A reader messaged me with what I thought would be a quick and easy question to answer. Which is the best brand of mechanics tools right now?
They’re not looking at professional or industrial offerings, but they also don’t want lower-end junk that’s frustrating to use or cheaply made.
This was a complicated question to answer 10 years ago, due to the abundance of decent brands, but the options changed rather quickly, leading to only a handful of choices. This was true for a couple of years, but now? – there are even more options than ever.
I’m not going to get into specific mechanics tool set recommendations right now, as that’s an entirely different question. For the sake of simplicity, I’m also ignoring how the answer might change depending on the time of year.
Here, let’s talk about different options for someone looking to decide on a brand or two to buy into.
Home Center Mechanics Tool Brands
Home Depot: Husky
There are automotive retailers and other more regional home centers and hardware stores, but Home Depot and Lowe’s are by far the largest chains.
Sears is still around – I think so at least – but they’re not an active player in the tool market anymore. They used to be, and they used to dominate the mid-range mechanic tools market, but that has changed.
What I like about Husky is that they have a very strong selection, and a lot of their tools offer an upgrade path. (Side note, we have a paid partnership with Husky Tools right now, but I’ve been testing, using, and buying Husky tools for many years prior to this, and will do the same for many years to come.)
I have long felt that Husky and Home Depot need to do better at getting the word out on their tools, and I suppose our current partnership is part of the answer to this.
If I find that I need a particular socket size on a Saturday morning, I’d likely head to Home Depot, believing it to be the best chance I’d have at finding one.
Lowe’s: Craftsman, Kobalt
As for Lowe’s options, Kobalt’s availability has been limited in recent years, due to Craftsman’s emergence and now prevalence. Both brands seem to focus on sets and assortments, and the last I checked there were some open stock availability as well.
Harbor Freight’s new Icon series of mechanics tools are worth paying attention to, but they’re also priced at a premium.
As with the other retailers, open stock availability is very limited.
Do you want to buy a wrench set? Great – you can choose between several different Harbor Freight brands. Oh, you just want a single wrench? Good luck with that.
A lot of the brands here have lifetime guarantees and generous hand tool warranty policies, but the days of getting a replacement at the local store are over.
Once you turn your attention to online retailers, you have a LOT more brand choices.
Gearwrench is a good choice, and probably the best choice for users that don’t want to do a lot of researching.
There are other brands, depending on whether you’re looking for something that Gearwrench doesn’t yet offer.
Tekton has come out with some neat innovations over the years, and they have also been working hard to raise their quality level. They now have a very solid reputation and have also become known for great customer service.
I don’t believe that all of their older tools are up to Tekton’s modern standards, but most core tools have.
I spoke with a Tekton manager 7 years ago, and it seems they have made good on their promises.
Power Tool Brands’ Offerings: Dewalt vs. Milwaukee
Who would have thought that Milwaukee Tool would become a serious name when it comes to mechanics hand tools? They still have plenty of growth and expansion ahead of them, but Milwaukee already has some very compelling wrench, ratchets, and socket set offerings right now.
I bought a couple of Milwaukee socket sets during the winter holiday shopping season as they matched the modularized nature I was looking for.
Here’s more on some of their previous releases:
Dewalt also makes some decent options, mainly a wide variety of set options.
They have a wide range of tools, but availability can be limited. I would consider Dewalt mechanics tool sets, but their open stock tools don’t carry the same appeal of top-of-mind presence in my opinion.
Professional and Industrial Brands
Proto, Blackhawk, Williams, Wright, SK Hand Tools – these are just some of the brands you could and should consider if you’re looking for more professional and industrial-grade tools.
If you want unique offerings, there’s also Wera and Facom, which mainly produce tools for the European market. Wera in particular has seen an incredible surge in interest in recent years as they work to expand their wrench and socket set offerings.
Then you have Snap-on, Mac, and other tool truck brands that service professional automotive shops and other such users. With those brands, you’re partially paying for the at-your-door service. With most of the other brands mentioned here, you shouldn’t expect timely replacements for individual tools.
The difficulty with recommending Snap-on is that their tools are priced considerably higher than competing brands that serve industrial customers rather than automotive maintenance shops. If you need at-your-workplace service, they’re a great option. If you don’t, they can still be worth it, and are considered by many to be the best of the best, but you’re not getting as much bang for your buck.
Buying Snap-on and other tool truck brands tools is almost like buying a soda at the movie theater. If you’re seeing a movie, you’re paying more, but you suck it up and enjoy the show. If you’re not seeing a movie and are just looking for a place to stop and get a soda, there are so many other places to get the same or similar quality for less money.
This is why I tend to like industrial brands – you usually pay less, and sometimes a lot less than truck brands, and more of what you’re paying is for the actual tools you are buying.
Which is the Best Brand I Would Pick?
In the past year, I have purchased mechanics tools from Husky, Milwaukee, Wera, Proto, Facom, and Gearwrench. I have purchased from more brands than this, but these are the “for use” brands that I purchased, as opposed to when I buy something mainly for review or other editorial purposes.
So with respect to brands available locally to me, Husky (via Home Depot) was the best pick for me, and when shopping online I went with Milwaukee, Wera, Proto, Facom, and Gearwrench.
At the risk of asking too open-ended of a question, which mechanics tool brands would you recommend these days, and why?
Do you have any questions or criteria you’d like to see addressed in the next update to this post?