Sears used to be a great place to buy quality tools at reasonable prices. Back when I was building up my hand tool collection, the retailer was a frequent go-to, and not just for Craftsman tools.
I was digging through my archive of smartphone images and came across the two displayed here. This, I’d say, was the turning point.
On the left is a Craftsman Professional 11pc 12pt short combination wrench set, model 9-44138, with a retail price of $69.99.
On the right is a Craftsman 11pc 12pt short combination wrench set, also model 9-44138, and also priced at $69.99.
There was mixed inventory on the shelves for a while, until the USA-made tools sold through.
The Craftsman Professional wrench set was marked as being made in the USA, and the other set was not – it was imported.
Sears made it easy to identify their made-in-USA Craftsman tools at a glance.
Here’s a closeup of the largest wrench size from the two sets, 1-inch wrenches for both.
Craftsman’s replacement wrenches were described in online communities as having “lobster claws,” due the added metal mass at the open end, possibly for strength reinforcement.
Look at the open end, box end, and the Craftsman logo. These were not at all the same wrenches – the newer ones looked more cheaply made – and yet Sears was charging the same for both sets.
Similar changes were made across the board.
When Sears reintroduced their Craftsman Professional brand in 2013, the new imported wrenches featured the same “lobster claw” open end.
The perception of a quality difference was enough for Sears to lose the support of their once-loyal tool shoppers.
The “lobster claw” design was the turning point. Sears made many more changes to their Craftsman and “Blue Tool Crew” catalogs, driving tool users further away.
Sears had announced new USA-made Craftsman wrenches and ratchets in early 2016, but as far as I am aware, the revamped Craftsman Industrial tool line never launched. Stanley Black & Decker announced their plans to buy the Craftsman brand from Sears exactly one year later.
Man, I miss the Craftsman Professional line. I bought a lot of those tools and they were impressive for the price point, especially if they went on sale or there was a Craftsman Club discount.
Lately I’m seeing a lot of Craftsman for sale at places that never had it before, but the quality seems pretty low.
I blame the downfall of Craftsman tools on upper management try to save a buck and all you get is crap tools from China you need to bring back Craftsman tools made in the USA where you can get quality tools not that crap you called Craftsman made in China you can tell the difference from looking at that USA May Craftsman tool and one of them crappy made Chinese tools
I have some of the professional wrenches and the USA made ones were very good for the price. I have some sockets and wrenches form about 2006-2007. I wish I’d bought more back then.
I agree. Craftsman used to be decent quality USA made wrenches at a reasonable price. The went to the import wrenches which were not as good and charged the same as before. I know the quality went down because I had an import wrench slip, yet the very same bolt was loosened with an older USA made one. The import ones seemed to fit a bit looser on the bolt head like the tolerances weren’t as precise. I will say that lately the imports have gotten better but the lobster claw wrenches never impressed me.
However, if I’m buying import wrenches I don’t know if I’d choose Craftsman over Husky or Icon.
Tekton or Teng tools
As far as I know, both Tekton and Teng tools are manufactured in Taiwan. I don’t know much about Teng, but Teckton makes good tools, that seem to have a more mechanic’s slanted mix vs. a more DIYer mix.
Tekton is an American business out of MI. With a stated corporate understanding of “made in U.S.A.” they have an ever expanding list of domestic products. They are continually either finding acceptable U.S. suppliers, or they are expanding their own production. Just some info I found that was of interest to me, and they seem to make good quality stuff.
I worked at Sears when this happened and was saving for a big mechanics tool set. By the time I could afford one it was too late – never did get it. Wasn’t buying the foreign stuff.
I don’t spent money I don’t have, but in this case wish I would have just charged to a credit card and made payments. Spent hundreds/thousands more to end up with a similar set to what sears used to sell in a $500 (or less) box.
A lot of people came in and got angry when their USA tools were being exchanged for noticeably worse / non USA crap
The extra metal around the open end, aka the “lobster claw” design, is for added strength. It resists the wrench end flexing and opening up. This is common for thin or “tappet” style wrenches where the added metal there helps make up for the thinness of the wrench. I suspect it was done in this case to make up for substandard steel, forging, or heat-treating.
It absolutely makes a difference in wrench performance but at the obvious downside of requiring more clearance around the fastener. Check out this part from a Project Farm test where two Beta wrenches are tested. One is the thin “lobster claw” type tappet wrench, the other is a standard open end. Note the “lobster claw” actually slightly outperforms the standard wrench despite less engagement with the fastener. This is probably because the standard wrench is flexing more than the tappet under load.
If we assume that Sears required their Craftsman tool suppliers to build wrenches to meet or exceed the same industry standards or strength specs, it can be fair to assume that one with “lobster claw” reinforcement is made from lower strength steel.
My theory was that the chunkier open ends was not to produce stronger wrenches, but to produce wrenches as strong as the USA made versions they were replacing.
The idea is that, with better steel, forging processes, and heat treatment, the overseas factory wouldn’t need all that extra metal.
Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. They used the lobster claw shape to gain black the strength they lost from worse steel or heat treatment. If they improved their materials or processes the lobster claw shape wouldn’t be necessary.
many of the early pro wrenches and some other tools were made by sk and can be identified by a “k” in the part number. other than stampings they were identical to sk superchrome full polish wrenches. some pro wrenches were also made by armstrong if i am correct. they had a slightly different profile but were of the same excellent quality.
I still have my Craftsman Professional SAE Wrench set along with the Professional SAE Stubby Wrench set. Purchased them in the late 1990’s. Only a DIY’er mechanic and I have quadrupled my mechanics tools since than but they are definitely cherished by me!
We need to get over the whole “Made in USA” is better thing. I’ve had crap made overseas and crap made in the USA. What it comes down to is engineering and price points. You can have something made overseas (Yes, even in China) that is engineered to a higher quality than in the USA but the company has to want to be willing to justify the price point that the consumer is willing to pay. It’s all about how the product is spec’d.
Anyone in manufacturing understands that you have to deal with the customer (both internal and external), engineers, marketing/sales, finance, and upper management when creating a product and they all want something different that is often in direct opposition to each other.
There’s a lot to this.
Back in 2019, Wilton shifted production of their premium Tradesman* bullet-style vises overseas. https://toolguyd.com/wilton-tradesman-mechanics-pro-bullet-vises/
*Added for clarity – thanks MM!
I spoke to them about it, and this is what they said:
They had to shift production overseas, but sought to deliver a comparable if not improved product.
When Sears sent the Craftsman production overseas, did they deliver a comparable or improved product? No. They delivered a generic and even inferior-looking design and charged the same prices as the former USA-made products.
Outsourcing is sometimes unavoidable – I certainly understand that.
Deliver a comparable product, and some people will still care but most will understand. Did Sears deliver a comparable product? An improved product?
Are you trying to say that Sears’ lobster claw replacement wrenches were higher quality than the Craftsman Professional wrenches they replaced?
Stuart: I don’t disagree with your point as a whole, but I think there may be some misunderstanding regarding Wilton’s lines of vises. Their “Tradesman” series is NOT the same thing as their top end lines.
The “Bullet” label can apply to any of three series of vises made by Wilton. The “tradesman” line is a mid-level product currently made in Taiwan. The “Machinist” line, which is the one most commonly referred to by the term “Bullet”, is a higher end product that is still made in the USA and has a lifetime warranty:
…though they have discontinued some of the sizes that were previously offered. And finally there is the C-series, “Combo Pipe & Bench Vise”. This is also a higher end product. Like the “Machinist” these are made in the USA and have a lifetime warranty:
As you would expect, the Machinist and Combo vises are substantially more expensive than the Taiwan-made Tradesman series.
They have/had many multiple tiers of vises, with the Tradesman line still premium compared to their many cheaper ones.
The Mechanics Pro can be mistaken for the bullet line, but it’s made in China and categorized as an industrial vise on Wilton’s website.
Premium and top-end are not necessarily the same thing.
Today, the smallest Wilton Tradesman bullet-style vise is $630, and their largest is $1758.
You’re not wrong, but the least inexpensive style in the premium line is still a premium vise. Even if not, matters of semantics don’t always have one correct answer.
The Tradesman bullet/bullet-style vises were made in USA – at least the ones I was directly referencing in my linked-to post, and then replaced by made-in-Taiwan models. You still have the option of higher priced USA-models, or the new and supposedly improved Taiwan-made ones.
There’s nothing wrong with the Tradesman line, I think they are excellent vises. My point was that your post implied that *all* the bullet vises had production shifted to Taiwan:
“Back in 2019, Wilton shifted production of their premium bullet-style vises overseas”
….while it was only one out of the three Bullet types that was affected.
Ah – gotcha, added it in for clarity. Thanks!
Today, Craftsman raised panel wrenches are made in India and the finish is horrid. They’re so bad, it makes on long for the days you could buy a quality, lobster claw Craftsman wrench that was made in China.