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Made in . . . ???

The problem with poor-quality foreign parts

Remember the term “Made in the U.S.A.”? It wasn’t that long ago that the phrase was often used by manufactures to instill confidence in the product they were promoting. By-and-large, American manufacturers have produced good-quality parts and materials. In my 25+ years in the trades, I can only recall a couple of incidents where we received a part or component made in the U.S. of such poor quality that it failed immediately after being installed.

The bathroom as we initially found it. (Note: Click any image to enlarge. Hit the "back" button on your browser to return to article.)

This past week, perhaps to remind us of the “global economy” in which we now live, my company experienced three part failures in the span of about two working hours—all on the same job. The products in question weren’t made in the U.S., or any other country known for its ability to turn out finely-crafted components. They were all made in Asia. Now, neither myself (who spec’d the tub faucet drain, which leaked immediately) nor the plumber (who supplied two copper fittings of suspect quality) set out to buy these inferior products—on the contrary, both parties attempted to purchase and install good-quality materials. But fate, and the seeming demise of manufacturing in this country, created what I can only describe as an enraging situation.

The Project

The house we were working on was just shy of its 100th birthday. The owners, wishing to maintain the feel of its vintage bathroom, had hired my company to recreate the feel of the room using new materials.

The original plumbing fixtures were still in service when we began the project—a testimony that they no longer make them like they used to. To be sure, they’d seen better days; the lavatory faucet had a slow drip, the enamel on the tub was worn, and the toilet was inefficient by today’s standards.

But aside from adding some modern conveniences such as a shower and a medicine cabinet to the space, the owner wanted to maintain the feel of her vintage water closet.

The homeowner who had been living in, and restoring, the house for the past 25 years had dreamed of some day renovating the bathroom. But she was determined not to renovate it unless the original character could be maintained. To that end, she selected period fixtures that would allow the plan to be realized, never being overly concerned about cost. After all, she reasoned, she’d waited 25 years to do it the right way—so what if some of the materials and products cost a few bucks more than similar ones that didn’t have the right “feel?”

My company designed the project with the goal that when it was done, one would be hard-pressed to tell whether the space was vintage-1910, kept in immaculate condition, or a sympathetic renovation with an eye towards the past.

Progress was steady, and by the end of the first week, we’d managed to remove the old, worn-out (after 100 years!) fixtures, the imitation beadboard paneling, and the old trim. We’d repaired the walls, milled and installed new trim and a wainscot frieze, built a period medicine cabinet, and installed subway tile on the walls from baseboard to picture rail. The plumber had been busy as well, re-plumbing the room by installing new copper supply lines to all the fixtures and a new waste line for the tub.

Everything was going along great as he was hooking up the tub—a beautiful reproduction of a claw-foot model complete with silver feet. Unfortunately, the exposed drain assembly that had been provided as part of a kit, along with the tub faucet and shower D-ring, was presenting a challenge.

After numerous attempts to install the drain tailpiece, it became apparent that the part was defective. No matter what our plumber tried, he could not keep the threads on the fitting from leaking.

After a couple hours of wrestling with it, he gave up and abandoned the piece. Since the part was proprietary to the tub kit, there were no replacement parts readily available. In its place, he was forced to install a piece of PVC pipe. This normally wouldn’t be an issue, as the PVC is typically hidden from view, but in this case, we were left with an unattractive PVC coupling sticking up a couple inches above the vintage mosaic floor (see photo, right).

Thinking that the worst was behind him, he completed the trim on the other fixtures, turned the water on to those, and left for the day. Early the next morning, the homeowner called our office with a report that the new plumbing had sprung a leak.

Our plumber immediately drove to the job from his shop. Upon arriving, he determined that a copper coupling he’d installed during the re-rough was the culprit.

Fortunately, we’d left the closet ceiling immediately below the bathroom open, so he still had access to the pipe. He was able to remove the offending coupling and replace it with a new one from a supply he carries his truck.After sweating the piece into place and turning the water back on, he checked for leaks. Satisfied that everything was now as it should be, he informed us that everything was now fine, apologized for the inconvenience, and left.

The repair lasted a couple of hours, at best. Once again, water started working its way into the closet. I don’t know who was more frustrated, the homeowner, my office, or the plumber. He went back, and determined that the very coupling he’d replaced just a few hours earlier was the source of the problem.

Then it dawned on him that both of the defective parts had come from the same bag of fittings in his truck. He also identified that they’d been manufactured in Asia and were not likely up to the standards used in this country. While digging through the bag, he found several other fittings that were bad as well. Fortunately, he was able to find a coupling in his truck that was NOT from the questionable supply he’d purchased—this one was emblazoned with the “U.S.A.” stamp. He installed it and it’s held like a champ.

All worked well for a few more days; but then the tub faucet decided it wasn’t going to co-operate either, and it began leaking the next week. By this time, everyone had had enough. We contacted the plumbing supply house and informed them that we would be removing the offending assembly on their dime and replacing it with one of better quality. To their credit, they understood our frustration and agreed to locate a replacement faucet from a different manufacturer which would fit the tub.

The homeowners were inconvenienced (again) by not having a working tub, but about a week later a wonderfully-crafted faucet and drain assembly arrived from California. Our plumber immediately returned to remove the problem-parts and install the new components. While packing up his tools, he told us he’d be happy never to set foot in the house again. That was over a month ago and to date he hasn’t had to.

Made in America

So what’s the lesson in all this? My company is still struggling with that question. Although we recognize the fact we’ll be limiting the number of products available to us, we’ve adopted a zero-tolerance policy regarding the use of “suspicious” plumbing parts. We will simply no longer allow the installation of a faucet or valve made in a facility that may not be held to the same standards U.S. or European plants are held to. In addition, we’ve started demanding from all of our suppliers that they identify where the products they sell us are manufactured. Armed with this information, we can then make informed purchasing decisions.

Is this an extreme approach? Perhaps. But considering the cost to all parties involved, the bad blood that poor quality products can engender between customer and contractor, and the sheer aggravation in dealing with such situations, we feel it’s a necessary one. We also recognize the impact that buying poor quality imported products has on our economy (not to mention the environmental implications), and have decided we don’t want to be part of the problem. We call it “voting with our wallets,” and I suspect that if more people did the same, there would be far less demand for imported junk.




50 Responses to “Made in . . . ???”


    In my opinion, the answer to this problem is very simple. Do not let this plumber on your job or in your house. The time to discover that a fitting is defective is not after it is installed. If you do it again you are […]. Similarly, if tub drain piping doesn’t seem to go together correctly, find someone who knows how to do it or replace it as was done in this case but do not butcher it with no regard to how it looks. Is there an actual connection between the chrome and the PVC? Love the trap in the cellar. Hope no one drops jewelry down the tub.

    [Edited by TiC to maintain positive and valuable exchanges in this forum.]

    • Greg Burnet

      Wow, lots of interesting, if misguided comments, Dennis. I didn’t anticipate having to defend the actions of our very experienced plumber (or myself for that matter).

      First of all, this particular plumber has installed hundreds of fixtures on our projects over the years. In that period of time, we had ONE minor leak prior to this incident & it wasn’t traced back to his work. For you suggest he should essentially put every part he installs under a microscope prior to or during installation is just plain absurd.

      Re. your comment about the trap: You have yet again made assumptions that are inaccurate. I clearly stated in the article that the trap is above a first floor closet. What I didn’t say is that the entire ceiling of the closet is now an access panel so that in the event the plumbing above needs servicing, it will be a simple matter to pop out the panel & get to the pipes.

      Finally, I also stated that this was the only bathroom in an occupied house. The plumber worked his butt off to get the room back in service as quickly as possible to minimize the inconvenience to the owners – hence his choice to use what he had on hand (at about 6pm) to get the tub temped in for the evening. I fail to see how this could be construed as butchery, but I suspect arguing the point would be a waste of time.

      Thanks for your feedback.

  2. Chris Schmidt

    I don’t think it is the plumbers fault at all but am grateful for this article that will be a very useful tool in dealing with clients that insist that the discount knock off plumbing or electrical fixture they just saw at wherever is just as good as what I am willing to supply. My contracts always specify that no warranty will be provided for customer bought items but they still too often want to save a few bucks. Thanks for this story to show why quality matters!

  3. Mike Hawkins

    First off, nice project. I’ve done a few of these old look bathrooms and they normally are nice jobs. I share your disdain for asian made junk that seems to be showing up more and more. It seems like we are finding more defective materials than we ever did. I like the direct import knock down cabinets that are being sold at big discounts. I walked away from a couple of jobs where people wanted to use them instead of something like Kraftmaid or similar domestic cabinets. The problem is the suppliers don’t seem to want to do anything about it. I complain to the tool reps at the shows I go to. Try finding power tools that are actually made here anymore. Maybe someday we’ll get our manufacturing back, but probably not in our lifetimes. Nice article,
    Mike Hawkins

  4. Dave Gravina

    Great article and beautiful work. I’m sure that you’ve all noticed how the tool brands that we’ve long associated with “American Quality” are now made in China, heche en Mexico, or merely assembled in the USA of foreign components. Would love to see a “This Is Carpentry” review of real American tools. Sort of a buyer’s guide for those of us who want to do our part by buying American tools.

    • Gary Katz

      What a great idea! But what about Swedish, German, Canadian, etc. tools? Hmmmmmmm……. And honestly, some of the best pneumatics I’ve seen are coming out of China and Japan: Grex, Max, Cadex. And sometimes the real crap comes right out of America. I think if you look hard enough, there’s good stuff and bad stuff coming from everywhere. Maybe a more helpful Buyer’s Guide would be “The Best Tools” without fooling around with anything that falls below the bar?

      • John Browne

        I can’t speak to plumbing, but I can regrettably tell you that a lot of the machinery and related equipment still made in the USA is inferior to that made in Germany or Japan. We buy landscaping equipment for my wife’s business and I almost always have to modify it or fix it just to get it to work. Holes don’t line up, paint peels off, welds are crap, etc. OTOH products made in Japan and Germany are terrific (Kubota, Shindaiwa, Honda, Stihl). I’m no hater–I have a PM66 table saw from Tennessee and it’s wonderful. But I also have mowers, spreaders, and so on from the good ol’ USA that are shoddy. I don’t think it’s as much about the country as it is about the people running the company–if they’re willing to ship junk to their customers then they can build it just about anywhere.

    • Greg Burnet

      Thanks for the comments, Dave.

      If you’re interested, there’s a thread on the JLC forums about choices for products whose origin is outside of Asia…

      I’ve taken some heat from a few folks for this article, but if it generates dialog & awareness, I guess that’s a good thing.

      For the record, my intention when writing this piece was not to bash all products made outside of the U.S. Rather, it was to bring attention to a problem that all too many of us struggle with on occasion.

      I’m well aware that there’s no easy solution to the problem of poor quality products permeating the market today. The components profiled in the article were from Asia, but they could have come from anywhere & if the quality was similar, then the results likely would have been the same. The painful truth is that we as a society have created this monster & now we must learn how to tame it.

      Nonetheless, I stand by my comments & actions. For too long, my company went with the flow (no pun intended) & didn’t question whether there were other options to what we were installing. It took the situation outlined in the article to make us re-evaluate the issue. We’ve realized that until we start demanding better, we’re going to keep getting the same. And until manufacturers feel it in their wallets, they will likely have little incentive to exercise better quality control over their products. For us to bear the burden of their cost cutting measures by assuming liability for questionable products just isn’t something we’re willing to accept.

  5. JM

    Hi there,

    Thank you for the great article. As a plumber myself, I wouldn’t have thought about checking the country of origin, but I can see that that would be a good thing to do. Your remodel looks beautiful, and you did a great job of keeping “functional” at the foremost of your mind as well – which can be hard to do. Sometimes a piece just won’t fit the way we want, regardless of how hard that we try over and over again – I can sympathize.

    Great job!


  6. Patrick Grieco

    Reading your article was like deja vu for me. I’ve lost track of the number of headaches caused by asian made plumbing fittings. Fortunately the suppliers in my area (Toronto, Canada) seem to have gotten the message and are now for the most part carrying fittings only made in Canada or the USA.

    One example, I was working a school addition a few years back installing millwork in a series of science labs. One day near the end of the job I heard endless swearing coming from the next room. I went to take a look and found the gas fitter at the end of his rope. I asked what was wrong and he said that one classroom alone had 18 leaky fittings and every other lab had similar problems. Long story short, yep you guessed it, the fittings were stamped “Made in China”. They called in their wholesaler who acknowledged similar complaints and sourced out North American made fittings. After they changed out the fittings they didn’t have a single leak.

    Moral of the story, I look for the country of manufacture on all products. I may have to pay more but in the end it costs me less because I don’t have to go back and replace it. Supporting the North American economy is an added bonus.

  7. JJJones

    This is an example of why I got ride of my “American” branded tools several years ago. It seems companys like Ported Cable, Delta, on and on, take every opportunity to offer inferior products and poor service!!!
    I believe these companies could innovate and produce high quality products, like they once did, but instead they choose to race each other to the bottom of the pile!!!! As an American it is embarrassing to have to buy tools that say “Made in Germany” because little is made here and what little is, is underwhelming!

  8. Rob Johnson

    Greg, a frustrating experience no doubt but tempered I think by the facts that your plumber obviously dealt with each situation expediantly with no fuss and that your company kept on top of the situation and has implemented an informed approach to purchasing.
    When people stop buying products that are made on the cheap they will no longer be made.What is it they apply to tools..? “Buy cheap…buy twice!” Fits many other scenarios too.
    Nice article and craftsmanship, thanks.

  9. Kreg mcmahon

    Hey Greg nice article. Glad you were able to flush out the problem. And yep. Asian stuff sucks a lot of the time. Even their plywood falls apart. If we all demanded USA then we would not need to buy Asian stuff. Plus we are part of the problem (not we per say but the USA economy). We want good looking stuff for less cost. That is part of the problem. Thanks for sharing. Now back to sleep for me!

  10. Chuck Kiser

    Nice remodel Greg, I too have had problems with the ‘imported’ plumbing fittings. These were not cheaper, just the stock in the supply house bins. Most of my leaks came from copper fittings. The QA is just not there. Not all the fittings are bad just enough to make you go crazy. And there really is no way to tell visually, at least, not without better eyes than mine.

  11. Pete

    It’s shameful that things have devolved to this. Even for those of us that don’t bargain hunt for the cheapest tool or part, we often get sub-standard goods. The society at large we now live in doesn’t appreciate well made goods that will last a century; they want something inexpensive that you use for a couple of years and send to the landfill.
    I went on a plumbing service call the other day for a leaking toilet fill valve in a 25 year old Kohler one piece toilet. This is an $800 toilet in a million dollar home. The HO nearly fainted when I told him that the OEM replacement part was $101, my cost. “but isn’t there anything CHEAPER?”. Of course there is, but will it last 25 years?
    I HATE Asian junk, and avoid it whenever possible.

  12. Lamar Horton

    I will jump on the “Materials Made in the USA” bandwagon too. As a cabinet maker we started out using cheap Asian plywood but no more. After one particular job where every sheet fell apart between multiple plys we are strictly domestic. We promote this as well and when the customer is educated they appreciate the decision.

    Oh,great gob Greg.

  13. David Gawthorpe

    I’m 60 years old and I started construction in everone’s dream trade…hanging sheetrock. At the time, all of our screw guns were American made and all metal. Then, after a couple of years, my companies switched to a double-insulated plastic model of Japanese origin. It was called Makita. I did not like using a foreign tool, but it was so superior to the American made tools that I became a traitor and purchased the better foreign brands. Some of my suppliers insisted on keeping most of their tool stock American. I’m sorry, but an American piece of junk is still junk. Caveat: not all American tools were junk. The U.S. manufacturors (including the auto industry) took about 20 years to catch on. But, rather than improving their home industry, they out-sourced to Taiwan and Japan that had the machinery and the skilled class to make superior tools. Now, China is the industrial mogul of the world. I hate buying from China. This country hates us and all revenue goes through the Red Army. You can tell that that they have great disdain for the West by their ill-fitting plumbing and electrical parts, their super-soft hardware, and their “where else can you go?” additude.
    In the latest Journal of Light Construction, the new tools section had a list of power tools for comparison. These included the top American, German, and Japanese tools. I was astonished to read that all were manu-factured in China!
    Greg, you were fortunate to have a client that wanted the best and was willing to pay for it. I have had clients like that also. Unfortunately, too many people want the Palace of Versailles at Jed Clampett’s cabin prices. While you, rightfully, endeavor to give your clients your best efforts, you compete with others who will exuse their work with, “Whadda you expect…this stuff was made in China!” You are lucky to have a plumber with the same ethics as you do.


  14. Dan

    My old, made in the USA tools are still working fine. I guess you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Everything chinese I have purchased, because there are no other choices, have turned out to be low quality. My wife buys all her kitchen appliance from garage sales, and they are old, and they all work, and they are made in the USA. I am a woodworker and I am asked to repair Chinese furniture within a year after purchase. The problem is that the American people trust, that the same quality they have grown accustomed to, is being made in China now, and they are wrong.

  15. al

    I would like to know exactly what was wrong with the copper. I appreciate your article

    • Greg Burnet

      Al, I’m not a plumber, so bear with me.

      My understanding is that the fittings in question had some type of “score” inside that prevented them from forming a long-term watertight seal. Both fittings did hold initially, but failed after several hours.

      The tub drain assembly was never right from the start. I believe there was some deformity that necessitated the plumber having to cut part of the assembly off & substitute the PVC coupling you see in the video.

      The tub valve worked for about a week, then it too began leaking at some of the threads.

  16. Shawn Thoman

    I’m with you guys! I have resorted to replacing virtually every woodworking tool in my truck with Festool at great expense. The once sturdy and durable American or Japanese tools are cheaper to buy and more expensive to own. Many are simply throwaway tools.
    I also will not buy panel products or cabinets from anywhere but the USA. I go out of my way to buy quality domestic products. Let’s all put our money where our mouth is! Someday we will be able to buy American made, quality tools again…

  17. G T Riley

    Gentlemen ( and Ladies),
    Your comments re poorly made offshore products should be sent to the Board of Directors of Walmart.Research will show you that Walmart forced manufacturers to provide products at prices which could not possibly be manufactured at US wage rates; hence,they had to shift their manufacturing to countries with “slave labour” or go out of business!Since Walmart has “invaded” our country, we are facing the same problems. It would be refreshing to hear a government minister who would address this issue and lead a crusade to support domestic manufacturers.
    Yours truly, G T Riley, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

  18. John N

    I feel your pain!! However blaming this on Asia is foolhardy, as Gary stated crap comes from everywhere, including the USA. What I would say you are seeing is the sheer volume of materials produced in Asia. As more and more manufacturers jump in you never know whats coming from whom. It will shake out, think Honda.

    The best thing you can do is purchase from suppliers who trust their suppliers. It certainly shouldn’t be borderline racism blaming poor QC on China as a whole.

  19. John R Graybill

    On the job we refer to ‘off-shore’ junk as being from the chow-fun steel company. But remember this country now has a missle, that we have no defence against, which renders our carrier battle groups completely ineffective with-in 1,500 miles of their shore.

    So it seems to be the suppliers and not the country.

  20. Tom Bainbridge

    in england we encounter the same problems

    to the extent that any product or tool manufactured outside europe (eupropean union) north america or japan, is suspect. big box stores are culprits in the matter, so is the general public who want low prices

    but things do change. in my childhood “made in japan” was a byword for poor quality….

    tom bainbridge

  21. Tim Sproul

    Off-shore items are not the culprit.

    What drove the rise of Walmart and discount superstores in general? Demand for stuff that was less expensive. Where did that demand come from?

    You and me.

    Stuff made in Asia can be crappy or high end. It is up to the company to determine quality controls and the price point at which they want to sell their product. Low price point means low quality control. Low price point is driven by consumers who only look at the purchase price and not the total cost of ownership.

    Same applies for USA made goods.

    There is plenty of crap made by US workers. There is plenty of quality made by US workers.

    • Ray Menard

      20 years ago when I was buying woodworking shop machinery I came to learn that many brand name sellers in the U.S would go to Asia to purchase their machines from select manufacturers. One company would go in and buy the first batch of machinery, another U.S company would have second choice of the remaining stock, and on down the line until you would get the huge discounts from other brands of machinery made by the same manufacturer then sold through discount catalogs. The first run selectors had their own quality assurance divisions that allowed one to purchase a thickness planer with confidence that the machine was as good as represented. Not so much quality assurance as you purchased further down the line as reflected in the final price.

      Does this process still go on? I don’t know about shop machinery or plumbing parts but when it comes to cast bronze boat fittings, if the label says made in Taiwan or China I leave it on the shelf – too much at stake to depend on substandard cast products. I have no solutions here only a reiteration of this state of affairs. Trial & error, followed by customer loyalty is my only hope in this regard.

  22. Mike Pelletier

    Well, what ever the reason, I think most of us would purchase better made tools at a higher price if they were readily available. The supply houses in my area just carry the standard mexicanasian junk. What I find frustrating is that there seems no way of knowing the source of what we purchase. Do we know it came from a good production plant or a poor one. Country of origin is only part of it. We have purchased both good and bad from every country, I think quality control has suffered most everywhere, and a disposable mentality has taken hold with both consumers and manufacturers.

    As for plumbing fixtures and hardware, some of the worst crap we have had on the job has come from Britain! Consumers are sold on the shiny finish, they put the recommendation of their decorator over their plumber.
    Why should a decorator that can not even communicate using the proper language of the trade garner more credibility than the plumber? Beats me.
    Sad to say, but sometimes I think some people deserve this junk.

    I have explained to customers so many times, the differences in the manufacturing, all about machining, facing and lapping. Yet time and time again they will make a choice base comepletely on a particular aesthetic look. We have had knobs, roses and spindles that turn like camshafts! But they sure were pretty! Recently we installed hardware 4x the cost of chinese hardare we used on an earlier job, it was made in england and had all the same mis-machined parts and crooked holes for a lot more money. Actually in some regards, the chinese parts were better.

    I think ultimately the consumers have to make a statement by refusing to buy bad products, and returning them. For example, we use Merit hinges because the quality is consistently good. I have to plan ahead and give ample lead time to get them, I feel it is worth the effort. I could have Von Morris or Baldwin on the job in a day or two, I do not feel they are as good, and Merit is made in Pennsylvania. It takes some looking, but there are good products out there. And despite my frustration, I do try to educate my customers to use them, and support the companies that make them.

  23. Larry Schweitzer

    I have a woodworking shop. Most of our stationary tools are European. The reason is simple, there are few US suppliers left and most that are, are behind the times. I can remember when Made in Japan meant junk. The manufacturer of our Made in USA router was bought by a German company. They couldn’t make it work with the cost/tax structure and have now ceased manufacturing here. Komo is now made in China. For whatever reason, no US manufacturer would produce a table saw using the SawStop system. The result a safe, good saw imported from Taiwan. Lack of tort reform has been a major problem for many manufacturers.

  24. m beezo

    Great looking bathroom. I have worked mostly on old bathrooms and have never seen one with the wainscot at the top like this one. But then again I have not seen the plaster ceiling like yours also. The video says you took the walls down to the studs. How did you keep from having the ceiling come down as you worked in there? I have taken many down to the studs but it seems that almost always there is either a crack or at least some of the ceiling that comes down no matter how hard we try.

    I have had an issue with the off brand shut off valves leaking several times. Only buy Watts now. I have also had a few copper couplings and fittings that seem to have a lot of slop in then when you put them on a pipe. Poor fit means trouble I found out. I cannot tell you how many bathrooms I have done that were the only bathroom in the house. The homeowner leaves for a week to be out of the way. If everything goes well I have had a house be vacant for several days before anyone is there. Can you imagine the problem that might have been if no one was there to see the problem as quickly as they did?

    • Greg Burnet

      Mark, we should have been more clear. Portions of the old walls were retained, along with the original ceiling. We basically saved what we could, gutted what we needed for plumbing & electrical, then patched everything just enough to create a decent surface for the tile & frieze. Because we retained the upper portions of the old walls, there was no need to cut the ceiling free from them & the ceiling came out unscathed.

      Sorry for the error in communication.

  25. JW

    We’re living in a short-term bottom-line country. As discriminating as we are as craftsmen in our work and the workmanship of the tools with which we make our livings, we still get blind-sided.

    It used to be that buying a trusted brand was nearly a guarantee of a quality product.

    Now, take-over kings and their bean-counters look for established brand names with reputations for quality so they can supplant their product lines with cheap crap, maintain the prices and stuff the wallets of themselves and their stockholders with the difference. Hard-working, quality-minded Americans are put out of work, and even careful craftsmen are stuck with crap.

    I have a preference for American tools, but there are some Japanese tools at the head of the pack. I never thought I’d be stepping forward to defend Japanese stuff, but Japan produces top-quality tools, instruments, electronics, etc.and has been for years.

    The Japanese and Germans plow a much larger percentage of their take into their businesses and their workers than Americans. WAY,WAY more. Here are the ratios of executive pay to worker pay in these three countries.

    Japan: 11 times more. Germany:12 times more. America:( I think a drum roll is in order): 475 times more Source: The Economist.

    China is a different story all together. I loathe buying Chinese anything. They are most definitely not our friends.


  26. Paul Valerio

    This is an industry wide problem. With a slow economy, you would think that ALL companies would have better quality control. I have experienced problems from Andersen,Merrilat,Moen and various millwork companies. The windows were damaged before being put in the box as were the cabinets along with shoddy workmanship. The faucet was installed by an excellent plumber (35 yrs. in business) and took 6 trips and numerous parts from Moen before they would replace the whole assembly. In all cases, the defective parts were replaced at no cost to the homeowner, but we contractors were delayed and inconvenienced because someone didn’t do their job. Moen did offer to cover the labor. No matter what, I had egg on my face as the guy who recommended these manufacturers. I even preach about the evil’s of the box-store products and here I get the same crap from the professional supply-houses! You can’t win in this business. I’m ready to hang up my toolbelt after 27 years of this nonsense! I was taught a long time ago to do it right, or don’t do it at all. Wish these manufacturers had the same teacher!!!!

  27. WW

    I remember back in the 50s and 60s being able to trust that tools from Sears were the cream of the crop, with great warranties that the company stood behind. Today, the mind-set of Sears management seems to be from the mold as the big box store management where the bean-counters have more say-so than the quality people. This has to stop. Any more I buy Festool in distinct preference to other brands, knowingly paying more and being delighted with the quality, durability and functional capabilities. It just hacks me off to buy materials or products to use in my customers’ homes that are of inferior quality. I think that craftspeople must let suppliers know when products and materials are not up to the quality standards we require for our customers. And sadly, the crap seems to be coming largely from China. China is most definitely not our friend. Any more, I refuse to buy Chinese-made products, even when my customers like the appearance and price. Frequently I have to explain the concept of quality to customers, and almost without exception, they appreciate my intervention on their behalf. Those that fuss and demand low price and junk products are removed from my customer list.

  28. Neal Schwabauer

    Boy, I think you all hit the nail. I am a non-profit that helps elderly & handicapped at no cost to them. I ask for & receive help from large corporations, priviate donations, local suppliers, etc. I sometimes do work to help fund that next project. When this cheap materials started, I was forced to go to my local hardware store & buy replacements for the junk in the box. I bought those fittings (brass) & I thought that I’m buying extra just in case these are also bad. I am soooo glad I did. Every part that was stamped China failed. The stuff from Italy, Germany, Japan, worked. Then I talked to the owner of the store, he said to get used to it. Everything will be coming from China. Well, he is starting to see a backlash. The fittings that say china in his bins are not selling. His own plumbing company guys are not touching the stuff. He is trying to return that junk to his supplier. I hope that stuff sits on the docks until who ever made it is forced to take it back.

    I will remind you of the problems that the china made sheetrock had. China was made to come into those homes where their stuff was & replace all that sheetrock. Literlally the whole houses have to be redone with new sheetrock. Millions of $$$$$. They’ll have to pay labor as well.

    If enough of us hold the tolerance line, things will have to change!

  29. Don Guilbault

    Thanks for bringing another example of why our country is falling apart. We have simply given other countries the work of manufacturing and left ourselves at their mercy. We as consumers all left with very little choice when we go to buy anything ranging from widgets to whatever and it is frustrating. I like to save a buck just as much as anyone but I think that the Walmart mentality where cost is the driving force, not quality or keeping Americans working, has led to where we are now. In this case of the plumber vs. the part, the homeowner is left scratching their head and asking if the plumber really knows what he is doing. It sets a tone when so much goes wrong and the product is substandard and to blame.

  30. mike wade

    Sir, i have tried to install a bathroom sink made in China. what a mess!!!when i placed the sink in the vanity the faucet holes were centered but not the overflow, which was at about 1 oclock position. the homeowner did not want to wait for a replacment, so i tried to install the drain, it fell thru the hole. i left. what junk

  31. Mike Guertin

    Greg points out one a symptom of a problem. The problem isn’t where the products are made or ‘globalization’ but rather general US consumer price-driven mentality. The drive to the lowest possible price has consequences. It’s often hard to decipher the value proposition based on the claims of the marketing. So people often equate value with price.

    I imagine Greg’s plumber bought the bag of fittings from the same supplier he has done business with for years and hadn’t had a problem. But perhaps that supplier switched to a less expensive fitting line because he had to stay price competitive with other plumbing shops.

    The race to the bottom price ends up hurting everyone in the chain – the client, Greg, the plumber, the supply house, the sales rep who offered the fitting line to the supply house….

    Pointing the finger at China / Asia or Mexico or anywhere else isn’t really fair. The problem lies with low prices. You and I are ultimately the root of the problem because we like to pay less for stuff.

    You can be nostalgic for the good-old-days of ‘Made in America’ but bringing back manufacturing to the US won’t remedy our insistence for low price. There will still be a manufacturer of plumbing fittings in some US state that shaves a couple grams of copper from their fitting design, has a lower level of QC, doesn’t pay for skilled labor and sells a lot of fittings to bottom-line conscious consumers.

    • Greg Burnet

      Mike, you raise many valid points that I agree with. However, this wasn’t a situation of “you get what you pay for”, which is precisely what prompted the article.

      My frustration boiled over after my company spent a fair amount of time working with the client to select fixtures she was comfortable with. Never did we base decisions on price. To the contrary – all involved understood the importance of selecting appropriate materials & knew they likely would command a premium when compared to more standard off the shelf products. We were all fine with this, given the scope of the project.

      When selecting the tub & faucet, we went so far as to ask our regular plumbing supplier about the quality of the parts, at which point he vouched for them.

      Despite these efforts, we still had serious problems. And they were not insignificant in impact, which is why we adopted the policies outlined in the article. Is this “fair”? No. We’re recognize we’re painting one manufacturing location with a very broad brush. But given the products of questionable quality this particular location has a history of producing & the very tangible negative impacts we’ve experienced as a direct result, we don’t see an alternative to our policies for the time being.

      Aside from that one issue, I’m in agreement with everything else you wrote. Thanks for voicing your opinions in this matter.

  32. Matt Follett

    Hey Greg, great article & it seems a very timely one. We all have at one time or another had an inferior tool break or a mediocre product fail.

    This begs the question,’Who out there has found something that works?’ Be it a tool, faucet, domestic product, foreign product, whatever. I know when I look at replacing tools or adding to my arsenal, the first thing I read are the reviews. Obviously this forum is full or people who take pride in what they do &, having run into these problems before, have found a suitable remedy. I highly doubt Greg is the first & only one of us with a story like this.

    Is there someway to start a forum where we all can post what works for us & why? Would certainly be something I am interested in. Any other takers?

    • Greg Burnet

      Very interesting idea, Matt. I haven’t checked, but I wonder if there’s not a blog or website that’s doing what you’re suggesting. If there’s not, I’m certainly intrigued by the concept & would be willing to at least occasionally contribute to such a forum.

      • Matt Follett

        Likewise. I’m sure you are right about other forums existing, but this one is always at the top of my list. You don’t get all the bickering & politics that come with some other sites.

        I just yesterday received my first Festool dust extractor. I had been waiting for two reasons: one, I heard they were coming out with a new model, & two,…well let’s just say it was economics :). Either way, I got the new CT 26. Gonna try to get my hands on a CT 22 & compare apples to apples. Would love to read something like that, whether it be Festool or any other maker.

  33. Ryan

    Funny… I just read an article on the Chinese drywall that was used in homes after Katrina. It looks like the manufacturer and insurance companies are finally going to do something about the damage it has caused.

    There is supposed to be a trail of about 300 homes that will have complete remediation.

    For anyone who hasn’t heard about the story…After Katrina there was a drywall shortage and tens of thousands of sheets were brought in from a Chinese manufacturer. Apparently, there were some sulfer compounds in the drywall that were off-gassing and causing copper pipes and copper wires to corrode. In newly rebuilt homes, electrical appliances, wiring and plumbing was failing, in addition to odors causing some people to get sick.

    It’s been a huge mess with insurance companies refusing to re-insure the new homes, pay out damage claims, homes getting condemned… All that on top of just having to rebuild the home and all of the stress trying to start over.

    Finally, it looks like some of these homeowners will be getting relief, and all of the problems caused by the tainted drywall fixed.

    Personally, I’ve tried to start buying things that I need that are made in the USA, but aside from consumables like food and shampoo, it seems hard to find anything made here anymore.

  34. Craig Brewster

    The country of origin may not be the problem. Name brand companies will make inferior products that they sell to the big box retailers. They look like the tools or fixtures that you get from supply houses but are cheapened up to lower the cost for the retailer.

    • Matt Follett

      I agree Craig. We can’t just point our finger across the pond. We need to look all around us. If it works, it works. If it don’t, it don’t. There of course are other economic factors that play in but for the most part, that’s all I want: Proper function above all. Cheap part/tools are always easy to buy the first time. It’s the second & third & the downtime that get to be expensive.

  35. Jerry Jaksha

    Over the last 20 years I have watched the woodworking industry switch to Chinese manufactured machinery.
    The low prices were tempting, but we kept on making ours in New Mexico (USA).
    My competitors products are now completely manufactured in China
    ( not labeled as to it’s origin). They are available in Home Depot, of course.
    We are in a business world where corporate decisions are made entirely based on this year’s profit and nothing else. We should expect the products made and sold by a faceless corporate importer to reflect that.
    Want a good product?
    You might have to search farther than the local big box. The best advertised products are not necessarily the best products.

    When you find a good product or supplier, keep his phone # on your short list.
    Maybe you should even let others know about your good find.

  36. Greg Burnet

    Thanks for your comments, suggestions & criticisms, everyone. It would be daunting to respond to each & every one of you individually, but I have read all the posts here. Whether or not we all agree, I consider myself fortunate to be a member of a group of folks dedicated to what I think is a great profession.

  37. Nathan Stith

    First I would like to clarify something “Asia” is not a country, its a continent and to assume that because a product is made on any particular continent denotes quality or the lack there of is troubling to me. Quality is dependent on the standards of the company who produces the product and in the end the consumer not the nationality of the producer. I’m also a person who does look for the made in USA stamp and feels it is important to try to keep manufacturing jobs hear in the US, but I think that made in the USA is not always a stamp of quality. For example American cars, who drives an american car any more? Except for the trucks that we all drive and the Ford motor company maybe, no ones really buying American cars and why? A reputation of poor quality. Another example is the Tv that we all have in our homes,Im fairly certain that 90% of our TV,s are made in another country probably on the continent of Asia. Thanks

  38. Jim Pappas

    Just FYI, I was bidding against the big box store Lowes and lost a job due to lack of financing on my end. Well I’m back 6 months later talking to the customer. Cabinet door would not open with out hitting stove, of course they didn’t notice this until 5 piece crown was installed and knobs where installed. (only needed a filler @ top and bottom cabinet. But it gets better they used Shenandoah cabinets from Lowes. I believe American Woodmark. (they met KMCA specs or so they thought.) Turns out they are not so green. They contained high traces of formaldehyde and chloroform. Customer had container tests done and there was toxic traces of the above. Lowes came in and ripped out cabinets. The gas has gotten into the drywall and they had us remove the drywall and something tells me i will be installing the new cabinets. Moral of the story beware of cheap cabinets and stay with cabinets made in the USA. Beware of cabinets finished in china. This will become very big in the near future.

  39. Jim Andrada


    I see this topic is a few weeks old, but would like to comment. I have been working closely with a Japanese company in the computer field for many years and several years ago we moved a major line that manufactured extremely high precision mechanical assemblies from Japan to China. As an example of what I refer to as high precision, several key tolerances in moving assemblies are in the range of 5 microns (0.0008 inch)

    The quality from the Chinese factory is superb – as good or better than what we achieved in Japan. And it’s good because we manage the living daylights out of the line – on-site quality control engineers from Japan, strict screening of incoming parts, periodic audits of raw materials all the way back to the original suppliers of the materials, etc etc etc.

    So the culprit in this case is not the fact that it was made in XXXX, but rather that the US company buying /distributing the parts did not exercise state of the art quality control and abdicated their responsibilities to manage the process. Because good quality control costs $$$ and you will never get good quality by just telling a supplier 5000 miles away to make it as cheap as possible.

    How the process is managed is far more important than where the factory is.


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