The Garage Tools

Here’s How Tool Companies Charge Vastly Different Prices for the Same Tools

"It's a poor workman who blames his tools" — some dead guy.
Assortment of tools
Hank O'Hop

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Make no mistake; there’s no replacement for good tools, as it’s a lot easier to focus on your craftsmanship when cheap junk isn’t making life miserable. And a good rule to live by is to spend good money on the tools you use most, even if the initial blast of buying high-quality tools will make you cry at first. But it’s a plunge you’ll thank yourself for taking every time you pick them up to go to work from then on. That’s especially true if you use them to make a living. 

But does it make sense to pay a premium when the same tool with a different sticker on the side is available for much cheaper? Most would agree it’s nice to have nice things, but not if it means getting ripped off. Yet, this seems to be a really common occurrence in the tool world as a lot of what the top names are offering seems to have cheap clones available. And if you spend a little time doing your homework, you’ll find out that there are a lot of opportunities to get what the pros are pedaling at serious discounts, so long as you’re willing to forgo name-brand recognition. 

Matco is probably the first name to come to the minds of many vets when this subject comes up. Many of its tools can be had at much lower costs through brands like Icon and Central Pneumatic. They aren’t the only ones falling under scrutiny, though. Milwaukee is being compared to Rigid regularly, as is DeWalt to Hercules and even Snap-On to Daytona. Let’s talk about what’s going on here. 

Stanley and Craftsman ratcets
Stanley and Craftsman ratchet internals Hank O’Hop

What is Rebranding?

If you’re deep in the tool rabbit hole, rebranding is a term you’re going to hear a lot. This refers to when a manufacturer outsources the production of a tool or sources a tool from a third-party manufacturer and stamps its name on it. 

What that means is that more often than not, the same pro-level tool can be purchased from a much more economical brand. And that means you might be able to score the same tools someone pays a premium for from a tool truck for a fraction of the price. 

A good example of this is the above Daytona floor jack at Harbor Freight. Garnet Tools does a great job of summarizing the whole ordeal. Summed up, Snap-On offers the exact same jack at nearly triple the cost. Not just a similar jack, it’s made by the exact same manufacturer. By comparing the two side by side, it’s apparent that the only real difference between them is the sticker on the side. In other words, you’re saving serious cash at Harbor Freight. 

A similar practice that’s not quite as taboo takes place when brands share the same parent company. In most cases, you can find the exact same tools in any of the lines for different prices. For example, Stanley Black and Decker offers Craftsman, DeWalt, and Stanley

I personally had the opportunity to test out tools from each of those brands. As it turns out the ratchets shared the same head kit, and could even be swapped around and function just fine. The same can be said for many tool lines offered by the Apex Tool Group, which includes Crescent, Gearwrench, and Sata. 

It’s Not Every Tool 

Before you walk away feeling jaded or under the impression that anything that looks similar must be the same, I should clarify that there are as many original tools and knockoffs as there are rebrands. The fact is that some tool lines really do manufacture many of its own tools, and the companies put a lot of time into making sure you’re getting a high-quality product. 

However, as much as those brands want to push the illusion that the same production process is applied across the entire line, that’s simply not the case. These companies can and will let someone else make a tool for cheaper if it makes sense. The silver lining is that a big-name manufacturer probably isn’t going to put their name on garbage products. Well, it might, but it’ll try not to do it often. 

Trunk tool kit
Hank O’Hop

Companies might also make some slight tweaks of its own so the design doesn’t directly match what everyone else is using. Those changes may be small but can make a difference in how a tool looks, feels, and potentially even performs. 

Another more common trend is that the bigger names can pay more for the manufacturing process than smaller brands can. That often translates to the “better” tools undergoing more stringent quality testing. So when you save on the tool, you just might take a hit in quality control. That’s something I picked up on when working in the parts industry. 

Where to Research 

The main takeaway from this discussion is that a little bit of homework can go a long way. Not taking a tool manufacturer’s claims at face value can potentially save you thousands when building your collection of reliable tools. 

You can do the research for yourself, which is to read into who owns a company you’re interested in buying tools from, what other brands fall under the same umbrella, and, of course, by making astute observations of similar tools on the market, that may or may not come from sister companies. 

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You should be doing all of that already to protect your investment, but it takes time to build the instincts and knowledge you need to move efficiently through that space. In the meantime, you can save yourself a lot of the heavy lifting by turning to well-established sources that know the industry like the back of their hand. 

Mr. Subaru is a big one in that space and is a great source of information about tools used by mechanics. I also highly recommend Garnet Tools, a fellow Pennsylvanian who does an excellent job of deep diving into anything he gets his hands on. CP the Tool Addict and Tool Demos are another great set of sources that regularly explore this very topic, too. 

Grinder and Pliers
Hank O’Hop

This kind of knowledge is far more powerful than you might think. Why? Because everyone does it, including many parts manufacturers. Most of those affordable in-house brands are actually the exact same stuff as the premium parts suppliers are pushing. That applies to both repair and modification parts. Warranties and boxes might change, but the parts beneath it all are the same. 

And don’t get me started on all the badge engineering when it comes to actual vehicles…cough, cough, Toyobaru.

Obviously, it’s a double-edged sword, and you can easily get burned if you’re not careful. Don’t just assume that cheap parts, tools, or cars from the same companies as more expensive offerings are as good as those expensive items. Those bigger brands can charge premium prices for a reason, and it’s not just because everyone’s an idiot but you. 

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