You can't really say Snap-On (NYSE:SNA) beat projected results, even though it reported earnings per share of $0.39 and analysts were expecting $0.02 less. That's because last quarter the manufacturer of professional hand tools had put such a clamp on expectations that analysts significantly ratcheted down their projections from $0.44 a stub. That the company exceeded those revisions is not much cause for cheer.

Still, it is something to crow about for the 75-year-old company in what has otherwise been a dismal three-year turnaround. The company has replaced almost two-thirds of its management team, laid off 17% of its workforce, battled rising steel costs, and closed or consolidated 51 manufacturing facilities. Yet with all the restructuring, the company has finally begun to see some change.

Productivity has jumped 12% and sales for the quarter were up 5% over last year, from $525 million to $550 million, driven by increased diagnostic tool sales as well as sales to dealers. Net income also rose 29%. However, there are cracks in the chrome sheen. The majority of the sales growth -- almost $17 million worth -- was due to favorable currency translations; only $8 million came from actual increases in equipment sales worldwide.

Despite the turmoil, Snap-On remains a cash-generating machine. Cash flow has increased to $153 million, up more than $26 million on the quarter and $57 million for the year. It could be the driver that allows the Wisconsin-based company to finally make a successful turnaround. Structural free cash flow, or owner's earnings as Warren Buffett calls it, totaled $28.2 million for the quarter.

It will need such cash if it's going to be able to compete against the likes of Black & Decker (NYSE:BDK), which saw earnings jump 51%, Danaher Corp. (NYSE:DHR), up 45%, or Stanley Works (NYSE:SWK), up 65%. Tools are a competitive industry, and Snap-On, positioning itself for the future as it is, will need bigger increases than the 1.7% it saw in organic growth.

The company affirmed its forecast of full-year earnings of $1.35 to $1.45 per share, and analysts are expecting it to come in at the bottom end of that range. With such low expectations, Snap-On may once again beat the Street.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey has low expectations for the presidential election. He does not own any of the stocks mentioned in this article.