Best Tool Brands of 2021
Whether you’re a DIY user or professional, three factors are key when buying tools: performance, reliability, and value. In this article, we take a close look at the best tool brands for satisfying those demands.
What makes a tool brand rank among the best tool brands? It’s not an easy question to answer. DIY users generally want a capable, reliable tool at a reasonable price. Professionals who depend on tools for their livelihood will generally spend a little more for a tool that will withstand the often harsh environment of the job site while maximizing performance.
Different people might have different ideas of what they consider the best tool brands. Nevertheless, certain brands are consistently at the top of independent tool reviews. Time and again, they fulfill the criteria buyers expect from them.
We’ve taken a closer look at a wide range of well-known tool brands by delving into their backgrounds. For each brand, we’ve also selected a tool that we feel is typical of the brand’s high standards.
Known for: A high-quality power tool brand that’s often innovative and has a particularly strong cordless range.
Editors’ Choice: The Makita Sub-Compact Cordless Recipro Saw (available at Home Depot) offers versatile cutting in confined spaces. It is light and easy to use, with a high-efficiency brushless motor and rapid recharging.
The impact of Japanese brands on tool markets has been relatively recent, so it’s easy to think of them as young businesses. However, Makita has been around since 1915. The company is now a manufacturing giant, with factories in 10 countries covering the Far East, the Middle East, Europe, South and Central America, and the U.S.
Makita started as a motor repair company, introducing its first power tool (a hand-held planer) in 1958 and its first cordless tool (a drill) as far back as 1978. The company has since grown to become one of the undoubted leaders in the cordless market with an extensive collection of workshop, job site, and garden tools. These tools are not the best options for DIY users on a budget, but pricing is competitive with other professional-standard tools.
Known for: Bosch makes much of its German engineering background, producing an enormously diverse range of well-designed tools known for their reliability.
Editors’ Choice: While Bosch produces just about every power tool imaginable, its GLM 20 Laser Distance Tape Measuring Tool (available at The Home Depot) underlines the brand’s reputation for precision by providing virtually instant readings over a range of 65 feet with 1/8-inch accuracy.
Robert Bosch founded his engineering company in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1886. The company now operates in markets as diverse as automotive, energy, home appliances, and, of course, power tools. Unusually, 92 percent of Bosch is owned by a charitable institution, which uses profits for a range of cultural, social, and scientific projects.
Bosch is credited with introducing the first hammer drill in 1932, and that tradition of invention continues with the company boasting the development of at least 100 new products every year. High manufacturing standards make them among the most reliable tools available. While undoubtedly a premium brand, many Bosch tools are within the price range of keen DIY enthusiasts.
Known for: DeWalt’s extensive range of high-performance power tools have long been the choice of contractors and tradespeople.
Editors’ Choice: The DeWalt 20V Max SDS Rotary Hammer Drill (available on Amazon) is both a powerful hammer drill and a lightweight demolition tool that exemplifies the brand’s ability to blend class-leading power with user-friendly features.
Back in 1924, Pennsylvania craftsman Raymond E. DeWalt took a standard chop saw and made the first radial arm saw, a tool that gained immense popularity in pro woodworking shops. DeWalt Inc. was formed in 1947. The company now has factories in a number of countries and seven manufacturing facilities in the U.S. In 2010, DeWalt became part of the Stanley Black & Decker Group.
A combination of power and durability has long made DeWalt tools among contractors’ favorites. These are definitely tools that focus on the professional user, and the prices reflect that fact. However, DeWalt’s reputation for reliability is such that these tools are also popular with DIY users who see the value as a long-term investment.
Known for: Craftsman hand and power tools are a DIY favorite, offering great value for the price.
Editors’ Choice: The Craftsman 115-Piece Mechanic Tool Set (available at Sears) is a fine example of the capable and affordable tools offered by the brand, focused on meeting the value and performance expectations of the home user.
Sears created the Craftsman tool brand in 1927, which was initially only available through Sears and later Kmart. The company soon expanded its production of hand tools and now also offers power tools, gardening equipment, work clothing, and footwear.
Long considered one of the great home-grown American tool brands, Craftsman manufacturing now occurs mostly in Taiwan, though automotive tool production remains in the U.S. In 2017, Stanley Black & Decker acquired the brand, though Sears retained certain rights and still sells Craftsman tools. Though critics suggest quality control is not always what it used to be, Craftsman tools still represent good value for the DIY user.
Known for: Stanley Works is one of the world’s best-known hand tool brands, and Black & Decker is a leader in affordable power tools. While the tool brand is now called Black & Decker, the company name represents the two companies as Stanley Black & Decker.
Editors’ Choice: The Stanley QuickChange Retractable Utility Knife (available on Amazon) is a tool often found in professional and DIY tool kits around the world—a box cutter so popular that it is known simply as a Stanley knife to many consumers.
Frederick Trent Stanley started making door hardware back in 1843. Then, cousin Henry Stanley founded the Stanley Rule and Level company in 1857. Both companies were based in New Britain, Connecticut, merging into Stanley Works in 1920.
The original Black & Decker company was a machine shop founded in Baltimore, coincidentally also in 1920. It grew to become one of the world’s leading makers of affordable power tools for home and garden use.
In 2010, Stanley Works and Black & Decker merged and have gone on to acquire many of the best tool brands around the world, including Bostitch, Craftsman, DeWalt, Irwin Tools, and Porter Cable. However, each still retains a separate identity with its own brand values. Stanley’s core strength is still hand tools; Black & Decker’s strength is value for money for the DIY market.
6. RIDGID Tools
Known for: Although RIDGID Tools manufactures an increasingly diverse range of products, it is perhaps best known for tough tools for plumbing and construction trades.
Editors’ Choice: If a single tool represents the RIDGID brand, it has to be the 14” Heavy-Duty Straight Pipe Wrench (available at The Home Depot), a tool the company first introduced in 1923 that has become a symbol of the brand’s strength and durability.
RIDGID Tools began in North Ridgeville, Ohio, in 1923 and moved to its current base in Elyria, Ohio, in 1943. Since 1966, the company has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Emerson Electric.
The brand’s core products have always been durable hand tools for the construction, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing trades. RIDGID Tools also produces associated inspection devices. Most of these tools are manufactured in its U.S. facility. Additionally, the company offers a range of professionally focused power tools, though these are largely manufactured in Hong Kong.
RIDGID Tools is perhaps one of the lesser-known tool brands outside the professional market. While pricing is competitive at that level, it puts the company’s products beyond the budget of many DIY users.
Known for: Kobalt is the house brand of Lowe’s and offers competitively priced tools for the midrange so-called “prosumer” market.
Editors’ Choice: The Kobalt 24-Volt Cordless Impact Wrench (available exclusively at Lowe’s) is typical of this brand that provides competitive performance and pricing across an enormous range of power tools.
Lowe’s introduced Kobalt tools in 1998 to compete with rival “house” brands from Sears and The Home Depot. Kobalt tools are made for Lowe’s by a number of different suppliers. While some manufacturing occurs in Taiwan, some production is based in the home market. The company wholly manufactures its hand tools in the U.S. and assembles some of its power tool product line in the U.S. from components sourced worldwide.
While Kobalt’s reputation perhaps isn’t at the same level as the best tool brands like Bosch, DeWalt, and Makita, it is still considered a high-quality tool producer that sits above the run-of-the-mill budget market. The term “prosumer” specifies the middle ground between DIYer and professional, and it suits Kobalt tools well.
Known for: Though its range of tools is now extensive, many consumers will recognize Skil for the Skilsaw, the powered circular saw that became so popular it has been called “the saw that built America.”
Editors’ Choice: The Skil 6-1/2” Cordless Circular Saw (available on Amazon) is the modern version of the tool that started it all and is still one of the best of its kind, offering power and versatility for a wide range of cutting tasks.
Skil was founded in 1926 in Naperville, Illinois, where its U.S. headquarters is still based today. The company’s first product, the worm-drive circular saw, was incredibly popular on construction sites despite being very expensive for the time. This saw set the foundation for Skil becoming known as “the” saw company for decades, though the range now includes many different tools. Company ownership has been somewhat volatile, passing from the Skil Corporation to Emerson Electric in 1979, to Bosch in 1996, and to Chervon of China in 2016, where the company now manufactures most products.
Though it can be slightly confusing for consumers, Skil uses two brand names to differentiate target markets. Skil tools are intended for the DIY user, while those branded Skilsaw are for more professional use in construction and other trades. Specifications and prices reflect this difference.
9. Husky Tools
Known for: Husky Tools is the house brand of The Home Depot, focusing on hand tools, pneumatic tools, and a wide variety of tool storage solutions.
Editors’ Choice: The Husky 10 Gallon Portable Electric Air Compressor with Extra Value Kit (available exclusively at The Home Depot) combines competitive pricing and versatility with a compressor, hose, and connectors, plus an air impact wrench and an air ratchet.
“Husky” is sometimes used as a shortened version of Husqvarna, the well-known garden equipment manufacturer. However, Husky Tools is a completely unrelated company, originally Husky Wrench of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, founded in 1924. The brand went through various ownerships until Stanley Tool acquired it in 1986. The company then struck an exclusive deal to supply The Home Depot, which now owns the rights to the brand name.
The Home Depot has decided not to compete in the crowded power tools market, focusing instead on hand tools, compressor-driven pneumatic tools, and a wide range of cabinets and tool chests. Like Kobalt, Husky Tools satisfies the needs of the prosumer market with quality equipment that offers savings over the leading tool brands.
Known for: IRWIN is known for a vast range of high-quality hand tools, plus accurate measuring and marking devices.
Editors’ Choice: Although it wasn’t the inventor, Irwin now manufactures the Vise-Grip Original Locking Pliers (available on Amazon), a tool many engineers and mechanics couldn’t live without, and one that has changed little since its introduction in 1945.
Irwin Industrial Tools began in Martinsville, Ohio, in 1885 when Charles Irwin started manufacturing auger bits. The company still manufactures a wide range of drill bits, in addition to saws, chisels, hammers, pliers, wrenches, snips, screwdrivers, knives, levels, and squares. Today, IRWIN is a part of Stanley Black & Decker.
Initially, IRWIN’s primary markets were professional carpenters and associated trades, and the American-made tools always had a reputation for durability and precision. Production now occurs mostly in China, and while there are critics, it seems that, in general, IRWIN has preserved its reputation. These are certainly not cheap tools, but they remain a contractor standard and are popular among DIY users prepared to pay for above-average quality.
Known for: RYOBI is considered an excellent innovator and particularly strong at developing cordless power tools.
Editors’ Choice: The RYOBI One+ Cordless Orbital Jigsaw (available on Amazon) is a lightweight and versatile tool that’s part of the brand’s money-saving range of over 200 cordless models, all sharing high-performance, fast-charging lithium-ion batteries.
RYOBI is a diverse company. Founded near Hiroshima, Japan, in 1943, it initially made die-cast products. In 1961, it added printing presses and then began manufacturing power tools in 1968. The company is still involved in each market and has production facilities in six countries, including the U.S. Now Techtronic Industries owns RYOBI, with the headquarters in Hong Kong.
The company’s recent U.S. and European operations seem to have focused on the cordless market in the areas of power tools and lawn and garden equipment. RYOBI manufactures well-designed products with competitive performance aimed at the upper end of the home user market. Part of the company’s popularity is undoubtedly due to the fact that while it has made significant improvements in battery technology, the battery packs themselves offer backward compatibility and will still fit tools made as far back as 1996.
Known for: Milwaukee makes a range of power tools and electrical equipment and has a reputation for durability in tough job site environments.
Editors’ Choice: The M18 Fuel Cordless Hammer Drill and Impact Driver Kit (available at The Home Depot) is one of several value-added sets offering quality tools with high-performance batteries at very competitive prices.
Milwaukee was originally called the A.H. Petersen Tool Company, founded in 1918 by A.H. Petersen and Albert F. Seibert. When the factory was destroyed by fire, Seibert bought the assets and formed the Milwaukee Electric Tool Company in 1924. The company always maintained high standards, and Milwaukee soon became a registered supplier to the U.S. Navy. Milwaukee was the first company to manufacture a hammer drill that worked as an ordinary drill and introduced the reciprocating saw, or Sawzall. From the mid-1970s to 2005, the company went through various ownerships and is now part of Techtronic Industries.
Milwaukee has always been a leading electric power tool brand, only recently moving into hand tools, workwear, and storage. In terms of product quality and reliability, the brand is often compared with DeWalt. These are premium-priced tools for professional users and are also popular with DIYers looking for something more than budget brands.