Multi-year Review of the Craftsman C3 Cordless Tools

Craftsman C3 19.2 Volt Lithium Ion Combo Kit
Craftsman C3 Kit

Many Christmases ago, 2009 by my best estimation I received the Craftsman 19.2 Volt Combo Kit.  It
included a drill, a circular saw, a reciprocating saw, a light, and 2 Ni-Cad batteries with charger.  This kit was purchased from the Sears Outlet and was marked as “reconditioned.”  I have used these tools extensively over the last 6 years and still use the original tools, minus the batteries.

With this set I have built a 10×20 ft Storage building, broken down dozens of sheets of plywood, built deer blinds, done demo work with the reciprocating saw, and remodeled a bathroom.  The original drill has been dropped from roofs, left out in the rain, drilled thousands of holes and driven as many screws.  The saw is my go to tool for breaking down sheet goods and is easy to handle.  The reciprocating saw is OK with a good blade but eats batteries too quickly.

For some reason these tools have a bad rap, many say they are cheap and wont last, but my set is older than the “C3” branding and is still going strong with the new Lithium-Ion Batteries.

What I like

The first thing is the durability.  Given these tools are “DIY-grade” and not “Professional Grade” I should have burned out at least the drill by now. The original drill is starting to show it’s age but still “drives it home.”  I would call my usage of tools “Semi-Pro,” I don’t use my cordless tools all day everyday like tradesmen but I do use them much more than the average DIYer (I think).

The second thing is there is literally a C3 battery powered tool for almost everything.  Most of these tools have decent to good reviews, and they all use the same battery.  I can add to my system as I can and want to and know that it is all cross compatible.  While some do, I personally don’t want a 12v system for some things, and a 18-20 volt system for others.  I know me, I’ll grab the tools and not remember to bring the right battery and/or charger.  Since Sears/Craftsman advertises 30+ tools with the same 19.2 volt battery I don’t even think about it.  Also, since sometimes it just makes since to buy a new tool/battery/charger bundle giving me an extra multi-chemistry charger to leave in my truck.

 Craftsman upgrades the C3 batteries without changing the platform.  While the design isn’t as cool as the new DeWalt 20volt system (more on that later).  The tools I got when all you could buy were Ni-Cad batteries, work with the newer Lithium Ion batteries and still work with the newest premium XCP 19.2.  These new Extreme Core Performance (XCP) batteries are “supposed” to give your C3 tools more torque and runtime, and also include a cool LED indicator light to let you know how much charge you have.  [This is also true for the Ryobi OnePlus line, since Ryobi manufactures the Craftsman C3 line.  The only difference is the extra battery cell in the Craftsman giving it 19.2 volts versus 18 volts.].

Finally is the value.  I found a combo set for a  5 piece DeWalt 20 V Max system (Drill, Impact Driver, Reciprocating Saw, Circular Saw, and Light) and a 6 piece Craftsman C3 Li-ion system (Drill, Impact Driver, Reciprocating saw, Circular Saw, Light, and multitool) to compare.  These were the closest sets I could find for a fair price comparison.  The DeWalt Combo Kit comes in at $579 while the Craftsman Combo kit with one extra tool comes in at $299.  That’s a big difference.  Sure you can argue the DeWalt is better, but really for most of us, including myself the upgrade just isn’t worth the cost.

What I Don’t Like

While from a value standpoint you get a great tool for the money compared to the DeWalt or other professional grade cordless systems, the Craftsman 19.2 volt tools are not without their drawbacks.  Last week I was in the Home Depot and was killing some time before getting mulch and fertilizer for the house.  I was meandering through the tool section and started giving the major cordless tools a hard look.  While the Ryobi line (Same as Craftsman) had the most tools and the best prices.  Compared to “Professional” grade tools such as the DeWalt they are heavy and bulky.  The drill and impact driver are about half the size and feel better in the hand.  The batteries are also smaller and lighter while giving the same power.

The simple fact is DeWalt, Milwaukee, Makita continuously update and redesign their tools to fit the needs of professionals.  A few years ago the standard of measure was the DeWalt 18volt system, compared to that the Craftsman C3 Line is an equal in technology, size, and weight.  When the new lithium technology developed allowing for the same power in a smaller package, they redesigned their tools around it, making their old system obsolete.  Craftsman/Ryobi being focused on the value market of homeowner’s and DIYer’s adapted the new technology to work with the tools they already had the tooling and ability to make.

This means that while the Craftsman C3 line is a great value and overall a good system, it does mean that the tool designs are a little behind in ergonomics and power (but not enough to worry about).  But instead of redesigning, say, an impact driver Craftsman can focus on cool gadgets now advertising 30+ tools with the same 19.2 Ni-Cad, Li-Ion, and XCP battery.

The Truth of the Cordless Power Tool Wars

It doesn’t matter what you pick* —  As long as you stick with a major brand. 

DeWalt, Ridgid, Porter Cable, Milwaukee, Craftsman, Ryobi all make a good tool for their market with plenty of tools and support to meet whatever your particular needs are.  While it’s fun to watch shootouts on YouTube on torture testing brand “A” vs “B” on which one can drive 600 three and a half inch decking screws in an oak slab the fastest, all it does is waste a lot of screws.  Pick whatever you think best suits your needs, and the color you like the best.  I’m going to stick with black and red

If I used my C3 tools 8+ hours a day I might trade over to the DeWalt 20v for weight, but since I’m already invested in the Craftsman Tools I don’t have any need or desire to reinvest in a whole new system.   Instead I’m going to keep adding tools to the system I already have.

I hope you found this useful, is there anything you would like to add to the discussion?

 

5 thoughts on “Multi-year Review of the Craftsman C3 Cordless Tools

  1. I’m right with you Robert. I purchased a Ryobi kit that includes a drill, impact wrench (3/4 drive), circular saw, and a flashlight for $199 on special around Christmas in 2011. I lean towards more ‘average DIYer’ with a little auto mechanic mixed in. It’s still going strong and I’ve dropped the drill off of ladders several times and pounded the impact wrench while working on cars. The battery life isn’t what it used to be, but I’ve not been bothered enough yet to purchase new ones. I’ve got my eye on some new tools to add to the system soon so may just get a set that comes with batteries – there are a TON of options with the Ryobi line!
    As with you I don’t see a need to upgrade to a more ‘professional’ line of tools and have been perfectly happy with mine – they have been put through the ringer with my personal and many church projects.

  2. I’m in total agreement. The variety of tools is awesome and I’ve remodeled a kitchen and two bathrooms (everything except plumbing and electrical). These tools have never let me down. The one problem is that I keep collecting different versions of C3 drills and extra chargers as they have these deals where you get two batteries, a drill, and charger for less than the batteries. I wish they would quit doing that….(not really).

    There is a wide variety of different drills with differing quality. So, look at that when you buy. My most powerful is the 75th anniversary version (big heavy) back in the NiCad days pre C3 branding.

    • I have an older drill that’s twice as heavy and far more powerful than the newer lighter drills. For most things I’ll use the new drill but when it’s time for serious drilling I pull out the older drill.

      The kit’s are the way to go. I have an extra charger that I keep in my truck with an inverter and another in my shop. My C3 5 1/2″ saw is worn out and I’m think of just buying a new full kit for ~$150 and get 2 new batteries instead of buying the single saw for $90. I wish they would have a “build your combo” option so I just justify some of the other tools.

  3. I agree, this line is excellent for DIY’ers. I’ve been very impressed with a Craftsman C3 kit I got over 8 years ago that came with a drill, circular saw, reciprocating saw, and light. I’ve done countless home projects with them, many Habitat for Humanity projects, and they’re still all running strong. One of the two original Ni-Cads no longer takes a charge, but the other still works after 8 years!

    I’ve recently added a weed-eater with a lithium battery, which I am very happy with. I can do my whole yard in a single charge, and it’s great that the new battery works with all my old tools. I think it’s a great line, and I hope they keep it running for a long time.

  4. I am a contractor, I’ve always liked old craftsman tools. My dad bought me a set of Craftsman cordless tools for Xmas in 2009ish, he figured since I had a few old cast iron black and red in would like the new stuff. At the time I thought about returning them. They didn’t seem as serious as some other brands. I sure am glad I didnt. I watched my friends and family replace their “serious” cordless tools once or twice due to battery and compatibility issues, while I’ve been able to graduate from nicad to lithium and continually add to my colection of cordless tools with confidence. 3 batteries is all i need. Ibe got the light, the circular saw, two drills an impact driver, a jig saw and a sawsall. All collected over 7 or 8 years. I think I only paid 30 dollars each for the new lithium batteies. The only thing I had to buy was the charger. Anyhow. They aren’t super heavy duty, but they sure get the job done and I like the feel and trigger response. Mostly, I like that I can keep adding tools and have confidence in the ability to maintain a supply of batteries at a reasonable cost. So even though I almost turned my nose up at them, I’m glad my dad went for the old black and red.

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