popular mechanics; Thanks to Kobalt
A few minutes in the dark (and dustier) corners of the internet will convince you that collecting tools is a serious hobby for many people these days. It’s easy to understand why. Do enough work on your car or in your home and you’ll soon discover that some things are easier to accomplish with the right specialized tool for the job. Safety wire pliers (for cutting wires and strands), plumb bob (a weighted object used to find a vertical line), three-finger pullers (used to remove gears, pulleys, wheel hubs, and all sorts of hard-to-remove parts)—the list goes on.
Once you see the wide range of potential problem solvers, you might unexpectedly set out on becoming a tool collector. But the truth is that a well-chosen mechanical tool set can handle the vast majority of tasks that any homeowner, cyclist or driver faces. without take up an entire garage wall. We’ve evaluated some of the best picks below. Will they spend a lifetime scouring auction sites for vintage bench grinders and pneumatic drills? That’s up to you.
Best Mechanical Tool Sets
The expert: I’m ashamed to say that I won a few bike races in the 1980s with nothing in my “toolbox” but a half wrench and a pair of Vise-Grips. As soon as I could afford it, I got a real Craftsman toolbox and everything I needed to get my bike running correctly. Thirty-five years later, I have a dealer-specified rotary car lift in my home racing shop, where I work on my Radical sports racers and daily drivers. And yes, I still repair bikes, having worked at a few bike shops and even owned one… but these days I use the right tools for the job! My favorite items for everyday use: the SK ratchet wrenches, a Nepros socket wrench set and Wiha ball-head hex keys.
What to consider in a mechanical tool set
Home, car or both?
More than almost any other item you could buy, a tool kit is an answer to a specific set of intended problems. So if you don’t have a car, or if you have an inspector who does all the maintenance on your home, it’s worth taking that into consideration when buying tools, as you don’t need any tools for that specific purpose.
Get even more gear: best car tools for vehicle maintenance • Best bike tool kits for repairs on the road • Best tools 2022
Here’s an example: The ten-millimeter jack is such a basic part of car maintenance that some enterprising outlets sell them in bulk, mainly because if you lose track of your “10mm” you won’t be able to keep working. However, a modern bicycle has nothing that requires it. Likewise, a five-millimeter allen wrench is essential for bicycles, but largely irrelevant for home maintenance.
So, do you need to maintain separate tool sets for different tasks? Only if you use them daily, otherwise the hassle of remembering which tools are in which kit outweighs the convenience of a smaller kit. There’s plenty of crossover between tasks, too: a No. 4 Phillips screwdriver can hang a painting, adjust a bike brake, reattach a body panel, and build a workbench.
Smaller is better, within reasonable limits
While it may seem risky to buy a minimal tool kit rather than an entire setup with bells and whistles, a smaller version can bring big benefits if you need to fix something quickly. A lunchbox-sized toolbox on hand is a better idea than a huge multi-purpose box tucked away in the basement behind (or under) a bunch of storage items. When choosing a toolset, try to focus on your most required tasks and then grab everything you need to get those tasks done quickly.
A budget of about $100 should be enough for a toolset that can handle most tasks; above that you get higher quality pieces that will survive more frequent use and/or extra tools like a spirit level or special purpose tape measure.
SAE, metric or both?
There are two measuring systems for tools: SAE, which stands for Society of Automotive Engineers, or metric. Metric sockets are measured in millimeters while SAE sockets are measured in inches. The vast majority of modern cars and bicycles use metric bolts and therefore require a kit where the tools are measured in metric increments (e.g. 10mm, 19mm). Many home appliances, older American cars, and plumbing may require SAE or conventional tools (e.g., 3/8 in., 1 ½ in.).
How we evaluated mechanical tool sets
We bought, borrowed, and evaluated a wide variety of tools and tool kits for these recommendations, focusing primarily on home repair, bicycle maintenance, and auto work. We also tried to use a variety of tools, the wrong way – could these Knipex pliers really do the job for attaching a dryer hose? – to evaluate the possibilities of using a bicycle kit for home repair, and so on.