Who Remembers This Iconic Tool Brand?
For 90 years this esteemed brand name was synonymous with quality manufacturing, affordable pricing, and an almost legendary lifetime warranty. These three traits meant that it was almost impossible to find an American garage or workshop that didn’t have at least some Craftsman tools hanging on the walls.
First sold in 1927, Craftsman was the flagship brand in the Sears tool section. For 90 years this esteemed brand name was synonymous with quality manufacturing, affordable pricing, and an almost legendary lifetime warranty. These three traits meant that it was almost impossible to find an American garage or workshop that didn’t have at least some Craftsman tools hanging on the walls.
Today, with Sears is going through bankruptcy proceedings, many DIY enthusiasts consider this the end of an era. But is it really? Let’s take a quick look at those three key traits to see whether the brand’s legacy lives on.
The famous lifetime warranty program was launched along with the introduction of the tools themselves. The warranty program required no receipt or proof of purchase, and was honored anywhere Craftsman tools were sold. Over the years, there have been rumors that the program was about to be abandoned, but those rumors have always proven unfounded. While power tools are treated slightly differently, and some tools that are no longer manufactured cannot be replaced on a one-to-one basis (such as tape measures), the majority of Craftsman hand tools are still fully warranted.
When the Craftsman brand name was licensed to Stanley Black & Decker in 2017, both they and Sears made a big show of ensuring customers that all warranties would be recognized. Now with Sears itself struggling, Craftsmen owners are actually in a better position than other Sears customers, since the warranty will be fully honored at retailers such as Lowe’s.
Okay, the first thing we should note is that Sears itself has never manufactured Craftsman products. Instead, they outsourced the work to manufacturers in the US and abroad. What set Craftsman apart was their insistence that manufacturers met stringent quality specifications. Much of this “quality first” mindset was driven by Tom Dunlap, who oversaw the brand’s development in its early years, upgrading the quality and durability of Craftsman tools. (Years later, the Sears Dunlap tool line was named in his honor. Though ironically, Dunlap tolls was in a lower-quality tier than Craftsman.)
As time went on, the Craftsman standards and specifications were modified to meet pressure from competitors and pricing needs. Sears insists these modifications were always for the better, while customers have had their doubts. The golden age of Craftsman tools is generally considered the 1950s through 70s.
If you have older Craftsman tools in your collection, you can find the manufacturer by comparing the model number prefix to this chart from Vintage Machinery.
Although the Craftsman brand may have had its ups and downs in terms of quality, price is one area that has consistently improved over time.
The Sears catalog from 1929 features a Craftsman 1/4-inch drill for $21.90. Adjusted for inflation, that corded drill would cost $319.21 today. By contrast, a Craftsman drill at Lowe’s currently retails for around $70, less than a quarter of the inflation-adjusted price of that old school unit. In addition, the Lowe’s model has a 1/2-inch keyless chuck and is cord-free, with a rechargeable battery. In short, you get a lot more for significantly less today than in days gone by.
The future of the Craftsman brand still looks strong. Stanley Black & Decker has moved Craftsman tools into new outlets such as Lowe’s, while Sears itself may yet emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy stronger than before. (Which isn’t that unlikely; Marvel Comics entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996, and if you’ve been to a movie theater in the last decade you know they’re doing okay.)
So long as the manufacturing can be held to standards as high or higher than they are today, and the lifetime warranty continues to be honored, then it won’t be surprising to find Craftsman tools on the shelves of pros and DIYers for generations to come.