There’s been a sad and unfortunate trend in America for a dreadfully long time that involves high quality American brands closing up their manufacturing operations here and sending it overseas just to save a few dollars. A strange practice given that with more and more businesses doing this, fewer Americans are working and able to afford the products being sold. After all, once everything has moved abroad, what are people doing for money to buy the products? Probably the most famous example of this story in terms of tools is the story of Craftsman, the brand that helped cement Sears as the retail giant it was for decades.
Craftsman Tools was a staple of Sears and the prime reason why most people, at least men anyways, shopped at Sears. Craftsman Tools were made in the USA and the quality was thought to be so good that one could take a broken Craftsman into any Sears and swap it out on the spot. No questions asked. Unfortunately in a move to cut costs, Sears outsourced the manufacturing of Craftsman overseas, mostly to China. An adverse side effect of this cost saving effort was that Craftsman Tools became cheap and low quality, so swapping out an old (even broken tool) for a cheaper Harbor Freight-esque tool was a losing proposition. This, along with an ongoing alienation of their customer base led to the downfall of Craftsman and subsequently Sears. Stanley Black & Decker purchased Craftsman and as part of their plan to restore the brand to its former glory, Stanley is looking to reshore the making of these once iconic tools back to the USA.
It’s a good move, especially if moving the operation back to the states results in a return to high quality tool manufacturing. Craftsman may yet make a comeback. Thankfully, although the story of Craftsman is a sad one, there are many, many brands made in America that never sold out in the first place. These companies started here in America, and they’ve stayed here and maintained a long tradition of making high quality tools all along.
Klein Tools would probably be the king of the hill in terms of manufacturing quality tools here in America. They’re one of the oldest toolmakers in the USA and they’ve been making tools in the USA since 1857. They make more tools in the USA than any other of their competitors. While they do have a small amount of tools made overseas, they get huge points for making 14 times more tools here than they make in any other country. Further, Klein has never closed a plant in the USA to move jobs overseas. Since they started in America and make tools for Americans, that’s probably a really good idea. Thankfully, even the few tools they do make overseas, Klein ensures that the quality, materials and processes for manufacture are up to the standards that a Klein customer is accustomed to.
Another company with a long tradition of making tools here in the USA is Ideal Tools. Ideal started as a small family-owned business in 1916 and their reputation for quality tools got their products onto Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition in 1933 and onto the moon in 1969, definitely earning their place as an American institution. Since their inception, they’ve been a toolmaker focused on American production and are a major player in keeping jobs in and even returning jobs to America. Ideal has been buying high quality tool companies and reshoring or keeping jobs here when they’re in danger of leaving. They’ve even taken tools that had been made overseas, like the SK ratchet, and are working to get that made in the USA. Ideal is definitely an American Tool company that takes pride in what they do and once it makes sense to do so, they’re primed and ready to become an American-based, toolmaking giant.
While it’s not as common these days to see new production companies pop up, there are a couple more American companies that started within recent memory that maintain a large presence in America. The first is Bondhus Tools which was started by John Bondhus in 1964. Bondhus Tools started with the original Balldriver ball-end hex and from there the tool company has grown. Bondhus is most famous for their hex tools, and it’s obvious why. When you feel a Bondhus tool in your hand, it feels dense and solid and it just gives you a reassuring feeling that it’s going to last. Bondhus is based out of Minnesota and the bulk if not all of their manufacturing happens there.
Lastly, while they don’t make tools, Pelican Products which started in 1976, is a company that started in Torrance, California. Pelican was born in a garage and slowly grew to a worldwide enterprise with three of their six manufacturing locations being in the USA. Pelican cases are great ways to store your tools and other gear and Pelican makes many flashlights that would be of use in the shop. Pelican Products are famous for their quality, so much so that they collect “Survival Stories” that detail how durable their cases are.
While it may seem that the long tradition of American manufacturing excellence died with Craftsman’s slide into mediocrity, quite the opposite is true. Companies like Ideal, Klein, Bondhus, Pelican, and others we haven’t looked at like Wright, Channellock, and many others have maintained their presence here in the states throughout their life. They’ve maintained a relatively low profile, but stuck to their guns to make quality tools, and this has given us all a great selection of high quality, American-made tools. As we expand and grow, we look forward to becoming the go-to source for acquiring these high quality, American-made tools.