Alloy Artifacts  

Early Craftsman Socket Tools:

The "BE" and H-Circle Series

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

Table of Contents


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 September of 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 As might be expected for one of the oldest pages, the information here has become a bit outdated in places, and the presentation style could use some updating as well.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 article (as time permits) and will be adding many more examples from the "BE" and H-Circle series.

References and Resources

The photographs and observations in these pages are based on items in the Alloy Artifacts collection.

Product information was obtained from the 1941 New Britain Machine Co. catalog 56-M, and from Craftsman catalogs from 1938, 1942, and 1947.

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.

[Later Craftsman BE 1/2-Drive 1 Inch Socket]
Fig. 1. A Craftsman "BE" Socket.

Fig. 1 shows an example of a Craftsman "BE" socket, illustrating the Craftsman underline logo and the band of knurling at the base.

We had run across many examples of these sockets, as well as other drive tools in the same style, and were curious about which company had produced them for Sears. But as sockets in this style 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 we 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 we 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.

Subsequently we 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.

[Craftsman 1/2-Drive BE and H-Circle Ratchets]
Fig. 2. Craftsman 1/2-Drive BE and H-Circle Ratchets.

Fig. 2 shows a couple of the Craftsman ratchets we acquired, the one on the left with the "BE" code, and the one on the right with the H-Circle.

Whenever we were able to acquire both a Craftsman and a New Britain ratchet of the same type, we examined them carefully for differences, and in all cases the Craftsman models were found to be basically identical to their New Britain counterparts.

Although the ratchet comparisons pretty well clinched New Britain as the manufacturer in question, we continued collecting 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 remainder of this article will show photographs of the various items that were examined and compared, 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 in the 1930s, although the exact date is not yet known. (The interested reader can refer to our 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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