Craftsman Tools: Where Are They Now?

Craftsman Tools: Where Are They Now?
The CRAFTSMAN logo is a registered trademark of Stanley Black & Decker. The logo above debuted in 1997.

When Sears sold the rights to its Craftsman brand of tools in 2017, I was prompted to suddenly think of my own Craftsman collection—one consisting of both hand and power tools that are spread about in my toolshed, garage, and basement.

I began it back in the 1930s, when on Saturday afternoons my father would drive us to Sears, Roebuck on Front Street in Plainfield, New Jersey. With no need for any discussion, we would descend to the lower level. It was stocked wall-to-wall with hardware, tools, and technical supplies. We might easily spend the better part of an hour perusing the aisles for interesting new additions, while hovering over certain items that Dad considered adding to his basement workshop.

We did not find it necessary to acquire a new tool upon each visit, as Dad’s collection of tools by then was extensive, and mine, mostly hand tools, was growing. Even so, we might come away with a modest purchase—a quart of enamel, some solder for our respective projects, or a box of brass screws.

These visits began my decades-long interest in acquiring and using Craftsman tools. Sears, meanwhile, had become the largest retailer in the United States. So its decline in recent years, along with the closing of so many of its stores, and ultimately its declaration of bankruptcy in October 2018, was difficult to accept or explain.

Origins

Richard Sears was a railroad telegrapher and station agent who began the R. W. Sears Watch Company in 1886 (just two years after formation of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, a benchmark date!). Sears hired Alvah Roebuck a year later. For reasons unknown, Sears sold the company to Roebuck, but rejoined him in 1893 and renamed the company Sears, Roebuck and Company. Roebuck retired in 1895, but Sears retained his name.

All of Sears’ sales were made from mail-order catalogues until it opened its first retail store in 1925. In 1908 its Catalogue No. 117 exceeded one thousand pages. Let’s see now. I’m looking at pages 1182 and 1183. Here’s a polished wrought square for 8 cents. Also a brass joint carpenter’s two-foot rule. And a hammer, a bit brace, a steel blade screwdriver, and a vise. A total of 138 items, just 8 cents apiece. But wait—there’s a catch. You’ve got to select at least twelve items to get this special price. Too expensive? Go to pages 1176 and 1177. For 2 cents: a paint brush, a tack puller, or a garden trowel, each available from among 120 items.

If you are a serious mechanic you may want to order a complete tool outfit. Same catalogue. Pages 482-483. Three tool sets are shown. (1) A 23-item set for $7.97, (2) a 46-item set for $15.93, and (3) a 70-item set for $25.23, the latter named the “Invincible Tool Outfit.” Each includes a hardwood tool chest.

There are pages of other interesting offerings in this 1908 catalogue, including photographic equipment, optical and electrical items, bicycles, and a variety of other vehicles. But you must supply your own horses for use with the latter.

Fast forward to 1925

Nearly 40 years after its founding, Sears opened its first retail store, and within five years had more than 300 retail outlets.

Arrival of the Craftsman brand

Sears bought the rights to the name Craftsman from the Marion-Craftsman Tool Company in 1927 for $500. Craftsman products have never been manufactured by Sears. Makers of its hand tools have included Stanley, Danaher, Apex Tool, and Western Forge. And Craftsman portable power tools have been manufactured by Ryobi and Singer (both now part of Techtronic Industries). DeWalt has produced both Craftsman hand and bench power tools.

Stanley Black and Decker acquired the Craftsman brand name from Sears Holdings in March 2017. As part of the deal, Sears retains the right to continue the sale of Craftsman products in Sears and K-mart stores, should either or both still exist. (Sears had closed over 2000 stores between 2011 and 2017.)

Under the new ownership, the Craftsman brand has already become available in Lowe’s, and may also find its way into Walmart, Target, and Home Depot.

Meanwhile, I am finding a greater appreciation for my Craftsman collection (part of which was passed along to me by my father). It now includes, in addition to numerous hand tools, a compound miter saw, power bench saw, router, and power planer.

Resources

  • La Monica, P. R., “Sears Sells Craftsman to Stanley Black and Decker,” CNN Money, 5, 2017.
  • Hope, P., “What the Sale of the Sears Craftsman Brand Means for You,” Consumer Reports, 20, 2017.
  • Craftsman: The Standard of Quality, http://www.searsarchives.com/brands/craftsman.html, retrieved Nov. 14, 2018.
  • A Tool Industry Timeline (Early Craftsman Tools and Their Makers), http://alloy-artifacts.org/craftsman-early-tools-html , retrieved Nov. 14, 2018.
  • Stanley Black & Decker Completes Purchase of Craftsman Brand From Sears Holdings, https://www.prnewswire.com, retrieved Nov. 14, 2018.
  • Hsu, T., “From a Gilded-Age Boom To a Digital-Age Bankruptcy,” The New York Times, October 16, 2018, page B3.
  • Corkery, M., “Reckoning For Icon of Retail,” The New York Times, 16, 2018, page B1.

Donald Christiansen is the former editor and publisher of IEEE Spectrum and an independent publishing consultant. He is a Fellow of the IEEE. He can be reached at donchristiansen@ieee.org.

3 thoughts on “Craftsman Tools: Where Are They Now?

  1. Very nice piece on Craftsman tools! Brings back fond memories of
    shopping for hand tools at Sears. I, too, swear by Craftsman. A quick
    check of my tool chest just revealed a full set of Craftsman combination
    wrenches and of punches and chisels. But the adjustable wrenches are by
    Crescent (I had always thought they were Craftsman, even though we
    always called them “crescent” wrenches).
    As Bob Hope would say, thanks for the memories.
    –R.S.Little LSM

  2. I enjoyed the article on Craftsman tools. I was especially interested in
    mention of the Sears store in Plainfield, NJ. I was born in Plainfield
    and lived both there and in North Plainfield as a youngster. I
    absolutely remember that store, on the corner of Grove and Front
    Streets, before they moved it to Watchung on Rte. 22 sometime in the
    ’60s. I vividly recall the Puch motorcycle/scooters on display there. A
    co-worker lived in a Sears kit house in Bridgewater. I often wondered if
    the original owners had purchased it via the Plainfield store.
    I still have many of the Craftsman tools I bought at the Watchung store
    as a teenager and some I inherited from my Dad. One of my favorites is a
    1/4″ drive socket set which has the nice hinged metal case, so much
    nicer than the blow-molded monstrosities of today. No rust except on the
    box; the Japanned finish has worn off the bottom.

  3. Mr. Christiansen omitted one of the best features of Craftsman hand tools, the unlimited lifetime replacement warranty, which is still honored by whoever sells them now.

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