Have you ever shopped for new hand tools online? If so, then you know that there are far, far more brands on the market then there were even 10 years ago. Often, this challenge is made even more intimidating by a lack of knowledge about each brand’s performance in the field.
After all, one brand’s screwdrivers may far outperform their wrenches when it comes to durability and usability. As such, it can be extra important to know which brands excel when it comes to certain tool classes and types.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to make that differentiation between some of the best hand tool brands. Herein, you’ll learn about the history and reputation of these brands, as well as which of their products are considered “the best” among working professionals.
9 Best Hand Tool Brands Overall
Let’s first start by looking at what I believe to be the best hand tool brands overall. Later on, I will also look at a couple of different hand tools specifically.
Irwin Industrial Tools is one of several hand tool brands on the market today that fallen out of the public eye. However, back in the 20th century, this brand was well-known for the quality of its flagship tool lines. This includes the iconic “Vise-Grip,” which was invented by one of the company’s early blacksmiths as the first-ever locking pliers.
Starting with its inception, Irwin made all of their tools in the US.
However, since 2008, the brand moved its production overseas to China in order to remain competitive in the current market. Their products’ quality has not seen a noticeable drop since then, though their popularity has continued to wane.
Since 2016, Stanley Black & Decker has owned the Irwin brand. This has led to a slight resurgence in the visibility of their brand. In particular, their bar clamps are still considered the most reliable and sturdy available to consumers today. Beyond regular hand tools, Irwin’s saw blades and drill bits are also go-to options for many craftsmen and contractors.
Stanley is one of America’s oldest hand tools brands, with a history that stretches all the way back to 1843. Though it has officially been a part of the merged Stanley Black & Decker since 2010, this brand retails much of its previous acclaim in the marketplace.
To be specific, Stanley is well known for making almost every type of hand tool imaginable. Levels, wrecking bars, hammers, screwdrivers, cutting tools – you name it and there’s a good chance that Stanley makes it.
In fact, when it comes to certain mainstay tools in today’s toolboxes, Stanley was the first to introduce them into the market. This was certainly true for the locking tape measure, which remains one of the brand’s most popular products.
Stanley, as a brand, hasn’t rested on their laurels, either.
They continue to lead the hand tool market’s trend towards introducing more digital equipment. This can be seen in their digital leveling systems, which are exceptionally accurate and reliable. They’ve also innovated in minute ways as well, such as packing extra durability into their carbide blades.
Craftsman may be one of the best-known hand tool brands in the US, not least because they spent decades dominating the market through their primary sales channel. To be specific, Craftsman started as an in-house brand for Sears, making them exceptionally accessible and competitive during the mega-retailer’s heyday.
That being said, Craftsman’s popularity waned with the fortunes of Sears. In fact, the brand itself was sold off to Stanley Black & Decker in 2017. The same can be said of their product’s quality, which has fluctuated often due to the manner in which Sears contracted out the manufacturing of the tools.
At times, they were functionally identical to hand tools made for New Britain, Stanley, and Western Forge, as a result.
Despite all of these variations, the Craftsman brand remains a mainstay in the modern hand tool market. In particular, Craftsman’s numerous toolsets are popular for their affordability, size, and versatility. These sets include everything from wrenches and screwdrivers to drill bits and ratchets.
In recent years, DeWalt has become better known for its versatile lines of power tools. Even so, they continue to remain a visible part of the hand tool market thanks to the widespread availability and affordability of their tools.
Within its broad catalog of available hand tools, DeWalt’s ratchets, wrenches, hex keys, and mechanic’s toolsets are among their best-reviewed products.
The DeWalt brand dates back almost 100 years to Raymond E. DeWalt who invented the first-ever radial arm saw. The brand grew its name on the fame of these saws over the decades until the 1990s, when they took a turn towards hand and power tools.
This included the release of a contractor’s toolset in 2011 that included pliers, saws, hammers, and more.
Today, the DeWalt brand is a subsidiary of Stanley Black & Decker. Many of their hand tools are labeled as being “made in the USA,” though these tools utilize parts that are made overseas. DeWalt also enjoys exceptional brand recognition, thanks in large part to its availability in both retail and online stores.
Klein Tools is another longstanding American tool brand with roots back in 1857 when founder and namesake Mathias Klein started creating tools for linemen.
Throughout the rise of telecommunications in the US, the Klein brand grew due to its reputation for creating reliable lineman tools. Though the brand now makes other hand tools including hex wrenches, screwdrivers, and more, these origins still shine through in the company’s logo.
Today, Klein Tools is one of the only brands that can proudly (and accurately) refer to its tools as being “made in the USA.” That’s because many of their tools are made at company-owned plants in Texas and Kansas. The company has also made long-term investments in US-based manufacturing, including expanding some of its plants in the last 10 years.
Given their origins in making lineman tools, it’s no surprise that Klein today makes some of the best insulated tools on the market. Their telecom specialty tools are also second to none. Many craftsmen today rely exclusively on this brand’s strippers, cutters, and clippers as well, thanks to their durability.
Snap-On Tools has a storied history among automotive and industrial professionals due to its devotion to making high-end, pro-grade tools.
Its tools are also well-known for their unique form of accessibility, which is to say, they do not sell their products in retail stores. Instead, their dealers travel from shop to shop by van and sell their wares directly to their clients.
This method of sales has earned the brand a lot of loyalty.
Many mechanics and industrial professionals also appreciate the brand’s attention to detail and respect for both its sales team and manufacturing plant employees. Of course, Snap-On’s core products are still the primary reason they are well-respected in the hand tool market.
Among others, its wrenches, screwdrivers, and pliers are considered top performers in their class.
When it comes to tools, Milwaukee is best known for its electric power tools.
That being said, the brand still offers a broad assortment of hand tools that are just as reliable as their primary power tool lines. These include an assortment of folding knives optimized for craftsmen and construction contractors. The brand also sells an assortment of socket wrench sets and tape measures that can meet most user’s needs.
As a company and as a brand, Milwaukee dates back to 1918.
In that year, A.H. Petersen accepted a commission from Henry Ford to improve upon existing electric drills used in his factories. Petersen was successful and launched his brand on the back of this success.
Over time, the brand became well-known among craftsmen for their tendency to innovate new electric power tools year after year.
When it comes to hand tool brands, Harbor Freight is technically a new kid on the block. Started in 1977 as a family-owned business, the brand has grown in popularity for its commitment to providing affordability without sacrificing quality.
It is also among the most widely available hand tool brands today due to their operation of branded stores and a mail-order system.
As far as tools are concerned, Harbor Freight sells most of the general hand tool types that general contractors can count on. This includes lines of durable socket wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, and more.
However, the brand’s specialty tools, including magnetic hand tools, are particularly popular due to their price compared to premium brands.
Like many major hand tool brands today, Mac Tools saw its fortunes improve with the demand for tools around World War II.
Thereafter, Mac Tools remained a market mainstay by selling direct to consumers via its fleet of sales vans. The brand became recognized for its impressive variety of available tools, which at one point numbered as high as 42,000 items.
Today, Mac Tools offers some 8,000 different tools at competitive prices to other direct-to-consumer brands. In particular, the brand today specializes in making automotive tools and auto-sports tools. Mac Tools’ toolsets are also recognized for their consistency and durability.
2 Best Screwdriver Brands
With the best brands overall out of the way, let’s look at the two brands that stand out when it comes to making exceptional screwdrivers.
As a tool brand, Cremax is not widely known at all. However, they earn a spot as the top screwdriver brand because they offer a very affordable set of magnetic screwdrivers.
Professionals and DIYers alike agree that magnetic is the way to go if you want to take the hassle out of driving screws. As such, their 10-piece magnetic screwdriver sets make this kind of productive luxury accessible to the masses.
However, Cremax screwdrivers appear to only be available online through popular e-retailers. This has the benefit of keeping their products accessible while making it more challenging to find them when stock runs low.
Also, this brand’s warranties and guarantees are not known for being reliable. So, a prospective buyer may need to count on recommendations from other craftsmen to see a purchase of these screwdrivers through.
Channellock’s hand tools carry a noteworthy history that began with a line of hand-forged farrier’s tools made by founder George B. DeArmet. Over time, DeArmet’s commitment to making a superior product empowered his company to innovate and create the multi-position, tongue and groove pliers known as the “Channellock” pliers.
Needless to say, these pliers are still very popular today, enough so that almost every major tool brand has created their own variant.
Channellock also makes several other lines of useful hand tools, including an assortment of specialty and Torx screwdrivers. All of these tools are made in the US at the company’s factory in Meadville, PA.
2 Best Wrench Brands
Next, let’s look at the brands that excel in making manual wrenches.
Gearwrench is a fairly recent addition to the wrench market. But despite only entering the market in 1996, the brand has gained recognition as a premier hand tool brand for mechanics.
Their ratcheting wrench, in particular, is known for using a patented five-degree system that provides for user-friendly operation. They offer 20 other styles of socket wrenches besides this as well as over 600 other automotive specialty tools.
If you’ve ever used a “Crescent wrench,” then you are familiar with this brand’s most iconic product.
Even today, Crescent’s adjustable wrenches are considered some of the very best for their durability and versatility. Besides this, Crescent offers some 2,600 other tools to professional tradesmen, including a variety of other specialty wrenches that carry the brand’s durable construction.
Unlike many other historically famous tool brands, Crescent’s share of the market has remained stable over the years. This may be because most agree that their quality has not wavered almost at all. They are also widely available at most big box hardware stores, making them fully accessible to DIYers and professionals alike.
2 Best Hammer Brands
Finally, let’s take a look at the best hammer brands.
You might think that all hammers of the same type are essentially the same. But if that’s the case, then you need to try out one of Stiletto Tools’ hammers.
They utilize an ultra-durable titanium head that is easy to control without losing any heft. These hammers also feature a replaceable hammer plate which allows them to enjoy an extremely long service life.
Stiletto Tools is also known for its production of specialty hammers, such as their drywall hatchet.
All of these hammers are part of this brand’s heritage which dates back to 1901. The brand became widely known for its introduction of titanium into its striking tool line in order to decrease each tool’s rate of recoil. This, they claim, helps reduce wear on the hands and wrists of their tools’ users.
Vaughn & Bushnell
Though their products are sold under the Vaughn name, the Vaughn & Bushnell brand dates back to 1869. At that time, Alexander Vaughn entered into the custom tool business in Peoria, IL, with a new type of post auger.
Later on, in 1886, the brand expanded its offers to a standardized set of workman tools, which included hammers. These hammers were innovative in their basic design, which included the now-iconic triple-wedge design.
Today, Vaughn & Bushnell continue to make some of the industry’s most trusted striking tools exclusively in the US. In fact, the majority of the company’s products are still made in small-town America, out in rural Bushnell, IL.
Which Hand Tool Brand Is the Best?
If you’re looking for a single hand tool brand that can provide you with the best durability, performance, and price, I’ve got news for you…one brand cannot do it all.
While some brands such as Craftsman, DeWalt, and Stanley all have the reputation to back up their quality, their best attribute is their broad selection. Meanwhile, affordable brands like Harbor Fright also offer large sets of tools through a variety of accessible outlets.
When it comes down to it, you should select each type of tool in your toolbox based upon a brand’s performance with that tool.
That’s why screwdriver shoppers should keep an eye on Channellock models rather than settling for standard screwdrivers from a better-known brand. The same goes for hammers, which should always be purchased from a striking tools specialist like Vaughn & Bushnell.
Is It Better to Stick to One Hand Tool Brand?
Simply put, sticking with a single hand tool brand in today’s market simply is not worth the effort.
Back in the day, this made a lot of sense given the accessibility of brands like Snap-On or the warranties carried by brands like Craftsman. But many of those exclusive traits have melted away with time. Now, all you should be focused on is how each individual tool performs in the field.
That’s not to say that brand loyalty should go entirely out the window.
Indeed, buying tools from the same brand can set you up for a quick understanding of their performance. But still, you should only stick with a brand if you are fully satisfied with its performance compared to its competition. This is especially true of specialty tools that your specific trade calls for.
It’s hard to believe that there are this many hand tool brands on the market today. But there are, so you have to be able to tell the difference between them when shopping for new hand tools.
With the information in this guide, you should now be able to shop like a savvy craftsman and find a hand tool brand that matches your needs and your budget.
If you are also in the process of looking for power tools, make sure you read my guide about the best power tool brands.