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Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle Series Tools

[Craftsman BE Logo] [Craftsman H-Circle Logo]
Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle Logos

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This article is the middle piece of a three part series on the Sears Craftsman product line, which begins with the Early Craftsman Tools and concludes with Craftsman Modern Era. Historically though, this page was one of the original articles added when the Alloy Artifacts site was first introduced back in 2005. As might be expected for one of the oldest pages, the information here has become a bit outdated in places, and the presentation style could use some updating as well.

We're planning to expand and update this page (as time permits) and will be adding many more examples from the "BE" and H-Circle series.

The "BE" Socket Puzzle

Anyone with an interest in early Craftsman tools has probably encountered examples of the Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle ("H" inside a circle) series sockets. These distinctive well-made sockets have a finely knurled (cross-hatched) band around the base, a style that was popular in the 1930s and '40s. I too had seen these sockets, as well as other drive tools in the same style, and was curious about which company had produced them for Sears. But as this style of socket had been made and sold by a number of different manufacturers -- Indestro, S-K, and New Britain, to name a few -- it wasn't clear how the maker could be determined.

The breakthrough came when I spotted an unusual-looking ratchet, featuring a distinctive deeply forged shaft, knurled handle, and an unusual extended shift lever. The ratchet was marked with the Craftsman logo and "BE" code, but looked very much like an old New Britain ratchet I had acquired a while back. After purchasing the Craftsman ratchet and comparing it carefully with the New Britain model, the two pieces appeared to be virtually identical.

[Craftsman 1/2-Drive BE and H-Circle Ratchets] I subsequently acquired more ratchets from the Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle series, in both 3/8- and 1/2-drive, as well as ratchets sold under other New Britain trademarks such as Husky and None Better. The photograph shows a couple of the Craftsman ratchets that I found, the one on the left with the "BE" code, and the one on the right with the H-Circle. Whenever I was able to acquire both a Craftsman and a New Britain tool of the same type, I examined them carefully for differences, and in all cases the Craftsman models were basically identical to their New Britain counterparts.

Although the ratchet comparisons pretty well clinched New Britain as the manufacturer in question, I collected some other examples of tools in the series -- sockets, extensions, and breaker bars -- and once again made comparisons where a corresponding New Britain piece was available. (For some reason, the New Britain sockets were much harder to find than the Craftsman examples.) These comparisons weren't as striking, as this type of tool tended to be more generic in their appearance, but once again the Craftsman tools were found to be extremely similar to the New Britain models.

The pages below will show some photographs of the various items I examined, but before proceeding, it might be helpful to review some background information on the New Britain Machine company.

The New Britain Machine Company

The New Britain Machine Company began operation around 1895 in New Britain, Connecticut, and manufactured a line of machine tools as well as hand tools. As early as 1915 it was selling sets of hex-drive sockets in small tins into the new market for automotive tools. New Britain registered and used a number of trademarks, in addition to its own name; these included "None Better" in 1917 and a stylized "NB" in a circle in 1919.

The very familiar "Husky" trademark was acquired by New Britain from the Husky Corporation sometime around 1930; see our brief article on the Husky Wrench Company for more information. (Note that this was the original "Husky" tool trademark; much later the remnants of New Britain Machine were acquired by Stanley, and the "Husky" mark became the house brand for Home Depot.)

In the 1950s New Britain registered the "Mustang" trademark, then later acquired Blackhawk Manufacturing and sold Blackhawk branded tools in addition to its other brands.

New Britain tools were widely sold through auto parts stores in the early and middle parts of the 20th century, and the brands were well-known and recognized as quality tools. As a high-volume manufacturer with a good reputation, New Britain would certainly have qualified as a supplier for the Sears Craftsman line.

For additional information on the company, please refer to our article on New Britain Machine. With that brief background, let's now take a look at some side-by-side comparisons of the tools.

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