchase the stolen copies but also to support the originators. Therefore I just typed my way over to Glen-Drake Toolworks and made a purchase. Thanks Chris for keeping this topic at the forefront! Please support local crafts people!

  15. KeithM says:

    One of my favorite quotes:

    “There is hardly anything in this world that some man cannot make a little worse
    and sell a little cheaper, and those people who consider price only, are this man’s lawful prey. It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money – that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot; it cannot be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better”

    John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)

  16. KeithM says:

    Forgot to add: When I was in school doing summer jobs one year the mechanic at the landscape company where I was working took me under his wing. He told me, “Never buy cheap tools. They don’t work well and you’ll end up frustrated and have to replace them.” Best advice I ever got because on those rare occasions I forayed into cheap, I’ve always regretted it and wish I had stood by his advice.

  17. Steve says:

    I have had a TiteMark junior for about 5 years. The marking blade has never lost it’s smooth sharp edge! I was bereft when my mobile kit was stolen, and ordered a new TireMark because it is such a great tool. (Police recovered the stolen one!) Note in the photo in Chris’s article that the cutters in the new knockoff box are already chipped.

  18. rons54 says:

    In my opinion it is a far different thing to have a cheap tool made in Taiwan or China based on a design that was made by scores of factories over the course of a century versus sending a tool that is in production out and having it copied without paying for the rights. Copyright and patent rights matter.

  19. David says:


    It annoys me when I see comments like ” tools made in ( insert country) are rubbish. This maybe true but it is unlikely to be there fault. Most often these items are made to fulfil a request to make something for a price and Good Quality can’t be achieved at the quoted price.

    I had the good fortune to work around the world with many different nationalities and can attest that these individuals were just as capable of making quality items as anyone else when given the opportunity to do so.

  20. nothing beats the original

  21. kdrevik says:

    One of the big benefits of the revitalized hand tool movement is the way it has enabled small manufacturers in the US to make a living (and larger ones like Lie-Nielsen to thrive as well). I think a lot of woodworkers are willing (after some trial and error) to buy quality. I know I’ve been through several “big box” tools before I finally started settling down to buying quality.

    The other benefit is that you don’t need a lot to tools (thanks Anarchist Tool Chest for showing that), so you can afford to spend on quality.


  22. Mark Baker says:

    Aloha Chris ,
    It comes as no surprise, that these produces are being made . After all , they were only following our lead .
    As a beekeeper , as well , I read of how they scam an item with a copycat way to produce something that ‘looks like the real thing’ but is in no way equal . Fresh Bee Pollen , as an example , was written about in a newspaper article in the past from the far east .And how to ‘make it’ by merly putting out powdered sugar for honeybees to carry back to their hives . once they passed through the pollen collectors of the hive’s entrance , the ‘phony’ pollen would be collated as if it was the real thing . The writer was bragging so of how much money could be made ! But that’s the only reason they are in business , to give you the business !

  23. capie001 says:

    I’ve been giving this some thought, on and off, for some time now. Chris, I understand what your intentions are regarding copyright, support your own, variations in quality etc. But hasn’t this been going on for ages? Woodies becomes Mathieson, becomes Stanleys, becomes Lie Nielsen, becomes Woodriver? Why is Lie Nielsen not objecting as well? What about the initial wooden cutting/morticing gauges a century or two ago?
    If I can’t afford to pay US90 (plus US35 shipping to my country), does it mean I can’t do woodworking? Yes, I also prefer quality tools, thats why I buy cheap, quality handtools from the Bay (UK, half of US shipping) and restore them, but US125 for a gauge (to complement my antique gauges)? Been through this exact dilemma a few months ago. Not prepared to pay the MarkTite costs, but also not prepared to pay US32 for the clone (T) plus US35 shipping, so I made my own from Boxwood, 8mm steelrod and a ground wheel from an old Tyzack wheel gauge. Seems to work so far. So, at this stage I’m not for your argument, but also not against. Perhaps its easier for you sitting the the US.

  24. jglen490 says:

    Yes, people copy, people steal, people also improve – or at least make something different. I don’t buy “the best”, because my budget priorities for tools are not “the best”, but there are variants of the same-appearing things, and these range from really crappy, to pretty darn good.

    I have some non-Mark-Tite metal marking gauges. None of them have a protruding screw, like some that are on the market bottom, and none of them have length/depth markings like some, because those are actually useless. All of them are not at all like the Tite-Mark with micro adjusters and the rest of the fanciness. The ones I have are not top end, can be a bit “fiddly”, but usually work just fine. I’m also not a professional, my work is not time-dependent, and I can charge myself whatever labor rate I choose. And I can choose to not pay the invoice to myself.

    I don’t feel bad about using a tool that is sort of like the really expensive one. But, other than some similarity in shape, the ones I have are completely different tools from the really expensive one. Just like I have a Stanley back saw and a Spear&Jackson backsaw. They both cut wood, look a lot alike, but are completely different tools, yet neither is top end.

    If your situation is different, in terms of professional need, and in terms of tool performance (i.e., not “fiddly”) requirements, and can afford the very best, or even pretty darn close to the top, then rock on brother/sister. I’m not envious, I admire your work, but I don’t live in your world. I also reject any negative judgment you may have of me, and don’t wait on any praise.

  25. Dave says:

    I was asked one time if Lie Nielsen is worth the money… the only reply I could come up with at the moment was… “If you are going to use it for the rest of your life”. That was a long time ago and I have never changed my thinking. I own some nice tools and some cheapies. Every chance I get to upgrade to something more refined and a little elegant I don’t hesitate. The clone ends up on the free page of craigslist and eventually in the hands of some pretty nice and thankful people on a budget or just starting out.

  26. It is always best to stick with the original, because in the long run it will be more economical.

    • jglen490 says:

      I would agree, especially if that is for your income producing work. For a hobbyist, the best and costliest would be less important. The bottom level crap should never be in the conversation, but the conversation is still more important than declarations.

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