The Best Hand Tools for the Workshop

Power tools are front and center for many DIYers, but no workshop is truly complete without a basic hand tool collection.

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The Best Hand Tools Option

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Hand tools are the mainstay of any well-equipped workshop. Choosing the right ones will go a long way toward helping you complete your projects. The best hand tools for you will depend on the type and complexity of your projects. Each of the following hand tools deserves a place in your tool box or workshop.

  1. BEST OVERALL: DEKOPRO 168 Piece Mixed Hand Tool Kit with Case
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: CARTMAN 39-Piece Hand Tool Set with Case
  3. BEST SCREWDRIVER SET: CREMAX Magnetic Screwdriver Set 57 PCS
  4. BEST RATCHET SET: TEKTON 6-Point Socket & Ratchet Set, 55-Piece
  5. BEST PLIERS SET: IRWIN Vise-Grip GrooveLock Pliers Set, 8-Piece
  6. BEST CHISEL SET: GREBSTK Professional Wood Chisel Set
  7. BEST HACKSAW SET: METAKOO Hacksaw with Mini Hacksaw
The Best Hand Tools Option

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Most of today’s hand tools have been around in one form or another for decades—some for drastically longer—and for good reason: They simplify construction, maintenance, and repair tasks. Power tools are great, but some workshop and around-the-house tasks require the use of hand tools.

Screwdrivers

For inserting and removing a variety of fasteners, including flathead and Phillips screws, you’ll want at least six to 10 individual screwdrivers in a variety of tip sizes and lengths. For those times you don’t want too much torque that can come from a powered drill, a screwdriver is just the ticket. It allows you to tighten a fastener by hand to just the right snugness. The best screwdrivers have case-hardened tips that won’t chip or bend. When choosing, also consider screwdrivers with magnetic tips that hold the screw on the tip for easier insertion.

Ratchets and Wrenches

Wrenches are the hand tools of choice for tightening and loosening nuts and bolts and are essential for mechanical repairs and maintenance. Ratcheting wrenches feature a catch-and-release bar that turns the nut or bolt in a single direction without the user needing to remove the wrench and replace it with every turn. If you do a good amount of mechanical work, using ratcheting wrenches will save a lot of time.

Pliers and Wire Cutters

Designed to grab and pull, a good set of pliers will come in handy for multiple purposes, from pulling up a corner of carpeting to gripping the edges of a stuck nut to turn it. Pliers come in various sizes. For the best results, consider buying a pair that comes with nonslip handles that will make it easier to get a good grip when pulling something. Wire cutters resemble pliers, but they feature sharp edges designed to cut wire in two, although some pliers come with both gripping jaws and wire-cutter blades.

Hammers and Mallets

They may look alike, but hammers and mallets have distinctly different uses.

  • Hammers: Designed for driving nails, a good quality hammer is an investment that will last for years. Hammers with long, straight claws are useful for demolition, while hammers with curved claws are better at pulling nails. Solid steel hammers with a full tang (steel running from the head to the tip of the handle) last the longest, but hammers with wood handles offer reduced impact shock, which is easier on the joints.
  • Mallets: A mallet is used to strike something without damaging it. It has a larger head than a hammer, and instead of being made of steel, it is often made of fiberglass, wood, or other synthetic materials.

Chisels

These pointed steel blades are designed to be struck on the head with a mallet or hammer for use in carving wood and cutting through hard materials, such as bricks and stones. Chisels come in various sizes, with blades ranging in size from 1/8-inch wide, which are used for fine carving, to blades 2 inches wide or wider for breaking stones and other hefty materials.

Hacksaws and Files

Hacksaws and files help cut and smooth metal and PVC pipes, so most plumbers have a few of each in their toolboxes. The hacksaw features a C-shaped frame that holds thin saw blades that you can swap when you want to cut different materials. While most blades are intended for cutting metal or PVC, you can find a blade for cutting wood as well. Files are used to remove rough edges or metal burrs from the cut ends of metal and PVC pipes.

Vises and Clamps

In many workshops you’ll find a stationary vise mounted to a workbench. A vise features movable jaws that tighten to hold material still for cutting or sanding. Clamps, on the other hand, are portable, and you can use them to secure two types of material together. Clamps come in various sizes and clamping pressure, and they’re handy when you’re gluing items together. A clamp keeps the items from shifting while the glue sets.

The Best Hand Tools Option

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What to Consider When Choosing the Best Hand Tools

When it comes to hand tools, the old adage “you get what you pay for” applies. Good, dependable, and long-lasting hand tools cost more than their inexpensive cousins, but if you consider each one to be an investment in your workshop, you’ll be glad you purchased quality tools. But if your budget is tight, there are many affordable options that will get the job done. Regardless of your investment level, make sure you get the most from your tools with proper tool maintenance.

Purpose

If you don’t work on automobiles, you might not have much need for a metric socket set, and if you only work on cars, a demo hammer won’t top your hand-tool wish list. Before buying hand tools, think about the projects you’ll be doing most often to decide which tools you need. Some tools cross over, such as files that can be used for home plumbing or for removing sharp bits from engine bolts. But focus on collecting the tools that will help you complete your main projects first; you can always build an all-purpose collection later.

Size

Hand tools often come in sets so that you can choose from various sizes for different projects. A good collection should include screwdrivers and wrenches that vary in width and length. Long handles are necessary for reaching hard-to-get-to screws and nuts, while miniature versions may be necessary for tightening or loosening tiny nuts and screws. For the best results, keep all sizes of the same tool together so you won’t have to hunt through numerous places to find the one you need.

Material

Tools may come with both comfort and nonslip grips, but the working part of most hand tools is steel. The method in which steel is formed, however, gives it different properties.

  • Carbon steel: This type of steel includes high carbon, medium carbon, and low carbon, and the higher the carbon content, the harder the steel. Carbon steel is found in a wide range of hand tools, with varying degrees of carbon.
  • Chromium vanadium: Tougher than carbon steel, chromium vanadium is an alloy (steel mixed with additional elements) used in many automotive socket sets.
  • Chromium molybdenum: Another alloy steel, chromium molybdenum is found in the best screwdrivers and wrenches and is more expensive than chromium vanadium.
  • S2: An alloy that contains carbon, silicon, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, and manganese, S2 is very hard and impact resistant. It can be found in a few high-end hand tools.

Number of Pieces

Can you get too many tools? Probably not, and that’s why many hand tools come in sets of various sizes, including screwdrivers, sockets, and wrenches. You can purchase a general hand tool set that may come with a hammer, a few screwdrivers, a utility knife, a handful of wrenches, and a measuring tape for under $20. In contrast, larger sets that contain many sizes of hand tools can easily run over $100. Some prefer to collect their hand tools one piece at a time to ensure they get the best tool for each project.

Weight and Balance

Hand tools run the gamut in size and balance. Opt for tools that are substantial in weight but not so heavy you can’t use them efficiently. Take a hammer, for example; a carpenter might choose a 25-ounce framing hammer, which generates enough head speed to drive nails in just a couple of swings, but if you’re not used to wielding that size of a hammer, a 16-ounce hammer will create less hand fatigue, and you may be able to control it better. Consider your skill level when selecting tools by weight.

Hand Tool Storage

You may be just starting your hand tool collection, but before long, you may have a plethora of tools, and the best way to keep them organized is to store them in appropriate containers. For mechanics, that probably means a rolling metal toolbox that features a dozen or more shallow drawers for sorting out sockets and wrenches. For home DIYers, easily carried tool bags or boxes are useful. Let’s not forget the convenience of a handy tool belt. Additional workshop storage, such as pegboard walls and shelving, will help keep tools organized and within reach when they’re not in use.

Our Top Picks

To qualify as top picks, the various hand tools featured here had to be high quality, durable, and easy to use. You may want to add more than just one of the following to your tool collection.

Best Overall

The Best Hand Tools Option: DEKOPRO 168 Piece Mixed Hand Tool Kit with Case
Photo: amazon.com

Jump-start your tool collection with the DEKOPRO 168-piece hand tool kit. The set includes the most commonly used hand tools, including a hammer, handheld screwdrivers in a few common sizes (plus a screwdriver bit set to cover the rest), several wrenches including a ratchet wrench, two pairs of pliers, a measuring tape, and much more. Designed for automotive work and around-the-house repair projects, the DEKPRO tool kit has something for most situations. There’s even a level to make sure that painting is hanging straight on the wall. The hand tools come in a heavy-duty molded plastic case for easy organization, and the tools are made from high-quality steel and designed for durability.

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Hand Tools Option: CARTMAN 39-Piece Hand Tool Set with Case
Photo: amazon.com

Don’t let a tight budget keep you from getting the tools you need to make repairs around the house. The CARTMAN 39-piece set features the tools DIYers reach for most often—a hammer, pliers, four precision screwdrivers, a screwdriver bit set, a set of Allen wrenches, a measuring tape, and both a utility knife and scissors. You’ll have the hand tools you need for many home projects and repairs, such as replacing drawer pulls or assembling furniture, at an attractive price point. The tools come in a molded plastic case for storage.

Best Screwdriver Set

The Best Hand Tools Option: CREMAX Magnetic Screwdriver Set 57 PCS
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Never run to the hardware store again in the middle of a project just to buy the right screwdriver. CREMAX’s magnetic screwdriver set comes with 16 precision magnetic screwdrivers in both flathead and Phillips tips, each with an ergonomic, nonslip handle. Screws will stick to these magnetic tips, making screw insertion simpler. Also included is a screwdriver bit holder and 40 more screw bits that include star, square, and hex tips to fit nearly all types of screws and fasteners you’re likely to run across. The 2-in-1 Magnetizer/Demagnetizer Tool easily makes any of these screwdriver bits magnetic or not, depending on your preference for the needs of your project. The polished steel drivers are designed to resist rust and corrosion, and the whole set comes in a heavy molded plastic case for safe storage.

Best Ratchet Set

The Best Hand Tools Option: TEKTON 6-Point Socket & Ratchet Set, 55-Piece
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Make quick work of auto, lawn mower, or other engine repairs with the TEKTON 55-Piece Ratchet Set that offers a complete set of socket sizes, ranging from 5/32 inch to 9/16 inch, in 1/16-inch increments in both standard and deep-depth sockets. You’ll also receive a quick-release ratchet, a drive-spinner handle, extension bars, and a hex bit holder. Socket measurements are stamped into the metal of the socket instead of just being printed on the surface so they won’t wear off. Both the sockets and the holders come with polished chrome plating to help reduce rust, and they come in a handy storage case for keeping them organized.

Best Pliers Set

The Best Hand Tools Option: IRWIN Vise-Grip GrooveLock Pliers Set, 8-Piece
Photo: amazon.com

Get ready to pull, twist, and grab pipes, fittings, bolts, and more with the IRWIN Vise-Grip GrooveLock Pliers Set that features six of the most commonly used types of pliers, plus a wrench and wire cutter. The set contains long nose pliers, linesman’s pliers, slip joint pliers, and three pairs of GrooveLock pliers that adjust to various widths. The pliers’ handles come with nonslip comfort grips, and the steel is high-quality chrome vanadium. This set is designed to last for years, and it contains the pliers a DIYer or budding electrician needs.

Best Chisel Set

The Best Hand Tools Option: GREBSTK Professional Wood Chisel Set
Photo: amazon.com

Carve out just the right amount of wood with the GREBSTK Professional Wood Chisel Set. It comes with four chisels in standard widths: 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch. The chisels come with precision blades and removable tip guards to protect them while they’re not in use. The handles are made from smooth beechwood for a soft, nonslip grip. The chisels are designed for precision wood removal and are suitable for both DIY-carvers and professional carpenters. The four chisels come in a soft zip bag for storage.

Best Hacksaw Set

The Best Hand Tools Option: METAKOO Hacksaw with Mini Hacksaw
Photo: amazon.com

Cut through copper, steel, and PVC pipes in a jiffy with the METAKOO Hacksaw with Mini Hacksaw. This hacksaw comes with two hacksaw frames, a standard saw frame and a mini frame. The set includes three saw blades: one designed for metal, another for PVC, and a third for wood. The blades will fit either hacksaw frame (in the mini frame the blade will stick out in front), and both saws feature ergonomic grips to reduce hand fatigue.

FAQs About Hand Tools

If you’re just getting started collecting hand tools for your workshop, you likely have some questions about which ones are essential and how to care for them.

Q. What are essential hand tools?

Essential hand tools are those that let you make home or auto repairs and complete around-the-house projects. While a lot of specialty tools are out there, the most commonly used tools include screwdrivers, hammers, ratchet sets, utility knives, and tape measures.

Q. Which tool material is hardest? 

In hand tools, that’s probably S2, an alloy that contains carbon, silicon, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium, and manganese. Most hand tools, however, are made from other types of steel, including carbon steel and case-hardened steel.

Q. What are the factors affecting tool life?

Moisture is the natural enemy of metal hand tools, and leaving tools outside in the weather will reduce their useful life quicker than anything.

Q. How do you keep hand tools in good condition?

Good tool maintenance practices will keep your hand tools in top working condition. Keep them dry, clean, and stored in a dust-free environment. Additionally, use your tools only for their designated use—if you use a screwdriver in place of a chisel and hit it with a hammer, it likely won’t hold up to the abuse.