Opinions/Flamecatcher - Craftsman Power Tools

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When I was growing up, and in fact, well into my marriage, Sears was always the first place to look for *anything*.
So, powertools, hand held and floor standing were acquired from them when I took an interest in woodworking (around 1980). The tools I bought were acquired on a project by project basis. As my projects grew more and more ambitious, the limitations of the tools became apparent, and not only that, but *all* the hand held units either went up in smoke or were had a flaw so grievous as to set it aside since it was likely to spoil the work. Like the self adjusting router bit depth.
To elaborate a bit on the "up in smoke" remark, I had a 1/3 sheet sander that did an excellent job of holding the paper (better than most new ones IMO) but the motor itself gave up when the insulation on the windings burned and began smoking. The same happened when a Craftsman circular saw I was using to rip 12/4 maple smoked so bad it simply stopped being able to cut anything. And my jigsaw's switch failed after only a couple of years of light use. I tended to avoid using it 'cause it was a case of lots of the proper noises, but not much on actual severing of wood fibers.
What did I learn? The hand power tools are too lightly built and performance is marginal at best when used in a serious woodworking hobby. By serious, I don't mean making pukey ducks, I mean armoires, beds, tables & desks. Real furniture, not cub scout projects.
However, the two floorstanding Craftsman machines I had were/are good. I replace the 6" jointer with a DJ-20, not because I became elitist, but because my projects are simply too large for the relatively short beds of that jointer. I still have and use the 10" cast iron top TS, albeit with lots of modifications like a Biesemeyer fence and link belt/steel pulleys. Perhaps without those modifications it'd be gone. The stock fence was so bad it had just about made me give up on the saw. I bought that saw around 1985.
In the end, Sears' policy of selling to a low price point taught me to look elsewhere first for what I want. Some things I might still buy on price first, but when it comes to other things, like tools, I check the quality and performance first, price second.
Price always plays a role in my decisions, but is tempered by the utility of the item. A cheap tool is no bargain if it can't reliably do the task at hand without failing in the process. This applies equally to brands like B&D and Skil. Craftsman is not alone in the "also ran" category in my shop.
Serious projects need serious tools.
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Ah, where to start? I guess the first place is with the myth that Sears ever did make quality tools (I know Sears didn't make them, but for simplicity, let's just use the phrase). I have more than a little experience with Crafstman tools, and I know what I'm talking about.
I grew up in a woodworking/DIY household and I remember many, many trips to Sears and visiting the tool department (9, for those of you who wonder how Sears numbers their departments). Compared to the sorry pieces of 3rd hand junk my father was using in his shop, some of those tools looked positively magnificent. Perspective jolt: this was in the '50s/'60s.
I remember well the Christmas my mother bought my father a set of Craftsman power tools: saber saw (that's what we called a jig saw in those days), drill, sheet sander. Admittedly, they had steel bodies, but however robust they may have appeared, only one of them was still in his shop when I cleaned it out after he died, and I'm not sure it was working. I didn't even bother keeping it.
At one time my shop looked like a Sears catalog. Stupid? No. In the '60s, '70s, and '80s there weren't the places to buy Delta, Powermatic, and Porter-Cable tools like there are now. Makita and Hitachi were still on the horizon. There was no internet. There were precious few magaizines advertising them. Shoot, where I lived you couldn't even buy hardwood. I never had a piece of real hardwood until I was 30. (I can hear it now: you had softwood? We WISHED we had softwood. We had to build bedroom suites out of cardboard and we were grateful.)
I started out in 1972 with a Craftsman radial arm saw. Problems: well documented lack of stability in alignment. Cheesy table to frame attachment and fence clamp. My saw was one of the last with a solid cast iron column; they subsequently built them with bolt-together castings. It's waiting to be sold.
Around 1973 I bought a Craftsman drill press. It was okay. In fact it had a couple of features that I really came to appreciate when it came time to look for a replacement, as most Delta/PM/Jet didn't have them: quill lock, light. That said, eventually some slop developed in the quill--not axially; vertically. I tried and tried and tried to figure out where it came from and how to fix it and couldn't I replaced it with a Delta 17-925...with a quill lock. If I had to, I could lift the Sears DP. The 17-925 is around 250 lbs.
Around 1974 I bought a Craftsman bandsaw. Problems: pain in the butt one piece door that made blade changing tedious. Other than that this was actually not too bad a tool. I replaced it after nearly 20 years with a Delta 28-280. Same story as the one below about weight. It was impossible for me to get the saw up on the stand by myself without a block and tackle. And after a few times at the saw I could see there was a world of difference between the saws.
A year later ('75) I bought a Craftsman jointer. I could adjust the gibs on the infeed table perfectly square to the outfeed table OR I could adjust the height of the table with the adjustment knob to change the depth of cut. In years of trying to reengineer the thing, and with a second table from Sears I was never able to make the thing work like it was supposed to. I could edge joint boards reasonably well, but forget about face jointing. If you think that Craftsman and Delta are even remotely equivalent, I could lift the Sears jointer up and down off its stand by myself with ease. I challenge you to try that with a DJ15, much less a DJ20.
After initially building a lathe and never being satisfied with it, I bought a Craftsman lathe. It's okay, but my Jet mini lathe (acquired many years later) is twice the lathe, even at 1/3 the size. Also, in a common theme with other Sears tools, all the attachments are an odd size. Fortunately, that size is accommodated by most of the after market manufacturers, unlike some of the other odd size selections in Craftsman tools.
Table saw. Here we get to the heart of the myth that Craftsman used to be something. My saw, obviously acquired used, is vintage 1955 or thereabouts. It is essentially the same saw with respect to table and innards as the saws sold right up to Emerson's ouster in the late '90s. The fence rail *looked* better and I always thought had been a long lamented victim of lowered specs to meet a price point until I actually had it. What a piece of crap. I later added an aftermarket fence which does a reasonable job.
The trunnions are some sort of non-cast iron metal. I don't think it's quite pot metal, but then I'm not sure what that is anyway. They're nowhere, no way near as substantial as even contractor saws by other manufacturers, much less the redoubtable cabinet saws of Delta/Powermatic/Jet. And any thought of robust construction is dashed when you see and feel the sheet metal body that holds it all together. Again, I can lift the saw up and down off the base by myself, contrasted to the 400+ pounds of my Unisaw.
The miter slot anomaly of the Craftsman is legendary. They use a .750" slot (with a .746" bar) where other manufacturers use a .750" bar in a .755" slot. Sears advertises a "standard 3/8 x 3/4 miter slot", but it's only standard in Sears' saws.
Belt sander. I can't remember when I bought this, but the tensioning mechanism is a bastard set up if ever I saw one. I have to reengineer the damn thing every time I change belts. Consequently, it doesn't see much use. If I needed a belt sander any more than I do, I'd junk this one and get a new P-C, Bosch, or Makita.
Jig saw. I fought and fought with this piece of crap for years. The blades wouldn't stay straight and they wouldn't stay in place. Cuts were a crap shoot every time. I thought it was the nature of the beast (jig saw, not Craftsman) until I bought a Bosch. My god, what were they (Sears) thinking?
Router. ARHA (Automatic Random Height Adjustment). Need I say more? I've been bitten so many times by it that I'm ashamed to admit it. When I started buying Bosch, P-C, Hitachi routers, I realized just how all encompassing the Craftsman lie is.
Drill. Almost any other manufacturer's drills (except B&D) were more compact, smoother running, and more powerful than any Sears drill I ever had my hands on.
Circular saw. Bulky, underpowered. Compared to my P-C 347 and my P-C SawBoss, Craftsman saws are a joke. Even my throw-away Skils were better.
Folks, they are not tools that any true professional that depends on their tools for a living would tolerate for very long. They have gimmicks like lights on drills, and rack and pinions on routers that seem important to the uninitiated (they're not) but also mask other shortcomings. Flash, not substance.
They are not good value, unless you consider them as one or two job throw away tools. Sure you can make them last longer than that, but do you want to? If you've never used Porter-Cable, or Makita, or Hitachi, or Bosch tools, you may think the Sears are adequate. They are not.
No one can defend Sears tools by comparison to any of the "professional" grade tools such as P-C, Makita, Hitachi, Bosch, Delta, Powermatic, General, etc. If they try, it's because they've never used any of them.
Now there will be some responders who will talk about their particular Sears tool that they've had for years and can't kill. Fine. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. But if you want long term comfort, power, reliability, precision, suitablilty for the task, etc., avoid Division 9 at Sears like the plague.
Craftsman is not, and never has been, any better than the current Black & Decker/Skil level of homeowner tools. The possible exception (particularly because I value Charlie Self's opinion) is the new Sears cabinet saw recently introduced. For me however, it's long been too little and too late. I will never, EVER consider a Craftsman tool in any way again.
And, yes, that includes hand tools. I've completely replaced all of my Craftsman screwdrivers with Klein. What a difference. The Craftsman chisels are gone; replaced by Sorby. The wrenches are slowly being replaced by Husky which feel better and look better.
One day, I will be truly Craftsman free. And they earned it.
- - LRod
Master Woodbutcher and seasoned termite
Shamelessly whoring my website since 1999
http://www.woodbutcher.net
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Actually a more scathing review of the older stuff than I was expecting. I do have a couple of the older hand power tools that keep going and a Craftsman drill press that will probably be sold at my estate sale. I, like you, used to just go to Sears when I needed a tool - no more.
At the risk of starting a real flame, I believe they continue to go downhill. I am amused when I hear the new Craftsman "cabinet saw" compared to machines like the Unisaw or ever Griz 1023. Granted they must have a fairly substantial table to get them into the advertised 400 pound range. However, beneath the table there is little comparison. When I open the side panel on a Unisaw or 1023 most of what I see is cast iron trunnions and some of the motor and blade. Motor, blade and belts are very visible on the other.
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Thanks...I think. I feel very strongly that the concept that the Craftsman of yore was good stuff is fantasy at best. Particularly since I lived the most part of that time. It wasn't...ever, to my knowledge. That, of course, is assuming that the standard of comparison is Delta or the like. And of course the argument is made that Delta isn't what it used to be, either. However, I feel safe in saying that Delta at its worst was/is light years ahead of Craftsman at its best.

As I said, I knew someone would say that. However, the Craftsman hand power tools, when compared even with contemporary brands were clunky, and fluffed with "features" that serious users didn't need or want. I can't remember a Craftsman tool that felt good in the hands like a Milwaukee drill, or a Bosch jigsaw, or a Porter-Cable circular saw.

Mine was an okay tool until the spindle slop started, but I'm also not a heavy user. The mass is again a big thing with it.

I was in one a couple of months ago. Bought a P-C 347 on clearance. I was so unused to getting a Sears bill I was ready to dispute it when the purchase showed up on the account.

Well, they're certainly not starting up the use of Meehanite cast iron, that's for sure. Ryobi plastic from South Carolina is the best you'll see from them, at least in the Craftsman line.
However, let's put this all in perspective. We here on the wreck are not Sears' market. I had a discussion one time with a friend who was an occasional DIYer and who was talking about getting a jig saw to do some paneling. I had just gotten my Bosch and was extolling the virtues. He asked how much and when I told him $150 he blanched. He said he could buy a $30 saw, do a satisfactory job on the panelling and throw it away FIVE times for what I paid for the Bosch.
I couldn't argue with him. He had no sense of what the feel of a quality tool in one's hand meant because it wasn't important to him. HE and those like him are Sears' market. Consequently, from our point of view, Sears will continue to go downhill.
But my most important point is about the myth that Craftsman was ever really anything different than that. They NEVER were competition for Delta or Powermatic, Porter-Cable or Milwaukee.
- - LRod
Master Woodbutcher and seasoned termite
Shamelessly whoring my website since 1999
http://www.woodbutcher.net
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attempted to cut something with it and put it away, the thing can't even cut straight so even though it was cheaper than a good saw it was a complete waste of money because its totally unuseable.
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On Sat, 06 Nov 2004 18:13:21 +0000, LRod

Maybe the machine wasn't set up properly, but one thing I noticed on this saw is that the left wheel seemed to be too far in from the front edge of the table.
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These were the worst and the best points of my Craftsman power tool experiences. That damn router destroyed many hours of work when it randomly decided to push the bit out a little further. But I still miss the built in light when doing handheld work with one of my Bosch or Porter Cable routers. And every time I change a bit, I wish they had a spindle lock that LOCKED and did not have to be held in while bracing the router against the torque of the wrench and keeping the bit at just the right position - I mean, I only have three hands!
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On Mon, 08 Nov 2004 01:27:11 GMT, Larry Kraus

I hate spindle locks. I have upgraded every router I own that has them to a two wrench system.
If you have three hands you are perfect for a spindle lock. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, I think they are the work of the devil.
- - LRod
Master Woodbutcher and seasoned termite
Shamelessly whoring my website since 1999
http://www.woodbutcher.net
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I don't resent it - just got educated and moved on.

Well spoke, Bob. My experiences have been similar, if a little later. I bought my first Craftsman power tool in 1986. It was a "2.25 HP" circular saw, middle of their price range at the time, and on sale the day I needed it. It had 1/16" end play in the shaft right out of the box. But it cut like a champ when I used it on my first major project, a deck for my parents house. I bought several more Craftsman tools in the next few years, but quickly graduated to the top of their consumer line on all subsequent purchases. Those tools served me well on the occasional project the average handyman attempts. Then, I got serious about woodworking and used that saw to build a shop. As my skills grew, I could see the compromises that were made to make these tools affordable for the typical homeowner, who might use them two weekends a year.
If I had remained that typical homeowner, those Craftsman tools would probably have survived to pass down to my grandchildren. But I changed. I required more accuracy and finesse from my tools and became more frequent in my use of them. Some died of overwork. Their deaths were not mourned because by then I was ready to move up anyway. Some refused to give up, but just weren't a joy to use anymore. These I passed down to others, who thought they were great.
I don't use any Craftsman power tools anymore, and I don't recommend them to those who are beginning to take up woodworking. But when that typical homeowner asks me what to buy, I still send them to Sears.
I'm sure those who remember the days when the name Craftsman meant a tool fit for a craftsman are right. The quality of Craftsman tools has fallen since your Daddy's day. But what they forget is that the prices have fallen too. That Craftsman saw your Daddy bought in the 50's probably cost him more than a day's wages. Today's saw is paid for in less than half a day.
I think a woodworker from any previous age would be amazed at the plethora of fine tools available to us from manufacturers such as Porter Cable, Dewalt, Makita, Hitachi and others. And they would be amazed at the quality of Craftsman tools too, considering what we pay for them.
DonkeyHody "We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again---and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore." - Mark Twain
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we all see here with folks asking opinions here before buying.. This has ALWAYS been a key to buying Craftsman power tools, appliances, etc... (been buying there since they came out with ergonomic rocks to pound sticks with) Since they have never (afaik) made their own products, you have to know who makes each one for them.. I have a Craftsman biscuit joiner... go to sears.com and look at the picture... hmm... rack & pinion fence... I thought only Dewalt had that.... OH!
I just got a sears 1/2" cordless drill.. might be skill, might be dewalt... no idea, since it was a present and I didn't shop for it, but the one I was going to get (3/8" at lower volts) was a Skill, not my favorite drill maker..
OTHO, my Orbital 1/3 sheet sander from sears is a skill, and I like it...
I still have my over-worked sears router that either wife #1 or 2 gave me a LOT of years ago... don't know who made that, but it's still on it's original bushes and runs great..
As others have said, Sears and maybe Monkey Ward were the choices for most folks before Harbor Freight, Home Depot, etc., etc. changed the way people bought tools and hardware..
Maybe the bottom line is that a lot of the folks in the wreck are used to high end tools and you don't go to sears for high end..
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mac davis wrote:

Craftsman biscuit jointer - $169.99 at Sears DeWalt biscuit joiner - $149.00 at Coastal Tools
I'd would have bought the DeWalt.
-- Jack Novak Buffalo, NY - USA (Remove "SPAM" from email address to reply)
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wrote:

you being the authority, I'll have my wife take back her present and get me the dewalt.. this of course has a lot of bearing on the topic, right?
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America's leading source of second-rate goods, including tools. And he was right -- in the 60s. Sears brands were never best quality, but they were adequate for the average woodworker.
Back in the 50s my father bought a Craftsman table saw and that's what we used for years. Not spectacular, not super-accurate, but good, solid performance.
By the time I started buying my own tools in the early 1970s this had changed significantly. I still bought a lot of Sears stuff (because I was stuck in the middle of 200 miles of stinking desert with a Sears store in town), but the quality had definitely deteriorated.
By the 80s and 90s, fagetaboutit!
One of the reasons for the outrage at Sears is that the company has been living off its reputation for the last 20 years. There are still a lot of people who think Sears is a good place to buy power tools because of word of mouth based on its old reputation. Consequently Sears still sucks in many of the ignorant.
--RC
That which does not kill us makes us stronger. --Friedrich Nietzsche Never get your philosophy from some guy who ended up in the looney bin. -- Wiz Zumwalt
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