When it comes to mechanics, industrial, and aerospace tools, such as wrenches, ratchets, sockets, and similar accessories, there is a broad spectrum of brands and products to choose from.
Casual – These tools are for the once-in-a-while DIYers, and include a lot of the inexpensive multi-functional and “innovative” seasonal tools that are typically given as gifts around Christmas time and Father’s Day.
Entry-Level – There are many options available for DIYers that don’t quite know what they might need and who want the greatest bang for the buck. Entry-level tools aren’t particularly good for heavy use or demanding applications, but they’re usable and can get the job done.
Mid-Level – Better brands, such as Craftsman Professional (at least with their previous USA-made lines), are not quite at the same level as other industrial brands, but offer tools that are stronger or better featured than less expensive entry-level ones. These tools are appealing to DIYers and weekend warriors with higher budgets, and a lot of professional users earn their livings with some or many mid-level tools.
Professional and Industrial – When you need more features, better strength, top-quality, and greater breadth of size and style selection, consider a professional or industrial brand. This is the category that the rest of this discussion is mainly about.
Super-Premium – When you need absolute uncompromised quality, as well as at-your-door service, tool truck brands such as Snap-on are at the highest rung of the quality and price ladder.
USA-Made Professional & Industrial Tool Brands
We are asked this question a lot, and often see it on enthusiast forums in various forms:
Which is a good mid-level mechanics tool brand? I’m looking to buy USA-made tools and cannot afford Snap-on.
The answer used to be that Craftsman Professional was the way to go, but in recent years they discontinued many if not all of their USA-made tools, replacing them with redesigns that are manufactured overseas. Craftsman Professional tools offered fantastic bang for the buck, and it was often believed that many Craftsman pro tools were relabeled Armstrong tools.
There really aren’t any mid-level USA-manufacturing mechanics tool brands around to fill the holes left by the departed Craftsman Professional line, but there are some great reasonably-affordable professional and industrial brands to consider.
Although I sometimes describe this category as simply being mechanics tools, the same tools are often used in aerospace and other industries. It’s a simplification to describe these tools as being mechanics tools, but one that usually works.
This is a question everyone must answer for themselves.
For me, USA-made typically means high quality tools, experienced engineering, and a history of excellence that instills a sense of trust and reliability. It typically also means easier warranty replacement or greater availability and quicker acquisition of new tools.
I should point out that, while I often prefer USA-made mechanics tools, quality and functionality are my top priorities. I recently purchased Wera tools that are made in the Czech Republic, and Facom tools that are made in Taiwan. The Wera and Facom tools are not quite challenged by any current USA-made offerings.
All but one of these brands are part of other larger corporations (more info about large tool corporations).
Armstrong – Part of the Apex Tool Group
Proto – Part of Stanley Black & Decker
SK Hand Tool – Now part of Ideal Industries
Williams – Part of Snap-on Industrial Group
Wright – An independent manufacturer
My experience with Armstrong is mostly limited to relabeled Craftsman Professional products, mainly wrenches, and a few Armstrong wrenches.
A contributor reviewed the Armstrong Maxx locking flex ratchet a while back, and really liked it.
Armstrong seems to be more aimed towards government, aerospace, and military users, but a lot of their tools are affordable and easy to find for mechanics and independent users. They’re solidly made and worth the investment.
Proto has become one of my favorite industrial tool brands. Their new spline ratcheting wrenches are great, their Duratek screwdrivers are awesome, and their ratchets are both consistently good and affordable.
I like to think that, if there’s something you need, Proto makes it. Not all of their tools are made in the USA, but most are. And if there’s something that you need that they don’t offer, you could probably find it under one of their sister brands that are also under the Stanley Black & Decker umbrella.
Although not quite Proto, Facom – one of the brand’s sister companies – makes some really great angled socket wrenches that are compact yet highly versatile. They also have advantages when faced with nuts on longer fasteners or threaded rod.
SK Hand Tool
Although I have very little experience with SK in the past, I have read numerous times that their quality has gone back up to former levels, following their bankruptcy and acquisition by Ideal Industries.
There are quite a few compelling innovative tool designs in SK’s lineup, and so it’s exciting to see that they’re back in action and looking to reclaim lost market share.
Williams offers tools that are made in the USA, and ones that are made overseas, but it’s easy to differentiate the separate lines by looking through their catalog. A quick but not sure way to know if a Williams tool is made in the USA is to look at the part number. If it starts with letters instead of being all numbers, there’s a good chance it’s a USA-made tool.
There is a lot of debate whether Williams tools are simply relabeled Snap-on tools without the premium prices attached to tool truck distribution structure, but insiders have pointed out a few subtle changes, such as the level of attention given to finishing tools prior to chrome plating.
I recently purchased a few Williams tools, and am pretty pleased with the quality thus far. Their SuperCombo wrenches that we briefly reviewed are popular tools for users first buying into the Williams brand, as are their fabulous hard-handled screwdrivers.
My experience lies mainly in a small ratchet and 7pc set if WrightGrip wrenches that are beautifully finished with a satin polish.
Wright doesn’t produce anywhere near as many tools as the other brands, but there are a few gems in their offerings, such as their stellar wrenches.
Which to Buy?
There’s no one best brand. All of these are brands of tools that I own, and all are brands that I would recommend. Which one might be for you depends on what you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend.
We have some test samples coming in, and also a large number of purchases inbound. In other words, we have plenty of reviews planned for the next few months to help you see the best of what each brand offers, and to help you determine which – if any – might be nice additions to your toolbox.
It wouldn’t be unwise to stick with just one brand, but personally I like to built my toolbox with a motley of brands that includes – but is not limited to – the 5 mentioned here.
Which mid-to-high level USA brands would you recommend for tools such as ratchets, sockets, wrenches, and other such tools?