As we've touched on in various articles in the past like our “10 Hand Tool Brands That Don't Get The Love They Deserve“, when it comes to tools, things aren't always as they appear. From tool trucks to big box stores, EVERY major tool company in America re-brands products someone else made. There are some instances where you can walk in a store like Sears or Home Depot and get the EXACT same tool you can get on the tool truck, for a fraction of the cost.
When you think about it, the notion that each individual company would manufacture their own, patented, brand specific, version of everything, is pretty impractical. If you're a tool manufacturer you have to ask yourself if there is really enough demand to support another company (or 10) making a specific specialty tool to justify the huge cost of setting up production for it. A lot of times the answer is no, leading many companies to simply re-brand items some other manufacturer produced. It doesn't only happen on the trucks. Some items available in a Craftsman version, has a genetically identical Husky twin, and so on.
While “re-branding” may be a completely normal practice, knowing who makes what for whom may be the difference in paying $30 for something, or paying $100 for the same, exact, item. We couldn't possibly cover every re-branded item in 10 articles, much less one, but this article is an attempt to turn you onto some commonly re-branded items with wildly varying prices. It is not about items that are shared across lines owned by the same parent company like Snap-On/Williams, Matco/Armstrong (kinda), Mac/Proto, etc., it is solely about items bought from one manufacturer and sold by another.
Lisle Corporation has been around since 1903. They started out selling horse powered drilling machines, but eventually turned their focus to the automotive specialty tool market. They sell a lot of stuff under their own name, but they also supply a lot of their stuff to the tool trucks who in turn sell it at a substantial mark-up. Here are just a few examples:
Lisle 43300 Pneumatic Fan Clutch Set
This set makes life a lot easier when replacing a fan clutch or water pump. It enables you to use an air hammer instead of trying to finagle a conventional wrench in a very tight area. You can purchase the Lisle branded set from Tooldiscounter.com for $108.49, or you can purchase the exact same Lisle made set from Matco for $241.60. Matco was even kind enough to use the exact same picture.
Lisle 39900 Master Fuel Line Disconnect Set
If you've ever pulled a motor or disconnected fuel or A/C lines on a car, you know how handy this set is to have. At $39.95 from Amazon it's a great buy, even if you'll only use it once. But if you insist, you can spend $78.60 to get it from Snap-On, $75.10 to get it with a Matco sticker on the lid, or $74.99 from Mac. I do have to admit though, I like the red case with the Mac set.
Lisle 18000 Camshaft Bearing Tool Set
Need to install or remove some camshaft bearings efficiently? If so, you can get the Lisle branded version from Tooldiscounter.com for $138. If you've got a bunch of extra dollars burning a hole in your pocket, you can get the exact same set from Snap-On for $254.70, or from Matco for $248.75.
Lisle 69300 Relay/Fused Circuit Test Set
Testing relays is a PITA. This set includes the tools needed to make the process a lot simpler. You can pick up the Lisle version from Amazon for $146, or from Matco for $253.75. You can also get a portion of the kit from Snap-On for $213.
Lang is another OEM for many tools sold on the trucks. You can buy directly from Lang, but they can usually be found elsewhere cheaper. Here are just a few examples.
Lang 5278 Bit Ratchet Set
Bit ratchets are pretty handy to have around, and for under $25, there's no reason not to. But, if you aren't terribly concerned with budget, you can get the Blue Point branded version on the Snap-On truck for $58, or from Matco for $53.
Kastar KAS950 Gasket Cutter Set
I have this set in the Mac version. It's a great set to have if you ever need to cut your own gaskets for a restoration project or something. Of course, Kastar makes the same set sold on all the trucks. You can put it in your box for a mere $25 from Tooldiscounter.com, or you can get it from Snap-on for $51, from Mac for $49.99, or from Matco for $49.55.
Lang 48 Piece Thread Restorer Set
Perhaps Lang's greatest tool is the 48 piece thread chaser set. It is a fantastic set that has been a life saver for me over the couple of years I've had it. Many people use traditional T&D's to repair threads, but chasers are the proper tool for the job. Even at $128.70 from Snap-On, from Matco for $141.80 (Matco calls it a 51 piece, but trust me, it's the same set) or $124.99 from Mac, I would have to say it's worth it's price. But that wouldn't make for a very interesting article would it? You can get the exact same Lang made set at Sears for a $49, and yes, it is the exact same set.
With the exception of the newer Snap-On models, which I believe Snap-On is making in house, I think Stride Imperial makes damn near every retaining ring plier made in America. Such as:
This set is popular. It contains virtually every size retaining ring plier you'll ever need. They can typically be had for around $150. If you insist, you can get it from SK for $209, From Proto for $210, from Matco for $252, or how about from Armstrong for over $400. To be fair, you can find the Armstrong version as cheap as $273, so let that be a lesson in shopping around. There is also a 6 piece version of this set that follows the same patterns.
You can pick up this Heavy Duty Replaceable tip set for under $100. Prices don't vary as wildly on this set, but if you're not into Imperial, you can get this set from Proto, SK, Armstrong, or just about anyone else for about $10 more. There is also a less robust 2 piece version that is widely rebranded as well
Milbar 25W Wire Twisting Pliers
If twisting wire is something you do very often, these pliers are definitely worth considering. If you haven't seen them in action, there are some videos on YouTube that demonstrate. They're pretty nifty. You can pick up the Milbar version for $71. As we've seen, you can spend a lot more money on the exact same pliers. Matco sells them for $136 and was even awesome enough to use the same 25W model number. You can also get them from SK for $139, Proto for $83, Mac for $121.99, etc, etc, etc,.
Colorado Springs based Western Forge is a dedicated OEM best known for their long association with certain Craftsman items. Any Craftsman item you have that has a WF stamped on it was made by Western Forge. In 2010 Ideal Industries acquired Western Forge, as well as Pratt-Read and SK, making Ideal a sudden power player in the hand tool market. Despite the SK association, WF still supplies many items to other manufacturers, such as:
Western Forge is one of the only manufacturers still making adjustable wrenches in the USA. Take a look at a Craftsman adjustable the next time you're in Sears and you'll see this stamp:
You'll also see this same stamp on adjustable wrenches sold under the names SK, Proto, Martin, Williams, Ridgid, and others. That being said, there are some features exclusive to certain brands, such as Proto's Clik-Stop feature.
Western Forge makes all 3 styles of Craftsman screwdrivers and has for years. As of 2008 they'd made over 1,000,000,000 of them.
They also make the same drivers for Home Depot's Husky line. You'll also find the familiar WF stamp on punches, chisels, pliers, jaw pullers, and other items sold under many different brand names.
Other Notable Re-Brands
Grip On Locking Pliers: If you haven't noticed, NOBODY is making locking pliers in America anymore. Today, the finest locking pliers you can buy are made by a Spanish company called Grip On. Whether you buy them from Snap-On, Mac, Proto, or others, they're all the same. As bad as I hate to say it, they are better pliers than any USA Vise-Grips ever were. The notable difference is the release lever that doesn't pinch the crap out of your finger every time you use it.
Speaking of Spain, Irega is a spanish producer of high quality adjustable wrenches sold under several names including Channellock and Blackhawk.
Marson Rivet Tools: Marson has been the first name it riveting tools for years. You can get the basic 39001-HP2 set with 200 rivets for $33. You can also buy the same Marson kit from Snap-On or Matco for $98, or from Mac for $89, and probably from several others for a lot more than $33.
Irwin Taps & Dies: When it comes to high carbon taps and dies, the Irwin sets are really nice. For automotive, restoration, or DIY use, the 117 piece 26377 set should be all you ever need. You can pick it up at Amazon for $262. You can also pick it up on the Snap-On truck for almost $500, or a slightly different Irwin made set on the Matco truck for $420. Irwin makes several variations of T&D sets, but I promise, if it's on a tool truck, it was made by Irwin. Irwin drill bits are commonly re-branded as well. If it's a nice quality bit and made in Brazil, it's likely Irwin.
What about the newer Kobalt ratchets everyone seems to really like?
These are made by a Taiwan based company called Rotar. Known for their Toptul line, they make decent quality stuff. The same ratchet is available from Toptul, EZ Red, Titan, and others. You can just about pick what name you want on it.
We could go on for days showing all the items re-branded across the many product lines available to us, but the moral of this story is that it pays to shop around. Hopefully this article proves that guy at your shop who get's pissed off at the mere suggestion that Snap-On, Matco, Mac, or any other brand, doesn't make the best of everything, is a blow hard moron. My intention is not to knock the tool trucks. I like truck tools and have a lot of Mac stuff that I love, but it's crazy to think they manufacture everything they sell. In some cases the trucks may offer a superior warranty that might even justify a higher price, but that isn't always the case and a lot of times warranty all depends on your individual relationship with a driver. Tool trucks also offer payment plans and credit lines to make purchasing easier for professionals. If you're considering a big tool purchase, it pays (literally) to head over to our forum, or any of the other reputable tool forums, and ask the guys who know tools better than anyone for some suggestions. You might just get a lot more tools for your money.