21 January 2016

Counterfeit clamps and those close enough

I've mentioned shanzhai culture in the Chinese marketplace before. Here are a few specific examples of how its ubiquity can make buying something as simple as a wood clamp generate headaches and confusion.
It was over a year ago that I sat in on a lunch meeting with representatives from Pony/Jorgensen at the time of their choosing a distributor for the mainland. Even when an international manufacturer doesn't expect to earn much money in the mainland market, I suspect that it needs to support a presence with mutual financial interests if only to defend its intellectual property rights and trademarks. A local distributor is better positioned and motivated to pursue this legal challenge. That's the theory, at least.
The Jorgensen pipe clamps are both useful and easy to pirate. While they are long off patent, the distinctive orange paint is used to confuse consumers even when versions painted in other colors are often of a higher quality yet still of a lower quality than the original manufactured goods. Again, this is likely due to shanzhai workshops not understanding how these tools are used in practice and merely focusing on producing them as cheaply as possible.
Can you find the authentic Jorgensen amongst the blackened piping?

Made in someplace

tail end

As I've said before, black pipe is not a stock item in China. These pipes were bought as bare metal and painted black without any kind of lacquer coating. The Chinese don't bother threading both ends so it was I who stuck on the thread protector onto the end. Using these single example makes one easily appreciate how even small features can make such a noticeable difference. I'll point these out in the following counterexamples.

Shanzhai head

Shanzhai tail
It's readily apparent from the poor fit that the Chinese shanzhai manufacturer simply took an original casting and made a pattern from it, not allowing for shrinkage. Patternmakers are highly trained professionals who earn their keep; hence, they are also amply compensated. I've already thrown out some of the screwheads on the sly that did not work anymore because of the stripped internal threads. There was simply not enough metal to tap into. The sliding clamp piece is attached with a very poor quality roll pin. It can be seen in other examples that this is a common method in China even though it fails regularly, sliding out and requiring, often during a clamp up, to be hammered back into the hole. The black handle is made from high carbon cast iron. Even when they do not break off from brittleness, their surface finish makes them uncomfortable to turn by hand. The same poor castings also create more friction when turning these screws due to the shortage of tappable metal and the poor fit. Lastly, the discs that bite into the pipe are of such inappropriately chosen material that they have bent.
a lower priced Shanzhai version
The sliding iron crosspiece is as painful to use as it appears. Many others have been bent and wrapped around the threaded rod. The only way to comfortably turn these is with the box end of a wrench.

Here are some other Chinese made pipe clamps which are slightly better and do not attempt to fool consumers with the Jorgensen orange paint.
China Red


slightly higher quality clutch discs

rollpinned and failure

The next style of clamps is both harder to manufacture and harder to distinguish from fakes. They were sourced from a Taiwanese retailer, which might or might not be a more reliable supplier for authentic items due to better enforcement of copyright laws in the RoC. But money is money.
All these clamps arrived in the same shipment so the differences were readily apparent. I cannot say whether there is any overwhelming performance differences, certainly not as evident as above. Yet it's clear that through rivets make a better connection. The handles without the rivets do seem to have started to slip against the threaded rods.


The beams of the clamps are both done in a way to prevent the sliding head from slipping off. The dimple is a far superior method in contrast with the dinged end that both looks unattractive and has the potential to mar wood pieces.It's hard to understand anything but a dimple is acceptable. I've since noticed from clamps of Amazon that
stamped model numbers

Cast from different patterns

These two details show that the clamps might likely be made in two separate production facilities. While the stamping differences are part of a secondary stage of production, the different heads were made from different patterns and, likely, poured in different foundries.
riveted head into faulty casting


The heads in some clamps lack a direct rivet connection. In the riveted sample is a casting that was likely rejected for international export. More on this below.

mishandled or peened rivet

This is one feature that promises to affect utility in the long term.  I suspect that the rivetless handle is attached with little more than an epoxy adhesive, just the sort of planned obsolescence to render the clamp useless after a moderate amount of use.
In order to help resolve these issues, I sent an email to the manufacturer. Their website doesn't show any more products with maple handles, it seems. Is this a clue? Do I have new/old stock vintage clamps or something less?
After I got an automatic response informing that my question would be addressed promptly,
Thank you for contacting Pony Tools! We have received your email,  and you can expect a reply within 24-48 hours.
Thank you for your business and your continued support.

Pony Tools, Inc.
Customer Service Team

I've heard nothing since. And even after the vice-president told me to let him know whether I needed anything. In my previous position.
Shanzhai culture is deeply rooted in mainland industries. On its surface it is simple counterfeiting of established brand names. A recent example was discovered and shut down. This article explains the economics for those involved. In short: the benefits far outweigh the risks in. It's about fats money, 'kuai qian'. There are many degrees of Shanzhai; these examples are of but one. Pony and Jorgenson brand tools have moved their production to China. While this does reduce their labor costs, it causes the stockholders much more loss of control than they anticipate, and often fail to recognize.
It's evident that the bar clamps fixtures were made in a foundry without any connection to the Ponytools company. The poor quality strongly hints that the shanzhai producers never assembled a product inspcted for export and more likely don't know anything about woodworking to evaluate their own products. As I have pointed out before and here, mainland Chinese don't think of pipes and anything but for conveying water or gas.
The smaller bar clamps reveal a different story. I believe that they were manufactured under contract to be sold as exports under the Pony/Jorgensen brand name. These clamps were either rejected by quality control or discontinued for export when the main office decided that plastic handles were the future. So what is a factory manager to do with rejected products, overruns, or an assembly line that doesn't readily accommodate the updated features? Certainly not miss out on an opportunity to make some fast money. There is certainly no allegiance to protecting the integrity of the brand name? Diluting one is so much more profitable than building up its market value.
This phenomenon continues for two main reasons. 1) Chinese consumers are often poorly informed in how to detect fakes, and even when they do raise a complaint, there is very little that is done by authorities to enforce copyright or IPR. The thinking is that even counterfeiters are employers and as long as the micro titans of industry are well connected, they have little to fear. 2) Chinese consumers are often exclusively motivated by price. Even when they are made aware that they are buying an inferior product, they often weight that against how much they can save and not how much frustration a shanzhai product might cause. They certainly have no qualms about perpetuating a system that hurts that nation's reputation as a whole. The flaws in most products are subtle and without a comparison to an original, it's impossible to distinguish wheat from chaff.
What's disconcerting is that these were purchased through a Taiwanese distributor. Is it possible that the distributor was in on the ruse, or were these products only handled to be sold back to the mainland? The fact that they were mixed in one order suggests that they don't care, don't believe anybody might notice with interest, or they were selling the last of their stock.
There's more to this phenomenon to be highlighted in later postings.


Brian Eve said...

A while back Lee Valley stopped selling Jorgenson clamps because they moved their manufacturing of them to China, and the quality was no longer consistent.

It would be great to know what Chinese clamps you find are up to quality and stay that way.

Potomacker said...

@ Brian Eve
One good quality clamp is never a basis for buying another. Chinese manufacturers are seldom consistent and there are shanzhai manufacturers for domestic products, too.

Damn, I just reread this posting and I am embarrassed for all the typos and other errors.