Last Updated on January 14, 2021 by William
(8) Best Hand Tool Brands Built to LAST!
For some, tools are a prized possession, often carefully selected and mindfully taken care of. When we talk about how much things used to cost back in the day, we always adjust for inflation. It is interesting to look back and see how tools were accounted for a larger percentage of a person’s income than they do now. Nonetheless, tools are something we are still selective about.
From the longevity and warranty, to the price and reputation, there are many factors we should keep in mind when searching for your next wrench, pair of pliers, or toolkit. There are different tiers of tools – some for occasional use and some for professional use. Also included are our top picks for each brand.
With that in mind, we have combined the best-known hand tool brands to appeal to different consumers below, and in no particular order: Craftsman, Stanley, Proto, Mac Tools, Snap-on, Williams, SK Professional Tools, and Channellock.
And if you want power tool brands, check out our article on the best power tool brands here.
Starting with a well-known brand, Craftsman, and with good reason. While purchased by Stanley Black & Decker in 2017, Craftsman has been around since the 1920’s, made in America with global products. These tools are affordable, versatile, and include a long warranty period. In fact, Craftsman offers a life-time warranty on hand tools (with a disclaimer on newer models). This is admittedly one of the reasons why customers choose Craftsman over other products – the peace of mind.
Craftsman carries everything from power tools, hand tools, automotive tools, and storage, to outdoor tools and equipment. Craftsman is also really easy to find in stores at Lowes, Sears, ACE Hardware, and even Costco, as well as online on multiple sites.
Craftsman has gained popularity for the sheer amount of quantity and budget friendly mechanic tool sets, one of which is a 224-piece set priced at around $227. It includes ‘72-Tooth ratchets, an extensive assortment of drive tools, and a rugged 3-drawer blow mold case’. In terms of the metal on the wrenches, one user notes he can feel the difference in dexterity and feel of it, which he attributes from being made overseas, a significant difference from the US made wrenches.
A nice feature is how their socket driver does not have an extension, rather a hex key you can use to attach bits or driving portions of themselves instead of going back and forth. Users also say this set was a good representation of a ‘complete’ set as compared to others on the market. The storage boxes are also pretty durable. For a reference point across the board let’s take a look at a three-piece adjustable wrench set with high reviews – this is priced at an attractive $15. However, avid users say to opt for the ProSeries when possible; the durability and quality make the extra bucks worth it.
There are some drawbacks to keep in mind. Sears, who carries Craftsman, are going out of business, making it harder to service the warranty for these products. Craftsman has a bit of a tumultuous history when it comes to ownership. Back in 2017, Sears sold Craftsman for a whopping $900 million (now they carry a “limited” license); and some even say the quality has diminished, such as the rough edges on hand tools.
Another thing to keep in mind with the warranty is that if you take in your tool under warranty, there may be a chance you will not receive the same one, but the “upgraded” newer version. This may be a problem for those who are attached to their current tools. In terms of manufacturing, it is important to note that while the products for Craftsman are assembled in America, their raw materials are imported internationally, which may be misleading.
We like how Craftsman is easily accessible to the average consumer, which works out because the general consensus is that the brand is more acceptable for the do it yourself (DIY) crowd. They offer a wide collection at affordable prices, have a well-known brand name, and a long-standing, positive reputation.
Stanley tools have been around since 1843, easily recognized by their iconic yellow and black block letter logo. They were the first to introduce the steel tape rule back in 1931. Stanley is owned by another popular brand, Stanley Black & Decker (Stanley Works merged with Black & Decker in 2010). Take note of the name ‘Stanley Black & Decker’; a powerhouse company that owns other well-known brands (who are coincidentally also on this list) such as DeWalt, Mac Tools, and Proto.
Not only do they have the name brand recognition, but they are known for being widely accessible and having quality products. Stanley is known for their hand tools while Stanley Black & Decker for their power tools. It is also worth noting that Stanley has branched out from tools and storage to the Engineering Security Sector, Healthcare, Infrastructure, and Access Technologies. They are also big in basic pluming tools.
Besides their impressive history, another good reason to steer towards Stanley is their attractive warranty period. They offer full lifetime warranty on their mechanic tools (i.e. wrenches, sockets, ratchets, and drive accessories) which Stanley offers to replace themselves (no need to go to the store, which is a win in my book). Their hand tools have a limited lifetime warranty, which depends on the “useful life” of the specific tool purchased (not to exceed one year for products with electrical or electronic components).
Disclaimer: the rules vary by state, and abuse/accidental damage is not covered. Additionally, Stanley is widely accessible; you can find Stanley products at Home Depot, Sears, ACE hardware, among other stores and other online distributors (like Zoro). Similar to other brands, select Stanley products are made and assembled in the USA from globally imported materials.
Users appreciate that quality of Stanley’s tools. The chrome on their hand tools don’t seem to chip, as compared to other more expensive brands. Conversely, users do report some imperfections on the detailing of the cuts, of say, a wrench. They have good grip and balance. You can get a decent adjustable wrench for just under $13 – users like the non-slip grip, the smooth movements, and the compact size for unusual small working areas.
In addition, Stanley raises the bar with their FatMax line, which includes, but not limited to, hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers. This line is more expensive, but also provides better quality. For comparison, a set of Stanley screwdrivers will cost you $10 compared to Stanley FatMax, which are about $20. Users love the comfortable handles, magnetic tips, and durability.
If you are on a budget and need an occasional or an entry-level set, Stanley is a good choice. We appreciate their variety, accessibility, and reputation. However, if you are looking to make a one-and-done purchase, consider one of the higher end brands as described below.
Let’s get into the higher end brands with Proto. As mentioned before, Proto is one of the companies also owned by Stanley. Proto was established in 1907 in Southern California (aka Plomb until 1948) and bought by Stanley in the mid 1960’s. Proto’s website states they manufacture their tools here in the US, but upon further research they are predominantly made in the US with few imports. While their website adversities US made, this is tool specific.
As a traditional higher-end brand, their products are catered toward professionals. Proto carries everything from tool storage, specialty tools, hand tools, to fleet specific maintenance tools. They dip their expertise in a handful of industries including oil, mining, manufacturing, plumbing, electrical, power generation, transportation, and even aerospace; but mostly known for automotive. Most impressive, Proto claims they surpass ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) standards on all of their products. Their goal is safety and quality.
This brand is popular among the baby boomer age range. You know that saying, “They just don’t make them like they used to anymore?” does not apply to Proto. Furthermore, if you are a mechanic or show these tools to a mechanic, there is a good chance they are familiar and would be impressed with your choice in tools. Those that work in industrial settings are more than likely provided Proto tools. If you are not familiar with Proto it is probably because a lot of their marketing budget actually goes towards the sister company, Mac Tools.
Additionally, there are a lot less reviews and information for Proto than there are for other tool brands. Some users believe Proto’s design and functionality mimic higher price point brands (Mac Tools included) at half the price.
Proto is most known for their wrenches and torque, which have a beautiful design and functional build. For a three-piece adjustable wrench set, you are looking at a price of $90. They offer limited lifetime warranty: from one year to lifetime, depending on the item. Although designs are “classic”, users rave about the longevity and smooth mechanisms of their tools.
Proto’s website lists three different industrial lines, which can get a little confusing. There’s Proto, Blackhawk by Proto, and Stanley. Proto is at a higher price point than Stanley (also noting that Stanley is catered more towards the tradesman). A little research further points out that Blackhawk products are made in Taiwan.
We like how Proto has a good reputation for delivering quality, durable, and dependable tools. They are a fantastic choice for those looking for an affordable professional tier tool. We also like how Proto is accessible; you can purchase Proto tools at Home Depot, Grainger, Fastenal Company, among other online distributors.
As mentioned previously, Proto is similar to their sister company, Mac Tools explored next.
#4 Mac Tools
Mac Tools is another one of those brands owned by Stanley Black & Decker. It was established in 1938 and purchased by Stanley in 1980. This tool line is comparable to Proto tools, which caters to the industrialist professional, along with a higher price tag. Mac Tools is known for their use in the automobile industry. They have over 42,000 items to choose from, and you can shop directly from their website or find a tool truck near you.
They provide specialized attention and service from knowledgeable brand representatives who know the ins and outs of any tool you might need.
The Mac Tools website states, like other Stanley products, they are made in the USA with global imported products materials. Other customers state it just depends on the item you purchase. For example, a ratchet will not have the USA stamp on it because while the shank is made in the US, the handle is made offshore, even on awls. The warranty is not as clear as some of the other brands that we’ve mentioned; Mac offers limited warranty for the ‘life expectancy’ of the tool.
Top tools to include in your Mac Tool collection would be a wire stripper (model WSC7G or WSC200B) known for their precise and easy cutting ability; a screwdriver, which now has better grip handles from the original models; and, an offset wrench, which has the perfect design to clear your hand when turning it. In terms of pricing, a three-piece adjustable wrench set (sold separately) will end up costing you about $169. Their pliers are made of high carbon grade steel, and customers love how the teeth point in the opposite direction facilitating grip and functionality.
Known for their long-standing use in the automotive repair industry and auto-sports tools, Mac Tools is geared more toward mechanics and professionals. They are known for their consistency and durability, and their daily professional use. The tools mechanisms are smooth, precise, and ultimately give you the peace of mind that they will not need to be replaced as soon as some of the more budget-friendly brands.
2020 marks the 100-year anniversary of Snap-on. Established in 1920, their name originates from marketing their first big item: ten sockets that could snap on to five different handles. After WWII, this company first catered to mechanics and the auto repair industry. Other well-known brands that Snap-on owns include: The Blue-Point Tool Company, Williams (later discussed), Blackhawk (welding & auto repair), and ATI Tools (for the aircraft industry).
Besides automotive, Snap-on provides tools for the collision, mining, aviation, construction, and agricultural industries.
Similar to Mac Tools, Snap-on has a mobile sales model, with Snap-on truck franchises across the country, as well as worldwide in 130 countries. Given their well-known brand name, Snap-on markets some of their other industrial brands on their affiliate website, Snap-on Industrial Brands (not a whole separate Snap-on line as one would think). These industrial brands include Williams, Bahco, CDI Torque Products and Sioux.
Snap-on’s wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers are some of the top picks. Their PWZ plier wrench line includes different sizes and unique designs. A 12” (PWZ1) wrench will cost you about $76. In addition, they have a European style that has very sharp teeth that give a good grip. The tools have good leverage; where putting weight and pressure on it does not make the head twist outward like other ‘cheaper’ tools. There are different sizes and classes of PWZ tools: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 – where 5 is the largest (at 42 inches!). For normal automatic use, the 1 would be the best value. They are strong in design and open up pretty wide.
Snap-on does not come without drawbacks. They do have, as some like to call it, ‘shared technology’ with some of their counterpart brands such as Bahco. Bahco has a lower price point and is more accessible through online retailers such as Zoro. One other drawback of Snap-on is their speed of innovation. Compared to other companies, while Snap-on does spend a good chunk of money on marketing, it lacks new products compared to some of their competition.
Additionally, most hand tools are made in the USA, but some are still outsourced. If you really want to make sure you get a US-manufactured product, you can take a look at the country of origin on the product’s description online. With regards to their warranty, the snap-on website states that each customer should call their customer service to determine the applicable period. Some users indicate that hand tools have a lifetime warranty, whereas power tools have a warranty of one to three years.
Snap-on has what users like to call the, ‘buy once and cry once’ motto. They have a bigger price tag but are meant to last years upon years. They are geared for professionals (emphasis on auto workers) or those who use tools on the daily. They are a reputable worldwide known company that has good value tools but are not as accessible if you are not used to the mobile/tool truck model.
To put it simply, Williams (aka J.H. Williams Tool Group) may be considered a more affordable version of Snap-On (Snap-on acquired Williams in 1993). WIlliams does not have their own website and are part of the Snap-on Industrial Brands as described previously. Williams was established in 1883 and were the first to produce drop-forged tools (a method of hammering hot metal into dies which in turn removes air bubbles, and aligns the grain structure, resulting in a stronger and more durable tool).
Additionally, they are known for being the first to mass produce the 15° angle wrench, and heavy-duty slugging wrenches. The first advantage Williams has over Snap-on is their accessibility. While you can order off the Snap-on website, you can also find them on over 25 online distributor websites.
In terms of warranties, Williams offers limited warranties (which is not specified on the Snap-on Industrial Brands’ website). Users sometimes report having a difficult time benefiting from those warranties, in contrast to the excellent customer service buyers receive from Snap-on. Reviewers call it the old, ‘You get what you pay for’.
Not all of Williams products are made in the USA, despite the ‘Made in USA’ marketing. The safest bet is to confirm the product you are purchasing with their online catalog. One of their popular items are the handheld screwdriver sets, which are made in the USA. A six-piece set will run you about $43.
When directly compared to Snap-on, the handles on the Williams screwdrivers have more visible manufacturing lines, whereas Snap-on’s have a better fit and finish. Williams’ handles are described as a fairly smooth plastic material. In terms of packaging and presentation, users say Williams is very basic and practical, which as you may agree is appropriate if it comes with a ⅔ price reduction. In a side-by-side comparison, a user notes they look incredibly close so far as to noting ‘made from the same mold’.
Their T handle ratchet screwdrivers have smooth mechanisms and are slightly stiffer but come with the expectation of them loosening over time. Similarly, socket sets are similar with the Snap-ons having a much better chrome finish. To keep consistent with other price points listed, a four-piece adjustable wrench set will cost you about $56.
All in all, we like how the average person can get their hands-on good quality tools at a fraction of the Snap-on price. Williams is highly accessible and caters to the crowd that may want to spend a little more to keep their tools a little longer.
#7 SK Professional Tools
SK Professional Tools (SK stands for Sherman-Klove; the founding partners) was founded in 1921. Currently, Industrial Brands Inc. owns SK Professional Tools. SK Initially manufactured munitions and casings for WWI and later manufactured tools for other larger companies. When those companies went out of business due to the Great Depression, SK tools began to manage their own inventory, and began to build a brand name with a good reputation. They adapted to the times and soon enough their sockets dominated the tool market.
Despite this, one of the recurring issues we see is the inconsistency of socket quality today. One of their biggest milestones is their patent for the first fine-tooth round-head ratchet. Now, they have over 3,000 items to choose from.
Debuting in 2014, one of their most popular items is the SK X-Frame Ratcheting Wrench. The first thing you will notice about it is the low swing arc: an ultra-low 1.7-degree swing accompanied with 72 teeth and six-pawl will give you 216 positions. The 1.7-degree swing is the lowest you’ll find in the market. The teeth on the open end give it a no-slip and gripping capability, allowing you to fasten without slipping and rounding the corners. This is comparable to Snap-on’s Flank Drive+ technology. This SK design is perfect for use in those hard-to-reach tight places.
In comparison to Proto, SK has no offset (curved at both ends) which comes down to personal preference; both have their limitations. The SK also has triangle openings near both ends which serve to strengthen the tool, helping it withstand more force. Heat mapping revealed that those areas are actually weak points where ‘regular’ ratcheting wrenches tend to break, but SK’s do not.
The price points for these models are $33 for a 10mm size, and $43 for a ¾” size. These wrenches are worth every penny considering the amount of detail in the design and functionality. For comparison with some of the other brands on here, a 12” adjustable wrench is $73, which is on-par with some of the other professional tools on here, like Snap-on.
SK Tools is also readily accessible and available. One can purchase directly from SK’s website, their mobile distributors, in person at your local Grainger store, and other online distributors, such as Amazon. SK Tools offer limited lifetime warranty, and they market their products as American made from American steel. We like how SK Tools delivers quality, durable products with the utmost attention to detail. Their tools are the ones you will keep in your set not only for the foreseeable future, but also to pass down to the next generation.
Think you know all about pliers? Think again – since 1886 Channellock has been the home of the plier. Their website lists six different styles – tongue & groove, linemen’s, cutting, long nose, long reach, and slip joint styles – for a combination of over 190 pliers. They made the original tongue & groove style, officially theirs by naming the plier “Channellock” upon receiving their patent in 1935. The design? Ulti-position, tongue and groove, slip-joint style pliers.
Besides pliers though, they are well respected among the tool community for having quality products. They manufacture screwdrivers, wrenches, tool sets, and other specialty tools. Channellock thrives in multiple industries, including plumbing, HVAC, automotive, first responders, electrically, agriculture, metal fabrication, and line men.
Customers also like Channellock because all pliers are manufactured in the USA (Pennsylvania, to be exact). For other tools, you will have to double check their catalog (i.e. one of their adjustable wrenches comes from Spain). Also, Channellock’s iconic blue grip handles have always been made in the USA, however that is not the case for their ‘Code Blue’ line. Their regular line handles can be described as plastic-dipped, and the Code Blue line as thicker, more ergonomic, durable, and comfortable material.
Channellock markets their Blue line to deliver grips that are designed for durability and comfort. A side-by-side comparison shows the regular line tools with the iconic all blue handles while the Code Blue is blue and red. Like the regular line, the Code Blue line uses American high-carbon C1080 steel (as opposed to competitor’s 1040). A Code Blue adjustable wrench will cost you about $34 on Amazon. Another improvement worth noting is their XLT (Xtreme Leverage Technology) plier line, which is meant to reduce hand fatigue by needing less force to cut through.
A little Code Blue backstory: around the 2010’s Channellock outsourced the manufacturing of their handle grips overseas, and understandably customers started to notice and were not satisfied. Channellock made the decision to bring back in house manufacturing to which they marketed it as the re-launch of Code Blue, reassuring customers that they would be moving manufacturing to their Pennsylvania location in the US (a win for customer satisfaction!).
In 2019, Channellock introduced one of its latest additions to their already extensive collection in form of the 430X SpeedGrip tongue & groove pliers. These have a new design, named SpeedGrip, which is a mix between the Code Blue and their original blue line. A 10” will cost you about $30. Upon use, reviewers say they like the feel of handles, nothing that they were comfortable and ergonomic. Complete with crosshatch teeth and a wide jaw, they work together to seamlessly deliver a great grip. Channellock also added a reaming feature, further completing its versatility.
We like how Channellock executed innovative ways to enhance their line of tools with Code Blue, XLT and SpeedGrip, where the same functionality of the tool is there, but the customer does not have to learn a new way to use it. Generally speaking, people do not like change, but this way Channellock delivers the same great design with something that feels right and continues to last a long time. We value how Channellock is also one of those brands that are easily accessible and available.
You can find them in the aisles of your local Home Depot or ACE Hardware, and online at Channellock’s website, Amazon, and several other distributors. While Channellock has been the go-to trusted brand for pliers, they continue to improve and be one of the top competitors in the hand tool market.
While there are several good choices listed, it is important to consider what you will be needing your tools for, what your budget is, and how long you plan or expect on keeping them for. We recommend Craftsman and Stanley for beginners, for those looking to stick with a budget, perform small project work, or to keep in a homeowner’s toolbox.
If you are looking for dependable pliers, go with Channellock. If you are in between, Williams is an excellent middle-ground to those looking for higher end dupes for Snap-on and Proto. For the professional looking for daily use or want to purchase a once and done option, consider brands like Mac Tools, Proto, or Snap-on.
Regardless of what brand you decide to go with, all of these brands have a long history of manufacturing dependable, quality tools for those looking to complete any project.