In the market for a new set of ratchets and can’t decide which brand to buy? You’ve come to the right place.
We can’t guarantee to make your mind up for you, but we’ll certainly do our best to give you our personal opinions and experience with the two brands, in hopes that your buying dilemma might be mollified just a tad.
The Craftsman name is of course a timeless American classic. The company started out in the early 20’s as the house tool brand of Sears Department Stores, and maintains that status to this day.
Manufacturing-wise, Craftsman products are built and assembled in dozens of different facilities across the globe, depending on what the product is (Craftsman manufactures everything from hand and power tools to garage door openers and full-size tool chests). Currently, Craftsman hand tools (wrenches, ratchets, sockets, etc) are manufactured in Apex Tool Group’s factories in Taiwan and China.
Ironically, a lot of Gearwrench products come from the same Apex factory as Craftsman. Gearwrench is actually an Apex-owned company, while Craftsman is a Sears Holdings company (Sears just contracts Apex to manufacture the tools, then Craftsman stamps their logo on them).
That being said, Gearwrench and Craftsman tools are not the same products, even though a lot of them come from the same factory. They each have their own separate design teams, and you’ll see here in a second a few pretty significant differences between the two companies.
Tools: Is Gearwrench better than Craftsman?
A relatively common perception among DIY’ers everywhere is that - generally speaking - Gearwrench products tend to be a bit better quality than Craftsman. This includes product function/performance/durability, as well as looks/finish.
Now, before we get too nit-picky about individual tools, let’s set one thing clear: we’re talking about ratchets and wrenches here.
Apart from maybe screwdrivers and hammers, these are about as simple as tools get, and we wouldn’t recommend giving yourself too much of a headache trying to decide between two brands.
In our opinion, if you’re looking to get yourself your first set of ratchets and sockets, in all honestly we recommend simply getting the most inexpensive ones you can find. Now, if you’re looking to upgrade your current ratchet set and are looking for something a little better quality than you currently have, that’s a different story.
In our experience, Gearwrench ratchets are better than Craftsman.
In fact, I think I may have one ⅜” Craftsman ratchet, but my go-to ratchet set is the Gearwrench 120XP. I’ve got the full set in ¼”, ⅜”, and ½”, and have used them exclusively for years with excellent results. In fact, I recently just picked up a new set of the flex-head 120XP’s (same thing as the original but with the flex head) and couldn’t be happier.
What sets the 120XP ratchets apart from the competition is their dual, stacked pawls - they’ve got 2 different offset pawls that engage the 60-tooth driver gear alternately - this allows for the absolute minimum amount of swing arc possible.
In layman's terms, it allows you to loosen or tighten nuts in the tiniest of increments (only a 3-degree swing).
This can actually prove to be quite significant when you’re working in tight spaces - we’ve all been there before when we go to loosen a nut in a tight spot, but there’s not enough room to click the gear. Combined with the flex-head, we can’t imagine too many places that these new Gearwrench 120XP ratchets can’t function, and we highly recommend them.
Now, we’ll admit to be kind of splitting hairs here. Like we said earlier, we’re talking about ratchets - both Gearwrench and Craftsman offer an unlimited lifetime warranty on all their ratchets/wrenches/sockets, so they’re both the same in that regard.
Craftsman’s go-to ratchets, the 75-tooth full polish 3-piece set, are perfectly fine tools, and less than half the price of the Gearwrench set.
Like we said, personally we own and love the 120XP’s, but we don’t foresee any reason whatsoever why this standard Craftsman set wouldn’t serve you just fine. The single pawl, 75-tooth driver gear allows for a 5-degree swing - almost double that of the Gearwrench.
It’s very likely of course that you’ll be fine with a 5-degree ratchet, but if/when you’re in that spot where you can’t turn the gear, boy you’d be wishing you had the 120XP.
Our recommendation: Craftsman vs. Gearwrench
So, what’s our overall opinion - Craftsman vs. Gearwrench? Like we said a few times, we prefer Gearwrench.
However, if you’re looking for your first driver set, by all means save some money and go with the Craftsman - it’ll surely serve you just fine. Use the extra money to get yourself a nice socket set.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to upgrade your current set of ratchets, we highly recommend taking the step up to the Gearwrench 120XP. If you haven’t tried them already, you’ll love them. (Now, let’s pump the brakes here and drop a little disclaimer - we’re not claiming these things to be the best ratchets in the industry. If you’re looking to get yourself the absolute best, and happen to have a money tree out in your backyard, go with some Gedore’s or something).
Alright, if you’re getting yourself a ratchet set, unless you just plan on looking at them, you’ll need some sockets to go with it. Some people are particular about their sockets - we’re not. Again, we have no qualms about giving the advice to get yourself the cheapest set you can find.
It’s common knowledge that Craftsman sockets (like this decent little set here), don’t have as quality a finish as Gearwrench - the chrome plating can tend to be a little shabby, and is prone to flaking. How much of a concern this is is up to you. Just keep this in mind - at the end of the day, a flaked socket isn’t going to perform any less than a nice pretty shiny one. If you’re leaving your sockets out in the rain for days at a time or something, though, that’s a different story. Rust buildup is definitely bad. There’s an easy way around this, though: take care of your tools and don’t let them get rusty.
Socket sets are all about what you want. Ready to spend a couple hundred bucks and get yourself a massive, all-inclusive set? Go right ahead. Only want a small, standard/metric set with the most common sizes? An easy grab for less than about 40 bucks.
To keep a certain degree of aesthetics in the garage, (or maybe we’re just a little OCD?), we personally like to compliment our Gearwrench ratchets with Gearwrench sockets. They have some really nice value sets that come with the 120XP driver, for pretty reasonable prices. Definitely a recommended buy.
Again, however, if you’re looking to get yourself a decent socket/ratchet set without spending too much money, something like this 108-piece Craftsman will get you in the game and serve you just fine for a more than reasonable price.
Like we said - you’ll get slightly better sockets with a better quality finish/plating if you decide to go Gearwrench, but you’ll spend a bit more than if you were to choose Craftsman. It’s all up to you - the ball’s in your hand.