It seems that “Made in USA,” and even “Made in USA with Global Materials” is becoming increasingly rare in the tool world today.
You can blame politics, regulations, retailers, or other parties. But, most of the time, it comes down to more people preferring to buy cheaper tools.
There are other reasons, of course.
For one, Sears’ downfall rippled through the industry with major consequences.
Many Sears Craftsman Professional mechanics tools were widely believed to have been produced at Armstrong facilities. Western Forge made screwdrivers and pliers for Sears Craftsman.
Stanley Black & Decker acquired Waterloo Industries, a company that produced many tool boxes for Craftsman when they were owned by Sears, in 2017. What would have happened to Waterloo if this acquisition didn’t happen?
But Sears cannot be blamed for everything.
Irwin moved Vise-Grip production in 2008, reportedly to keep the Vise-Grip brand competitive. In 2019, at least some Irwin Unibit step drills were imported, rather than being made in the USA.
Irwin launched NWS-made pliers in 2014. By 2016, Irwin replaced them with a line of similarly-styled pliers that were made in Taiwan. While neither line was made here, there are thematic parallels.
Great Star has acquired or revived several other tool brands – they own Arrow Fastener, Pony, Jorgensen, Goldblatt, Shop-Vac, and also SK Tools.
Ideal Industries sold SK Tools to Great Star in mid-2021. Ideal Industries acquired SK Tools 11 years prior, along with other USA tool brands. Ideal Industries absorbed Pratt-Read and shuttered Western Forge’s factory.
It is still uncertain as to what Great Star will do with SK, but they have made promises to maintain US-based manufacturing.
Craftsman, now owned by Stanley Black & Decker, will be soon be launching their first USA-made mechanics tools.
Milwaukee Tool’s new USA hand tool factory is now set to open later this year.
Tekton announced their stance on USA production, and they seem intent on expanding their domestic production efforts.
Dewalt had USA-made screwdrivers, but they were discontinued seemingly quickly. I would presume these were made at the same factory that makes screwdrivers for Stanley Black & Decker’s Proto and Mac Tools brands.
The tool industry is very dynamic.
A lot of times, though, it comes down to money.
What’s going to sell better, a USA-made 6pc screwdriver set for $30, or an imported 10pc set for $22? A USA-made 2pc pliers set for $36, or an imported 3pc set for $20?
If you want USA-made tools, you can still find them! You just have to look a little harder.
Tool users vote with their wallets. If imported tools sell well, why would retailers replace them with higher-priced USA-made tools? Fans of American-made tools would cheer at the news, but money speaks louder.
A reader left a comment today – “why are American tool brands dying off?”
Frankly, there are a lot of reasons. I would say that Western Forge never recovered from Sears’ downfall. With Shop-Vac, fingers have pointed towards gross mismanagement. Some brands fail to innovate or adapt to changing times.
Are American tool brands disappearing? Yes, some of them are gone. Some have rebounded, or are trying to. There are also positive changes, such as Tekton’s broad selection of USA-made screwdrivers.
Channellock came out with a new line of screwdrivers in 2009. At the time, I asked why they were imported, and I was told that their supplier exceeded their quality standards and that they simply couldn’t offer USA-made screwdrivers at affordable pricing.
Fast forward to 2014, and Channellock was able to launch a new line of USA-made screwdrivers and nutdrivers. They continue to sell both USA-made and imported screwdrivers.
The good news is that you can still buy USA-made wrenches, sockets, ratchet, hammers, chisels, punches, screwdrivers, tool boxes, organizers, and many other types of tools.
The same goes for outdoor garden tools – shovels, rakes, and so forth.
Sometimes you can find USA-made tools at big box stores. Other times, you have to shop online at independent dealers and industrial suppliers.
All that said, the truth still remains – a lot of people are choosing to buy imported tools for various reasons – and that’s okay. Maybe they prefer the brand, maybe the availability is better, maybe the lower pricing was a significant factor, or maybe they aren’t aware of competitive USA-made options.
Sometimes I buy USA-made tools, other times I buy imported tools. A lot of different things factor into each purchasing decision.
Strong companies adapt and grow.
Do you think that Ideal Industries would have sold SK Tools to Great Star if the company was thriving?
A lot of USA tool brands have branched out to also offer imported tools at lower pricing. Proto has Blackhawk. William has separate USA and imported lines. Snap-on has Bluepoint. Estwing and Vaughan, different hammer and striking tool brands, both have USA-made and imported hammers. Wright has Cougar Pro.
It’s strange to see iconic USA brands launching more and more imported tools, but if that’s what it takes to keep their forges lit, I’m for it. I always presume – and hope – that they’re keeping a close eye on quality.
Whenever we get into USA vs. imported tool discussions, there’s always a lot of judging. The fact is, there are excellent tool brands and toolmakers in the USA, Canada, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere.
USA production is great, as it means jobs, domestic capabilities, preserved technical know-how, and more high quality purchasing options for end users.
You’ll never see me saying “you should buy [specific tool] because it’s made in the USA.” Country of origin is sometimes a factor in my own purchasing decisions, but quality, functionality, and differentiation are significant factors.
“Made in USA” shouldn’t simply mean “a more expensive tool.” When I buy USA-made tools, they often have unique, innovative, iconic, or distinct designs.
Here are some examples:
Bondhus is not a premium tool brand, but their hex tools are fantastic and offer great quality at lower prices. Eklind is another hex tool brand with a strong industrial presence. Xuron makes excellent no-frills mini cutters and pliers. Channellock has excellent pliers. Klein has excellent wire cutters and strippers. Estwing, Vaughan, Nupla, Martinez, and Trusty-Cook make excellent hammers and mallets. Mayhew makes excellent punches and cold chisels. Proto has excellent screwdrivers, mini pliers, and mechanics tools. Williams and Tekton have great hard-handle screwdrivers.
For all of these tools and brands, “made in USA” is far from the main selling point.
These and other brands are not going anywhere – or at least I don’t think so and hope not – because they are distinct and irreplaceable in the market.
A lot of the time, many consumers seek out cheaper tools. But, with sufficient reasons, they’ll spend more on USA-made products.
A growing number of tool brands have closed down over the years, but there are also new efforts taking their place.
Honestly, for the the first time in quite a few years, I’m optimistic that the trend is reversing course.