Made in the USA – Now just a myth?

Posted by on April 10, 2006

I received an email on 3/22/2006 that I’ll post below as a nice introduction, then get into the bulk of my post below that.

Brian Mark,

I read your posting about not liking the Craftsman truck series commercial about bowling (no, I didn’t watch it as I am sure it was not very good).

To write “you’re going to need to buy quality hand tools that aren’t from Craftsman. I’ll make the recommendation for Stanley Tools“. Come on now. I am not a Craftsmanite by any stretch of the imagination. Infact I do not own one Craftsman socket or ratchet. I am more of a Made in the USA man than any one brand loyal. But to say the nearly exclusively made in China Stanley tools are better in any way than any tool made in the USA is crazy. You do know Stanley made a majority of the hand tools for Craftsman in the 90′s and prior don’t you?

I don’t need to go into who owns who in the tool buisness or anything beyond that. Just wanted to say Buy American when you can!

Best Wishes,
Vince Bellantonio Jr.

Thanks for your comments, Vince. I’d agree that we need to watch to a point what we buy. If everything is created overseas, we could end up with a huge unemployment rate stateside. However, “Made in the USA” in the tool business is getting to be a myth. We carry Irwin tools if you really want to stay with US built, but the point of the article you were referencing was that their commercial was sending the wrong message, not that I wanted to send more money overseas.

Made in the USA Hand Tools

Hand tools are a bit different than power tools (the usual focus of this blog), but it warrants comment. Most of the metals used in creating hand tools are now imported, much from Japan and Europe. So even a “Made in the USA” tool is supporting overseas markets. A look at the Iron and Steel Statistics Bureau data shows the following data:

The largest steel exporting countries in 2004 were Japan (34.8 million tonnes), the EU15 (31.8), Russia (30.4), Ukraine (28.2) and, entering the top 5 for the first time, China (20.0).

Conversely, the largest steel importing countries in 2004 were China (33.2 million tonnes), USA (32.8), the EU15 (30.4) and South Korea (17.7)

How many hand tools are made from steel? I’d say a large percentage. What about plastics? Well, that’s very similar as well. Materials come from overseas, so that US made tool is still foreign materials in most cases.

Made in the USA Power Tools

This question comes up on a regular basis: What power tools are the largest percentage US built? We all know that DeWALT is a US based company and Makita is based in Japan, but where are the tools built? Surprisingly, the typical answer to the question of who builds the most tools in the US is Makita. We’ve asked reps from many companies, and that’s usually the answer. There are a lot of Mexican built tools on the market today, quite a few German built, Korean and Japanese aren’t uncommon either. Additionally, most of these companies have a US division. So what’s that really mean?

Regardless where the tool is made there is always going to be some of the money staying home. Most people don’t buy their Makita drill from Japan, they go to their local store or buy it from us online. Sure, some of the money ends up back in Japan. But it’s a global economy now more than ever, and part of the money stays with the seller, some stays with the rep, some stays with the local warehousing facilities, some stays with the shippers, some stays with the manufacturer, some stays with their material suppliers, and some goes back into advertising via local media outlets. Regardless where the item is built, money gets spread all around both locally and abroad.

14 Responses to Made in the USA – Now just a myth?

  1. Anonymous

    The problem with the theory that just buying a tool in a store means that you are supporting American made products has to do with the multiplier effect. It is a fact that making products here in the USA has a much greater effect on the local economy than purchasing a foreign made product, no matter who owns the factory. When Reagan threatened tariffs on Japanese cars, they hurried over here to build their vehicles for this market. Reagan also imposed tariffs to save Harley Davidson. The last 4 presidents could care less. I find it nauseating that Bush saw fit to visit a Harley plant to tout free trade and globalism. It was protectionism and hard work that saved that company. It will take the same to bring industry back here. The trends, however don’t look good. I cant find a handheld drill made here. Its sick.

  2. Brian Mark

    So true. It was refreshing to see some Delta marketing material talking about their X5 line and seeing that “Made in the USA” logo. Milwaukee has a few SKU’s made in the US as well. But overall, very little of what we sell is built here. Even Craftsman, which is often touted as “Made in the USA” only says that on their hand tools. Most of their power tools are from other manufacturers, so they’re made overseas just like the rest of the tools in the industry.

    You may call it sick, but I don’t know too many people that actually want to work those manual labor jobs. I know I don’t personally. More power to those that do. But that’s where our country is headed – marketing, research, entertainment and commerce instead of manufacturing.

  3. Steven R

    All very interesting and is it such a wise move for the US to find itself in a totally dependent situation where even the essentials for Americans are imported? We are hated in some parts of the world and that does not bode well. And most Americans do not have a clue why that is. What if the items just for defense are gone from Made in the USA? What happens if we find ourselves turning to those that are not fond of us to provide us with key strategic items?
    More seriously, will we become a country of haves and have nots such as in South America? Right now the middle class is strong. Get an education and go on to great things in YOUR life. There will always be those that fall between the cracks or just do not get that education that is needed for great things. So, I ask where are those with vision that can enable, inspire and lead us to be a balanced society with a balanced manufacturing community rather than short sighted leaders that are on a get rich quick track. Somewhere we are going to have to wake up. George Bush, Kenneth Lay and Jack Abramoff are not the examples that should lead us into the future, but they are the examples that are leading us. It is a slippery slope and it does not look pretty unless we as Americans ask some rahter serious questions and soon.

  4. Juan A.

    I paid $20 more for my Made in USA Makita hand sander. I paid $40 more for my Made in USA Makita 4.5″ angle grinder. I wish there was a way to make tool companies realize, that there are people out here that do that, but I don’t think anyone is listening……my choices for Made in USA tools are getting slimmer and slimmer, and I’ve now stopped buying Makita since they don’t seem to have a Made in USA tool left in their lineup. Sad really.

  5. Matthew

    Buying American made products is important for our economy. Even if the materials come from elsewhere (as in the imported steel), I think that the manufacturing and related supporting industry jobs are vital to the US economy.

    Check out http://america.nmade.info/ for recommended products that are made in the United States.

  6. Anonymous

    Milwaukee still makes the vast majority of their products in Brookfield, Wisconsin and Tennssee, while DeWalt has been entirely outsourced to Mexico and China. Black and Decker (which owns Firestorm and DeWalt) is also outsourced, while most of the Japanese companies like Ryobi, Makita, etc. have outsourced to China, Malaysia, and Korea. If you are looking for the very best power tools, buy Bosch products which are made in the US, Germany, or Switzerland. The top of the line (and most expensive) tools are made by Festool and Fein of Germany. They have not outsourced at all, and likely never will. They don’t need to because they can command such a high premium for their products.For example a Festool 15.4 volt cordless drill costs upwards of $400, so they have the margin to deal with more expensive German labor.

  7. Anonymous

    I don't think the American consumer should have any brand loyality to these American companies such as Craftsman, Dewalt, Skil, Black & Decker just to name a few of the top brands. I did not realize that Makita had US made power tools but the next time a purchase a power tool it will be a Makita if it says made in the USA on the box. I have looked at the prices Dewalt charges and it is ridiculous. They are charging top dollar for cheap look alike tools. My father has a very good sawzal made by Dewalt which is a few year old and has made in the USA on it. The stuff they sell now is junk. I prefer made in the USA tools but I would buy made in Japan, Germany, or South Korea. China has the most inferior materials in the world. The steel they use is of very poor quality and not worth having. So it's not just the point of supporting American jobs which I am totally for, it's getting a tool that is a good quality tool. Not a piece of junk made from China. It wouldn't be as bad if China actually made anything worth having. Final note the CEO's of these US Companies should all be fired at minimum without any compensation. If our government had any integrity they would put a stop to this. Thankyou George Bush for putting the CEO's and the rest of the world first.

  8. Anonymous

    In reply to the last comment. I have found Bosch tools on the shelf just recently which say made in China on the package. So always read the fine print. You cannot count on any brand to be made where they are based. Even if they make most of their tools in the country they are based in they will try to slip their cheap made in China products past you. As the old saying goes may the buyer beware.

  9. Anonymous

    I posted the 2nd to last comment. Scratch what I said about Makita. I went to Home Depot and looked at all the Makita power tools. They all said made in China. Don't waste your time or money supporting these jerks from Japan. They are just as sorry as the pieces of crap running the American tools companies. You are no better off buying from Makita. They have sold out their people just like Black & Decker who also owns Dewalt the most overpriced piece of junk tool company. I was able to find a Milwaukee sawzall that said made in the USA with foreign and domestic materials which means it is only a half piece of crap but the rest of their tools said made in China. I also looked a Rigid tools. If it said where it was made I couldn't find it. This tells me they were also made in China. If they were made in the USA they would make it very easy to find. So if there are any new American made power tools out there they are pretty damn hard to find. I was able to find a very few Bosch tools which said Made in Germany. They were very expensive but I would much rather have a tool made in Germany than a tool made in China which makes the most inferior products in the world. But don't just blindly buy from Bosch because they will slip in cheap crap as well just like craftsman does with their hand tools.
    P.S I would have endorsed Makita if they made their tools in Japan or the USA either one.

  10. Brian Mark

    Actually, Makita is made all over. The big box stores only buy the “lowest priced” products. If you want the decent stuff, you’ll need to go to an industrial supply source and not a consumer oriented retailer.

  11. Anonymous

    For the record, going to Lowes and Home Depot and reading where their tools are made is an awful way to find out where brand’s products are made. These are massive, low cost retailers with no respect for product quality, and ANY contractor or industrial company would never be caught dead in one of the big retailers. They cater to the average joe who doesn’t know the difference between table saw and a jig saw. Every summer I work at the Home Depot and I have personally spoken with Black and Decker/DeWalt salespeople who have told me that The Home Depot buys the previous model year’s products, and even some refurbished/rejected products from the factory, and sells them as new. They do this because they don’t want to pay the increased price for the current model year product. In fact, most of these “top of the line” brand names have specific lines that they outsource just to get Home Depot and Lowes contracts. The only way to find real, genuine power tools is to go to a dealer. For example, if you go to a Husqvarna dealer, you will find an entirely different product line than you will find in Lowes or Sears, because Husqvarna rebrands Poulan products to sell to low quality, high volume retailers.

  12. Anonymous

    My family and I always used to buy Craftsman tools because they were good quality products made in the USA. Unfortunately I did not pay attention with the last two craftsman tools I bought…a power drill and a power sprayer. When they both broke in less than a year I looked at where they were made and sure enough they were made in China. Craftsman sold out and now are making and selling inferior crap products and I suspect they are not the only ones. You just can't seem to find good quality made in USA products nearly as much but I keep hoping and searching.

  13. Michael

    Used to be you could buy American tools from American companies and foreign tools from other companies. Now they are all made every where else.
    Who ever the dope was that said we don't want those manual jobs is a good example of the problem. I know plenty of folks around here who would love to have those manual jobs. I've been a manufacturing/project engineer for 40 years. Our counrty's manufacturing capability has been castrated.
    There was a time when Wal-Mart sold American made Stanley tools and Tiawian made Popular Mechanics brand tools. Then they dropped the Stanley line and added some really cheap no brand China made crap. Now they mostly sell China made Stanley and the no-brand junk. And the Stanley plant in my home town sits empty. This exact same story has played out many thousands of times for every product you can think of.

  14. Anonymous

    Most people say "USA or Germany make high quality tools, whereas China makes cheap and junk tools" Really? I think the problem is the matter of quality control. Greedy businessmen all over the world outsourced production lines to China or India because of cheap labour cost and land, but they are still ripping you off by asking very high price for their products! Do you know that the high optics performance Nikon 50mm AF-D f1.8 lens is made in China?