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.