Here is a set of (Sears) Craftsman gimbal palm ratchets.
Here’s something very similar by Husky.
And this one is from Gearwrench.
Brandon wrote in, asking about tool design origins.
I’ve been getting more and more into German tools lately and something has been bothering me. I’m wondering if you can shed some light? How do you figure out who came up with a tool design?
I used to think Knipex was really innovative, until I realized a lot of the same tool designs can be found under Gedore, Wiha, and even Irwin and Snap-on branding. Wire cutters (“cutting pliers”), Swedish pipe wrenches, push button sliding adjustable pliers, these are all common designs between a bunch of German and American tool brands.
So my question is are there a few plants somewhere that actually make all of these tools and the various companies just rebrand them and put their own grips/colors on? Or does one of these companies come up with the design and everyone else copies? If this is the case is there a way to figure out who came up with a design first and give that company your money? I hate to think I’m buying into a tool design and ideology only to find out its actually a copied design that some other company spent the time engineering.
I’ve noticed this same thing with power tool manufacturers. Milwaukee will come out with something I think is really innovative, but then I’ll realize Bosch has been making almost the exact same design for years (for example, Milwaukee’s compact M18 blower). Or I’ll buy a Milwaukee bit set and see the exact same bit set, case, and everything in a different color being sold by Bosch, DeWalt, and Makita.
Its all frustrating because who do you give money to when they are all making the same tools? How do you justify paying more for say a Knipex when you can get an Irwin in a different color handle for cheaper? Thanks for any help or light you can shed on these questions!
Sometimes tools look similar, but are not identical, with no evidence that they’re made at the same factory by the same OEM.
This is the Milwaukee M12 Fuel Hackzall.
This is the Bosch 12V Max compact reciprocating saw.
I would very highly doubt that Bosch contracted Milwaukee or TTI to manufacture their tools, and so I am confident that they’re not coming from the same factor. But, if Milwaukee patented the design, there would be a likelihood of cooperation or licensing of some manner.
In any case, that’s an example of tools that are similar. Power tool accessories and bit boxes? Well, there are some OEMs that different brands might use, if they don’t want to make something themselves.
These cantilever tool boxes might say “Kreg,” but I’m 99.999% certain that they’re made by Keter.
You can find similar boxes under other brands.
Grip-on makes their own locking pliers, and are rebranded under Proto and Snap-on labels. NWS makes their own pliers, and for a short time Irwin came out with a series of NWS-made pliers, featuring unique-to-Irwin handles and even a couple of unique tool designs.
See Also: Irwin NWS-Made Pliers
Here’s a photo of Knipex Pliers Wrenches and Cobra pliers. The black-handled ones are Craftsman-labeled. It has never been officially confirmed, but it’s commonly understood that Knipex manufactures those Cobra pliers for the Craftsman brand.
At the top of the page is an example of gimbal-style palm ratchets across three brands.
A few years ago, Klein came out with a tap drill bit set. It’s something that they wanted to offer customers, but it’s likely not something they’re making themselves.
I believe that this Klein wire stripper was produced in-house by them.
But they used to look like Craftsman’s Professional wire strippers, which I believe were made by Stride.
There are many more examples of identical tools wearing different branding. Why would a brand outsource tool production or designs to an external company? Well, let me ask this – would you buy a tool from a first-time tool-maker? Would a retailer?
Milwaukee recently came out with combination wrenches and mechanical wrenches. Before that, they entered the tool storage market. And also, there’s their organizers and Packout tool boxes.
Sometimes brands work with other OEMs to produce unique tools for their market or target users. Other times, there’s a known product that’s perfect as-is, and rebranding only involves cosmetic differences.
Currently, Dewalt is contracting with Sortimo to make a work van storage system for their ToughSystem tool boxes and components.
It can take a lot of resources to duplicate industry know-how, knowledge, and experience. Setting up new tool production lines? Factories?
Sometimes experienced workers can be won over, but there’s still a question of production.
Power tool brands don’t make every aspect of a tool themselves.
Porter Cable’s low profile sander (later rebranded under Dewalt), isn’t available anymore, because its specialized motor isn’t available anymore.
There are two questions to address.
Which tool to buy when there are functional similarities?
Which tool to buy when only the branding is different?
When tools offer similar functionality, one might be superior than other, even if the differences seem minor or even trivial. That’s pretty much what led to ToolGuyd. I had been seeking to answer “what’s the difference?” about a lot of tools, and wanted to share my findings.
But what happens when there’s the same exact tool offered by different brands?
These Snap-on low-profile screwdrivers are $15-16 each. Or you can buy a 3pc Anex screwdriver set for $15 via Amazon. There are a number of Snap-on products like that. Why would someone buy the Snap-on set? I suppose they might not know about the Anex set. Or maybe they do, and need or want the Snap-on to-your-door service.
I have seen Knipex partner up with other tool brands. Here’s a new PB Swiss set that features Knipex pliers. In that case, the pliers aren’t rebranded, they keep their Knipex labeling.
Knipex has worked with other screwdriver brands before, I believe they worked with Witte, and here’s a Knipex VDE pliers and screwdriver set that features Wera screwdrivers.
Sometimes the answer is clear – go for the less expensive product.
Other times, warranty considerations come into play. Or availability. Or there might be small differences. Irwin’s NWS-made pliers featured what looks to be NWS’s black Teflon finish. What if you wanted a different finish? NWS offers other options.
Milwaukee’s combination wrenches and ratcheting wrenches look to be made by Infar. There’s no easy way to confirm things like this with absolute certainty, but they appear to be Infar designs, beyond a reasonable doubt.
I have never seen Infar tools sold in the USA before. So which to buy? Well, availability makes the choice for you.
The Husky technician tool case was available, for a time, and I don’t think I have ever seen Keter-branded ones.
I had a Craftsman-branded version of this Keter tool box. You can buy the Keter version through Amazon.
There’s no consistent way to discuss OEM-made tools, because variables are constantly changing. Sometimes one brand of the same tool is less expensive, other times one is simply more available.
But let’s say there are two tools at the same price. Well, which one has the battery warranty or customer support?
If you buy a Gearwrench palm ratchet, and it breaks, how will you get it repaired? What about Craftsman? Husky? As of the time of this posting, Sears no longer sells that tool, the Gearwrench ratchet is less expensive, and the Husky has a higher tooth (or position) count and is available in a few socket set options.
With something like cordless blowers, most tools are going to look similar, in the same way that most 16 ounce claw hammers will look alike.
In his email, Brandon mentioned adjustable pliers. Shown here are two generations of Irwin Groove-Lock pliers.
Here are Knipex-made Cobra pliers. Despite similar appearances, the Irwin are made in Asia, and the Knipex in Germany. There’s a big quality difference. I bought Irwin pliers first, because they were a great value, and then I bought my Craftsman ones, because they were on sale for far lower than I could buy Knipex ones for.
If I recall correctly, the Craftsman 2-piece set was $25. I don’t think you can get just one Knipex Cobra pliers for that low.
There will be times when a rebranded tool is more expensive, without offering anything in exchange for the premium, aside from wearing a different label and maybe different colors. In those cases, it just comes down to customer awareness.
The best way to sort things out is to be an informed buyer. If you’ve been following or reading ToolGuyd (and the excellent and extraordinary comments!), or are involved in enthusiast forums or communities, you’re ahead of the curve. It’s with the help of the tool enthusiast community that we can (usually) sort through OEM and branding uncertainties.