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Old 03-13-2012, 03:00 AM   #1
cbracer
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Default US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

OK, so I've been on a rampage the last week learning about tools before I start building my life long set. Here's the problem. I don't work on stuff professionally, but I work in an automotive field. I need a set of tools, but nobody makes what I need in the price point that I want. Yeah, yeah, that's probably what everyone says. But here's my quandary....

---MAC, Matco, Snap-On are all too expensive for me and lots of other people. But they have everything I need. I'm sure may people on hear love them and swear by them. Some will even say buy what I can used / online. But really I just can't afford them.

---The next step down are the industrial lines of tools. Proto is nice but just as expensive as the top line so that's also out.

---I originally started looking at Craftsman because I already have some of their stuff. The price is right. The quality is right. Their main sockets offer a good selection of sizes, including flex sockets,... until you get to torx and hex sizes then it's too limited for me. I found out they don't make every size I need for many tools. I dreamed of a midnight blue grip latch box for over a year. But now those are gone as Craftsman can't seem to figure out who they really are. I'm very surprised someone who is in charge can't open there eyes and see how much people want US made stuff. Then again, Danaher is known for cost cutting to turn companies around into making a profit again.

---After owning a set of ratcheting Craftsman wrenches and being limited in sizes, I decided to jump ship to Gearwrench wrenches. I was happy with the quality and ecstatic with the sizes offered. They even have a E-24 ratcheting wrench. Good price, nice looking tools. I'm an engineer by trade, so I can appreciate and understand how manufacturing overseas is continually improving in quality. I'm not against buying overseas. But I am American and would prefer US made. So I then decided to try their sockets. Ordered the full 1/4" set and sent it back the day after I got it. The sockets looked nicely made, but the chrome and fit screamed Taiwan too much for me. The stubby ratchet felt good, the main ratchet didn't. So I just wasn't pleased. But their selection is awesome.

---Then I found Armstrong tools and some good priced sets online with all the sizes for sockets and hex bits I needed. Armstrong is US made and with online discounts (ebay/craigslist/amazon, and other stores) it's possible to find some of there stuff (mainly sockets) at a price I can afford. I am really close to buying Armstrong. Armstrong is also blue, my favorite color so that has nothing to do with my selection other than it's a bonus.

I came really close to pulling the plug and diving into Armstrong tools. The problem is that this line of tools doesn't offer all of the sizes for all the tools I need for working on cars. They have a full range of torx sizes which is great, but no E-torq or XZN. Go figure, they do industrial tools not automotive. They carry the FULL line of sizes in the sockets and hex bits, but little to nothing in torx/flex. I ended up buying a set of Cornwell XZNs. Their ratchet wrench sizes can be limiting so I'll likely stick with Gearwrench for my wrenches.

---BluePoint, Black Hawk, Williams are all very good too and likely better than Gearwrench in some ways. But more expensive than Gearwrench and just over my budget. I can justify a little more for US made stuff, but not that much more for overseas. I think over time Gearwrench will clean up on BluePoint, Black Hawk, Williams. They have better prices online, better selection and more widely found and known name.

WHAT DO I CHOOSE as a home gamer?
Craftsman could have sealed up the market. They should have kept it all US made and just offered the Evolve line for overseas stuff. But no they mixed overseas with US all with the Craftsman name. Now they are sold at ACE Hardware, which is nice to have more outlets, but horrible now when you go into Sears to return a Craftsman tool. "oh we don't know if you bought that here...." With Sears going downhill and not investing in any of their stores, it looks bleak. They will survive because they have so much equity. What really irritates me is their size of offerings in the stores is shrinking. I remember back when Sears tools was huge and they even sold paint! Now the tools is a small section of the store with horrible stock levels. It's always the "order it online" excuse. Their power tools clearly missed the mark.

---Then I rediscovered SK. The only thing I'm worried about is not actually seeing them all in person. The SAE hex bit sets I see at Sears are marked and made by SK, and the markings on them look really bad. I'd hope that's only the crappy Craftsman ones and not their own branded hex sockets? Does anyone know if all their current tools are all made in the new facility?

Now there's big potential in SK for the company. They really need some sort of easy read markings combined with the normal markings on the bottom of their sockets. Armstrong has it right in that department. But if they price themselves like the big three then SK is just too far out of my price range. And SK can't compete in the high end market at this time, but they can compete with BlackHawk, BluePoint, Williams. What's more is that SK offers some additional automotive based tools that only the big three really offer. So they need to lower their prices just a little..... That combined with US made stuff leaves just one thing left they don't have yet.... and that's distribution. They need a real anchor store to sell their stuff out of.

Maybe Armstrong will build up their offerings of e-torq and flex sockets. Seeing how they have military customers. But distribution is still lacking.

Now I'm guessing both Armstrong and SK don't want to be down in the Craftsman range.... but there's a whole market empty right now. And no one has it. A US made tool, priced just higher than Craftsman but much lower than where SK and Armstrong are now should be possible with a large distribution network. And it would totally clean up on Craftsman and grab all the home gamers. SK needs a better name to compete, maybe a new trademark. Armstrong is sufficient enough, but a little marketing would be required.

Craftsman could have had it all, and SK could take it all...... if only they were willing to listened to me.

Now everyone has their opinion. And mixing manufacturers is the only way to get price and selection and quality. I just don't want to have that many different brands. For my set I'm likely going towards wrenches by Gearwrench, then either sockets by Armstrong, Craftsman or SK. Going all Craftsman mixed with some SK would be the cheapest route. Going with mainly Armstrong mixed with some SK would be a little more expensive. But I'd rather have all SK, just can't afford that.

I am going to splurge on some PB Swiss for screwdrivers and bits

Thanks for reading my post,
Chris
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Old 03-13-2012, 03:30 AM   #2
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Personally, I like SK the way they are. I don't need "easy read" markings. The price of stuff is tolerable if you shop around (thetoolwarehouse.net, tooltopia.com, advance coupon deals, fleabay, etc).

I do wish they were more accessible (i.e., could run right out and buy some in store locally), but meh. It is what it is.
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Old 03-13-2012, 03:36 AM   #3
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Working on cars, USA tools on a budget:

SK master socket sets part numbers 91848 and 94549
Lisle for bit sockets and specialty tools
Wright combo wrench sets 711 and 750
Wilde for pry bars, groove joint, and slip joint pliers
Channellock for other pliers
Several different choices for screwdrivers
Ullman for picks, inspection mirrors, etc.
Moody for precision screwdrivers
Swanstrom or Pro America for electronics pliers

Last edited by vintagefan; 03-13-2012 at 03:44 AM.
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Old 03-13-2012, 06:29 AM   #4
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Good points.
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Old 03-13-2012, 07:55 AM   #5
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

The old SK was known for overstamping makers marks. I don't know if that has continued or not.
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Old 03-13-2012, 07:57 AM   #6
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

What's wrong with having a mixture of brands? I personally haven't found one brand that makes everything that I like. Those Cornwell bits you bought were probably made by VIM in Taiwan. Cornwell doesn't make their own bit drivers. They're great bits but, not US made.
I'm not a big fan of Armstrong chrome sockets. Aside from being offered in a few more sizes, they're the same as current craftsman dual marked sockets down to the double notch retention cut outs on the female square drive end. I do like my Armstrong Maxx ratchets though.
I do feel that the SK master sets in 1/4 and 3/8 offer great value if you shop around online. Those two sets would probably cover 80-90% of your socket needs depending on what you work on.
You don't need to have just one brand in your box. That's boring. Go forth and get a mixture. Consider Channellock for pliers, SK for sockets, Armstrong for wrenches, and there are still many US made Craftsman tools available that will serve you well for years to come.
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Old 03-13-2012, 08:14 AM   #7
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

I wouldn't limit yourself to one tool manufacturer.
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Old 03-13-2012, 08:26 AM   #8
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fedwrench View Post
What's wrong with having a mixture of brands?

^^^ Exactly what he said. Pick the tool not the brand. Every tool maker has gems and lumps of coal in their lineup. Tools from different brands get along just fine in the toolbox.

Get CM, Armstrong, SK, Gearwrench and/or maybe even Wright. Use the truck brands for specialty tools or tools where you need the absolute best. (ex: bit and flare wrenches are often mentioned). Maybe even some HF for certain items.

P.S. PB Swiss are nice but I'm not a fan of these boutique lines of screwdrivers. I'd get CM Pro or Williams since screwdrivers are really a consumable. (I have just about every PB Swiss screwdriver when Amazon had a killer deal a few years back).
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Old 03-13-2012, 08:39 AM   #9
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Unless you're one of the people who treats his toolbox more as a static display or status symbol than a place of work, just buy whatever brand in whatever category suits you. I spend the money where it counts and buy down label when the cost of a premium brand doesn't have a commensurate premium in utility. I am quite sure a $30 set of Sunex extended needle nose pliers will do 99% as well as the Snap On set for 3X as much. Tools are indeed an investment, and like any other investment the rate of return is first determined by the initial outlay. Spending more than you need to only dilutes the return on your investment.

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Old 03-13-2012, 08:47 AM   #10
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

I agree with the others, get a little of everything. Before I started buying more Snap On I had mainly Craftsman and SK with a little Mac scattered in. I made a good living with those tools and today there is nothing wrong with them, I just decided that I was due an upgrade (extra cash needing spent for tax write offs).
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Honestly, I got tired of the open ends on my Craftsman wrenches spreading like a Taiwanese hooker and bought the Snap-on's which are more like a Puritan...Though occasionally I can get those to spread as well...unlike my wife.
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Old 03-13-2012, 09:06 AM   #11
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

I don't wrench for a living like some of you guys do, but my rule of thumb is buy the best you can afford and keep it as long as you can. There is nothing wrong with have a mixed bag of tool brands. I have some craftsman, some autozone brand, and some old taiwan stuff.
Honestly, I've had pretty good luck with a cheap taiwan socket set I bought 6 years ago. I have finally worn out the cheap ratchet that came with it, and will probably replace it with a craftsman. Even the cheaper tools will work ok if you don't abuse them.
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Old 03-13-2012, 09:17 AM   #12
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Some vaild points by cbracer. I'm with the others in that a mixed box is OK. Infact, that's what I have myself as a DIY'er. Started mostly with Cman over twenty years ago and have added other quality brands throughout the years. Even my sockets are not all one brand since filling in some size gaps. Not having a tool or a low quality tool does bother me.
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Old 03-13-2012, 09:28 AM   #13
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

+1 on dont keep all your egg's in one basket (look what happened S-K a little while ago)


Sears, and the truck brands too, are the only companies that sell "everything under one roof" as it were.
So more or less you need to shop around if your buying tool's, especially these days.
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Old 03-13-2012, 11:50 AM   #14
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

That was a long post. Im not sure if you had a question or if your mind was just free flowing your thoughts.

Im in agreement with a few above responses. Im not limited to any brand. I've got truck brands, industrial brands, craftsman, harbor freight, home depot, lowes, and no name tools. I've got USA, Japan, European, Taiwan, China, India and completely unknown origin (or at least I havent paid attention to origin) tools. We debate over and over about tools and all of their merits here, which is nice. But when you get down with actually working with them, you have to make your own choices of whats right for you.
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Old 03-13-2012, 12:40 PM   #15
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

I probably have 15 - 20 brands. SO, MAC, Matco, Cornwell, Wright, Williams, SK, Wiha, Lisle, Bonney, KD, you get the point I buy a lot of "used", so that has something to do with it. Just got a new Cornwell socket set for $75, which is $225 + on the truck.

Here's another example, a Wright 1/2 metric service set I scored for $67.50 (missing an extension and universal).



If you come up with a list of what you want, have some patience and invest a bit if time, you can end up with great quality tools at reasonable prices. The deals are out there!

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Old 03-13-2012, 12:44 PM   #16
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Mix it up!

Pawnshops can be your friend, as some garage sales are as well, IF you have the time.
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Old 03-13-2012, 01:16 PM   #17
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Why pay more for Armstrong when you can buy the exact same quality level and item but with Craftsman on it?
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Old 03-13-2012, 01:25 PM   #18
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Even though it has been beat to death already.......when I was young, it just seemed like it would be cool to have each "group" of tools all the same brand.

Automotive tools: all Craftsman, Snap on, whatever.

Power Tools: how cool to watch This Old House with a workshop full of a bunch of same colored/branded power tools (sponsored).

There's something about the sense of order brought about by having all the same branded tools.

The reality has been explained above. No one company has a complete tool selection that is best at everything. And, spreading your investment out protects you if one company goes belly up. Now a days I feel just the opposite. When I see someone with numerous brands I think, "that guy has some smarts and buys the "best" from each brand.

Last edited by Treeman; 03-13-2012 at 01:27 PM.
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Old 03-13-2012, 01:49 PM   #19
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

Not sure if this helps the op, but in over 40 years of buying tools I own a little of every tool company.

Hope that helps you out.
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Old 03-13-2012, 02:06 PM   #20
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Default Re: US made mid level tool market? why can't they see this? -long

The great majority of my tools were a mixed bag of older American-made tools, bought used.
They survived fine working on cars, motorcycles, aircraft, and trains for 45 years.
I NEVER had a socket or wrench fail, and of the two ratchets that failed, both were Cman.

Steve
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