Tap and die sets may not be as well-known as common tools like screwdrivers or socket sets, but their specialized function can help with many different projects and repairs. Taps are long cutting tools that broadly resemble drill bits. Taps are used with a tap wrench to cut threads into a piece of metal or wood with a hole for fastening with threaded bolts. Dies are used to cut threads onto the exterior of a long bolt-shaped piece of metal or wood so that this newly cut bolt can be used with a nut as a fastener. In short, taps cut the female threads and dies cut the male threads on a fastener pair.
The best tap and die set for you depends on how much you’ll use it, which materials you’ll be working with, and how many size options are required for your projects. Specialized woodworking tap and die sets are designed to cut threads into a softer material than the more common metalworking tap and die sets. However, even some metalworking sets cannot be used on all metals if their construction material is weaker than the material they’re attempting to cut, so quality is key. The products below reflect some of the best tap and die sets available in their individual categories.
- BEST OVERALL: GEARWRENCH 75 Pc. Ratcheting Tap and Die Set
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Neiko SAE and Metric Tap and Die Set, 76-Piece
- BEST PRO-GRADE: Neiko SAE Pro-Grade Titanium Tap & Die Set
- BEST METRIC: GEARWRENCH 40 Pc. Ratcheting Tap & Die Set, Metric
- BEST FOR WOOD: Kings Country Tool Tap and Die Set
- MOST VERSATILE: IRWIN Tap And Die Set SAE/Metric, 117-Piece
What to Consider When Buying a Tap and Die Set
Before purchasing a new tap and die set and jumping into your next project, take a look at these factors to make sure you decide on the right set for your purposes.
Tap and die sets can range widely when it comes to the number of parts included. For instance, a specialized woodworking set may have only three pieces, while a more comprehensive metalworking set may have more than 100 pieces, especially if taps and dies in both metric and SAE measurements are included.
Versatility also refers to the variety of parts in a tap and die set. Taps come in three different types, including taper taps, plug taps, and finishing taps.
- Taper taps are used for initial threading because the end tapers to a smaller diameter that makes it easier to start a thread.
- Plug taps are the most common, as they are useful for both initial threading and finishing threads, though they are more difficult for initial threading than taper taps and cannot thread as fully as finishing taps.
- Finishing taps are the best option for finishing a thread pattern. They can cut completely to the bottom of the hole, allowing bolts to be threaded all the way down. Finishing taps are not for initial threading because they have a very small unthreaded end that makes it difficult to start cutting threads.
Dies also come in more than one type, including circular die, split circular die, and a die nut.
- Circular dies are the most commonly used type to cut threads into the exterior of bolts. These dies will be included in almost every set.
- Split circular dies can be split completely in half or have just a single split, which allows them to accept larger materials. These are for cutting shallow threads on the first pass, then deeper threads with each subsequent pass as the die is tightened around the bolt.
- Die nuts are a simple follow-up tool that sharpens existing threads but does not create new ones.
To properly use a tap and die set you will need to have at least one basic tap wrench and one basic die wrench, though a ratcheting tap and die set is ideal.
- A tap wrench looks like a long, thin bar with a rectangular opening and adjustable teeth that fasten around one end of the tap so it can be used to cut threads without slipping.
- A die wrench looks similar to a tap wrench, except that the opening in the middle is shaped to accept dies, which are then fastened to the wrench with one or more set screws.
- A ratcheting tap and die wrench takes some of the manual work out of the process. This style of wrench lets you cut clockwise, but will not loosen when you rotate the wrench counterclockwise unless it has been released, similar to a ratcheting socket wrench. The reason for this is so that you do not have to use a hand-over-hand clockwise cutting method that can quickly get tiring.
If you’re investing in a good-quality tap and die set, your tools should be protected. A strong, durable steel or plastic storage case is great to prevent rusting, corrosion, and impact damage when you’re storing or transporting the tap and die set.
Another important consideration for any storage case is how well it holds the pieces in place when closed. There are few things more frustrating than safely packing up your tap and die set in its case, only to find that all the pieces fall out of place when you pick up the case to move it.
When purchasing a tap and die set, material is an important consideration because only sets made with harder materials will be able to cut through the harder metals. Sets made with soft metals like aluminum are intended to be used with wood and cannot be used to cut threads into metal.
Tap and die sets made with moderately hard metals like alloy steel are great for most metals, but would struggle to effectively cut into harder materials like stainless steel. To be able to cut harder metals, you need a set made with carbon steel, high speed steel (HSS), titanium, or cobalt.
Tap and die sets are broken up into two common measurement systems: Metric and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
Metric tap and die measurements are determined by measuring the distance between the thread crests in millimeters. The crest of a thread is the protruding part, regardless of whether it is internal or external. In contrast, the root is the groove that sits between the two flanks that connect the crest to the root.
SAE tap and die measurements are much easier to understand and are simply measured in threads per inch (TPI). To find this number, just hold a measuring tape up to the thread pattern and count how many complete threads are in an inch. Alternately, you could just use a pitch gauge if you have one or if one is included with your tap and die set. A pitch gauge is a specialized tool for determining SAE or metric tap and die measurements.
Tips for Buying and Using a Tap and Die Set
If you are just starting out, then a basic 20- or 40-piece tap and die set should be all you need. It will come with the most common sizes and types of taps and dies, which will allow you to complete most projects. However, if you have a specialized project or you know that you will need a certain type of tap or a specific die, then make sure that you get a set that includes the pieces that you need.
Another important factor to remember is that for most metals, the manufacturing process can make them very hard, but it also makes them brittle when they’re stressed on the wrong points. So when using the tap and die set, make sure to take the time to clear the metal and wood shavings after every full rotation to prevent the tools from breaking.
- Make sure that you buy a set that includes the types of taps and dies that you need.
- Invest in a tap and die set that can easily handle the materials you frequently use.
- Taps and dies are brittle, so always take your time to clear the excess metal or wood from the flute during thread cutting to prevent breaking the material or your tools.
Our Top Picks
These top-rated products are some of the best tap and die sets on the market. Based on your shopping considerations, choose the set that is compatible with your project.
This GEARWRENCH tap and die set eliminates the need for hand-over-hand turning, which can quickly fatigue your hand muscles. Instead, a reversing lever allows you to drive the tap or die clockwise to cut the threads, then reverse the wrench handles counterclockwise to a better grip position before driving the tap or die in again.
The set is made of carbon steel and comes in a durable black storage case. It comes with 20 dies and 48 taps, including circular dies, taper taps, and plug taps, in both metric and SAE standard sizes. The 75-piece set also has a metric thread gauge and SAE thread gauge, as well as die adapters that work on round- or hex-shaped dies. A twist lock guide system keeps the parts fastened to the handle during use, allowing you to produce neat and straight threads.
Each of the 76 pieces in the Neiko SAE and Metric Tap and Die Set is engraved with the correct size according to either the metric or SAE measurement system. The set comes with 34 plug taps and 34 circular dies and includes 20 of the most commonly used sizes so that you’re ready to tackle just about any tap and die project.
The set comes in a hard plastic carrying case that lists both the metric and SAE sizes on the interior so you can quickly locate the piece you need or return it to its position. The tools are made of alloy steel, which is softer than HSS or carbon steel, but also less brittle, so it’s a well-suited material for those new to using taps and dies. The alloy steel has a titanium-brazed coating intended to keep them sharp for up to 20 times longer than regular steel, so you don’t have to worry about replacing them or having to sharpen them any time soon.
The Neiko titanium tap and die set is an excellent choice for a professional tradesperson looking to pick up a durable, high-quality set that can be used with a range of materials. The 20 split circular dies are separated into 10 coarse (UNC) and 10 fine (UNF) dies with the sizes engraved on the side. The tapering taps are similarly separated in 10 UNC and 10 UNF sizes so that you can choose the appropriate thread designation for your project.
The carbon steel construction has titanium cutting edges to keep the taps and dies sharp for up to 20 times longer than alloy steel, and the heavy-duty plastic case can protect the tools from rust and corrosion. You can get this set in either metric or SAE, but it does not come with both measurements in one case. However, you do get two tap wrenches, a die wrench, a screwdriver, and a thread pitch gauge with either SAE or metric measurements, depending on the set you choose.
If you prefer metric measurements over SAE measurements, then you can get a set like the GEARWRENCH Ratcheting Tap & Die Set. The 40-piece set includes 17 circular dies and 17 tapering and plug taps. The ratcheting wrench saves time and hand fatigue by eliminating the need for hand-over-hand turning with the included reversing lever.
This tap and die set includes a 2-in-1 tap and die ratcheting T-wrench, a small tap adapter, a medium tap adapter, and a die adapter that works on both round- and hex-shaped dies. The tools are made of high-quality carbon steel, and a twist-lock guide system in the wrench secures the die adapter during use to ensure that you cut straight threads every time.
If you need a tap and die set for woodworking, the Kings County Tools Tap and Die Set is specifically designed for cutting threads into hardwood, though you should use linseed oil or tung oil on the tap to make the cut easier. The set comes in multiple sizes and has directions for drill bit sizing for pre-drilling holes before tapping, so you’re not trying to blindly tap into a piece of wood.
Included in the Kings County Tools set is a two-handled thread box that contains the die, a plug tap, and a finishing tap. The thread box is made of solid hardwood and has internal aluminum wear fitting and a steel die that cuts through wood with ease. The taps are also made with hardened steel and should be kept in a safe storage location to prevent rusting or corrosion. This tap and die set does not come with a carrying case, but with only three pieces, you may be fine storing it in your toolbox or tool chest.
The IRWIN 117-Piece Tap and Die Set comes with a wide range of tools that give you the versatility you need to take on almost any maintenance task, auto repair job, or any other project that you may want to tackle. The set has the most common tap, hex die, and drill bits necessary for tap and die work, including 10 SAE taps, 10 SAE dies, 16 metric taps, 16 metric dies, 6 machine screw taps, 6 machine screw dies, 2 pipe taps, and 2 pipe dies.
The tap and die tools are made of high-quality carbon steel, but the included 36-piece drill bit set is made of high-speed steel (HSS). The drill bits are sized according to the corresponding tap sizes so that they can be used to create guide holes for the taps. The set also comes with two die wrenches, three tap wrenches, an SAE thread gauge, a metric thread gauge, and a black screwdriver for tightening the set screw in the die wrenches.
FAQs About Your New Tap and Die Set
Take a look at the answers to these common questions about tap and die sets.
Q. How do you use a tap and die set?
To use taps, place the tap in a tap wrench and line it up with the hole that needs threads. Turn clockwise one turn, then counterclockwise half a turn to release the metal chips produced by the first turn so that your tap doesn’t break. Repeat until the threads are fully cut.
To use dies, secure the unthreaded bolt in a vice, then place the die on the end of the bolt that you want threaded. Begin cutting the threads with the same alternating clockwise and counterclockwise pattern as was used with the taps. Continue until you have cut threads as far down the bolt as you want.
Q. Can you use a tap and die set on wood?
Tap and die sets that are intended for cutting metal should not be used on wood. However, sets that are designed to be used on wood, like the Kings County Tools Tap and Die Set, make quick work of cutting threads in wooden holes or making wooden bolts.
Q. What is the best material for a tap and die set?
The material you use should be based on the material you’ll be cutting. High-speed steel (HSS) is the most commonly used material because it can be used to cut most metals used in tap and die applications, however, cobalt or titanium may also be used for very hard materials like stainless steel.