/ Home & Energy

Gardening tools using confusing branding

Pruning a tree

If you buy a branded item you expect it to be made by that brand, right? Not necessarily, as we found out when we scratched the surface of some top gardening tools and discovered that all’s not what it may seem…

American investor Warren Buffet said it can take 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it.

So I was surprised to learn that a couple of famous British brands have decided to risk their reputation by allowing products they haven’t made to be sold bearing their name.

What’s in a name?

Two big names in gardening tools – Spear & Jackson and Qualcast – have both sold licences to the Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase).

This means that Argos and Homebase can use these prestigious brand names on their own-brand products. Not only that, but the companies that own the two brands continue to make and sell their own products through Argos and Homebase.

In other words, if you buy, for example, a Qualcast mower at Argos or Homebase, it may not be made by Qualcast. In fact Qualcast may not have had anything to do with the product – but it will bear its name.

Branding could mislead buyers

We only discovered this practice when we were testing a new Qualcast Lawn Rake for the November issue of Which? Gardening.

We discovered that the machine isn’t manufactured by Qualcast but is sourced and supplied by the Home Retail Group for Argos and Homebase. But to all intents and purposes it looks like a Qualcast product – it says Qualcast on the box, and when you ring the customer helpline you’re welcomed to Qualcast Technical Support. It’s not clear at any point that you’re buying a Home Retail Group product.

We also bought two Qualcast-branded mowers from Homebase, one manufactured by Bosch and one made by the Home Retail Group. We thought both products looked very similar – to the untrained eye it would be impossible to tell which one is genuinely made by Bosch.

Think before you buy

While others may be concerned about the risk to the Qualcast and Spear & Jackson brands, here at Which? we’re more concerned with how this could mislead consumers.

We know that many people buy products based on the strength of the brand in the media or their own experience of buying and using a branded product previously.

Do you feel that this practice could mislead you into buying one of these ‘branded’ products? Do you care? Maybe you’ve bought one of these products, only to discover later it’s not what you thought it was.

Comments

It is without a doubt a scandal of major proportions that there is the passing off of duff stuff.

Which? I consider has been negligent in not making this a major plank in consumer rights. The answer to the problem would appear to be publicity and actually boycotting or running a campaign against Bosch for being party to this business practice.

I am a fan of Robert Bosch and I know they had as a conglomerate financial pressures but as it stand we are being manipulated. In the US the famous name of Polaroid ended up with a Chinese firm and they used the name to dump some of the worst TV’s ever tested on the US market.

Product branding is has become rather meaningless these days; the only brand you may rely on is a company that puts things right when they go wrong. But that is not enough. Products are bought in complete and rebranded – John Lewis’s and Marks and Spencer’s appliances that score badly for example. LED’s sourced from the Far East and marketed under different brands in Europe. Cars made in cheaper factories in countries other than the one you had assumed (MB for example). Japanese cameras made in China. Not all necessarily bad, but it is misleading in my view.

I do sympathise. As European labour costs have increased, products with substantial work content need to be made cheaper elsewhere, it seems, to satisfy our requirements on price (I’m not a subscriber to that view – I’d rather pay for quality than save money but get a less-good product). But what about automated production – why is that cheaper in, say, China? I remember buying plastic injection mouldings and aluminium pressure die castings from the Far East significantly cheaper, in a process where the main costs are material, expensive machinery and factory overheads – not much labour. So it’s about subsidised industry.

Which? has a problem in how to assess branded products because of their variable origin. Individual products need to be assessed on their own merits, rather than as a product from a known manufacturer. Perhaps they should state whether products are manufactured totally in the supplier’s base factory, or are rebranded imports. This is one reason I am against Which? making money form a “Best Buy” product by allowing the “producer” to advertise as such; I believe many people will link the best buy status with the brand, rather than the product. This may not be justified. Try Sony – Xperia Z phones for example.

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I have been concerned about the variable quality of well known brands for years. Even within a product category, it’s not uncommon to find good and bad. For example Which? currently has a number of Samsung TVs listed as Best Buys, but there’s a couple of Don’t Buy TVs from the same manufacturer. There are plenty of other examples. In my view, it’s best to look at individual products and not just brands.

Malcolm mentions products sold under the John Lewis and Marks & Spencer names, but there are many household appliances and other electrical products may be sold as two or more well known brands with only cosmetic differences.

Whether goods sold under European or US brand names but manufactured in China etc. are good or poor will depend on quality control, and anyone who brands all products from China as rubbish might be well advised to check where their favourite products were made.

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Duncan – I used to buy goods made in Europe, preferably in the UK. Unfortunately companies have either disappeared or their goods are now made in China and other distant countries. It’s disappointing that former British brands are now used to encourage us to buy these goods. I am even more concerned that other countries now have so much control over our energy industry.

Anyone buying online may not have a clue of where products are made. I am concerned about the problem that is the focus of this Conversation, since choosing products is to some extent governed by our past experience of a brand.

I’d be grateful for your recommendation of a decent quality shredder. I have had two domestic ones fail in the past year and I doubt the third will survive long.

We have a Rexel V-15s that must be at least 10 years old now that was made in China.

Still going strong with regular use. Don’t know what the newer ones are like though.

Thanks Alfa. For many years I used to do my shredding at work in one of the large office shredders. The worked fine for years without oiling or other maintenance. If you look at users’ comments on the Which? website and elsewhere you will see that I’m not the only one struggling with domestic shredders.

I’ve a Rexel V35WS made in China (it was a Christmas present!). Capacity 5 sheets (not really, it struggles). Duty cycle 1 min on, 10 min off. It clogs fairly easily. Tedious to use so really a toy product.

However I have a number of things made in China – not from choice, just as it happened. Clothes, a couple of power tools, camera, etc and cannot fault them. Japan was once like China, but look at how they produced superb cameras, electronics and taught us how to make cars and motorcycles .

No doubt costs will increase as the labour pool becomes more powerful. Then manufacturing will shift again. Africa must be a future contender.

I forgot it clogged up if you put too much in at one time. We are so used to only putting 3 layers of paper in it that clogging is not a problem.

We tend to shred as we go so it doesn’t pile up.

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Thanks Duncan. You are referring to a commercial machine rather than a small domestic model. One of the perks of my job was that I could always use the large commercial shredder to get rid of my own financial paperwork.

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I now have ‘shredder envy’, Duncan. 🙂 It seems that Gestetner were taken over by Ricoh. I’m very familiar with the higher build quality of some goods that are designed primarily for the non-domestic market.

@wavechange

Are you still looking for a shredder? No idea what they are like but there are a few on early Amazon Black Friday deals, one is marked down from £1174 RRP to £299. No idea what it is like though.

Hi Alfa – I was keen on a fairly compact shredder to keep next my desk. I managed to kill two shredders in a matter of months, despite taking great care not to overtax them. The first one should have been returned to the retailer but I decided to take it apart and try to get it working again. On this occasion I was unsuccessful and had invalidated the warranty by dismantling it. The second one belonged to my neighbour, who had not kept the receipt.

Which? members’ reviews did not give me any confidence, so I bought a shredder with a 2 year guarantee from John Lewis and oil its bits every time I empty the bin, yet it does not sound happy. I doubt it will outlast the warranty. If it does not, I will invest in a proper office shredder and store it somewhere else.

As others have noted, “Brand” or “Badge” engineering is a long established practice. Beer enthusiasts, including CAMRA members, will know all about how this operates in respect of that most important commodity: BEER and its “inferior” competitor “lager” 😉

“Caveat emptor” is an even longer established practice though. So is reading, e.g. to look for words like “Made in the UK” (or its absence) on any packaging. In “software engineering” they have an FLA (four letter acronym): RTFM – “read the fine manual”.

I guess if you want cheap but serviceable tools, go to a normal shop and use your skill and judgement to check them out. But if you need robust quality tools, find out where your friends in the trade get theirs and do likewise.

So of us, old ‘uns will even remember the days when Austin, Morris, Riley and Wolsley cars were all made in the same British factories.

Maybe it would be helpful if the manufacturers of garden tools and other products offered us some reassurance of the pedigree of products sold under their brand name

I recall when Kelloggs started advertising that ‘We don’t make cereals for anyone else’.

I think the trouble is that, in the UK, we have, ahem, “progressed” from being a manufacturing economy. So, in a lot of cases, we no longer have “manufacturers” as such. They all closed down their factories years ago, sold-off and redeveloped the land for housing and sold on their “brands” to conglomerates (and to the likes of Argos).

So, whether it is “smelly” kettles or cheap gardening tools, these now almost all come from big factories in China.

Some brand owners do work hard to maintain the “cachet” of their brands. When I used to be a very active member of the Harley Owners Group, I got to know many of their permanent UK staff, including their brand enforcement team. In those times, it was said that the Motor Company actually made much more money from the licensing of its brand for use on “authorised” products (e.g. clothing and fashion accessories) than it did from the sales of its motorcycles.

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I rely on reputation of decent brands. I am shocked that this practice is permitted. It should not be allowed. It feels like deliberately fraudulent behaviour to me. I am about to buy something to replace an item which lasted 30+ years. I would prefer buy Wilkinson Sword as it is the same brand as this but I cannot be sure who has made it!

guys, I have just bought a lawn mover (Qualcast) and not opened it yet-reading all these comments is making me nervous-is my lawn mover Qualcast or Argos brand?
Julia

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In my experience their is nothing wrong with Argos own brand power tools, so long as you just want a cheap item for light domestic duties.

On the other hand, if you have several acres to mow, then you want to seek out the sort of kit that professionals use.

Choosing the quality to suit your purpose is vital. I wanted a pair of loppers for pruning roses etc. that were too heavy for secateurs. I bought a cheap set in Lidl in the knowledge that they were lightly built. They were fine for their intended purpose.

I have been recently been doing some work on shrubs and trees and not having decent loppers to hand I thought I would try the Lidl ones in case I had underestimated their capabilities. They broke today. Now to buy a set that is up to the job.

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The Honda petrol mower I have was made in 1993 in France . You can currently buy one second -hand for £250.

Building quality products seems not impossible.

My Dualit Toaster is over 20 years old. The Bosch washer around 18. Buying products actually made by the genuine firm seems a good idea in my opinion.

I think someone has already suggested then empowering consumers might mean we being told when the famous name is being used by another company – who might buy the name to pass off cheap and nasty products. Which? would be the natural place, you would think, for subscribers to be able to check this out with a ready reference Wikipedia.

Which? only pay laboratories to test for short periods when the product is new so for their reliability tables a pinch of salt is needed as they are based on poor questions.

In the Which? Connect survey this month they ask about my electronics. My DVD for instance, [Sony] , they ask have I had any problems. Well I think I have used it once this year and other than that has been unplugged. I can assure everyone it is 100% reliable. Very slightly more reliable than my Humax which is on 24/7 and recording hours of TV shows daily.

A great shame that Which? does not ask the relevant questions. Particularly where some people can have such varying usage times as with gardening equipment. Or even DVD players.

Good old-fashioned mowers can last for decades. The newest of my three dates from about 1997 while the other two are about 10 years older. I think all were made in the UK by Flymo and none were particularly expensive when purchased new.

Long-term testing of many products would be of no use because they would have been discontinued by the time Which? published their tests. In my view, the best approach is to look for longer guarantees and encourage everyone to do this, creating a demand.

The worst advertising I know is by Miele, which claims “Tested for the equivalent of 20 years equivalent usage”, yet gives a guarantee of only 2 years on many of its products. They were taken to task for this in Australia.

When low energy lighting was introduced the manufacturers started claiming that their products will last for years, but without a guarantee to match. This is based on use for 2.7 hours per day rather than total use. We knew where we were when old fashioned light bulbs were designed to last 1000 hours, on average.

Let’s have decent products backed by decent guarantees. That’s what will convince me a product is worth buying.

I do try and do the Which? Connect surveys but when asked how long I have had the product, it usually goes on to the next product as it is not interested in older reliable products !!!

Miele products last a long time because, in the main, they are well built and well designed with quality components. They test them for the equivalent of 20 years to highlight any deficiencies. To condemn them by saying they only offer 2 year guarantees is a bit disingenuous – they frequently offer 5 years or more.

The German consumer association tests washing machines in a way that simulates a long life; a pity we don’t get that same information so we could choose more durable products.

Product durabililty depends, among other things, on good design, good quality components and well-controlled manufacturing quality. I want to see more durable products and recognise that they will cost more. But is it better to buy a £600 machine that lasts 10 years, or a £300 one that might last for 3? The consumer can choose. I’d like information on durability to help make this choice.

Many light bulbs in the main last a long time now. Guarantee or not.

Long term testing is of great value, but is done on a compressed time scale to evaluate the likely life of a product. Accelerated life testing is a widely used and soundly based method. Many products are open to this technique. There are also many reputable manufacturers who do not change their modus operandi, such as degrading quality.

I paid a good chunk of money for mrs r’s Felco secateurs, and they work as well now as when they were new. As someone pointed out you can buy spares; I lost a small part and replaced it fairly cheaply.

I’ve had long-lasting Miele procucts. I’ve a 20 year old Honda lawnmower that starts every time and my knowledge of owners of current ones find the same.

The EU and BEUC support durable products. We should demand information on durability when products are tested. The Germans do it.

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Malcolm – Bosch used to be a decent brand but they have moved downmarket. As we have learned in another Convo, they are now making sealed tank washing machines that prevent bearings being replaced and they now have introduced ‘sealed doors’, so a faulty part means a very expensive repair. Hold on to your Honda lawnmower as long as possible because the build quality of Honda engines fitted to lawnmowers sold for domestic use is nothing like as good as it was.

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Bosch Washing machines – as far as I know not all Bosch have sealed drums and doors. This is information Which? should be giving us to help decide what we should be buying. However, if Bosch provide good quality bearings and doors then this may not be an issue.

Honda seem to be offering 7 year warranties on lawn mowers. I support that.

It’s good to know that Honda are offering 7 year guarantees. The old engines were better made and many old Honda generators are still in use. I have one but it’s only used during power cuts these days.

To quote our washing machine guru Kenneth Watt (10 months ago): “All Indesit Group, now Whirlpool are now all sealed tanks.All Beko are sealed.Most Electrolux Group are sealed.Many, if not most Bosch Group are sealed.All Candy Hoover are sealed.In the mass market you will struggle to find models now that do not have sealed tanks.” Of course it would be good to know, especially now that the repairability and build quality often declines rather than improves.

Meanwhile back on garden tools, I have been many garden forks with bent tines. One made of the correct grade of steel is well worth having if you have heavy soil.

I decided many years ago that as a guide you get what you pay for (providing you use a bit of common sense and investigation). Tools in my workshop for example I’ve decent saws, chisels router bits, circular saw blades, that stay sharp and can be resharpened. I’ve tried cheaper versions, and they don’t stay sharp and may be not worth resharpening. the good ones last a lifetime – and will be good to pass onto children.

I’ve been more than happy with Miele appliances, i’ve had good
service from Bosch washing machines – we’ve not bought cheap but we’ve paid less per year in effect because they have lasted well.

I think Which? need to pay much more attention to build and design quality, repairability and durability so that those who are in a position to be choosy, and who recognise real value, are given the information to make a properly considered decision.

Thoroughly agree with you Malcolm but it is hard finding tools to last a lifetime these day.

Our 10 year old Bosch washing machine broke down at just over 2 years old and was an expensive repair. The Bosch fridge freezer is still going strong at over 15 years old.

All our best tools were stolen from the shed some years back and good replacements have been hard to find. We also don’t buy cheap but have still bought several garden shears, several garden forks, several loppers as they have proved not up to the task. They just don’t make them like they used to any more.

Manufacturers seem to take a lot of notice of Which? So if build and design quality, repairability and durability were major considerations in reviews, it could have a positive impact as companies strive to be better than their competitors.

With tools there is considerable variability in quality. When I was younger I tended to buy the well known brands but have been dismayed to discover better quality cheaper products that are obviously much better value for money. Which? and other tests have often shown this, yet the power of advertising means that many stick to familiar brands, even when they are no longer owned by the same company.

I have even seen quality variations within brands. For example I have a Bahco adjustable spanner I bought in the 70s and it is still in good condition despite considerable use. I bought different size of Bahco adjustable from the same shop soon after and it was soon apparent that it was much inferior.

One way of improving your chances of buying quality products is to go for ones that are sold for non-domestic use, such as Felco secateurs, and it’s not always necessary to have an account with a distributor these days. Most professionals would not tolerate substandard goods.

I would love Which? to do more advance testing covering repairability and durability, but there is not much sign of this happening.

Wavechange,

I got fed up with useless loppers some costing around £50.

I already had Felco secateurs that I was very happy with, so about 5 years ago, I decided to invest in Felco loppers that cost around £120 and don’t regret it. Can’t remember why, but I went for the carbon handles and they have been excellent.

The beauty of Felco is all parts are replaceable. My secateurs needed a new spring when they were about 15 years old and it was no problem to get one.

I have used World of Felco online several times and their prices are rather better than garden centres.

I bought Felco secateurs because I use them regularly. I find my Wilkinson Sword ones more comfortable but the pivot bolt has to be tightened periodically because they don’t have a locking adjuster like the Felco ones.

There was no point in buying expensive loppers when they were used once a year for light work. Now that I will need to use loppers regularly it’s time to get a decent set. Back in the 90s I used to do conservation work and our group had a pair of cheap loppers that were very heavily used, often abused, and carried on working.

At our previous house we had a lot of trees and shrubs and I did a lot of lopping and pruning. I gradually built up a range of Wolf tools and they have performed exceedingly well. I use them less often now but will not part with any of them because of their superior quality and durability. I also have three Bosch electric lawnmowers of varying sizes and they have served me very well with no difficulty getting replacement blades. I recently bought an excellent pair of secateurs in Sainsbury’s for light work [£6 if I remember correctly] and worked with them for over two hours today chopping up a bamboo plant which had overgrown its position. I didn’t want to use my best secateurs on it and the Sainsbury’s ones performed very well . . . I now need a decent tool to get the root out – a day’s work perhaps with the replacement Wilkinson Sword spade [made by Fiskars] that I wrote about at the top of this Conversation.

I think the main point is that we do not have any other testing organisation other than Which? in the UK. Obviously Which? like other media employs people to do the testing. The difference is that Which? is the non-commercial charity working for its subscribers and therefore should be more trustworthy and also more receptive to what its subscribers want.

Unfortunately it appears to be run by people who are happy to weaken the testing side and happier in becoming commercial and gaining column inches. And also duplicating Citizens Advice website consumer advice and letters

This might be acceptable if Which? actually worked smarter by utilising the good work carried out by enthusiasts and available through YouTube, Vimeo and websites. However Which? seems to have a rooted aversion to mentioning sites beneficial to subscribers.

There is a site pavingexpert which is authoritative, there are people showing how to use wago, a man shows how useful various makes of wallplugs are in plasterboard walls. There is a so much good information that subscribers could be directed to, or warned off from.

So as I have outlined previously in the thread durability and good testing are important to many subscribers and yet we do not seem to get it. I have a friend who is probably the UK expert on all tool companies and who bought out who and when, and what tools are worth buying.

Can I post this information on Which? . No because there is no facility [or desire] to use the collective wisdom of the subscribers.

dieseltaylor, I totally agree. I wish we could have a proper discussion with Which? about such matters. The New Conversation might be appropriate, but as it basically involves members it could be better on the Which? Member Community – if only that were more functional and better used. Or, of course, they could involve Which? members through Connect, or even invite an open discussion with a proper survey through their magazine. After the EU referendum – though I hope we don’t copy the tactics of either side.

Hi Diesel, if you think the link would be useful you can post it here. I’ll keep a look out so that I can approve the comment. Also happy to share it with the Gardening team

The site is: pavingexpert.com which is run in the UK by a professional who loves his work and the site is vast and well worth a read if you are interested. It doe have practical applications if you are looking at commissioning work.

It is not encyclopedic as I have used cheap polypropylene jacks for supporting a 300 sq.ft garden room on a slope and AFAIR they are not something he covers.

My experience of using plastic grid, gravels and railway sleepers would I suspect be of interest as it is a very useful alternative to the omnipresent brick pavers [pavours]. It is very easy to pay [as a neighbour has] well north of £10000 on a patio where functionally a similar result could have been had for 20% of that.

Thank you diesel, I’ve made it into a clickable link for you.

@patrick
People post many useful links here which get lost after a very short time.

Any chance we could have a section of useful links posted by registered users?

Hmm it’s an idea Alfa and a fair point. It just might require vetting etc. I’ll mull it over

…and suggested in 1998 but turned down. We did try it ourselves, but one issue is that links don’t seem to stay ‘active’ for all that long.

I can vouch for pavingexpert being around for at least a decade ….

And with a larger active community and a curating system of some sort it could be a goer. Reader reports duff link or a suspect piece of information …

In fact the duff link problem surely can be covered by having a prog that advises of changes to the watched page.

I have just replaced my old Yeoman secateurs (do they still make them?) with a smaller Spear & Jackson pair which are much easier on my grip but I am still experiencing the same problem releasing the open/close lever which is always very stiff to push up and down.. The old Wilkinson loppers are not working as well as they have been used for cutting metal as well as wood! My old electric Flymo Hovermower still works but is rarely used these days as I now employ a gardener to cut the grass. The old strimmer still works although it’s shield has long disappeared so have to wear long boots and eye protection on the few occasions I use it. My two garden rakes, metal one for scarifying and plastic for clearing leaves occasionally decide to part company with their pole much to my annoyance. Can anyone tell me how to make them stay together? I have a very light and handy Wolf-Garten battery operated hedge cutter which causes the shrubs to shiver and shake a bit when they see me approaching as I tend to go a bit crazy with it once I get going! I also have a small but lovely garden which I will miss when I move to another one,

I hope to move soon to another ready established garden, so can’t wait to get started on it, but I will probably need to invest in some more new equipment, plus another gardener to cut the grass!

I’ve in the past bought a couple of Wolf handles that accept interchangeable heads – a rake, cultivator, hoe and lawn rake. They were (are) not the cheapest but have lasted very well. A bit of WD40 on the handle release and the tool spigots keeps then working nicely.

I assume you get what you pay for with gardeners as well. Good luck and hope your new garden is not so established you won’t add to it. 🙂

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The lopper and saw on the end of the longest Wolf handles come in very useful for high branches so Wavechange might be interested in them. They do wave about a bit at full height though.

I have a collection of Gardena tools (same set as Malcolm) and a couple of detachable handles. They were pricey and obviously not selling. The local DIY store decided to sell them off at less than half price and I was lucky to be there at the right time. I wondered if these new-fangled tools would prove durable but they have done well.

My favourite hoe is one that belonged to my grandfather.

Like Alfa I have enjoyed using my Wolf telescopic handles to reach quite high branches with either the saw or the rope-operated pruner. When I bought them I also bought a helmet with faceguard and always wear it when doing work with the extension pole. A way of improving the manual control of implements is to wear gloves with rubber facings on the palms and fingers. I rarely use any tool, even a screwdriver, without wearing gloves because of the increased control as well as the protection. I have a high regard for Gardena products and have many of their interchangeable heads and handles, as well as a very long hose that does not kink and is easy to coil up after use. Many of my best tools were bought in 1976 when I first bought a property with a garden and are still in use today.

Thanks Alfa. I will have a look at the Wolf loppers. I don’t think I can justify paying Felco prices for ones that I might not use very often once the garden is under control. Like John, I am very happy with my Gardena hose, which has had a lot of use.

Perhaps, Wavechange, you will be able to change the amount of waving about that Alfa reports with his loppers.

I cannot think of an easy way to stop a long pole waving about, but I do enjoy improving everyday products. A relevant example was the addition of a couple of metres of length of flexible garden hose to the hedge trimmer cable where it was at risk of being cut accidentally. The diameter of the hose is larger than the gaps in the blades. Orange Gardena hose does not look out of place on an orange cable. I deserve no credit because I copied the idea from a friend who had protected the cable of his electric planer in this way.

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Many thanks for the tips and good wishes Malcolm and Duncan. Option 1 sounds the more durable remedy for fixing the rakes I think Duncan and I have the WD 40 at the ready Malcolm!

I was thinking of a quick description for these “brands” and ersatz came to mind as perhaps the word for the second-rate which is becoming so common.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ersatz

Incidentally I was looking at a French consumer site on mixers and was struck at the attention to construction.
” Endurance
Accessories, bowls and lids spend 50 times in a dishwasher on a program Eco 50 ° C with detergent, liquid rinse and salt. Objective: To evaluate their aging as a result of assaults during the washing machine (thermal shock effects of detergent …). Hundreds of hours cycles with a load have evaluated the aging moteur.

Construction
Manufacturing is subject to evaluation by experts, to ensure that the robots have a good shelf life. The various components are examined for strength and assembly of parts, strength of the screen printing, stability of the device, any vibration, joint strength, resistance and setting selectors, use the keys to quotidien”

Incidentally buying garden machines, as in electrics, is cheapest in early December according to a French survey on their big box stores.

Peter Thomas says:
11 June 2016

I have just purchased a brand new qualcast product, to find a faulty item on assembly, as it said on the book to contact them on a certain telephone number, which had changed when I rang, I used the new number spoke to a gentleman who said they would replace the part if I sent a copy of the receipt in response to an email I would receive from them. The email never arrived. A week or so later I contacted them through their web site and sent a copy of the receipt. They replied saying they only support products purchased through Argos & Homebase. I asked why was I told they would replace if I sent a copy of my invoice to them. They replied, that I said it was purchased from homebase when I originally rang, I did not I have now asked for a verbal copy of the transcript . They are telling untruths. I have also asked why I had no response to my telephone call. I have lost faith in Qualcast and cancelled the transaction with Paypal. Sanli looks good…

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I bought what I thought was a Qualcast corded hover mower model no. MEH1533 from Argos about 18 months ago.
I only discovered it wasn’t when the on /off switch deadman’s handles both cracked inside the switch box and rendered the machine inoperable.
I ordered two Qualcast replacement handles but when I came to fit them they were different.
The broken handles were made of very flimsy plastic which had gone brittle with age and cracked.
The genuine handles were much more robust but unfortunately would not fit my machine.
When I queried this difference with Argos I was informed that their machines are made in China under licence from Qualcast.
OK if that is how you choose to run their business, so be it, could they please supply me with two replacement handles for my machine. They could not and even after many emails back and forth, including photographic evidence of the area where the handles had failed, are still saying that it is not possible. They want me to prove that these handles are not fit for purpose before they will offer me any kind of customer support.
I am just very relieved that I did not buy a £2000 mower or television or anything from them for that matter.
It is very much a case of buyer beware and everyone should be made aware of this type of misleading marketing.

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I was looking at the ARGOS special offer for McGregor garden hover mower and grass strimmer. But I cannot find any McGregor reviews or comments on Which; and spare parts seem “generic” and may not fit. The only McGregor I can find on the internet search seems to be in NewZealand? Does anyone know anything about these machines/Company?

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Hi Bigbob,

I asked our Gardening team about this and one team member thinks it’s a rebranded Argos own brand.

Although we haven’t tested these products and can’t give an accurate review until we do, based on what they know about similar machines, the team member thought that if you have a small patch of grass that you want to mow regularly it will most probably do the job, for the year.

If you have anything more challenging then the motor might burn out – hover mowers are not suitable for mowing long grass or damp grass and they don’t give a great finish as they don’t collect the clippings. So best mow little and often.

The team member also said that, in their experience, the grass trimmer will be of little use other than for very small bits of edging or over grown grass by a fence. Once again, nothing too strenuous.

Hope that helps.

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“hover mowers are not suitable for mowing long grass or damp grass… …they don’t collect the clippings” –

Personally I find that simple basic hover mowers cope quite will with this, in contrast damp grass causes far more problems with my wheeled rotary mower, because it tends to block the route into the grass box.

That said, really long grass is probably best cut with a large petrol strimmer.

Also, some hover mowers DO collect clippings – I have one that does and two that don’t.

I find my flail mower pulverises most things so wet tall grass, bramble thickets. and blackthorn is no problem. However advice is best directed when the size of the plot involved is known. Inclination of plot and owner also helps!

I am not a great fan of grass or mowing but doing it often is the trade off for a quick and easy mow. Planning the garden to eliminate awkward mowing or if it is a small lawn replacing it completely with gravel and succulents would be favourite.

Whether rotary mowers block when cutting wet grass seems to depend on the design. If you must cut wet grass with a petrol mower, operate it at maximum speed and set the cutting height higher than normal, at least for the first cut.

I’m cutting long grass at the moment after a few months of neglect, using a Honda rotary mower with wheels and a roller. As an aside, after 6 months in the shed it started first time – and its 16 years old. I avoid cutting wet grass if I can; wait for a day when its has dried out. Do a first cut at maximum height and then, when the grass stands up again, give it a half-height cut. Gradually the finer grasses will show themselves and the longer coarser grass will be contained, and you can reduce the height again but don’t go too low. That seems to work on my lawns which are a mixture of grass, moss and clover, plus anthills. But green (apart from the latter).

I don’t know about the vertical shaft engines used on rotary mowers but many of the horizontal shaft engines imported into this country and elsewhere are ‘Honda clones’. At best these cheap engines are seen as good value for money and at worst a total waste of money, depending on who you speak to. British engine manufacturers Lister and Petter still have a reputation for reliable engines even though Lister-Petter ceased trading, and now we have clones engines dubbed ‘Listeroids’.

Are modern genuine Honda lawnmower engines any good? I’ve read that they are not nearly as good as the older ones, but don’t have that from an authoritative source.

Perhaps you would link to what you have read? I can find nothing in a quick search that is critical, and on my experience, and others with Honda-powered products, would certainly take the risk again.

This is exactly one of the topics I would hope Which? would be researching. Connect surveys should provide ample evidence of quality/durability/reliability. Presumably our EC cousins (or should that be EU?) also have lawns to cut and their consumer organisations might have information. Why do we not collaborate with them to increase the knowledge base?

It’s not what I have read but the experience of people who use these engines. I don’t know if these opinions can be trusted or if it’s a case of a belief that older products were better made. If you search for ‘Honda clone’ you will find plenty of comments about these engines but that does not tell us whether modern genuine Honda mower engines are as good as the older ones – which would be relevant to this Convo.

“Are modern genuine Honda lawnmower engines any good? I’ve read that they are not nearly as good as the older ones, but don’t have that from an authoritative source.”

I can only speak for my own ~5 year old Honda ride-on mower with (manually operated) CVT drive to the wheels and a vertical shaft to a pulley system propelling dual height mulching blades. Utterly reliable, easy to service… only criticism of the whole product is tubeless tyres (at least two and probably three now with a tube in after phantom deflations by, probably, kerbing and not being able to get a rim seal with a footpump.

Thanks Roger, but what I was thinking about was the small vertical-shaft engines used in rotary mowers.

My year old two-wheeled tractor has a Honda engine and I am sure the maker of the tractor, BCS, would not offer anything that was of poor quality given these machines are built to last decades. They do offer a diesel engine option for people who prefer them or can use a cheaper fuel.

My 1993 Honda HBR535 lawnmower starts with no problem and spare parts are still available.
According to Honda
“As the largest engine manufacturer in the world, we know quite a lot about how to make a great engine for any purpose. In fact, over two thirds of the 5 million engines we make every year are for our competitors and other manufacturers, so they obviously think so too. Our engines are trusted by millions of users everyday, all over the world, for countless tasks and applications.” I see that for the GSX series they provide a three year warranty.

The tip mentioned above for going with a higher set blade when the grass is long and then reducing does work well

What I was trying to find out about was the build quality of modern Honda engines used in small mowers. The older Honda engines were superb and larger ones used in lawn tractors etc. and horizontal-shaft engines are different products.

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I’ve seen evidence of this too, but that does not help us to find out if the build quality of modern brands is as good as it used to be. For useful comparisons we need exclude products that have been abused.

A good way to assess the quality of a product is to dismantle it and look at the quality of build and components. I’d like to see Which? (or their subcontractors) do this as a routine part of testing. Trouble is they would have less to sell on ebay.

I am still battling my neglected grass (https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/gardening-tools-using-confusing-branding/#comment-1529953).

At the bottom of the garden the grass is quite lush and a good foot tall ( 304.8mm). I’ve found the best way to cut it is, in the maximum height setting on my rotary Honda, to go forwards a few yards on a half-width cut, then to cut while pulling the mower back but lifting the handle slightly to take the roller off the partly-cut grass. Maybe not necessary on a four-wheeler . Just taking a little break. 🙁

Sandra Archer says:
1 May 2018

Yes this is concerning. I have just reserved a strimmer from Argos with the Spear & Jackson brand name, partly on the basis of the maker’s name. I am now wondering whether the product is actually made by Spear & Jackson & wondering how to find out!

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Your helpful information deserves some space but as anon0-member you cannot add it to the Member Community site. Can I do it for you?

As the Community Forum has no search function it is not really ideal but it is the best! we have for user generated information. Conversations can be way way too long to search through.

Why put Duncan’s information in the Member Community site when it’s a relevant post to a Convo on gardening tools, which can be easily found here? Some topics are spread over several Convos but this one is – at present – a single page, which is easy to read through.

I can’t speak for Duncan, of course, but I suspect that he would rather have everyone able to access it and not just Which? subscribers.

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I don’t think Patrick is suggesting your info be removed from here Duncan, but thinks it could also be added to the Community Forum and he is offering to do it for you.

wavechange – I am surprised that you are against the spread of information. It would exist here AND in the Forum where at least it could have a directly relevant heading. And could link back to the Conversation.

The Forum would be much enriched and relevant if the essence of this Conversation was compacted AND there was a search function. I am sure subscribers would be happy to do the necessary IF the Forum had more users.

You talk of a single page but it has 109 comments which certainly on my screen is not a single page. It also might be disregarded as the Conversation is 8 years old and not everyone realises they may still be active.

: )

I’m not against the spread of information, Patrick. Far from it. Here it is available to everyone and when I said it was available to everyone on a single page I was referring to a single web page, which can be searched for words or strings.

If the discussion is continued on the Member Forum then that excludes everyone except Which? members. New faces often manage to find and contribute to old Convos either through web searches or through the search facility (in need of improvement). Obviously some information goes out of date but can be added to. Years ago I thought that it might be a good idea to get rid of or lock old Convos but now concede that Patrick S made a good decision to keep them accessible and open.

I would like to see Which? Convo developed so that information on specific topics is much easier to find and hope that the planned redevelopment of the website with consultants FeverBee will help here. One of the strengths of the Which? Convo Community is that many of us are keen to help others and learn from others.

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Finding information about gardening tool companies will be made harder if buried in comments about how best to provide and access information. 🙁 Continuing the discussion in The Lobby will mean that they get lost, so perhaps continue in the New Which? Convo page.

It would not be beyond the wit of man to spider this whole site every few hours and submit it to an Alta-vista-based search engine that is hosted on the same server.

When we have a topic that deserves greater attention, surely Which? should pick this up, use the information already provided, do their own research and then publish the report in the mag and online? Permanently recorded and accessible. Once upon a time I thought that this is what Convos would do – provide the ideas and information for Which? to develop. I do not see the structure of Convos as ever meeting that need – too much noise in them – but picking out the useful stuff would seem the obvious thing for Which? to do.

Morning all 🙂 Unfortunately, this is off-topic. I’d be really interested in discussing this further with you but can I kindly ask that you take it to The Lobby.

Thank you

That’s ten posts that have nothing to do with gardening tools and who makes them. One of the problems with Which? Convo is that topics often get sidetracked into long discussions of unrelated topics, irrespective of whether this is chat or – as here – something more important. If we want information to be readily available we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

Edit: Make that eleven irrelevant posts. 🙁

This seems to be about how information can be properly accessed. As this lies in Which?’s hands maybe it should be taken to https://conversation.which.co.uk/discussion/which-discussion/ ?

We have asked before if Which? would identify the actual owner/manufacturer of any particular brand. Some of us might find that useful when we make a purchasing decision. I’d like to buy garden tools, particularly those that need to work for their living like shears, forks, pruners, as I would workshop tools, from companies that retain a decent engineering.design/materials tradition. Once upon a time Sheffield steel spawned products from UK companies that produced reputable products that lasted a lifetime. Now its more of a lottery, and many such products can be little more than toys.

We could rebuild this reputation in the UK, given time and support. Another Convo is talking about this.

I have kindly asked you to move this discussion to The Lobby, you may also prefer it to be in Governance discussion – either is fine.

As this is the second time I have kindly asked this, any further off-topic comments, unfortunately, will have to be moderated.

Thank you

My post above now replicated in the lobby. Moderators: At a convenient time please delete my above post – and this one.

In the eight years since this Conversation was started – and made it clear that consumers were being duped by the sale of brand names and licenses – I have not seen any policy paper from Which? as to its benefit or otherwise for consumers, or what might be done to prevent it.

AFAIK there is no list provided by Which? of who licenses what. I am aware that other consumer bodies do provide this information for other products.

It seems very clear that consumers, let alone subscribers are not keen on being misled. Is it likely that the Consumers’ Association will be active on this?

We have a Qualcast Telescopic Pruner. After only a couple of years the spring broke. The rest of the tool is perfectly usable – but not without the spring. I have now spent countless hours talking to avery level of Qualcast and Homebase customer services but no-one can tell me where I can buy this simple spare part. “Qualcast is not a company, it is a brand” – I am told by Homebase. So don’t buy these products, they are being marketed deceptively.

You are right about Qualcast being just a brand, Tony. It’s mentioned in the introduction to this Conversation. Unfortunately, buying other brands is not a guarantee that spares will be available for smaller products so if a fault occurs during the guarantee period the likely outcome is that the consumer is given a new product and the broken one is scrapped.

If the spring is a simple coil extension spring then there are plenty available online: https://www.google.com/search?q=extension+springs&client=safari&rls=en&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjp1Mb-t-ncAhWGHsAKHbbCAtAQ_AUICygC&biw=1409&bih=752 Unfortunately it’s not just getting the dimensions right because different springs produce different tension.

If you have any friends who repair household products they will probably have a box of assorted springs and one might do the job.

I also remember that, as generic spares, Halfords also used to see packets of assorted springs.

I recently spent about 3 hours over-hauling an old pair of Wilkinson Sword secateurs.

They used to belong to my parents, so it was partly for sentimental reasons. But I also reckoned that, because they were old, they would be inherently stronger and better quality than any inexpensive modern pair.

Also, those of us who’ve previous had the privilege of working with skilled “lab technicians” (or similar) would usually have been able to summon up the resources needed to make home-made spare parts.

I wonder if the advent of affordable 3D printing will usher in a new DIY revolution?

Much as I would like to think 3D printing will make a big difference I am a bit of a sceptic. Mainly because of the restriction in materials. You won’t make metal components for example. My solution is to keep useful bits from failed products in my garage, and if I can remember where I put that one item that I need………

A variety of springs should work for the pruner (assuming it’s a coil spring) even if it means a bit of cutting and twisting. You could ask a spring manufacturer if they have a similar spring – tell them the wire and coil diameter (if it is an extension spring) and the length and you’re likely to get some help. Try Lee Springs https://www.leespring.com/uk_index.asp?CountryCode=011&utm_source=UK%20Google%20AdWords%20Campaigns&utm_medium=Google%20AdWords%20Search%20Network&utm_campaign=UK%20Products

Since I was a teenager I have dismantled products heading for the bin (or to be recycled these days) and kept anything that looks useful. I have a plastic drawer with hundreds of springs. Sometimes they are used to replace broken springs and at other times I need a spring to replace one that has shot out during dismantling, unlikely to be found again. ‘Spring is in the air’ has a different meaning to the DIY enthusiast. 🙂 I recently repaired a battery-operated travel shaver with a spring from a piece of equipment that had been scrapped about 20 years ago.

Derek – Halfords still sell boxes of assorted springs. https://www.halfords.com/workshop-tools/garage-equipment/fuses-electricals-fixings/halfords-assorted-springs?cm_mmc=Google+PLA-_-Garage+Equipment-_-Fuses,+Electricals+&+Fixings-_-929133&istCompanyId=b8708c57-7a02-4cf6-b2c0-dc36b54a327e&istItemId=lwarpm&istBid=tzwm&_$ja=tsid:94971%7Ccid:865695754%7Cagid:43902127335%7Ctid:aud-297219198129:pla-328736079731%7Ccrid:203186037801%7Cnw:g%7Crnd:5740255801751577801%7Cdvc:c%7Cadp:1o1%7Cmt:%7Cloc:1006816&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIrJCy_93p3AIVrZPtCh1fYAFNEAQYASABEgKh-_D_BwE

Nice link – thanks Malcolm.

I agree it will be a while before “home” 3D printers can work in metal – but some industrial ones already do, especially for rapid prototyping.

As a former target shooter, I’ve also taken some interest in the issues around 3D printed firearms.

Obviously, back in the day, any craft trained engineer could easily make firearms (some of the ones I used to shoot with even admitted to having done so).

Springs and other components can break because they are not fit for the purpose. I had a Belling cooker that required the door springs replaced every few years during the 34 years I used it. My parents had an earlier Belling cooker using the same dodgy springs. The only good thing was that the spares were available from third party suppliers for long after the manufacturer stopped stocking them. They were a strange design, like no other springs I have seen. I left my remaining spare springs with the old cooker when I left my previous house.

I’m not sure that 3D printing would be much use for replacing broken parts but there are plenty of other uses.

I bought a Qualcast extending pole hedge trimmer in 2016. Pleased with its performance but the tightener to extend the pole failed so I replaced it under the 2 year warranty (extendable to 3 years if you register). The rivet holding the cutting head broke away on the replacement so that was exchanged for an upgraded model (still under the warranty). It’s a shame that the lithium battery from the original cannot be used but pleased to have a much sturdier (to hold) model. Haven’t used it in anger yet but blade felt smooth in action when I tested it. It appears the two problems I had have been addressed so I’m not expecting to have to take this one back