Advice on buying hand tools is always an interesting and provocative subject that has the ability to either enlighten or confuse those new to woodworking. On the surface there are many contradictory approaches to planning your first tool kit, dig a little deeper and this becomes tenfold. Ultimately there is no right or wrong and so the only satisfying end is consumers who are educated in their choices.
I read an interesting post linked to on the Lost Art Press blog this week which touched on one facet of this subject; copy cat manufactures. That is larger companies or manufactures who copy the work of the individual bespoke maker and sell it for cheaper. It would appear that this has become a growing problem which can all but cripple a small business, and yet for all intents and purposes no laws are being broken. For what it’s worth I thought I’d add my two pence.
Scolding companies can’t make a difference, so long as they’re making money they’ll be happy. The only thing we can hope to do is take away the demand through education. They won’t make what doesn’t sell. Now I am all for variety and options within the market so I don’t want you to think I’m suggesting that cheap tools should be banished, on the contrary I belive they are vital. And at the risk of seriously over simplifying things for making a point, I would like to suggest that we all have two routes to consider when buying tools. Either we want something that functions well for our needs, or we want something that functions well and also goes a step beyond so that it is a joy to own, a pleasure to hold, admire and use.
A mass produced copy can only provide the former at best, and yet it’s price mark will still hold some bearing to it’s copycat looks.
If you’re seeking cheap functional tools then go with a time tested bog standard one or take a look at something second hand. If you want individual design, quality and service then go to a small maker or reputable quality brand.
Strong principles are often a part of buying hand tools, it’s a passionate hobby and quite often we are drawn to tools not only because we need them but because we want them. If we can find a way to create transparency and education for the buyer then we will be taking a step in the right direction.