Earlier this afternoon I stopped by Craftsman’s super secret new product preview in NYC. They rented out a studio space in Chelsea, and set up several product stations to show off their latest and greatest tools that will soon be hitting the market.
The preview session was supposed to last about a half hour, but I was there for a full three hours. And to think that I was worried about stretching the half hour to one hour in order to fit in some photography!
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t snap even a single photo. My camera didn’t even come out of its bag! Not that I have any regrets. I can (and plan to) photograph test samples in my workshop, or even at the local Sears store. The opportunity to chat with Craftsman product managers was definitely a worthwhile tradeoff.
While I am normally very chatty and tend to ask a lot of detailed product questions, it seemed like I couldn’t hold my tongue during the previews. Maybe that’s because the stitches I had in my top and bottom lips for eight days (long story) finally came out yesterday and I subconsciously felt I had to make up for the period of relative quietness.
Then again, Craftsman is one of my favorite brands, and I naturally come up with questions about their products, plans, and strategies quite regularly.
I apologize for being vague, but most of the products I previewed are under embargo, meaning I cannot share details about them yet.
I saw some logical additions to the hand tools lineup, mostly expansions of Craftsman’s current mechanics tool lines. The products I previewed look good and made perfect sense to me, and I anticipate that they will be strong sellers. Some were already launched ahead of Father’s Day.
This was the first session I visited, and I planned to circle back once I saw everything else, but I ran out of time. As a result, I’m still left with quite a few questions about what’s going on with the higher-end products of the hand tools segment.
The good news is that there are some nice expansions and products coming out soon. Homeowners and casual DIYers seem to be the target audience, but some of the products will draw the interest of sophisticated hobbyists and DIYers, as well as pro users.
Cordless and Portable Power Tools
Without giving away specifics, all I can say is that I liked what I saw. I don’t think every one of the new products will be definite high-demand winners, but it looks like they have reasonably good chances.
Outdoor, Lawn & Garden
Craftsman 40V. Sounds heavy, right? Well it’s not.
I think the new lawn and garden tools offer a very nice balance between size, weight, features, and power. Obviously I couldn’t test the tools out very well, but they seemed sturdily built.
There were also two already-launched storage sheds on display, one was a walk-in, the other more suitably sized for large refuse bins, bicycles, or possibly a ridable mower. My father (who serves as my homeowner/casual DIYer and lawn and garden expert), was not a fan of the larger shed, and wondered if it would blow away in hurricane-strength winds. As for the smaller one, he cautioned that I shouldn’t tell my mother about it, which I took to mean that he thought it was an appealing size and design.
Tool Storage & Garage
If there’s one thing I am very critical and judgemental about, it’s tool storage. My upgrade path was from one Craftsman tool chest after another, and it has been interesting to follow Craftsman’s product trends these past few years.
I might not use all of my tools every day, but I certainly use my tool storage products on a daily basis. My purchases were made very carefully and with more scrutiny and in-store drawer-pulling than I will ever admit to. Although I won’t be buying a new unit anytime soon, I continue to keep a close eye on Craftsman storage products, half out of personal interest, and half to keep my recommended products list up to date.
Craftsman’s Harley-Davidson products looked really, really good in person. The price is a little higher than for comparable products, but the premium will definitely be worth it for Harley fans.
I had a chance to test out the new DynaGlide drawer slides featured in the Harley tool storage combo and in upcoming products, and they felt amazingly smooth. Testing the drawers of empty prototype and pre-production tool chests and cabinets isn’t really conclusive, but my first impression was quite positive.
I was practically drooling over one of the new higher-end storage combos. They were just marvelous.
There were other highly appealing products in the garage section, but I can’t talk about them yet.
Woodworking and Benchtop Tools
The topics of discussion here were Craftsman’s new made-in-Germany premium woodworking saw blades, general construction blades, aluminum router tables, and quick-lift gravity stand.
Craftsman’s product manager for the segment seemed confident that the new premium blades can take on any other blades on the market. They did look appealing, with fully polished carbide teeth and what felt to be a low-friction blade coating. There weren’t as many anti-vibration channels as other brands’ blades, but I saw nothing to indicate that these weren’t in fact high quality blades at very appealing prices.
Going back at least a decade, my father bought a Craftsman circular saw for under $50 and then a 5-pack of blades for less than $20. Craftsman still managed to price the new construction blades 5-pack at $20.
We talked a bit about the new aluminum router tables, which are ground flat to ensure proper corner-to-corner flatness, and I like the two designs quite a bit. It’s not just about the products themselves, but how it became obvious how much thought went into the designs. The product manager was especially knowledgeable about the design choices that led to the final product, and that gave me a strong sense that it was designed and developed with users in mind. Users, as opposed to walking and talking dollar signs.
The quick-lift gravity miter saw stand seemed especially well constructed as well. I hesitated a bit in lifting it from its upright to its working position, but could still get a feel for how fluid the motion was. The quality of the materials and construction caught me by surprise, but was good to see.
It looks like Craftsman’s benchtop tool roadmap is populated with a number of in-progress products, which was also good to hear. A lot of DIYers lack the space or budgets for full-size stationary tools, but it can be challenging to find decent benchtop or portable options. I will be following these developments with keen interest.
Speaking as a consumer and Craftsman fan, I heard and saw a lot that strengthened my faith in the brand. That does not always happen when I speak with product managers, but I’m always happy when it does.
There is a wave of great new products on the way, and even more beyond that. Not all of the new products piqued my interest, but I will share details about them later on all the same.
I still have worries about the direction some of the product segments are headed in, but there are so many more reasons for me to be optimistic about the brand and their product catalog as a whole right now.
Overall, color me delighted.
(Yes, I know it’s frustrating that I’m talking about new products without sharing too many details about the new products, but I wanted to get my feelings and impressions written down and posted while they’re still fresh.)
I imagine, given this is Craftsman, that these managers didn’t specify the country of origin of any of these products. Albeit the fact that isn’t needed with power tools, as most people know where those are made these days.
While China is undoubtedly the COO of much of what we buy – I’m not sure that this blanket statement is 100% accurate. I’ve purchased 16 power tools so far in 2013 and here’s a breakdown of their purported COO’s:
AIR – PNEUMATIC
CADEX CPB21.50 PIN NAILER TAIWAN
MALCO TSS1A POWER SHEARS USA
PORTER CABLE US58 STAPLER TAIWAN
RIDGID R040SCA ROOFING CUTTER TAIWAN
POWERNAIL CO 02-PALM001 NAILER USA
POWERNAIL CO 50P-FLEXRL NAILER USA
TAYLOR T-7781 PNEUMATIC MALLET TAIWAN
BOSCH SG25MT TEK SCREW GUN SWITZERLAND
MILWAUKEE 5223 GRINDER CHINA
BOSCH JS572EN JIGSAW SWITZERLAND
FESTOOL 574422 DOMINO XL JOINER GERMANY
FOREDOM M.SR MOTOR USA
MAKITA 5402NA CIRCULAR SAW USA
MILWAUKEE 1854-1 DRILL USA
CORDLESS – FUEL CANISTER
PASLODE CR175-C (904500) NAILER USA
PASLODE IM200-S16 STAPLER USA
Thank you for that insight, but I knew that not all power tools were made in one centralized location, but in the case of the Craftsman brand, the country of origin with their power tools these days is pretty consistent.
But that Milwaukee 1854 must several, if not more years old, as I haven’t seen any Milwaukee tools made in USA in years.
The tool I got was in a very modern looking Milwaukee box – and came to me drop-shipped from Milwaukee. I just took a look at the Grainger site and they still list the COO as USA:
Yes, but it also says COO is subject to change. I ordered a “made in USA” tool from MSC once, and received one that was made in Taiwan.
I believe Milwaukee still makes a couple of tools in the USA, but not many companies do these days.
They answered all of my questions about where the different tools and other products were made. I didn’t ask for COO of all the products, as it’s not always an important factor.
First let me say that I really, really appreciate what you do with this blog and the efforts you make to keep us all informed of the latest news in the tool world. I’ve been a Craftsman fanboy for some time, and I always like hearing about new developments with them.
But…I just can’t imagine Sears (or Craftsman) for that matter are going to stay in business much longer if they can’t listen to their customers and stop the overwhelming movement of tools to China. I can buy all sorts of new, cool, and innovative Chinese-made tools at Home Depot and Lowes. Both stores are within mere blocks of my house, whereas the Sears is on the other side of town.
The difference is that all of those tools tend to be junk. They’re not very well made, and they’re composed of the cheapest materials (and occasionally questionable chemicals) that the manufacturer could get away with. Based on your blog, I purchased that Kobalt pistol grip bit driver several months ago because it looked so cool I eventually couldn’t resist. It broke within 20 minutes of taking it out of the package.
Sears cannot compete with Harbor Freight on price. It cannot compete with HD and Lowes on price, quantity, or sheer breadth of product selection. However, it can compete by giving people quality stuff, not at the lowest possible price, but at a reasonable price. Not everything “Made in USA” is quality, but if something’s made here, more likely than not, it’s fairly well-made. “Made in China” usually indicates junk, because it is.
This is not because the Chinese are incapable of making quality tools. It’s because there’s a lot more money for the Chinese manufacturer in striving to make the cheapest, junkiest product possible while still staying within the guideline of the “specs” given by the brand. They’re not troubled by quaint Western notions of “ethics” or “morals” or the desire to keep a good customer. They know full well that their slave wages and lax environmental laws will keep American tool companies coming back for more!
Sears’s big untapped niche is the market of people who desire quality stuff, but don’t want to, for example, pay $500 for a German-made router table at Rockler, but may be willing to pay $199.99 for a well-made U.S. one at Sears. When I look at Craftsman’s 1990’s era tool catalogs, they’re full of great tools which are lower-priced versions of exclusive high-end things found elsewhere. Where Sears got into trouble was thinking that they could dramatically increase the separation in quality between the high-end tools and Craftsman, sell the Craftsman at the same price, and no one would notice the difference.
The fact of that matter is that, for every one customer that cares about where tools are made, there are likely 50 that don’t.
While it is easy to criticize some of Craftsman’s decisions, it is worth remembering that their product managers and leadership have access to sales numbers and all kinds of other metrics.
The important thing is that the brand is moving in a favorable direction, at least in most of their product segments.
I shared some of my product concerns, and if they ever want additional feedback, they know how and where to find me. I am sure they read the comments here, on Facebook, and on enthusiast forums as well.
I hear what you’re saying. I have seen the German-made 80 tooth sawblades in my local Sears. They are impressive, and I will most likely buy one in the near future.
Do you really think the ratio of users that don’t care where their product is made is 1 in 50? I would imagine, if a survey were taken of the followers of this site, the numbers would prove to be much higher. That’s not to say that other considerations wouldn’t trump the COO, only that many knoweledgeable about tools realize that certain places of manufacture are synonomous with quality and some, well, not so much.
If sales of certain products were significantly affected by the shift from USA manufacture to overseas, Craftsman execs might have backtracked on the decision, rather than do the same with additional SKUs.
It seems to me that Craftsman isn’t ignoring our complaints and disappointment about product outsourcing, they’re just listening to what a greater majority of customers are saying.
I can’t begin to understand the internal workings of Craftsman’s product decisions and actions, but I do know the situation is extremely complex.
That doesn’t make me feel any better about some of the changes we’ve seen in recent years, but it helps me maintain a balanced perspective.
Of all the major tools brands I cover and write about, I think Craftsman has historically been my favorite. Even with the unfavorable changes of these past few years, I think they’re still at the top of my list.
I for one care a great deal about quality, but hardly at all about COO. My issue over the years with Craftsman, for example, is that the quality has slipped quite a bit. I’m still rooting for them and still shopping at Sears, but I find myself buying more Bosch tools than anything else.
A lot of the quality comes from the demands/expectations of the company, not from the COO. The proof is in my hands right now as I read and reply on a top-notch high quality product “Designed in California” but “Made in China”. (Apple iPhone for those who haven’t been paying attention to the latest marketing campaign).
Chris – If you survey the followers of this site you’ll get vastly different results than if you survey a portion of Sears’ customers or if you survey the general population. The three groups are different – and my guess is the vocal minority of commenters on toolguyd are most certainly tool users and tool buyers but not Sears customers.
I don’t think that’s a fair assumption. I for one vocalize my feelings as a passionate Craftsman fan and Sears customer.
There are a few comments – not in this post – where they’re so hostile and negative I question the motives of the commenters. I have to check email addresses and IPs to make sure they’re not left by Craftsman or Sears competitors.
But I would argue that most of those that share their feelings and criticisms are – like me – Craftsman fans and Sears customers.
IDK about 50 to 1. COO is often seen as a proxy for quality among my circles, along with the larger economic/political issues involved with outsourced manufacturing. Now that doesn’t by any mean stop anyone I know from buying Chinese manufactured tools — it’s just that it’s a factor we’re aware of. And yeah, Craftsman’s move to offshore manufacturing has affected the perception of the brand. I still buy Craftsman frequently, but their move has taken them a couple of steps toward Harbor Freight and away from, say, Snap On.
I pulled 50:1 out of nowhere. Maybe it’s 20:1, maybe it’s 100:1.
Regardless of what the ratio is, sales numbers speak louder than us critics. That seems like the only reasonable explanation. If they see sales of certain SKUs drop, and the complaints continue to mount here, on forums, and their Facebook page, perhaps then they’ll force their OEMs to reestablish domestic production.
50 to 1 is as good an estimate as any. I suspect the number is higher with respect to that particular issue. Price is a major concern for many people. A quick view of the cars in the parking lot of HF vs. Sear Hardware (just down the street from each other in my neck of the woods), shows a huge difference in patronage with the advantage going to HF. This in spite of the fact that the Sears Hardware store has a much large inventory and many more lines of products include appliances, lawn and garden and paint. Sears is not where America shops anymore….
Assuming that any of these managers or any Sears executive reads this blog or any forum in general, whilst your average person might not give in the least about country of origin, there are those who do, but some such as myself have legitimate reasons.
I have had several friends and family members lose their jobs merely because a job was outsourced and often this outsourcing occurred because top executives wanted more money and a nice bonus in addition. Some of these people I know worked for the company 20-30 years. One of my friends was actually about to retire, but lost his job and all the benefits that would have came with his retirement with it.
All my friends and family aren’t top of ladder high paying busy bodies, but rather average joe’s that worked hard so they could feed their families and help their children go to college as well.
To be honest, I would buy a American made tool not only because often times the quality is pretty decent, but I want to support American jobs. My friends and family lost their lively hood merely because a manufacturer wanted a save money, but if I can at least do my part and support American jobs, maybe I prevent the same fate to another person’s family.
So word of advise Sears, if you want my money, the product must be 100% American made. For every consumer that doesn’t care at all about coo, there will always be a consumer that does care about country of origin of their products. That doesn’t mean products from other countries are inferior, but I personally want to support American jobs as much as possible.
I agree with Stuart, I think the number of people who worry about COO are rather low. The folks on the internet who bang on Craftsman day in and day out appear by all measures to be a very vocal minority. The rest of the USA doesn’t really care about the topic or if their tools are made elsewhere, most of them are used to buying products made elsewhere. It’s my opinion that cman gets an undeserved amount of hate, so many of the other tool brands that do the same thing aren’t crticized nearly as much. Heck, some are even praised for their quality or prices
I like Craftsman tools and I think the made to make direction is a good one. I also like the way they are backing more contests at sites like Instructables, where lots of people are more interested in using tools and showing off their creations that they built with tools. It’s a lot more interesting than the sites where users just show of drawers full of their tools and complain about what companies are doing. They seem to be going in the right direction, I’m curious to learn about what else Stuart saw at the demo.
I think that more people are aware of COO these days, but we’re still a very small minority.
My father came with me to the preview, and when we were taking the train later that afternoon, he mentioned seeing something about “America’s tool brand,” or along those lines. He found it ironic that some of the previewed tools are made in China (or Taiwan), but Craftsman was still drawing upon patriotic slogans. And then we argued about the Craftsman lifetime satisfaction guarantee. I got the feeling that my father didn’t mind where the tools are made, because they’re backed by the lifetime guarantee.
A few days ago I thought that Craftsman’s Made to Make marketing campaign was more talk and less action, but I have since changed my mind a little. I still think that they need to make a few tweaks to their strategy, but I’m definitely excited about their product roadmap.
I really wish the Craftsman brand managers would pick up the pace on their switch to li-ion batteries. The C3/19.2v lineup has plenty of tools that really should be bundled with lithium packs but aren’t still, for some reason.
There’s still no 1/2″ drive impact wrench w/li-ion, outside of the ‘mechanics tool kit’ that is priced outside of what consumers will pay. The regular 1/2″ and 3/8″ impact wrench kits come with ni-cads still.
There’s no 1/4″ impact driver w/li-ion without buying a drill/impact kit, and then the kit still only has one battery pack.
They finally switched the 4-pc tool kit to li-ion packs a few weeks ago and discontinued the ni-cd SKU, but there doesn’t seem to be an upgrade for the 5-pc kit to li-ion.
The drill/circular saw kit has been discontinued and sold out for eight months, but it is now returning to shelves with li-ion. Why the gap in availability, especially over the holidays?
The drill/worklight kit is still using the old non-compact 1/2″ drill, the bulb flashlight, and ni-cd batteries. This dinosaur needs to be switched to the LED worklight and li-ion batteries. Same story with the right-angle drill kit – ni-cd packs in that one too.
I realize the C3 line is not necessarily geared towards the professional tool user so I don’t expect Craftsman to jump on the brushless bandwagon. I just wish the brand managers would realize that all of the marketing for the last three years, across all market segments, by all manufacturers, has been convincing consumers that lithium-ion batteries are the future. Get with it, Craftsman.
My thoughts are that NiCd prices are what’s keeping those tools in the game. Dewalt’s 18V NiCd drill/driver continues to be a hot holiday seller, and I know that Porter Cable’s 18V NiCd line will continue to be sold at Lowes stores.
One battery kits will continue to be the norm for certain tools, presumably because of the lower price point. Add a second Li-ion battery pack, and the price has to increase by $40-60 at the least. Pro-grade tools are often bundled with two battery packs, but around the holidays you’ll see one battery kits as well. Why? Fewer batteries mean lower prices. So if brand X offers a one batter kit, brands Y and Z will usually do the same in order to remain competitive.
Any thoughts on whether we will see a nextec reciprocating saw? I am quite happy with the nextec power and price, but they don’t seem to offer the multi-saw any more.
I don’t know what’s going on with the 12V Nextec line, but it is increasinbly unlikely that we’ll be seeing new additions to the lineup anytime soon. There weren’t any new 12V tools at the preview, which means there likely won’t be any new tools in the line at least through December 2013.
The right angle impact driver kit was on sale for $30 for a couple of weeks. The oscillating multi-tool kit was on sale for $30 for a couple of weeks. Sears didn’t feature any Nextec tools in the latest 2013-2014 tool catalog.
As a fan of the Craftsman 12V Nextec lineup, I would not hesitate to buy into the lineup. But from an objective standpoint, I would hesitate to buy into a lineup that might not be supported one or two years from now.
Stuart, thanks for the update. I have several tools in the C3 line and a couple in the Nextec line. I am very happy with both and the price of both. Everybody’s 12v lines have come a long way and gotten quite powerful at a better price since when I first bought into the C3 system a few years back. I got some of the Nextec tools as a gift, and quite like the weight to power of them vs the C3, but wish Sears would support it better and have more product in it. For now I’ll continue with both for the next year or two, but if Sears doesn’t step it up I may have go to Dewalt or Milwaukee when I can afford it.
I feel bad for the people that invested in the C3 line at Sears. The same basic tools are sold at Home Depot under the Ryobi One+ brand and you get consistent new tool releases, and better prices. Ryobi pretty much has stopped selling kits with nicad batteries, or the price difference is so minor its worth going for the lithium kit. That new 18 gauge Ryobi cordless nailer is pretty nice and perfect is going to sell well its perfect for diy oriented people all the other cordless nailers price way more than the 129 dollar price the Ryobi nailer is selling at.
I am new to this website, but after reading “Open Letter to Craftsman and Sears – Why Ax Professional and USA-Made Tools?!” I almost couldn’t believe that they were written by the same person. I don’t think it is possible to reconcile “I still have worries about the direction some of the product segments are headed in, but there are so many more reasons for me to be optimistic about the brand and their product catalog as a whole right now” with “I am trying to be calm and sensible here, but I extremely unhappy at the changes I’ve been seeing.” from last June 21st? For the past year, I have been emailing Craftsman and basically begging them to indicate somewhere in their product descriptions the country of origin for their tools. I haven’t gotten so much as an automatic email reply. Just very sad.
Craftsman is a big company with lots of product categories. I have about given up on their hands tools, pushing past disappointment and into indifferent acceptance. Harping wouldn’t do me any good. They have made it clear, through actions and words, that we’re just not a part of their primary target audience for their mechanics hand tools. (Now their pry bars are being outsourced.) They still have the industrial line, but those tools aren’t as great a value, in my opinion.
But there is no reason for me to be unhappy about all of Craftsman’s product categories. I am quite excited about the new and upcoming benchtop tools. When discussing other products, the group product manager basically said that he wants to improve current tools, ones that I know could definitely use it. I’m not going to let my disappointment over the hand and mechanics tools affect my enthusiasm for the woodworking and benchtop tools. It also really impressed me how frank the product manager was in regard to some of the prior generations of tools, such as the router tables.
I really wanted this post to be about all the new Craftsman tools and products I’m excited about, rather than what disappoints me about the brand. My feelings haven’t leveled off, but there’s nothing more I can add about the hand tools that I didn’t already say in the open letter about the matter.
Few companies indicate country of origin in product descriptions. Home Depot’s Canada site does it, and when I asked why the US site doesn’t, their communications contact never got back to me. My guess is that seeing “made in China” in a product description would make people more unlikely to buy the product, and if they buy the product without knowing this, they’re less likely to return it after it’s in their hands.
Thank you for your sensible and well thought out reply. It is hard for me to reconcile what Craftsman once was with what it is now. I’m not blaming them, obviously with the consolidation with Kmart and a tough economic environment they made the decision to cut costs at the price of quality and domestic manufacturing. I just wish that if they really are proud of their tools, they would put a big ‘Proudly Made in China’ sticker on the package.
One thing I learned from a brief conversation with the new brand manager is that Craftsman and Sears are not the same.
Some of the product managers really are proud and enthusiastic of the tools they develop and support. That’s something I always like to see, because it shows that those in charge of tool development and production decisions really do care.
I can’t count the amount of emails I’ve sent to Craftman asking the same question only to either never have my email answered or to be given a automated answer.
I can only speak for myself, but country of origin is more often than not a deal breaker for me and I won’t buy a product without knowing the country of origin.
Grainger, Harry J Epstein list the country of origin of all their products and even some manufacturers such as Snap-On and Marshalltown list that information.
I am not surprised that Home Depot wouldn’t list the country of origin of their products on their website. You would think they would given that they do in the Canadian version, but what can you do. Even if a product is made elsewhere, I would have more respect for a company that is honest and open about the coo, rather than one that hides that information or is very secretive about this information.
I think that JCC had a good point, and Delta basically did the same thing. Once an American icon in woodworking, they decided to try to sneak in some import junk and hoped that the consumer wouldn’t notice, and would buy it assuming that if it was a Delta product that it was made in the USA, and still pay Delta’s price, well look at Delta now. The same goes for Craftsman, both Craftsman and Delta are going to have a tough time getting customers back. I stoped buying Craftsman power tools many years ago.
Any word on the COO of the new H-D tool box? If its still USA, I’m all over it.
I don’t recall with absolute certainty, but I believe the premium boxes are made in USA.
You know, I would have a better feel for Craftsman if Sears hadn’t closed the closest store to me (Coralville, IA) last year and had spent more than a pittance on trying to keep their Cedar Rapids, IA store looking more appealing over the last twenty years. Seeing the low end of Craftsman tools pop up in Ace, Kmart, and a few other local low-end outlets doesn’t give me that “quality tools at a reasonable price” vibe. It gives me a “oh crap we got ten years behind the marketing eight ball and now we’re screwed” vibe.