Sears & Craftsman tools - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Sears & Craftsman tools

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The current Sears logo.

You may know that Sears is in big trouble; the brand may not survive. It’s closing stores fairly rapidly and in January sold the iconic Craftsman tool brand to Stanley Black & Decker. I have some history with Craftsman tools and some thoughts about what has happened, so I thought I’d share them.

Back in the 1960s, I restored an old house in Washington, D.C., while I was serving in the Navy. There was a Sears store nearby where I bought almost all my tools and materials. I loved Sears and was a very loyal customer.

But by the late 1970s, when I opened my woodworking shop, Sears was changing, and the store chain made what I thought at the time was a big strategic error when it came to Craftsman tools. They apparently didn’t see the rapid growth of interest in woodworking that was occurring. They were ideally situated to profit from this growth. Craftsman tools had an excellent reputation for quality; the tools were guaranteed for life. And there were Sears stores everywhere. I don’t know how many, but there are still 700 in the U.S. and another 300 in Canada, even after all the closings.

All Sears had to do in the late 1970s was advertise in the woodworking magazines, and maybe expand their tool line a little to meet some of the special needs of woodworkers. Instead, they did nothing (except in my one case, chase off small woodworking shops), and left the market open for home centers and dedicated woodworking stores such as Woodcraft and Rockler.

Sears had/has an entire section of their stores devoted just to tools. When was the last time you shopped there?

— Bob Flexner


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Showing 27 comments
  • rustythebailiff

    You forgot one other, big factor; quality. Like most tool companies in the last 30 years, quality has been abandoned for profit as manufacturing was moved from the USA to overseas. How many woodworkers are still using their vintage Craftsman tablesaw (mine was made in 1952 and is still running strong)? Can most modern saws boast that lineage? Unless a company is willing to vet their manufacturers, and work to maintain high standards, which few do, the tools available to us are not as good as the older tools in terms of construction quality, finish, and longevity.

    • Leonard Ratliff

      True enough, however, almost every major manufacturer has farmed their tool manufacturing out to either China, Taiwan, Mexico or India these days. Not much we can say about that as a comparative factor except that there ARE differences among chinese made tools based on the specifications the brand asks for. In that regard, at least insofar as Craftsman is concerned, on their hand tools anyhow, I have seen a TERRIFIC change in quality on the tools I’ve purchased in the last ten to fifteen years.

      And unlike some others here, I have still never had any difficulties getting a defective or failed tool replaced, once I could actually find an employee to do so. Certainly not every experience at every Sears location is going to be the same, and that’s part of the customer service problem. Policies need to be uniform and need to be uniformly observed, at each and every location. Obviously, that hasn’t been happening and is part of the reason why Sears has lost consumer faith.

  • daddywoofdawg

    Back when I was a teen I took a old bent craftsman wrench to the store and no questions asked gave me a new one,few years ago I took in a vintage socket that cracked and was took they don’t do that.I asked then why it is cast in the tool Lifetime warranty and they said they would prorate one!
    Back in the day B&D was a good brand for power tools,since the 80’s they just look like good tools,I have used many past there 1 year warranty and they are I won’t by B&D becuase I just can’t get them to last more than about 10 hrs of use. it they even work out of the box.and then they want you to spend 40.00 to send a 25.00 tool to a repair center and pay to have it repaired.
    So Hearing B&D bought craftsman to me means another great brand gone.

  • Deaftom

    When i began woodworking four decades ago, nearly all my tools were Craftsman simply because that was virtually all that was available in my area. A few times, I brought in hand tools that had failed, and never had a problem getting a free equivalent replacement. Right up to a few years ago, i used to pick up Sears’ annual tool catalog and look through it much the way I as a kid used to look through the toy section of Sears’ annual Christmas catalog. In the last several years, though, the tool catalog began to shrink and what woodworking-related tools it had, became scarcer and less well made. Then the major Sears store in the next town over closed, followed shortly by the Sears catalog store in my town. The latter still had a small tool department, but now even that’s gone for me. All i have now is Lowes, catalog/online order, or a one-hour drive to either a Woodcraft store or a Home Depot. I don’t get the sense that Sears has really been trying during the past two decades or more. It’s sad to see it wither, but I think it mainly brought it upon itself by losing sight of its original goals (anyone else remember their old slogan, “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back”?)

  • EFS

    I am retired from a large Electrical Utility CO. In the early to mid to late ’80s I was the Supervisor of the Warehouse/Storeroom at one of the company’s large power plants (1700MW) .The SEARS salesman called on the Corp Purch dept and successfully got a contract for hand tools the company bought for the mechanics.Soon we received mutiple receipts and the amount of discrepancies were considerable. After many complaints the Salesman came back and advised that the people filling the orders were so overworked and unable to fulfill their daily quotas that they were taking their unfilled pick sheets and flushing them down the toilets.SEARS was using minimum wage hires and these folks had no accountability.Sadly the company cancelled the SEARS contract.

  • darkbreeze

    Funny that I came across this article at the bottom of my PW periodic email because I JUST happened to have a series of experiences at Sears that absolutely explains why they are about to hit the skids and it has much less to do with online vendors like Amazon or bargain box dump sites like Harbor freight.

    What it really has to do with, almost entirely, is an almost complete loss of anything even resembling adequate, much less satisfactory or exemplary, customer service. We all have reasons we buy certain things from specialized vendors and manufacturers, and reasons why we TRADITIONALLY would opt to source a tool from Sears, so I won’t bother going into that much because it really isn’t relevant.

    What is relevant, is the fact that Sears has completely lost it’s way when it comes to making the customer feel like they give a rats arse whether they are there or not.

    I’ve been a fairly frequent repeat customer when it comes to Sears hand tools, for right around about 32 years, and while I’ve seen a decline in how they treat customers over the years, it has recently come to a relationship ending head. About a week ago I received an email from Sears thanking me for being a loyal customer and to thank me they wanted to extend some additional shop your way surprise points for use towards any tool purchase. Great! Always appreciated.

    I browsed the site, found a tool I’d had my eye on for a while but hadn’t established a firm conviction on buying yet, and put it in my cart. Went to pay for it and it wouldn’t let me apply the surprise points to the purchase. Server error of some kind. Called the store and was told I’d HAVE to redeem those surprise points online, as it wasn’t valid in the store. Tried off and on for a couple of days and finally got the transaction to accept the points, right on the last day they were valid, but low and behold, when the email arrived to confirm the order and provide a receipt, turns out I was charged full price for the tool.

    Called customer service and talked to them for more than 45 minutes trying to explain to the agent that NO, more points wasn’t an acceptable solution. I was supposed to get 15 dollars off THAT purchase, not be held hostage to another purchase simply to redeem the customer loyalty reward that THEY sent me. Asked for a supervisor and was told that wasn’t possible and the only solution they could offer was to give me an additional five dollars in points beyond the 15 I originally received, sort of, but that I’d have to make another purchase and it would have to be on an item over 50.00.

    Disgusted, I let the whole thing slide and told myself to forget about it. Then, two days ago, I was in immediate need of a 23mm wrench for a specific job that required it so I went online and paid for it expecting to be able to pick it up first thing in the morning, which is how I normally make purchases ever since they began that system. Went there in the morning and the guy in the pickup department said there was no record of the purchase under my name and that I needed to bring a copy of the email confirmation. I’ve made maybe two hundred similar purchases, and NEVER had to do that. I’ve always only had to swipe my card on their kiosk and the order would immediately come up.

    I explained this to the guy and he flat out told me that “you are wrong and it has never worked that way” and that there was nothing he could do for me, and he left me standing there, with no resolution.

    I came back about an hour later, swiped my card, and a different employee immediately came out and gave me my wrench. I asked to talk to a manager and explained what had happened and who the employee was that I had dealt with. He informed that that guy WAS the pickup department supervisor. I asked to talk to him again and when he came out I informed him that I had been a regular and frequent customer, for most of the last 32 years, but that after the two scenarios I had dealt with that week, especially considering how he had treated me and then walked off, I was done with Sears.

    I was informed, out the side of his mouth as he walked off again, that he didn’t really “give a “insert expletive”.

    These are just MY little experiences in the last week. Undoubtedly many others have had similar ones. This is the kind of treatment that makes customers who would otherwise remain at least semi-loyal through the years look elsewhere for their tool purchases and exactly the root of the problem that Sears and many other organizations have allowed to chase their core customer base away.

    • darkbreeze

      Amazon, on the other hand, has never ONCE failed to make it right on the few occasions I’ve had a problem with an order or with the merchandise. That’s customer service and is exactly what keeps customers coming back, even if you’re not the least expensive or most convenient method of purchase. I’d rather wait a few days for my purchase knowing that no matter what, I’m going to get top notch customer service regardless of my problem or issue, if I even have a problem or issue.

  • BobGroh

    Going to Sears is super depressing. I bought lots of Craftsman tools back in the 1960s and 1970s – they were the first place I would go to when I needed a tool. And I always got Craftsman. Loved the forever guarantee although I only had to use it twice – once when the handle on a wrench bent like a pretzel and later when my first electric drill fizzled out. Then … I had enough tools and the years passed by. 6 or 7 years ago I wanted a new set of combination wrenches so trotted off to Sears. There was only ONE salesman in the entire tool department and he didn’t seem to know what he was doing. The store was almost empty. What a shock. Haven’t been back since. Really sad.

  • Hugh Knox

    We were talking about this Sears down spiral today at lunch. We remembered the “on line” merchandising of our childhoods when, although there were not only large Sears stores in large towns and catalog stores in smaller towns, but carpenters’, plumbers’ and mechanics’ tools as well as kit houses, autos, bees, hives, chicks, and myriad other merchandise to be had through mail order. In agreement with Mr Flexner and respondents; what happened that there was insufficient vision in the ’90s to have a web based sales component, and/or to advertise in trades and crafts journals and magazines? Remember their lower end wood working tools, but still very serviceable Dunlap brand.? I still have smooth planes; a Number 3 and a Number 4 that do a great job.. Thank you Mr Flexner for the prompt!

  • rbtpartsman

    One thing nobody has mentioned, back years ago when Craftsman started outsourcing their hand tool production to China, I wrote a letter to Sears. A senior management guy actually called me about my letter ! We talked for almost an hour ! I told him why would I pay a premium price for wrenches that I could buy at Harbor Freight for less than ¼ of what Sears charged, and the lifetime warranty was even better than Sears had become ? And the cheap plastic on the table saws, drills, planers, and other tools wasn’t worth the high dollar pricing ! I wouldn’t spend my money on a plastic bodied tool when I could get a better built one for the same price and the guy actually told me he agreed 100% with me. He said that in management meetings he had brought up the same points but he was actually laughed at, and told he needed to focus of profitability ! Senior management couldn’t understand that profit was directly tied to quality, not quantity. Sadly, many other brands and stores are making the same mistakes Sears made. I’m surprised Sears has lasted this long. Today we have become a throwaway society, choosing to replace things instead of making things that are quality and fixing things when broken. Sad indeed…

  • sawdustpile17

    What cured me of Sears and all their private label products was when I went to buy some additional nails for my Craftsman pin nailer. None were available. At that point I decided to join the legions who have decided to let Sears die the death their manglement deserves.

  • glowmann

    Back before a lot of you were born, there was the world of expensive professional tools that were only available from stores that catered to “the trade”…and then there was Sears, that catered to the homeowner, DIY auto mechanic, and home improvement amateur. I used to wander through the tool department looking at tools and occasionally buying stuff. They were also the home of Kenmore appliances, the only appliances that you could get serviced by the manufacturer anywhere in the country. For a young serviceman, that was important. I still have most of the Craftsman tools (mostly mechanics tools) that I bought in the 1960s and 70s. I came late to woodworking, thanks to Bob Vila and Norm Abram. Bob was a Craftsman promoter, Norm was not. The rule on This Old House was no commercials, no brand names, no “product placement” on the shows. They even covered brand names with tape to avoid any hint of advertising. One of the favorite games on the old Badger Pond website was trying to identify the brand names of the tools that Norm used in each episode. The Sears store and the Craftsman brand are not what they used to be. I miss what they were, but they were overtaken by events.

  • cestout

    I bought a CompuCarve When they were new in Dec of 2007. When they had it for the second repair they gave me a replacement. A couple of years later under similar circumstances they couldn’t replace it because none were available – CarveWrignt (Or LHR, the manufacturer of this CNC) was poised to introduce their new version so they refunded my purchase price and insurance cost. I used the money to buy a refurbished tricked out one from CarveWrignt. I still have that with about 180 hours on it and a second one with about 1000 hours. I do my own maint. and wonder why Sears had so much trouble with it. I am authorized for training on this machine and Rockler, who as of last October sell the Carvewright, send people to me for training. The motor on my Craftsman table saw went bad and the part was no longer available. I was in the middle of a job and did not have time to search so I bought a Rigid and gave the Craftsman to my son. Still have several maybe 3 Craftsman routers and managed to move my Craftsman router table from my old table saw the new one. Reminds me of the marketing mismanagement of the Studebaker in the mid to late ’50s and the Commodore Amiga. Oh, I still have my Montgomery Wards radial arm saw (1969) – excellent and innovative design.

  • Jim44444

    Sears is just the latest example of what happens when accountants or hedge fund managers try to run (ruin?) and old line business. I quit buying crapsmen tools several years ago, I can get the same quality at Harbor Freight. It is a shame that the so-called executives are never held responsible for their incompetence.

  • keithm

    I worked for Allstate, then part of Sears, as my first job. About that time, I was getting started in woodworking and bought a few basic tools. I still use some of them, others ended up in the trash. In the office, we considered Sears, “Macy’s prices; K-Mart quality.” But aside from some mail-order places and industrial suppliers, was one of the few places where a hobbyist or small shop could readily buy equipment, from wrenches to table saws. Most of the magazines from the ’80s on rarely included Sears power tools in their tool review. Maybe the problem was, “If you can’t say anything good,…”

    Like you, I saw the quality do a gradual decline over the last 40+ years. It was my impression they were coasting on their reputation with the prior generation of users. About 15 years ago, after being away for a long time, I decided to try them again. First employee saw me and ducked into a back room, second one answered my question with a point and wave, “It will be somewhere over there.” Third one, when I asked to help me find a specific piece of hardware, “I don’t know, you’ll just have to look around,” then disappeared. Leaving in frustration, walked by two guys leaning on lawn mowers asking themselves why no one shops there any more. I wrote a letter to the store manager explaining my experience. No reply whatsoever. I wonder why no one shops there any more.

  • MikeV

    My dad was a crafstman loyalist. It seems that is common among the baby boom generation. He set up a basement workshop while still in high school (1962 or so) and had all crafstman machines. He had some of those machines for life. They were all fairly well built, cast iron machines.

    My guess is they were fairly expensive compared to what you pay today. Here is a link to a 1962 catalog. A circular saw was $49.95. Adjust for inflation, that saw would cost $400 today.

    Back then people saved for weeks or months to buy a simple saw. Nowadays, folks want everything to be $99 or less. A few companies do market more expensive tools, and you’d think they are engaged in pornography the way some people react to their pricing.

    I see Craftsman as a typical example of what happens to all consumer branded goods. They wanted to focus on volume (because if a router is sitting on a store shelf for more than 60 days, they are losing money), and to do that they need to sell at a low price – and of course the quality goes down to the point it is a joke.

    For that reason, I refuse to buy any corded tools from HD and Lowes. Stanley B&D sources 25% of their revenue from those two stores alone, and all they care about is hitting a price point. It is inevitable that quality will suffer. I bought 2 porter cable 690 routers in the last 5 years and they were both junk. One had a motor issue after about a year, and on the second the screws that held on the plastic motor housing cracked from the motors vibration within a year or 2. I guess the way they hit a price point is by using screws that are 10% cheaper.

  • FordNate

    The real issues I’ve had with Sears is their warranty issues. Yes it used to be guaranteed for life and you could take in a wrench your parents or beyond gave yo you and it broke, but then it all changed. You had to show you’re the original purchaser with receipt and they would see if the tool was misused in any way (yeah we’ve all used the wrench with the pipe extended on it for leverage once or twice or other ways to void the warranty I’m sure) and basicall you’d get disqualified for the warranty. Other issues I’ve had (being a “young” adult) were the sales staff basically laughing me out of the store because I have limited money and they couldn’t or didn’t have an item available for my funds (yes honestly lagged when I was looking for a lawn mower for around $100 that I would never find anywhere until well hello big orange box had one that worked for the time being)

    • keithm

      Another issue for their power tools is as they changed vendor-du-jour every few years, parts became unavailable for tools more than a few years old.

      And their hand tools warranty on things like socket wrenches is to hand you a rebuild kit.

  • AlanWS

    I bought Craftsman tools back when they still came with a lifetime guarantee, and deserved it. But then they led the charge in fantastical HP ratings and disposable tool-like objects, spending their good name. Real Craftsman tools are long gone.

    • keithm

      I’m still laughing at an old ad for a wet-dry Sears shop vacuum (“6.5 PEAK HP”) comparing it to a fire truck pumper.

    • glowmann

      I remember two tool warranty items. One was are the half inch drive socket that I split when I used it with an impact wrench to remove a frozen lug nut. They didn’ t ask me how it happened, just handed me a new one off the shelf. The other item was a beam- type torque wrench that lost its zero setting. When I brought it in to see if they could recalibrate it, a salesman laughed at me and said they didn’ t offer warranties on torque wrenches. Maybe not any more, but I pulled out the box for my old torque wrench and showed him the big letters that said ”Guaranteed for Life.” I can still see the expression on his face when he handed me a brand new click- type torque wrench off the shelf.

      Oh yeah, recently I took a dehumidifier in for off- warranty repairs. The repair center did not have parts to repair it, so they gave me a new one. I still love Sears.

  • Bill Lattanzio

    23 years ago I got my first job after the military. I went to Sears and picked up a “mechanics” tool kit which if I remember correctly cost around $180. For years I used it on the job and at home, and I still have it to this day (at least most of it). Sad to see them go.

    • tpobrienjr

      In the summer of 1966, I used part of my first paycheck out of college to buy a $40 box of Craftsman tools – 3 socket sets, a good claw hammer, hacksaw, open-end wrenches, Allen wrenches, a screwdriver set, a set of pliers, and TEN hacksaw blades – and the steel toolbox. I still have all of that stuff, and have filled the kit out with other Craftsman tools when they came on sale. I have been very happy with their quality and durability. I hope that Stanley Black & Decker does something worthy with that great old name.

  • mphelps

    I fondly remember the Sears catalogs too. They were the Amazon of their day. I spent hours looking at the toy section when I was a boy. I remember saving my allowance for weeks before ordering a set of toy soldiers. Waiting for it to arrive was pleasant agony.

    I worked for Sears as a paint salesman when I was a teenager. I have used Craftsman tools for years as an adult. I am very saddened to see companies like Sears and Pennys struggling. I love Home Depot, Walmart, and Amazon, but I hope we don’t end up in a world where they are the only choices.

  • Shaun Harper

    Sears still tried to be everything to everyone and in the process didn’t appeal to anyone. Target took its place for low to medium priced home good and clothing, while Home Depot and Lowes took over the tool and DIY customer.
    Add the poor locations as anchors in big malls, they were simply not set up to appeal to today’s woodworker hobbyist.
    And finally, Amazon and online shopping will put the final nail in the coffin for Sears, Kmart, JC Penny’s and probably a few more. There is also a decent chance Amazon, Zara, and others will begin the death spiral of the American shopping mall. It will be very interesting to see how we consume good in 10 or 20 years. Times, they are a changing…

  • Loxmyth

    Black and Decker had been making many of the Craftsman power tools anyway, for the past several decades… and selling some of their lowest-end models under that label. Maybe, now that they actually own the brand, they’ll start putting that label on better-quality products… or maybe not.

    Retail’s always been tough. It’s even harder now that there are more specialty stores on one end of the spectrum, and more Internet discounters at the other end.

  • JumpingJax

    A sad decline. I can remember, as a young’un going through the Sears catalog with my father, back in the fifties, planning a project “we” were going to build/a repair “we” were going to make/etc. And then there was the Christmas toy catalog: the stuff that dreams are made of!

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