04 June 2017

The Sincerest Form of Flattery: T. Deer tools

"When I think of woodworking, I think of T. Deer...
 I've been working for several months to outfit a new student instructional workshop and have been dogged by many predictable and some which defy definition, I've also come across a few noteworthy discoveries. In a few cases, I've gone to the trouble, often unforeseeable in its complexity, to order from abroad. It's quite possible that I've bought the last of the 48" Jorgensen parallel clamps from a Taiwanese supplier. It seems just a short time ago that Pony was shipping crates of free clamps to HarveyWorks in anticipation of raking in millions in the burgeoning mainland Chinese market.
I buy domestically both because it can potentially save money and delivery time, but mainly I want to establish sources for replacements and to be able to explain to budding novices how they can readily equip themselves.  It's a constant challenge to find reliable sources for tools and materials. I've had to ship back Stanley tape measures twice because a supplier, although he displayed the model number for metal cases, instead shipped me the tape measures with plastic cases. I had to pay for return shipping. In the second attempt, another supplier sold me plastic cased models again by telling me that they had the weight of model with a metal case which I have in my possession. When I opened the second parcel and discovered  that same plastic junk which I had just previously shipped back, I checked the weight to discover that he had lied to me, overstating the weight by double. He then tried to convince my wife that he had in fact sent us better quality tape measures than ones I had wanted. All this trouble for an item that less than a year ago was a stock item at a B&Q.  Enough already about my problems.
It was directed to investigate a Chinese supplier of holdfasts by Mr. Chen, a colleague during a brief overlap at Harvey. He's now working at a new woodshop venture that is struggling to gain success by attempting to copy what other woodshop training centers do. He had purchased holdfasts to equip his shop and based on this endorsement, I looked into the source. I had purchased as many as I could manage from LieNielsen and Gramercy. I knew that I needed to supplement these.
One theme that comes up again and again is that Chinese manufacturers copy finished products without much consideration for process and a vague understanding of the eventual use. On top of that the workforce is generally poorly trained since or due to the fact that the employees often jump from one company to the next, as indifferent to the source of their income as they are to the tasks that they are assigned as they strive to climb up the economic ladder. For example, not far from my apartment I photographed this front bumper of a minivan manufactured by Wuling Motors. From the CNC mold department, to the assembly line workers, as well as the willfully indifferent midlevel managers who oversee the QC engineers, the organization collectively chose to overlook that their brand name was misspelled as it was being mounted onto every vehicle that left the factory.
If you can read this,...
I mention this here because it almost appears that T.Deer is at least trying to appear that it is developing a brand. For similarly manufactured items, typically none are marked with any signs of origins, certainly not with a brand name. In part, because that requires a modicum effort, and because there is such little sustained interest in China with developing brand loyalty. Contrarily, Chinese consumers can be even more brand conscious than Western consumers, which further beggars belief as to why Chinese manufacturers ignore this domestic market at their own peril over the long term. (hint: much of it has to do with export subsidies, limited market access to international competition,  and shortsighted business planning.)
The clear appearance of high end packaging.
Oh wait, does this shipping parcel look familiar? And yet, simply because a Chinese business is considerate of branding does not lead to the conclusion that the actions are effective or original. For example, I bought these vise parts out of curiosity only realizing later on that it was a shanzhai copy of this new item, a HiVise from Benchcrafted. This is how it was packaged.

Multicolored Styrfoam
The finest drywall screws






























There are far fewer of the hardware pieces than what makes up the Benchcrafted original. It comes with no printed instructions. But Benchcrafted already supplies lots of video and printable materials so by not reproducing such incidentals like an instruction manual,T. Deer can reduce its costs and pass the savings onto the consumer! This project is getting put on the back burner indefinitely.
Stripped down to the barest ripoff

The holdfasts show a significant improvement, perhaps because they are harder to make badly.
The holdfasts and battens
On the top and bottom are the T.Deer holdfasts, their large and small models.  LieNielsen and Gramercy lie between. The large T.Deer is functional but some of its shortcomings are evident. The profile stands higher than that of the others. This is tolerable but not as annoying as the sooty schmutz from manufacturing that is not cleaned off before shipping.  The small form (I've not yet used this one nor any other small holdfast) seems to have its pad bent at an angle to cause only the front edge to make contact with a workpiece, potentially rendering it nonfunctional.
T.Deer

Gramercy holdfast pad























Speaking of pads, the T.Deer models come up short here. too. The Gramercy meets certain quality control standards the one can expect from a manufacturer who knows what customers want and how to keep them. The pad has a minimally smooth finish so as to not mar a wood surface and is cleansed of the forging residue. The image of the T. Deer model, left and above, speaks for itself although the photos in their Taobao store show much better looking examples of workmanship. It might also be a due to problems with my camera.
Despite these readily identifiable flaws, I cannot dissuade myself from suggesting this holdfast model to my Chinese students and I will purchase more in the future and potentially suffer the consequences if standards slip down lower. There is no way that I can turn down the price for a simple piece of bent iron. A pair of these holdfasts sell on the Chinese market for less than $10 US (50 RMB). Yes, two of them! With a moderate delivery fee, I can receive them in two or three days. I'll still treasure and prefer my LieNielsen model, but as we expats say: zhe shi zhongguo.
The benchdogs prove to be even more problematic. I bought a pair from LeeValley on which T.Deer likely based their copies. The shortcomings can be demonstrated thus.
The holdfasts and benchdogs come with a new 19 mm spade bit for drilling holes into a benchtop to accommodate them. For all I know, these are, in fact, 3/4" spade bits originally made for export and simply stamped for just the Chinese consumer. 3/4" is equivalent to 19.05mm, which is a reasonable substitute.
Veritas quality snugness

Lesson #1: Cha bu duo = close enough




























A problem, however, is that the bar stock that is used to make the holdfasts is 18mm. This leaves a significant amount of sloppiness that can only be overcome by the spring clip. For comparison the Veritas model is measured at 18.84 mm. The fit is smoother and it will also distort the inside diameter of the benchdog hole over time.
Surface treatments

The quality goes in before the name goes on




The bearing surface of of the T. Deer benchdog exhibits none of the refinements of the Veritas model.
The surface is polished exactly where polishing is not wanted and it does not have the sloped cut to direct lateral pressure into downward force on the workpiece. Lastly there is scant concern for centering the logo on top.
I won't be buying any more of these items and can hardly recommend them to students. Instead I'll be teaching how to make their own in class.
Shopmade benchdog

I can aspire that this essay explains a bit more about the challenges of woodworking in China. And for those readers who think that these items could never be encountered outside the domestic Chinese market, it behooves to think again.


No comments: