Saturday, September 26, 2015

About woodworking tools

I drafted this a while back, but never got around to finished it...

There was quite a discussion on line a little while back, spurred by a recent post by Glen Drake all about Asian made knock off, of some of his unique looking tools.  So when does a copy of a successful tool becomes a cheap knock off or infringe on someone else patents rights?

I do not know if Glen Drake tools are patented, but they are in fact quite unique and readily recognizable.  So much so, that in the early 2000s, during one of our trips to the US, I came across what looked like one of his unique plane hammer, but it was priced really cheap, about US $20 at Woodcraft in clearance no less.  So I picked it up.  I never owned or handled the original, and this copy may look like the real McCoy, but I doubt it performs as well. Still the price won me over, guilty as charged :-(

The Woodcraft plane hammer

I was also surprised at the time that they had a metal spokeshave which look a lot like the Veritas version.   Soon after I found out that these were made overseas in some Asian country factory for them but apparently without permissions from either Lee Valley or Glen Drake.   Some of these early tools seems to have dissapeared, but judging from the recent rant from Glen, im guessing that they are at it again? Probably his highly regarded Tite-Mark gauges?

Copying sucessful designs is nothing new, look at the amazing proliferation of Bailey design planes!
Even the Stanley plane Numbers system became sort of the defacto plane numbering system.  Record and Union went with adding a leading zero in front of their plane number, but it was still a very close copy of Stanley.  In general, unless renewed, patents protection last about 20 to 25 years.   It was then probably fair game when Millers Falls and Record started making planes in the 1930s.  As it is still today for the various crappy remake of a once grand design.

For a while now Lie Nielsen has been making better reproductions of the venerable Stanley Bedrock designs and Clifton later on.   When more recently the same Asian manufacturer started making their own version for a few resellers, Woodcraft in the US and (the name escape me for now) the UK, people start to scream bloody murder, they are copying LN!   Well not really, LN was copying Stanley long expired models to start with.   Fair is fair. What is perhaps less fair is to copy a current successful product (LN), and offering it at a cheaper price point, but that too as been going on for ever it seems...

 In Glen tool's copy on the other hand, they are clearly reproducing, albeit cheaply, some unique artisan's models.  Small boutique tool makers have probably no patents protections and no resource to go after the big guy.  In this case Woodcraft, not the Asian maker, since they are only making what their customers are asking them to reproduce cheaper.  Not fair to blame the Asian tool makers.

The original Glen Drake. Notice the graceful shape of the handle

Cheap Asian copy made for Woodcraft.
Not so graceful, clunky handle, made of some gum or rubber wood, I think.

But before riding up to the barricade, lets be honest with ourselves.   We all love a bargain, but at what price?   The current trend of shipping whole factories and manufacturing to wherever is cheaper is nothing new.   It has probably accelerated in our lifetime since it is cheaper and faster as ever to ship goods around the globe.
Various great brand names products have been reduced to useless crap in the drive for better returns.

It is still comforting to know that there are still makers out there who care about their products and their customers.   And we owe them our unflagging support.

I have been a long time, loyal Lee Valley customer because at whatever price point, I know I am getting a great tool with second to none customer service.  And that to me is priceless!

And similarly the small guys out there making us great tools should be supported.   In that spirit, I apologize to Glen  (I'm Canadian, Heh ) for being taken by the cheap knock off and will make it right by buying his product.  For the record I own a few artisanal, or boutique tool makers ware.  Not cheap, but worth every pennies...

Bob, the tool man.


  1. I agree with you about Lee Valley, they are second to none with what they sell and especially so with their customer service.
    As for the boutique makers, I simply can not afford their prices.And I don't think the prices they ask are out of line. I would love to have a plane by Sauer and Steiner but $1800 for the smoother I want is beyond my means right now. My wife would frown on me spending the mortgage $$ on a plane.
    I remember when LN pulled all of their planes out of Woodcraft because of the chinese copies of their planes. They were almost dead ringers. But I read that LN is selling their planes in China.

  2. Bob,

    I'm with you on this. Too many think only of saving a penny or two, I've worked for a few of 'em. Anyway I do my part to support the makers when I can.

    Good on you for this post.


  3. That's for sure Ralph, as much as I would love a Sauer plane, I do not foresee owning one anytime soon, unless I win the lottery (note to myself, buy tickets)
    But I didn't mind spending near CDN $60 for a Czeck marking knife and other rather pricy boutique maker's tools just as long as I can afford them.
    I like the fact that LV has been carrying some of these for a while, it is easier for me to see them and buy them without shipping across the border and etc.


  4. Thanks Ken
    We see eye to eye on that one. My dad was a mechanic, he always reinforced upon me that you should always buy the best you can afford, it is cheaper that way in the long run. That as not changed...
    I remember the Snap-on man coming to the garage, dad was a good customer :-)