Why do we complain about Chinese furniture?

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Forum topic by JBoss posted 10-28-2010 10:51 PM 2564 views 0 times favorited 32 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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37 posts in 3049 days

10-28-2010 10:51 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

First, I am as guilty as anyone of what I am about to say. My North American made tools are few and far between and I can count the number of North American power tools I own with no fingers. So this is not meant to blame anyone on here, just a question.
I have noticed that we love to complain out Wal-Mart, IKEA, etc furniture, and hate it when people say, “Why spend the money on that when I can buy something similar at Wal-Mart for a 1/4 of the price you want. We like to talk about how its hand made, it made with good materials, basically much higher quality. Yet we made it with tools that are made over seas. We see the benefit of buying cheap stuff that gets the job done, but expect them not to. Why do we except more form the buyer of wooden products than the maker of them?
Any ideas?

32 replies so far

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37 posts in 3049 days

#1 posted 10-29-2010 12:53 AM

I wasn’t talking about rather or not we should buy anything form china (which I don’t think we should) but as to why so many of us hold the wood product consumer to a higher level than the woodworker

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Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3875 days

#2 posted 10-29-2010 01:41 AM

I think there is a difference …
~ First, even if the tools were made in the US, very few would be handmade. They’d be cranked out by the hundereds by a machine.
~ Second, even though the tools are probably not built to as high standards in China as they would be in the US, they are usually pretty functional – I have plenty of tools that are still going strong after several years of near daily use. On the other hand, a lot of cheap furniture is falling apart before the consumer gets it home.
~ Third, I expect my tools to last for years, and I will abandon a brand if their tools don’t perform. However, consumers seem perfectly happy to replace their furniture every couple of years when the cheap stuff breaks.

Personally, I don’t care if a customer chooses Wal-mart instead of buying from me, if they choose to deal with the poor quality in exchange for getting a low price. What bugs me is that so many people have been convinced to completely ignore quality comparisons and make a decision solely on price.

-- -- --

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3459 days

#3 posted 10-29-2010 03:44 AM

I’ll go ahead and admit that in my 8 yr old son’s bedroom he has a walmart bookshelf, and an Ikea art desk. I would rather him tear that crap up instead of something I put a lot of work and expensive hardwood into. I can handle $15 for a cheap bookshelf… it will work until he is mature enough to not damage/abuse his furniture.

-- San Diego, CA

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3075 days

#4 posted 10-29-2010 04:23 AM

I’d like to buy tools made in the U.S., but what can we buy? Lie-Nielsen & Bridge City Tools are the only 2 companies that I know, for a fact, make their products here. Both have a limited product line, no power tools and are quite expensive. There are no moderately priced power tools made in the U.S..

I regret this but what can one do?

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2962 days

#5 posted 10-29-2010 02:34 PM

OK, go through out anything made in a foreign country and see what you have left. I have a friend who owns a furniture manufacturing business (third generation). He says he can buy furniture from China, pay shipping and duties cheaper than he can make it here in SE Tennessee, which at one time was a furniture center.

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4424 posts in 3743 days

#6 posted 10-29-2010 03:03 PM

I think Jboss has an interesting post and one that indeed exposes some of our own hypocricy

We needn’t look hard to see lots of threads about how to price products, and what are good sales tactics etc. In these there is a lot of indignation about “crap from China” and particle board bookcases and Ikea.

Yet we see people praising the terrific value of the new lathe they just got from Harbor Freight.
Indeed today powermatic and delta are largely made in Taiwan. I see Jboss’ question as not so much a ‘Made in USA’ issue, but that many frankly go the budget route and fill their shops with “crap”.....and then complain about other people doing the same thing when buying crap furniture.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3086 days

#7 posted 10-29-2010 04:35 PM

I can see the price and quality issue, but I found my own solution. Most of my shop tools are old made in USA
tools that I have bought,eg Delta 6” jointer & Craftsman(King-Seeley) shaper @ $50.00 each and rebuilt in
my shop. My latest is an old Delta Compound Slide Rest #46-965 for my old Delta 12” lathe. It was in a big
plastic bin in pieces for free. In another week it will be setting on my lathe so I can do some fine lathe work.
At 71 my hands are not always steady after 6 hours of playing in the shop. This is not a solution for everyone,
nor is it a cure for the overall problem of manufacturers sending their factories overseas to save dollars and
leaving the US with fewer jobs and a big trade deficit. With many unions gone wages are down and people
have to buy what they can afford, it is a vicious circle. Time for me to get of my soapbox and go play in the

AS ever, Gus the 71 yr young apprentice, trying to become a carpenters apprentice.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View childress's profile


841 posts in 3542 days

#8 posted 10-29-2010 05:58 PM

Jboss, I see your point exactly… I was actually thinking the same thing about myself recently. Not wanting to lower my standard of craftsmanship just so I could, in turn, lower the selling price – to get more sales. I told myself that I was making something “in the USA” with a much better product than what everybody else goes out and buys. I found myself even starting to tell the consumer that, hoping it would cause more of an appreciation…..Then I find myself in my shop looking and thinking about all the tools I use to make these “Made in USA” products. I try not to come from that point of view anymore and also try not to think about it….at all. Instead, I am thinking that I produce a supreme crafted product, that will outlive, tenfold, anything that is cheaply made…And believe me, there is a shitload of cheap “made in the USA” things.

-- Childress Woodworks

View NathanAllen's profile


376 posts in 3145 days

#9 posted 10-29-2010 06:21 PM

Its not the Walmart/Target/IKEA furniture that gets my blood boiling. What upsets me is the cheaply manufactured mass market Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, and other “premium” furniture sold at a premium price.

View Jack_T's profile


623 posts in 3032 days

#10 posted 10-29-2010 06:55 PM

I understand JBoss’s point. If we are honest with ourselves we wouldn’t be upset because we are really doing the same thing. We are trying to stretch our buying power. Would it be difficult and expensive to limit our tool purchases to “made in North America” (we should not exclude our brothers and sisters to the north), of course it would. But we could do it. We just wouldn’t have as many fancy new tools in our shops and we all might have to work a little harder and maybe develop our hand tool skills a little more. It is a choice we make and we shouldn’t be heard to complain when others make the same choice.

On a side note, PeterOxley, where its made is not determinative of the standard to which something is made. The products made in China are made to the standards specified by the manufacturer, to wit, the company whose brand name is on the product. They specify the materials, they specify and implement the quality control. If you buy a product from China and it is poorly made don’t blame the chinese worker. Blame the company that made it and sold it. If they made it in North America or South America or anywhere else it would still be the same poorly made product because that is what the company wanted to make and sell.

To be clear, I do not think that I am better than anyone else and I am as guilty as everyone else in this hypocrisy of everyone else but me should buy “made in the U.S.”

-- Jack T, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."

View DrDirt's profile


4424 posts in 3743 days

#11 posted 10-29-2010 08:17 PM

Great points – reason I try to steer from the ‘Made in USA’ argument is that I understand (though my budget hasn’t allowed) purchase of Festool products. So they guy with those green and black tools and a stack of ‘Systainers’ filled with dominoes wouldn’t get a “Why not Porter Cable” spiel from me!

I also like Nathans point about the Pottery Barn stuff. I do use those catalogs as Target price points because while I don’t even want to try to go head to head with Walmart and Ikea. I see that the ‘Mass High End’ market, I can and do compete with.
I can certainly make things better crafted than Pottery Barn, and Eddie Bauer Home and match their prices, except for dining chairs – - I can’t make any money trying to make arts and crafts dining chairs at 90 bucks a piece.
Go to the Pottery Barn catalog and you find painted poplar and pine kids furniture – 1300 for a twin bed abd 300 dollar nightstands.
I can do that and not have to subsist on Raman Noodles.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2971 days

#12 posted 10-29-2010 08:51 PM

Last power tool I was able to buy that was made in the USA was a Millwaukee Sawzall about 2 years ago. I looked at 9 different brands and that was the only one made here. I would have paid more to have USA on the label, but in fact it was not the most expensive.

I’ll agree with NathanAllen above, the stuff companies farm out to China for manufacture then stick a high end price on is the stuff I hate the most.

It doesn’t have to be this way either. I was in Spain and Belgium last spring and you go to stores over there and China made junk was really hard to find.

View Ramonajim's profile


7 posts in 2770 days

#13 posted 10-29-2010 08:53 PM

Mr. Oxley, I don’t mean to pick on your personally, but I’m going to snag a quote from your post to illustrate my point…. a bit of background from the new guy, first:

I’ve been involved in manufacturing for 25+ years, including managing manufacturing facilities in the US, Mexico, and (remotely) in China. I’ve worked with Mexican, Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Israeli, Scottish, French, German, and British contract manufacturing facilities.

You made the comment “even though the tools are probably not built to as high standards in China as they would be in the US…”

I beg to differ. My experience has been that the factory, no matter where it is located or the nationality of the people on the factory line, is going to produce whatever the company that owns the design specifies AND accepts.

The drive to reduce costs, particularly in consumer goods, is what pushes tool and furniture companies (and and and and and most everybody else) to low cost regions for manufacturing. The same drive to reduce costs dictates designs that are cheaper to manufacture – some of this is implemented by smart, robust engineering; some of it by cutting corners on material, loosening tolerances on machined parts, etc.

Some of the products that I am currently having manufactured in China are what I consider to be precision devices – fiber optic microscopes with machined parts requiring +/- 0.0002 tolerances on a 6” dimension, for example. The Chinese machine shop making these probes is perfectly capable of running these all day long. My customers pay for this precision dearly – they need it, so they pay.

If I, as a consumer, keep telling the black and decker/craftsman/snap-ons of the world that loose handles and inconsistent performance and 1 year useful working life are acceptable traits in their products (they must be acceptable, because they keep selling) then they’re going to keep designing products to that level of quality – and the factories that build the products are going to continue to build them to that level of quality.

Which is a really long winded way of saying – it ain’t the Chinese factory, or the Chinese factory worker, or the Chinese government that gave birth to the piece of crap tool you just broke – it’s the company (American or otherwise) that created the product design that gave birth to the piece of crap tool you just broke.

View crank49's profile


4030 posts in 2971 days

#14 posted 10-30-2010 03:26 AM

Well, I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but there is one other point about China that has not been mentioned; or if it has I missed it.
Say a US company like Robins and Meyers Cranes and Hoists goes to China for manufacturing of a line of their hoists. They go to a big manufacturer over there and they get the hoists made for 1/10th the cost of doing it here. They are all happy and of course still selling those hoists at the same price they always did. That’s the way it works; maximize shareholder profit. Then next year here comes their hoist with a different name on it and being sold at Harbor Freight for 1/2 price or less. Guess what, they can’t do shit about it because those knock-off hoists are being manufactured in 40 little back yard shops all over the place and there is no legal way to stop it. They are not exact copies, they just look like it, but they’re made from cheap material, with loose tolerances in facilities with no environmental controls, using slave labor, child labor, hazardous materials, anything goes..
Now, who is at fault here? The American company for going over there for cheap manufacturing? The folks that buy cheap stuff no matter how it was made? The Chinese government for ignoring patent and copyright laws?
How can we do anything about it? All I know to do is buy American Made every chance I can afford it. I can’t always afford it though. I wish there would be a tarriff on Chinese goods until they start honoring copyright and patent laws. That ain’t gonna happen.
I recently bought a Craftsman table saw. Paid $410 for it. I have been an engineer in a foundry for nearly 40 years. I can tell you there is no way in hell we could cast and machine that saw table top to sell for $410, even if every thing else was free. Maintaining the polution controls and stupid government required red tape we have to wade through would cost more than the cast table top of that saw. And we’re not even a union shop. If we were that would add another layer of costs.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 2984 days

#15 posted 10-30-2010 11:54 AM

Why do we except more form the buyer of wooden products than the maker of them?

Sticking to the point of your post and not the economics of products here. You ask a valid question which comes to comparison as to cheap vs. quality. As a woodworker I don’t expect the buyer to do anything, but then I am a hobbyist and not commercially motivated. Woodworkers tend to be tool junkies that have a need to acquire different tools to perform different tasks. So we sacrifice quality for price to acquire what we want. When we find a tool that is used a lot, we tend to upgrade that cheap tool to a quality tool.
We now have a quality tool that will last for years after we’re gone, to be passed down to other family members making that tool a heirloom tool if you will.
As with furniture consumers they also are furniture junkies at least some I know. I know people who change furniture almost as much as they change underwear. Some are young to middle aged and have a variety of reasons for the need to change or replace pieces of furniture.
When they find something they like, they to will upgrade to quality, and have a piece that will become a heirloom to be passed down.
So We expect more from them as they are coming to us to get that quality piece, thats made just for them.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

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