I have always been interested in benchtop power tools, usually because of space constraints, a limited budget, or a combination of factors.
One thing that has been made clear over the years is that there are some unique models on the market, and very many clones of nearly identical machines under different tool brands’ labels.
Often, there are distinctions, but they’re rarely obvious, and this phenomena can be found across many tool categories.
With respect to benchtop lathes or mini mills, the differences might be more apparent, such as in feed screw graduations, whether the main column tilts or not, or in the fitment and finish quality of cast and machined components.
But with many benchtop tools aimed at hobbyists, woodworkers, and other such users, the differences are subtle – at best – between mostly-indistinguishable tools.
Shown above are 12 very similar combination benchtop sanders. Shown here are sanders from:
For the models currently available on Amazon, the prices range from $120 to $181. Beyond Amazon, the Grizzly is $100 plus $25 shipping, the Harbor Freight Bauer is $120 (on sale), and the Ryobi is $199.
There might be others that I missed. How are they different from each other, aside from color and tool brand?
The switch plates are different, as are the belt sander work supports. What about the motors? Are the speeds the same? Power? What else is different?
For at least some of the tools shown above, it seems the differences are only cosmetic, with only brand-specific colors and nameplates. Others have additional changes, such as the Skil, with its safety key power switch.
Most of the 12 combinations sanders look to have similar motors (4.3A or 4.5A depending on model) and the same operating speeds.
So… are they all the same? Most of them? All of them?
Why choose one model over another?
This is the benchtop power tool conundrum, and it affects sanders, grinders, drill presses, planers, jointers, spindle sanders, air filters, mini mills, mini lathes, and many other such tools.
There are greater differentiations in some categories than others, such as how some benchtop jointers feature blades with helical-style inserts instead of straight knives.
Deciphering the differences – if any – is a labor-intensive, confusing, and frustrating process. Without clear differentiation, should one shop solely according to price?
What I have realized over the years is that few tool brands are invested in the benchtop power tool industry. Sure, there’s still innovation on occasion, but not at the entry and mid price point level. Most of the emphasis is in the marketing.
I can understand why this is the case, but it’s still frustrating.
The fact of the matter is that the status quo seems to be working just fine for tool brands and retailers. Major retailers, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Harbor Freight carry Ryobi, Skil, and Bauer respectively, and online retailers carry all of the others by various brands.
There are pricier tools from more premium brands, although this often means larger tools, as opposed to simply better-built or more-featured ones.
When shopping for a miter saw, there are boundless choices when it comes to blade size, single or dual bevel adjustment, and whether it has a sliding mechanism or not.
But when shopping for most other types of benchtop power tools, the choices are often between largely identical clones and pricier industrial-focused models.
It seems that few brands are willing to innovate in this space anymore. Could they if they wanted to?
Why is there so little innovation in the benchtop tool space anymore? Will this ever change?
This is what happens when human buy into globalization and want the cheapest solution before innovation and durability. We buy on average 5 billion Iphone per year on earth…
I agree with your sentiment, but the number of iphones sold you’re quoting is clearly incorrect. Apple sells something like 250 million iphones per year, and around 2.5 billion iphones have been sold since their introduction 15 years ago.
And Americans buy more iPhones than other countries. Most other nations, Android handsets are by far the most popular. Marketing at its finest.
Let’s try to stay on-topic, please.
Not anywhere close and that’s not even relevant, because that is just one brand and not some parts bin production sold under 6-12 different brands and names. For that to be the case it would have to be all smartphones are made in 1 factory, nearly identical inside & out and then sold under different brands who pretend it is their product. Apple is just Apple. iPhone sales are ~250 million a year, to new clients and people replacing existing products.
I think it’s driven by the niche nature of a number of the tools. Sanders seem aimed primarily at wood workers, who seem to be in decline. Miter saws are mostly for framers, (just look at how terrible the dust collection is) where there’s a lot more demand. I think if you separate out the tools by this, you’ll quickly see the areas where things are improving, framing, vs places that have stagnated, niche wood working.
I also think there might be some issues with mature markets/technology where it’s harder to add something new that’s substantial enough to make a difference, while at the same time not adding significantly to the price.
Flesh sensing like SawStop/Bosch seems to require about $500-1000 in additional stuff added to the tool. The Nova VFD + intelligent drills require expensive hardware. The new helix cutting heads for planers/jointers require expensive carbide inserts. Once you start adding those things we quickly move out of the inexpensive range where the older designs are “good enough”.
Oh, and I doubt that the IP theft is doing the industry any good. Why bother to add something new when it’s just going to be quickly copied by china and re-released at half the cost because they didn’t have to spend the time and effort on R&D?
Some tools have left the market because of safety concerns — tilt bed table saws and radial arm saws. Board rooms will be risk-averse to designs that are untested in the market. A real innovation that’s not incremental is weighed as a liability, especially in powered tools. It takes a small and nimble operator or independent company to make those leaps.
It’s always interesting to me that both Lowes and Home Depot buy radial arm saws new (from Original Saw company I believe) and install them in every store, but they do not sell them, even online (unlike panel saws which they do sell online).
Great point. I looked up the prices though, and I’m shocked. I don’t think these are finding their way into anyone’s garage.
Probably because you can find radial arm saws that still work great for next to nothing on just about any classified site you peruse.
Unless a shop is buying one for the tax write off, there’s probably a very small market for new ones for the home shop.
In the US market there are new Radial saws being made, but they’re all full-on industrial tier models. That’s why these are so expensive and why I presume HD and Lowes aren’t selling them. Which makes sense to me, as they aren’t in the business of selling commercial tier woodworking machinery. They don’t sell radial arms saws because there aren’t any on the market geared towards the average consumer or contractor, and because they don’t sell the high end or super large machines period. They don’t sell 20-inch table saws or 51-inch wide belt sanders either.
I doubt a sawstop has more than $100 added cost to the manufacturer vs a normal saw. I think the price strategy is based on “we’re the only brand that has this thing and it will save you a lot of money and pain over a hospital trip”
I’m speaking about retail. $100 in manufacturing is about $500-1000 retail, since everybody along the line needs a cut.
In retail SawStops have a premium over comparable saws in the amount I gave. Compare their offerings to Powermatic, or DeWalt in the jobsite market.
I agree it’s one company, but Bosch also introduced a saw into the market, before being forced to remove it, and once again it was about $600 over the EXACT SAME MODEL from Bosch without the stopping feature. So I don’t think the “we’re a monopoly” argument is the only thing going on.
Adding the feature has a cost, I doubt it’s just $100.
They’re probably adding liability insurance into the cost too. Blade stopping is a great technology but nothing works perfectly 100% of the time. At some point a defective cartridge will fail to stop the blade, someone will lose fingers and then sue. Which will not only cost them money for the settlement, but also lost sales as you know it’ll be all over the internet including high res photos of the injury. Guaranteed that fear is built into the price
I work on sawstops everyday. I can tell you there is alot more to it then you think.
Quick note on Sawstop. When you compare them to Jet/Powermatic, their prices are no longer $500-$1000 more. If you go Laguna or Grizzly, you are $500-$1000 cheaper. However, those are a bit more “value oriented” and you don’t get the fit/finish from the three above. That matters in a precision saw you will likely keep for 20-30 years. Sawstop makes a beautiful saw, and those who make equivalent quality are not much below on prices (without the safety gear).
Interesting. Guessing we’ll see another adjustment from SawStop in January, which is when they usually raise their prices.
FWIW, it wasn’t just the cabinet saws, but also the Bosch model from a while back. IIRC, they were about +$600 for a job site saw with flesh sensing tech. Other than the tech, the Bosch saw was identical to their non-flesh sensing saw, from what I could tell.
You hit it. Benchtop tools are usually corded so they don’t push the same innovations that cordless tool do. An old school brushed motor can be inexpensive and powerful, so why move to a brushless motor if it does the same job for more money and doesn’t add value? I mean, you could make a carbon fiber lightweight frame for it, use very power efficient electronics, and top of the line mechanical parts and it would be a very expensive benchtop sander that does the same job as the cheaper ones.
And you want weight in a benchtop tool when you are working with it, so that it doesn’t move anyway.
My frustration is that there sometimes ARE minor but important differences, but these can be almost impossible to discern before purchase and/or use. Small things like table design, vibration, dust collection port design, etc can vary beyond the core tool castings and motor spec. But there’s no easy marketing wank to say “we stopped the cost engineering before it went too far”.
Another trend has been the slow replacement of cast iron with stamped steel (and aluminum parts), which can be a subtle substitution. Sometimes the marketing photos aren’t even updated when a cast iron table is replaced with coursely ground aluminum.
It would be nice if there was a brand I could “trust” to not have cheaped out on Q/C and the overall user experience. Instead I usually end up having to go up a class from compact tools to get what I need or want, which overcrowds my small garage.
Another irritation is that inflation/tariffs has really hit these Chinese made bench tools. They at least used to be cheap, sometimes dirt cheap at HF. Now they cost a lot more for the same iffy quality.
This is what I struggle with too. It’s obvious many of these benchtop tools have a common ancestor – but sometimes there are differences that are easy to miss. Motor size, operating speeds, even just adjustment options or hardware quality all might add up to something.
I’ve got some benchtop tools, some are good, some aren’t. It would be nice if there was a reliably ok option. It doesn’t make sense for me to have a shop full of industrial gear.
I think the answers to your questions are pretty straightforward. My guess is the margins and volume on these types of tools is pretty low. So what real incentive is there to innovate to gain market share in a small market when it’s much easier just to license a design?
Yep. It’d be hard to make something really competitive that wouldn’t come out of the exact same factory already spitting out these tools.
I think a lot of these are portfolio-fillers. Brand X might have their own design for a drill-press that is really good, but they want to build their brand-identity as well, so they need to fill out their portfolio. They want loyal customers with entire shops in the same color/logo. But they don’t have expertise in belt sanders or bandsaws or whatever. At that point it makes sense to white-label the rest of the suite of standard benchtop tools so they can show off a complete “line”.
I suspect this is Rikon’s deal. They make good bandsaws, lathes, grinders, etc, I believe in-house. But then they badge up white-labelled tools to fill in the holes in their lineup, like the basic belt-sander above.
In other cases it’s just an old but well-known brand getting slapped on something to appeal to non-savvy buyers, like Skil.
I agree with you 100% that there seems to be little innovation here. I’m of the opinion that this is because the status quo is adequate for casual users while the more serious users skip the “benchtop” tools entirely and go straight to something more serious: either a high-end compact machine, a larger machine, or a vintage unit that is often of much higher quality than what you might find today.
It absolutely can be worth your time to shop around though. My first introduction to this sort of thing happened many years ago when I needed to buy a small bandsaw for my lab. I did some research and settled on the Craftsman Professional 14″ 1.5HP model. As luck would have it, a few months after I bought that saw a friend of mine purchased a Grizzly 14″ for his personal use and got my help to set it up. It turns out that these two saws came from the same factory, the castings were identical even down to the numbers, same motor, same belt, the only differences appeared to be minor: the paint job, decals, knobs, and the blade guides. However the price difference was not minor, with my buddy paying $200 less for the Grizz even after considering the shipping cost. Also, the Craftsman’s oversized red plastic knobs turned out to be made from some kind of rubbish plastic that disintegrated after a few years while my buddy’s Grizzly had ordinary Phenolic knobs and they are still A-OK. The bearings on the Craftsman’s blade guides needed replacement after about two years of light use. The bearings on the Grizz are still good going on 15 years now.
I agree. Most serious woodworkers tend to get into larger, more industrial equipment to service their needs as they progress beyond the basics and become more invested in the hobby. I would have to imagine the market for higher-quality benchtop tools that sit between the price points of these models and the industrial offering is quite small, which stifles any interest in investing in R&D to fill that gap.
From what I can tell it’s slightly different (not necessarily better) in places like Japan and Germany, where compact but higher quality tools are slightly more available as houses and worksites tend to be smaller. Stuff like planer/jointer combos are slowly making their way into American shops and brands though (JET and Rikon have had them for awhile, Grizzly even just launched a 12″ benchtop combo unit which is kind of crazy).
A good carpenter can make benchtop tools work as good as industrial tools. It is his knowledge that makes the difference.
In some cases, yes. Others, no.
A benchtop table saw, for instance, cannot usually work with dado blades. Jointers have small tables. How can one resaw a 6” board on a small band saw that lacks the vertical capacity and motor power?
It’s like saying a good chef can work wonders with any pots and pans, but how can they make a soup with just an 8” skillet?
I would say that the lack of more expensive and bigger floor models makes for a better carpenter who will indeed make it work just as well. People were doing it completely by hand not that long ago and the quality was still good. With more features means less skill since the machine does the work for you. Resawing a 6 inch board is a pretty niche thing to need to do. Not every carpenter is looking to make a veneer. I would say most aren’t. And dado blades can be replaced by a router. You may need a jig, but a good carpenter can whip that up instead of depending on the machine.
Warranty can be a big differentiator. Even if the product is the same, having someone to spend behind the product can make a big difference. Also worry free returns for 30+ days for brands sold on Amazon can be a big advantage versus other retailers. Finally, parts availability is a big deal. Once upon a time that was a huge strong point for craftsman. Once they declined, I found that the Craftsman tools that were made by Rikon we’re the ones I could easily get parts for. In general for budget woodworking tools I look for Rikon. They are pricier than cheap brand but much cheaper than Jet or other stationary tool brands.
A lot of benchtop tools are fitment and finishing tools for light carpentry and bespoke manufacturing. If you are producing one-offs, prototypes, or mockups, these things have a use– but handtool variants are far more plentiful – because they are more versatile – because they are infinitely positionable.
Consumers are more likely to treat them as expendable as well — so there’s much higher volume in the market for $$ drills vs $$ drill presses, which are viewed as a lifetime tool. Just as much sameness in that segment, and likely even more staggering to approach cold.
Pushing thought in still a different direction, the artisan industry of producing one-offs, prototypes and mockups is experiencing a huge shift into small-scale computer controlled design and production – cnc, 3-d printing, laser and water cutting. Some of these processes are reducing the use-cases for manual finish and fitment that benchtop tools excel at.
So, if one looks at the market segment that uses benchtop tools and explores their processes, it’s easy to find where innovation is happening, where R+D is aggressive and competitive, and where standardized designs are far from settled.
Someone please let me know which one has the best features, construction and most potent motor. I need to replace my junk harbour freight model that seemingly has a motor made from gerbil essence.
This is one of the things the traditional woodworking magazines are great for. Very few reviewers can afford/managed to buy all 14 tools in whatever class and compare them to each other. But generally they’ll go 3-6 years before repeating a particular test so the info may be slightly out of date.
I dont own any of these, but for what it’s worth I have two Wen tools (bench top drill press and track saw). No one would argue they are “professional” grade tools but they are decently built and for the price they are hard to beat for a DIYer. I am inptessed with the results I get from both. Both are tools I use and have a need for, but neither are tools I use daily. Been very impressed with Wen for those two tools based on my needs.
The standardization of the belt, disk, and internals placement will dictate the general shape of a tool. A prime example is a portable drill.
Maybe if they added a light? Some other companies could come out with fancier belts or mesh disks. Maybe go as far as a wider miter push gauge with a flip-over stop? Variable speed? Dust shroud or vac port? Fold-over arm to keep the work piece on the belt? A cordless version would suck the life out of the battery within a few minutes.
If you look at what SKIL has done recently, I wouldn’t be inclined to call the benchtop products “NEW”. I have the older drill press and it looks exactly the same with a few cosmetic changes.
I would say the best options for the clones comes down to (within needs) price, specs for said price, and warranty. A more powerful motor does mean more wattage draw, but it also usually means better performance.
On theo other side of the pond – they seem to be copying a slightly different design that look like this one with the Peugeot name on it:
or this one that looks like it:
I think that the Peugeot one is available in the US as well.
For me – I’m happy that I bought many of my machine tools in the 1960’s and 1970’s – and then some even older pieces that I refurbished. All will undoubtedly outlast me. That’s not to say that all the USA-made tools back then were perfect or better than some modern counterparts. I brought a more modern bandsaw (Laguna 16 inch) that is way better than an older Delta that I had used. But for some of the benchtop tools that this post is about space and price rather than expected longevity may be the deciding driver for purchasing decisions.
Do keep in mind those older 60s/70s tools (Rockwell, Delta, Milkwaukee, etc) were more comparable in price-point (corrected for inflation) to a modern JET than a modern Delta or Powertec. The modern entry-level bechtop price-point just didn’t exist back then.
I suspect that the $1000 or so that I paid for my Unisaw in 1976 is equivalent to something like $5000 today. That’s about what you might pay for a Hammer K3 Winner today. There are a few confounding factors. In 1976 one did not have the Internet to help shopping around. The Rockwell Delta dealers were few and far between – and I bought locally – with delivery included. Back then Rockwell was perhaps more focused on their aerospace business than Delta and Porter Cable – but both seemed to be striving to produce quality tools. Porter Cable in particular – was offering solid tools and innovations (like the first ever orbital sander) for woodworking trades. IMO they were well ahead of their competitors (B&D, Milwaukee and Skil) in the woodworking arena for handheld power tools. It was years later that B&D started morphing Dewalt into their premier brand and Makita plus Japanese and European brands still had only a minor presence in the US market.
I get the impression that this is mostly a function of the desire of these brands to fill out their tool catalogs without actually developing a new tool.
As a tool brand, you want to cover the full range of possible benchtop tools. Rather than pay to develop a new benchtop sander, it is simply easier and cheaper to approach the factory overseas that is already making the same product and have them make you a copy with a different paint job. Maybe you have them throw in a slightly larger motor or different switch to try to differentiate yourself, but those changes are near-0 R&D, it’s just mix & match parts.
You may not sell a ton of them, but you’ll sell enough to justify the initial outlay and cover that part of the catalog. Plus, you’ll have people who have bought another tool under your brand banner look at you first when they want to make their next purchase.
Yep, this is known as rebadging or badge-engineering in the automotive space.
In a way, this is just an evolution of the information arms race between producer and consumer.
There are producers incentivized to produce low quality products attached to high-end brand names. The money is made by arbitraging an imbalance between high consumer brand perception and low production cost/quality.
As with all arbitrage opportunities, the situation exists as a function of how long the information imbalance persists. That window gets smaller because of two things:
1. First, competition seizes on the ability to easily offer a comparable product at a lower price, by simply undercutting margins. Conversely, the competition could also offer a perceptibly better product at the same price.
2. Second, the customer base has mechanisms in place for ascertaining and sharing information about the product’s real value. These mechanisms have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful with the internet. Forums, video channels and sites like this have developed a cottage industry keeping tool companies honest. From comprehensive product teardowns, to comparison tests, to active discussion of product quality, the modern conscientious consumer has an arsenal of methods to ensure he is getting his money’s worth.
Because of these two forces, it appears that the battle for quality perception has moved to the inside of the product rather than the outside.
What seems to have happened here is a strange kind of market segmentation whereby one external design dominates, and the consumer is faced with that design executed in a dizzying array of component sets.
It’s akin to the kind of competition you see in standardized form factor (eg. disposable batteries, ammunition, fasteners, pc parts) or commodity (eg. gasoline, vitamins) products.
The difference though, is that there isn’t a specfic standard being rigorously enforced here. Instead, there’s an influence or influences pushing the products to look the same.
Those influences could include:
-lower production costs for an established form factor
-marketing data indicating a strong preference for the form factor.
-the form factor having a strong history with users
-commercial safety or training standards focusing on a particular form of the tool
-copycat brands looking to piggyback on a market leader’s success
-a parent company offering the same tool across several brands
-a thriving accesory market geared toward a particular form factor
I’m not sure which apply in this case, but I’m sure one or more may apply.
My suspicion is that the main driver in this instance is the phenomenon of outsourced production leading to a single factory producing the same products for several different brands.
When a company lets go of responsibility for the manufacture of products, it ends up becoming a wholesaler and brand manager for the company actually producing the product.
There are advantages in doing this, but in the long term, it becomes an exercise in sacrificing brand equity for product development convenience.
I totally disagree with your assertion re information availability. There is almost no reliable information today and certainly no more than in the past. The difference is the appearance of more information. Take this site alone. How many times has Stuart raised the alarm about manufacturers directly or indirectly attempting to buy his validation? Is there really an unbiased honest you tube review? Afew weak attempts that are neither scientific or reveal anything about long term value in use. If actual info was available we would know which one of the sanders is the best-that is longest mean time to failure.
No there is simply vast quantities of scuriless information-just sifting through tons of half truths and outright falsehoods to gain a kernal of truth takes huge amounts of time. Most folks will simply purchase a known brand hoping the manufacturers brand concern means they wont sell garbage. Of course this is only true for some brands.
I’ll give you an example. We have had a high end brand undercounter ice maker which cost 2500. Only one company makes the size so we have been trapped. Each of 4 failed immediately requiring service year after year. Over the decades the manufacturer reduced the warranty from 3 years to one year to 90 days. After the last failure,which flooded the rooms below, i replaced the cabinets and eliminated their product. Indeed we eliminate each of their products with each appliance replacement. Will never purchase anything they sell. They simply dont care about their brand or consumer.
Some time before AvE succumbed to “the red pill” and I had to unsubscribe, he uncovered the OEM for specific air tools. Before its website was (quickly) taken down, they offered a “Chinese menu” of options to customize features, brand colors, etc. Beneath the skin, the tool out on the shelf at Harbor Freight was the same one locked up in a master mechanic’s toolbox.
What you do with it is another question. There are many more TV brands than TV manufacturers. Even fewer companies make the panels, but there is obviously differentiation nonetheless.
All of this in mind, if this is being done brand-to-consumer, why don’t service shops cut out the middleman and buy up lots that they can sell to franchisees? Seems like a branding and margin opportunity for everyone but the tool truck.
Huge fan of AvE myself. Probably one of the greatest living Canadians in my way of thinking. His tool teardowns led a revolution in the way many thing about brand quality.
That said, direct to consumer is a great idea, but it’s in the hands of those factories. At this point, AliBaba is the only place that is happening. The way I see it, the next real revolution will be from Chinese native brands edging out their western competition. A lot of money was saved outsourcing American manufacturing jobs, but imagine the cash saved outsourcing upper management!
A dtc model might be the first real step toward that paradigm.
Some years you try to differentiate yourself. Other years make it cheaper. This is not nor has been the year to differentiate.
How many of those are a brand and how many a manufacturer? A few of those I associate as a different manufacturer. Most seem to be a brand name associated with low quality.
There’s little strict difference between a brand and a manufacturer, and there hasn’t been for decades at least. Both Grizzly and Rikon are manufacturers, who also have re-branded tools from other manufacturers (and probably each other) in their lineup. Grizzly sells their own tools under multiple owned brand names side-by-side. Even higher-end brands like Powermatic have been re-badging Mao Shan tools since at least the 90s and share a lot with other brands/manufacturers in their group like JET and Performax.
Bench top sanders and you did not even mention Ridge 🤷♂️.
I felt that the combo disc and belt sander was a good example of a larger issue.
Ridgid does not have a benchtop sander like this. They do have a dual belt and spindle sander, which is/was indeed one of the unique models on the market. It also doesn’t have a sanding disc. So, it seemed outside the scope of what I wanted to talk about here.
The old Ridgid design isn’t made anymore, but there are new models made by Delta for Ridgid, and not-quite-clones by Wen and Triton.
I am running into exactly this. I want to buy a benchtop planer for myself for the holidays and have no clue, like is the $400 wen spiral cut better than the $450 dewalt or the $429 triton or $400 craftsman, or the $400 morphon, etc etc.
With the price that close, just go with the Dewalt and don’t look back. It’s well-respected and proven model that many put through years of small commercial shop use.
I used to work in a frame shop that ran about 1000 board feet of maple, walnut, and oak through one of these every other week, before helical cutters were making a buzz. The quality was there, and we never gave it a second thought.
I have the same model, waited on a sale and so was able to get it for <$400, which might not be a price we'll ever see again. If the cutters ever wear out, I'd consider helical cutters, but I'm told helical cutters are louder which is not a plus in my book.
The article makes a great point and the gray areas can be super frustrating. Thankfully the market always responds and you have folks like (my personal favorite) Project Farm who do in-depth, data-driven comparisons with zero sponsorships and the numbers speak for themselves. It may take a little digging to discern the differences but it can be done.
Sometimes you can get the data and sometimes you can’t. I think that channels like Torque Test Channel and Project Farm (among others) have some awfully good videos that cut through a lot of the marketing BS, but:
a) they don’t cover everything. There are plenty of tools you will never find reviewed, and there are plenty of important points that reviews don’t always address.
b) sometimes their methodology is terrible and now people are being fed outright incorrect information. For example, I think Project Farm is generally excellent but their video of testing the torque capability of hex bits is so full of errors it’s hard to figure out where to start complaining. So even generally trustworthy sources can sometimes lead us astray if we aren’t careful.
Consider my experience with the 14″ bandsaw I mentioned above. I certainly could have found out about the price difference if I had done more searching, so that was on me. But I don’t think there was, or is today, any resource available that could have predicted the terrible quality of the knobs causing them to fail some years in the future; a side-by-side comparison video, if one existed, probably wouldn’t have found that problem, or the long-term reliability concern with the bearings either.
There are different products, but this model fits the need and price point of most users. The important thing is the consumable part, the sand belt, is the same for all of them. That way you can go to a big box store and buy a new one. This article is like saying all 7 1/4″ circle saws are 7 1/4″ and that’s boring. Just imagine if every manufacturer had a different size. Not only would the aisle be bigger, but some would be out of stock or special order only
I don’t think this is a valid comparison because there are a lot more variables involved than just the size of the consumables. To go with your 7 1/4″ saw example, there is tons of variety on the market: some are lightweight, some are heavy-duty. Some have a blade-left others have a blade-right configuration. There are differences in what battery platform the tools use and how powerful they are. But there are none of those differences here. It’s the same motor, the same housing, everything is the same, just with minor cosmetic differences like the paint job, decals, etc. Just as how 7 1/4″ circ saws come in different quality levels, power levels, ergonomic configurations there’s no reason why a disc/belt combo sanders couldn’t compete the same way, all while maintaining the same belt/disc size.
Furthermore, I don’t think there’s all that much advantage in standardizing on one size of belt/disc. Hardware stores already have various sizes of those on hand. Multiple size choices don’t seem to be a problem in the circular saw market, 7 1/4″ was the old standard but nowadays there are plenty of other common sizes found at any hardware store.
Got to understand that most of your tools – like your appliances in your house are made in the same factory and binned sets of parts make up the model tiers.
Note how some of these have different motors – no they don’t. what they have is a motor that is from a different test bin. Instead of pass or fail, you now have bin 1-4 or whatever johnson electirc or _______ uses these days. what’s the difference? well the motor is meant to spin X RPM at Z amp current load with Q torque load +/- some % let’s call it 2.
Thats bin 1 – goes in the Dewalt or the milwaukee or the Jet or the ? whatever the top tier product is being made at this shop that day. The one that comes in a 4% will that’s bin 2, and the one that is 6% that’s bin 3. and bin 2 motors go into the ryobi or the Wen or the ? and bin 3 well that might end up in the HF item – but the bin 2 motor might also. Never know.
And that’s done with gear cases and motors and controller circuits if there are any but the raw castings or the injection moldings – short of color and finish quality are the same dies.
And the auto makers do this too as does your new dishwasher and etc. Why by the fridigiare gallery – well it’s the bin 1 motor on the water pump while the base model is the bin 2. and also has less noise abatement….. Or pick whatever spec is important for the part they are most likely binned now.
That’s a big differentiator on products like these. If you are going to use it 3 times a month get the HF model or whichever is cheaper. replace the motor when you can. LIke fred stated one of the big factors here is benchtop size.
I find lately I keep looking at Triton products.
I have to play a slight devil’s advocate here.
How many different ways can a tool be built, within product standard restrictions? When do we draw the line and say “That Hammer is so different, it is no longer a Hammer” instead of “That’s a Hammer” without any doubts?
The “Clones” up top appear to be Sanding/Grinding stations for compact work areas. So, they have to cram the identical sanding tools this small a machine needs to operate, into the same small space. There’s only so many ways to make a Hammer, and the parts required for this particular workbench tool really only fit together one way. This design is a standard, not because of a lack of innovation, but, I would suspect that the requirements for classifying it as… well… What it is… limits them from doing anything different. Once they change something, it’s no longer a bench top sanding and grinding station.
: End Advocation from Said Devil. :
We all know companies like TTI and SBD possess the capacity to recolour/reprint/replicate their top tools for every brand under their umbrellas. That would account for a heavy chunk of these replicants, but not all of them. Being honest… these types of things are increasingly troublesome in the market now. The best you can do is get one from a brand you trust, and hope they actually made sure to get it right, instead of trying to make it work in time for the rest of the brands who released one.
Small Benchtop Machining can be a very painful niche to keep to. I’m considering a few Proxxon tools, and I’m not positive if I want to store them with my Dremel equivalents, or put them in their own spot. It’s the same connundrum. How must we consider what we’re buying?
My wife’s uncle is a VP of a high end blinds and window coverings company – you’d recognize the name. Of course, most of their manufacturing is done in PRC and it has for a long time.
One of the most difficult challenges with that arrangement is (not surprisingly) keeping proprietary designs and technologies isolated to that company’s product offerings. Unfortunately, it’s usually just a matter of time until a good idea finds its way to out and is replicated across all the manufacturing environment. It’s inevitable – while factories may be owned by different companies, they’re all closely held by large conglomerates and ultimately by the Chinese government.
If you have a good design, it will absolutely have a short half-life until it shows up in your competitor’s offerings. Here in the US, we don’t see it as much as cloned inventory is typically kept from our shores just to avoid ire and legal complications, however rest assured that Asian markets have them all.
To Stuart’s point, this is one of those outliers where a cloned design has been co-opted and made available under lots of different brands. In other words, seeing one cloned item under many different brands is somewhat abnormal, but only in first-world markets.
I wonder if the there are different bearings. I have some Wen tools, which I like, I have gone through 2 of their sanders, both died from bearing failure. I also own a band saw from them, same issue, a bearing died on one of the wheels. I have their small dust collector, motor bearings died. I replaced the motor. I have not had this problem with other companies. I don’t abuse my tools, though I do use them a lot. I just bought the clone sander from Grizzly, hoping the bearings are better. Wen has been great with customer service.
there are definitely different bearing grades – i first learned about them when rollerblading as a kid.
other than grading, it also comes down to what kind of bearing [e.g. sealed/unsealed, loose ball/roller/etc] and fitment tolerances.
INdeed and that’s also part of the binning idea too. Amazingly it even gets into thing as cheap as resistors. a 0.50$ resistor vs a 3.00 resistor. It makes a difference.
If you see no innovation it means one of a few things. One is it’s a truly mature market. It’s hard to improve on some things. Granted that’s when we often see marketing/sales gimmicks. I mean stuff like make it pink and promote breast cancer awareness or promote woman woodworkers, anything to create differentiation in the consumers mind.
The second reason is that you are missing the “market”. As a contractor I stopped carrying an air compressor and most of my corded tools a few years ago. The battery stuff is simply better. You will see a similar trend in the store, and portable tools like belt and palm sanders largely displaced benchtoo models. So the market is there, on life support, aka declining.
A third reason is that right before a paradigm shift emerges or even after, innovation tends to be very small and subtle. Once the shift occurs we often see rapid growth and innovation. Paradigm shifts aren’t just a new feature. It’s when we adjust to a new concept, like CNC routers like the Shapeoko. Why innovate on benchtop sign makers for instance.
I think you’re right on the money. What does happen in a mature market is sometimes called “value engineering.” Sometimes that does indeed add value at a lower cost. In other cases, it may be just an attempt to use lower cost components that will have an adverse impact on heavy users. As others have noted, older bench sanders may have had better bearings, longer-living motors or flatter cast iron tables. Such things cost money and the difference may not be apparent to the casual and/or infrequent user – with nothing else to compare it to.
I agree, and I think we can take it a step further and say that most “benchtop” power tools happen to be in a market segment that is ideally suited to value engineering because most discriminating users will avoid that segment entirely. It’s almost entirely casual users. I don’t think very many professionals or serious hobbyists would even consider one of these.
I guess that the old Walker Turner radial arm drill press that I bought and refurbished back in the late 1970’s might have also been technically called a “benchtop tool”. So would have been the monster Dewalt RAS that sat in the corner of our cabinet shop. But I get what you mean. But these, like the 5 Skil branded ones that Stuart posted about (12/27) still seem to appeal to some novice woodworkers who either don’t have the room, pocketbook or inclination to buy something else.
My first woodworking tool was a Craftsman RAS – bought when I was in my 20’s and didn’t know any better. I succumbed to Sear’s advertising hype that this was a “can do most everything tool.” They were very popular in the 1960’s. My fist attempt to rip some 5/4 stock taught me a lesson. When I moved to a house with much more room – a Unisaw replaced the RAS and an 8 inch Delta jointer replaced the benchtop model that I had struggled with.
Of course there is some grey area to the term “benchtop” but I think we all know I’m talking about the very low end tools specifically.
Speaking of combination disc-and-belt sanders, the Grizzly G1276 and G1183 could easily be called “benchtop” but are in a whole different category from these heaps of junk. Those sanders are excellent, by the way. The former is 1725 RPM, the latter is 3450.
Amen – both of those Grizzly machines are in the price range of what I’d expect to pay for a decent machine. Meanwhile my old Rockwell-Delta 6″belt/12″ disk sander still soldiers on – and will likely outlive me.
Brands are not companies anymore, remember that.
And the consumer tool segment is a portfolio of incestuous brands & contract factories.
My 25 years of marketing experience tells me that 9 of the 12 sanders are made in the same factory and overseen by one “company.” Same as the toothpaste aisle.
I’m not saying brand doesn’t matter but in these lower range tools it’s just a marketing play, not a bunch of engineers in front of a whiteboard.
Since you mentioned it, any recommendations on a benchtop mill or lathe? Just looking to do aluminum, nothing too crazy. The only options I keep finding are $200 toys, $2,000 machines that promise the moon but look suspiciously like $200 toys with carbon fiber added, or $20,000+ machines that require three-phase power and a machinist willing to learn German.
I’d love to have a buyer’s guide so I can know what I’m getting (or missing) at each tier, and what to avoid or insist on, feature-wise. In the alternative, if such a thing already exists elsewhere, a firm push in that direction would also be appreciated.
In my research for home garage-sized (w cars parked inside) metal mills and lathes, people throughout various forums point to https://littlemachineshop.com.
They apparently use decent Chinese machines as a base and replace all parts that makes them sloppy to create an affordable precision machine.
It’s called a contract build. A tool brand just pays a generic offshore manufacturer to build an existing product with their branding aesthetics. The main reason is it’s cheap. The manufacturer is always building at a large scale and just rotating through the aesthetic bits, so it keeps their cost down. They can offer competitive prices to tool brands and that tool brand adds another offering to their product portfolio on the cheap. It’s a very common practice. It’s almost universally done on things like store brand sockets or hand tools.
Apparently no one knows what OEMs are and how they work. One company in China probably makes all of these sanders and they are just rebranded. You don’t really see this too much with other tools. Maybe bench top grinders (not much to change on those) cheap Drill presses, and bench top planers. I’m guessing a lot of these clones are simply made by an OEM and just branded as necessary. It’s not some big mystery. But let’s be real if you want a cheap tool, beggars can’t be choosy.
This isn’t just about sanders, but benchtop jointers, planers, band saws, drill presses.
Unlike tools such as portable table saws or miter saws, there is a severe lack of clear differentiation in most benchtop tool categories.
In Mexico, Truper and Knova also sells the same sander.
i think it was interesting that the benchtop sanders were selected. I agree on the commonality of designs. There is virtually no distinctions between these models. I ended up getting the Ryobi model when i found it on sale. It works fine and frankly there was no compelling reason for me to have purchased something different.
But its not like a lot of these category desktop tools and really provide any innovation. Its not like these are table saws for instance. There is no real brand loyalty when there is no common battery constraint or anything like that.