When Chad from Northern Machining asked if I’d be interested in testing out their tap wrench, I jumped at the chance. Unique design? Check. Solves problems? Check. Made in the USA? Check. I couldn’t wait!
I’m not a machinist, but I do tap holes fairly often (mainly in aluminum and Delrin) – mostly by hand, but a few have been machine-assisted for pressure and alignment purposes. Let me tell you – it was a pain trying to find tap wrenches that could do everything I wanted.
In their words (italicized), this is what’s special about the Northern Machining tap wrench:
My father owns a machine shop and we found the need for a more capable tap wrench when hand tapping needs arise from time to time, so we designed and manufactured one.
This tap wrench was designed 100% by the staff at Northern Machining. It is like no other tap wrench on the market today. The uniqueness of our wrench comes from its ability to maintain center with the central position of the tap, which it is holding. With conventional tap wrenches, center alignment is always lost because only one jaw, which holds the tap, moves. With our self-centering tap wrench, both jaws move uniformly, thus keeping a central position no matter the size of the tap which it is holding.
Our wrench is a straight handle, with a centering stem that allows the wrench itself to be put into a collet or a chuck for maintaining axial center over a hole and supporting the tapping being done. This allows for both hands working the wrench and also can pull the spindle down when feeding the tap.
Both of the jaws are movable because of the unique design we incorporated. Everyone that has purchased, has been very impressed with our quality and the benefits.
It was nearly 2 years ago that I posted about my disappointing experience with new Starrett tap wrenches. I am happy to say that Northern Machining has given me nothing to complain about!
Adjusting the tap wrench is done in three steps. First, you rotate the handles to loosen pressure on the jaws. Then, you adjust the width of the jaws by rotating the thumbwheel. Size it to fit your tap, then lock down the handles.
I really, really like that thumbwheel adjustment design. There’s zero slop, meaning it locks up and grips taps tightly and securely.
Yes, adjusting this tap wrench is a little slower than how you would adjust an ordinary tap wrench, but not by much, and you do get better results. With the Northern Machining tap wrench, the tap is centered between the handles. This applies to any tap, small or large, up to its jaw capacity.
The Northern Machining tap wrench can fit taps from #0 to 1/2″ in size. In the image at the start of the post, it’s gripping a 1/4″ tap. Here, it’s gripping a #4 tap.
One the part I really like is how the stem has a 5/16″ diameter, which means it fits my machines!
I have a 10″ benchtop drill press that can fit the Northern Machining tap wrench, but my small Taig mill and even smaller Sherline lathe cannot easily accommodate tap wrenches or handles that are designed for larger machinery.
The length is around 9-1/2″ when clamped down onto a 1/4″ tap. At full capacity, it might not fit my small drill press.
I do wish that the handles could be removed or interchanged so that I can use this tap wrench to its full potential on my smaller equipment. Maybe that’s something Northern Machinery could consider for a later model. Or maybe I can find a way to improvise.
But for machinists with regularly sized equipment – you’re gonna love this. It’s a tap wrench designed for machinists (and other hand tappers) by machinists.
It doesn’t loosen up, except when you want or need it to. I also like that it has a plain finish with nothing to flake off. It’s made from 100% tool steel, with the jaws and body hardened for longer life. Northern Machining says that each component is fully replaceable, although I don’t foresee that ever being necessary.
Centering jaws, zero wobble, a secure grip, and the ability to use in a spindle or chuck for machine-assisted hand tapping – what more could one ask for? (Aside for my asking for a smaller version or one with shorter arms ?)
The Northern Machining tap wrench measures 10″ long x 1-1/8″ tall x 1-5/8″ wide. Here it is compared to one of my imported tap wrenches.
And this is my (USA-made) guiding tap wrench. It works with much of my equipment, but I really do like the Northern Machining one better.
The Northern Machining tap wrench is lower in profile, and also easier to turn. It can also accommodate a wider range of sizes – #0 to 1/2″, and not just 1/4″ to 1/2″ as with my T-handle.
One thing to point out is that my T-handle tap wrench comes with a built-in alignment guide with internal hole (threaded too) that can fit a center or alignment tool, and also a free-spinning attachment that increases how it can be used for machine-assisted hand tapping. If I find that I need or want something similar with the Northern Machining tap wrench, I’ll simply make one.
Price: $149 (shipped)
Although a little pricey, keep in mind that the Northern Machining tap wrench does the job of multiple tap wrenches. It’s a professional tool that feels as bulletproof as it looks.
Just to remind you, Northern Machining manufacturers their tap wrench in the USA. They’re based in Norfolk, NY, and offer a range of machining services.
Buy Now(via Northern Machining)
Update (4/21/19): It’s also now available at Amazon.
Buy Now(via Northern Machining on Amazon)
For all you machinists out there, what’s your take on the design?
Thank you to Northern Machining for providing the review sample unconditionally.
Clever design. It’s good to see innovative tools being made in the USA.
As long as it doesn’t loosen in use, I like it. Previously I wanted to see something like this that used a vice-grip type of mechanism to lock the tap in but this might be better. I like that it has the stump on top for guiding it with a machine spindle.
WANT! This thing just made it onto my list of tools to get. I would think that “gull wing” shaped handles (as on many spokeshaves http://www.leevalley.com/en/Wood/page.aspx?p=49142&cat=1,50230&ap=1) would probably be an improvement, giving more knuckle clearance
Mike aka Fazzman
Design is cool,but $150? No machinist would spend that on a tap wrench.
I have the same starrett tap wrenches you had issues with,and they have been great for the price.
Most shops dont even have manual equipment like bridgeports anymore,its all cnc around here.
$150 is waaaay too rich to even consider it, and that’s speaking as a machinist who has to hand tap a good portion of the threads I encounter.
I have a full set of t-handle tap wrenches, and I doubled up on a Schroder 4.006.4 on a whim to check the ratcheting action and quality (both nice). I have a regular style tap wrench but never use it – the long arms are just begging to over-torque and snap taps off and there’s no facility to use a guide (normally).
This seems like a decent product, and I like the innovation – but for someone like me who already owns tap wrenches, why would I shell out $150 on this? $45 is more like a machinist’s price point – though I realize this tool probably can’t be made and sold at that price.
I don’t see why it couldn’t be made for 45.00
While on the subject of taps and tap wrenches… Any recommendations for a reasonable budget-minded tap set? It’s not often that I need to tap a hole so I’ve been using a set from Harbor Freight. But with the holidays coming, I might could sneak something onto my wish list. If it helps, the holes that I have tapped lately have all been very small (#6 – #12 machine screws…I can’t remember the last time I’ve gone over 1/4″).
What are you looking for in a tap set?
A few years ago I started by buying individual sizes, and then 3-piece sets for the thread sizes I needed. Enco and MSC often have decent prices. I think I bought most of my 3-piece sets from Enco. Enco is a subsidiary of MSC, but with often lower prices, slower shipping, and their own (but equally excellent) custom service.
Don’t forget about tap drills too. As with taps, I bought the individual sizes first, and then plunged on a set. The set was from MSC, during one of their better metalworking or general %-off promotions.
You need #36 for #6 fasteners, #29 for #8, and so forth.
I’d stay away from sets, unless you can find good quality. Even then, do you need coarse thread sizes, or fine?
Some all-in-one sets come with somewhat fragile taps and/or drill bits. I think they’re good for irregular use and to have around just in case, but if you plan on tapping holes, stepping up to HSS taps and quality bits will work out better in the long run.
Hopefully someone more experienced can offer you good advice. Everything I said above is more or less the path I followed, and might not necessarily be the best path to recommend. What was good for me might be good for you; I added the disclaimer because I don’t want to unintentionally steer you the wrong way.
If you only tap a hole every now and then just buy the sizes you actually use. I bought a set of metric taps & dies about 10 years ago and I’ve only used half of them! Big sets aren’t good value unless they have bottoming, intermediate and starter taps.
mike aka Fazzman
Small taps are relatively cheap for a decent HSS like OSG or Greenfield or similar. Id just buy as you need them. And purchase the proper drills at the same time.
I’m a machinist. I tap a lot by hand. What’s the deal with the inner hole? Size? Threaded to what?? If it doesn’t work with a SPRING LOADED TAP GUIDE, I do NOT want it. I guess I’d just thread a chunk into the hole and center drill that for a spring guide. If you’re not tapping with a spring-loaded guide, I don’t know how you’re getting by.
And yeah, at $150….I might just invest that in a TapMatic instead.
One hundred fitty dollars for a tap wrench? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
As for tap and die sets: I bought a Hanson SAE set about 10-ll years ago, for a very good price. It’s not as good as HSS, obviously, but suits my needs as a homeowner, and is USA-made. Speaking of which, unless you run a business on the side, you’ll almost never reach for it. I also have Irwin metric taps and dies (newer), and have never used them. I did buy a 48-piece Craftsman thread-restoring set last November on sale. It’s an excellent set, made for them by Lang. To date, haven’t used it.
However, given MY needs, I would have been dollars ahead with the thread restoring kit alone. That is probably what is needed most, because you’ve got a messed up a thread or bolt, and need to dress it up for re-use. Yes, you can run a standard tap or die for that purpose, but they’re stronger and sharper; they can easily re-cut threads, messing them up if you’re not careful. That can cause problems in an engine block.
I would follow the advice of others, above, who suggest you buy individual taps/dies as you need them. The dilemma is in how quickly you can get the needed tap or die, and if you can afford to wait for it.
MSC will ship everything Next Day Air Saver at ground rates. You can have virtually any specialty cutting tools tomorrow for $11-12 shipping. Trust me, running my own machine shop in a very rural area, I know!!!
$150! Thats a lot of peanuts for me to shell out! When it comes to accuracy I start the tap in the pedestal drill….using the drive belt by hand as the slowest speed with power is to fast….and no reverse anyway.
That looks very nice. If I was doing a bunch of hand tapping that I could not do on my drill press, I’d consider it, even at $150.
I have a piloted tap that fits in my drill press. I never run the press, it is only used for alignment and the spinny bearings and vertical control. The pilot rod locks in the chuck and is centered above the tap. Combined with the tilting table, depth handle, depth stops and a machinists vice, I have complete control.
Of course, not all tapping jobs fit on the drill press table, so a tool like this from Northern would be ideal for those jobs.
Given the bad history and the fact I don’t sugar coat much, similar to probably anything I write, this might not be well received, but oh well.
Harry J Epstein recently started to carry this product and they even included a link to this review as well.
I gain absolutely no monetary/free tools from mentioning them and regardless of others believe that is the truth. I only recommend them as they one the very last family owned and run brick and mortar with a online shop that actually has ethics left as well.
Money isn’t all that matters to them and they actually treat their customers not as dollar bills but humanely as people. They might not offer free shipping as Amazon does, but they treat their employees with respect and dignity and legitimately interested in helping customers.
Yes, this item might not be cheap, but this is USA made and not meant for the average person who isn’t willing to pay more than Harbor Freight prices.
Thank you all for your comments on the wrench! I am Chad from Northern Machining and since it has been about a year from the last comment left I figured it would not hurt to respond.
Price is definitely not where we want it to be right now and seems to be our biggest downfall when getting sales. That being said our wrench should be priced higher than any tap wrench it is put up against of similar style due to the quality. We will lifetime guarantee all components. This is USA made, as has been mentioned with all tool steel and hardened jaws that hold up to years of use! If the tap is snugged up properly in the wrench, it does not loosen like other wrenches do!
I agree being a machinist myself that the price is high compared to similar sized wrenches, but you are getting the benefit of a straight handle wrench, low in height with t-handle centering abilities. If we were able to get our manufacturing costs down to sell at a retail cost of $60-70 we would be part of the market, not just pecking away at it.
Those that appreciate quality and a USA made product, tend to be the market we have right now! I am hoping that someone that has purchased can leave a follow up review after being in use for quite some time.
Thanks all for the interest and comments left, good, or bad, it is all well taken, and hope to hear more!
Chad E Ashley
Our unique USA made adjustable t-handle, straight handle combination Tap Wrench can now be ordered on Amazon at the following link for those that like the safety of purchasing through their marketplace!
I have seen a few people say the handles are so small they are uncomfortable? They do look small. Any way to get thicker handles? Very interested in this.
I didn’t find the handles to be overly small, but I also use smaller tap sizes more often.
Unfortunately, you can make the handles a little thicker for comfort if desired, but I don’t know of any way to extend them for greater torque application, if that’s what you’re referring to.