I need to clarify one thing first. This list does not include all the top-tier tool truck brands that include Snap-On, Bluepoint, Mac, and Matco. That is because, while all of these manufacturers do make good tools they are priced at an absurdly high-level.
There are plenty of other off-brands that make very high-quality hand tools that can compete with the tool truck brands. From my research, and asking thousands of professional technicians I came up with this list of the best hand tool brands that aren’t on the tool truck often. The top brands for affordable automotive hand tools in 2021 include (in no particular order):
- Stanley Proto
- SK Tools
- Williams Tools (Owned By Snap-On)
- Gearwrench (Apex Tools)
- Cobalt Ratchets (Lowe’s Brand)
- Craftsmen Pro Ratchets Only
Every one of these brands makes certain items incredibly well and may even be better than the tool-truck equivalent at a fraction of the price. That being said, it is very important to be buying specific models and brands to get the tool truck equivalent. For example, you may buy a tekton ratchet that is known to be a copy of a tool-truck brand, while then buying Knipex pliers that are known to be awesome.
However, buying a Knipex pick set may be a much lower quality item and not worth buying. You must pick and choose from different manufacturers to get the best deals.
Best Brands for Hand Tools in 2020-2021 (Excluding Tool-Truck Brands):
These are in no particular order or preference. A lot of these companies make certain tools really well, and they make other tools not so great. The best is to do your research on each specific tool you want to buy, i.e., a ratcheting wrench set, then research the background of the brand selling it.
#1 Best Hand Tools Brand: Proto Tools
Proto tools, often referred to as Stanley Proto, offer a great mix of durability, warranty, and most of their tools are still made in the USA. Some of their tools have been claimed by mechanics to be exact, or very similar, copies to other tool truck brands. A lot of their ratchets can be pretty pricey, but like I said many people claim they are almost exact copies of way more expensive tool truck brands.
So, how much are you willing to pay to have the big tool truck brand stamped on your ratchet?
FAQ about Proto Tools:
Question: Are Proto Tools made in the USA?
Answer: Yes, Proto Tools have been made in the USA for over 100 years and continue to be in 2020. They are now owned by Stanley Black and Decker. I did read some bad Amazon reviews that stated the tools had a country of origin sticker on them that was Taiwan. So, they may have moved some of their production overseas for some Proto branded tools.
That is why it is always important to look at the specific tool model number you are looking at buying, and reading where the country of origin is with all these companies.
They currently have factories in:
- Dallas, Texas
- Georgetown, Ohio
- Cheraw, South Carolina
They offer a limited lifetime warranty on all their tools and you can read more about their warranty here.
Question: Who owns Proto Tools?
Answer: Proto Tools were bought by Stanley Black and Decker in 1984 (Wikipedia Source). It appears that all their Proto branded tools are still made in the USA in 2020. That may be changing as they increase their production, and some Amazon reviewers have stated their tools had a country of origin stickers that were Taiwan or other foreign countries.
#2 Top Brand For Hand Tools: SK Hand Tools
SK hand tools make some awesome impact sockets. In particular, I have always had great experiences with their impact universal sockets. They are priced less than the tool truck brands, but they are not as cheap as some of the other brands. I personally believe SK Hand Tools to be one of the top brands for impact sockets, and highly recommend you buy this 3/8″ drive metric 6 point impact socket set. If you want a beefier 1/2″ set I recommend grabbing this SK tools metric 6 points 1/2″ drive impact socket set. Just read the reviews to see how awesome they are.
They also make a set of ratcheting wrenches that are definitely better than the Gearwrench ones. They are more expensive and are made to be more like the Snap-On/Matco equivalents. But they are definitely worth buying if you don’t already have a set of ratcheting wrenches, you can check them out on Amazon here. I found an amazing price on them, and while it may seem steep they will last you forever. These are still a fraction of the price of the tool truck equivalent without sacrificing quality or the lifetime warranty.
FAQ about SK Hand Tools:
Question: Are SK Tools made in the USA?
Answer: Yes, all SK Hand Tools are still made in the USA with American steel in 2020 (Source SK Website). They have been around since the early 1900s, and seem to be dedicated to continuing to produce their tools in the USA. I have had the pleasure of owning some SK Hand Tools and they’re a great mid-level option. They are also backed by a lifetime warranty which doesn’t hurt.
Question: Who owns SK Tools?
Answer: SK Tools are owned by Ideal Industries Inc as of 2010. They have forging facilities in Colorado Springs, Colorado and a manufacturing and distribution center in Sycamore, Illinois. Many tool companies stretch the meaning of made in the U.S.A., however, SK Tools keeps all their production inside the country. They are one of the few hand tool companies to still do this. That is why I highly recommend SK Tools to the DIYer or expert technician alike.
#3 Top Brand for Hand Tools: Williams Tools
Being that Williams tools are owned by Snap-On we would expect that they make very high-quality hand tools. That assumption would be correct, and there are definitely items from Williams tools that are basically direct copies (or the exact same tool) as the Snap-On equivalent. Basically, the big difference is that Snap-On has tool trucks with salespeople that earn commissions by driving around and selling direct to technicians. That means that when you break a tool if you work or own a shop, it is much easier to get a replacement.
However, if you’re buying tools to work on cars at your house you don’t need to be paying the tool truck middlemen’s commission on every tool you buy. They aren’t going to stop at your house anyway!
For an example of a Williams tool ratchet that is eerily similar to a Snap-On ratchet check out this beefy 1/2″ made in the USA 36 tooth ratchet on Amazon here. Many claim it is the exact same ratchet as the Snap-On 936 at a fraction of the price.
I also highly recommend the Williams tools Magne ratcheting screwdriver set on Amazon. IT IS PERFECT FOR THE PROFESSIONAL TECHNICIAN OR WEEKEND WARRIOR. Seriously, don’t miss out on this amazing deal to have a super high-quality ratcheting screwdriver at a fraction the tool truck prices.
FAQ about Williams Tools:
Question: Who owns Williams Tools?
Answer: Williams Tools is a subsidiary of Snap-On tools (Source Wikipedia). The Williams tool brand was started in 1884 and then was bought by Snap-On, also called Snap-On Industrial Brands, in 1993. Interesting to note that other brands owned by Snap-On include Bahco, a Swedish hand tool brand. They also own CDI Torque Tools and Sioux tools. Also, watch out for tools branded as Blue-Point tools. That is another brand sold under Snap-On and is usually seen as the budget line of Snap-On tools.
Question: Are Williams Tools made in the USA?
Answer: No, not all Williams tools are still made in the USA. Just like Snap-On tools (seeing as Snap-On owns Williams tools) they have begun manufacturing many of their tools in Taiwan. Therefore, make sure to check before buying whether the Williams tools you’re buying are still coming from the USA.
#4 Top Brand For Hand Tools: Gearwrench Tools (Apex Tool Group)
I must admit I am a huge proponent of Gearwrench tools for their ratchets, screwdriver sets, and torx sets. I am not a big proponent of their brake bleeders and other specialty equipment for professional mechanics. However, for example, their line of 120XP ratcheting wrenches has been a huge hit among professional mechanics and DIYers alike. You can buy a whole set of the 120XP’s including four different flex head ratchets from 1/4″ to 1/2″ drive for less than the price of one similar Snap-On ratchet. Better yet, they even come with a lifetime warranty just like the Snap-On brand. You really can’t beat this price on Amazon for the Gearwrench ratchets, and I encourage you to at least go read the reviews and make a decision for yourself.
FAQ about Gearwrench (Apex Tools):
Question: Who owns Gearwrench tools?
Answer: Gearwrench is owned by Apex tool group. They own at least 36 other tool brands including Gearwrench and have been focusing recently more on the Gearwrench brand. That is evident by their releasing new ratchets like the 120XP line that have really been a hit among mechanics. Here are the brands Apex tools currently own according to Wikipedia in 2020:
- Allen – Hex keys
- Armstrong Tools – Industrial hand tools
- Atkins – Hacksaws
- Belzer – Mechanic’s hand tools
- Campbell – Manufactures chains and clamps.
- Caulkmaster – Pneumatic dispensing guns.
- Collins – Machetes, shovels, and axes
- Crescent – Produces general hand tools and toolsets.
- Delta – tool boxes
- Erem – Precision pliers.
- GearWrench – Ratcheting wrenches and hand tools
- H.K. Porter – Bolt and cable cutters.
- Iseli – Precision matched parts
- Jacob’s Chuck – drill chucks
- JOBOX – truck boxes and site storage
- K-D Tools – mechanic’s hand and specialty tools
- K&F – files and rasps
- Kahnetics – Dispensing systems.
- Lufkin – Manufactures measuring tools
- Mayle – Mechanic’s hand tools
- Nicholson – Produces files, rasps, and saws.
- Plumb – Striking tools, such as hammers, axes, and chisels.
- SATA – Mechanic’s hand tools.
- Spline Gauges – gauges
- Weller – Soldering tools.
- Wire-wrap – Electrical connection equipment.
- Wiss – Scissors and snips.
- Xcelite – Electronics tools such as general and specialized screwdrivers and pliers
To see the entire list of what brands Apex tool group owns click here to go to their website.
Question: Are Gearwrench tools made in the USA?
Answer: No, Gearwrench tools are made in Asia in both Taiwan and China. Being that Gearwrench is a subsidiary of Apex Tools Group, which owns upwards of 36 different tool brands, Gearwrench tools are most likely made in many different factories. However, being that they offer a lifetime warranty you really can’t go too wrong. Just stick to the stuff that Gearwrench does amazingly well like some of their ratchets and socket sets.
Question: Do Gearwrench ratchets and hand tools have lifetime warranties?
Answer: Yes, Gearwrench tools offer lifetime warranties on their hand tools and sockets. However, you will need to mail your broken ratchets into their factory and wait for them to warranty them out. This can be a pain if you’re a professional mechanic, but if you’re a backyard or DIYer, it won’t mean you’ll have to miss work.
Plus, if you choose their tools wisely it is very unlikely you will have any problem as their durability is extremely high. To read more about the Gearwrench warranty policy directly click here to be taken to their website. If you want to talk to them directly call Gearwrench customer service directly at (USA) Apex Tool Group 1(800) 621-8814.
People online claim to have returned Gearwrench tools successfully (with receipts) to Fastenal, Sears, Home Depot, and Napa auto parts. If they sell Gearwrench tools, they should be able to help you with warranty claims (I recommend calling and asking first).
#5 Top Brand For Hand Tools: Knipex Tools
Knipex is a German manufacturer of pliers for professional use. The headquarters are located in Cronenberg. For four generations, Knipex has been an independent, owner-managed family company (Wikipedia). The beauty of Knipex tools is that they make AWESOME pliers at an awesome price point.
They are professional quality, and you will find Knipex pliers in many technicians toolboxes. Many argue they are better than any plier Snap-On makes, and I have to agree. The best thing Knipex makes, in my opinion, is their Dykes (aka Diagonal Cutting Pliers).
Buy this 10-inch Knipex Diagonal Cutting Plier on Amazon, and tell me it doesn’t quickly become your favorite tool. If you’re looking for a Knipex plier set, that includes a cutting plier as well as a needle nose plier, check out this amazingly priced Knipex Plier Set on Amazon here. Many technicians agree, stick with Knipex for pliers and you will not be let down.
FAQ about Knipex Tools:
Question: Are Knipex made in the USA?
Answer: No, Knipex is a German brand and they are produced in Germany. Many people believe that Germany has an even higher standard of production than American factories, and I tend to agree. You cannot go wrong with German engineering especially for something like a pair of pliers. It doesn’t hurt either that they have been making professional grade tools for a long time (they have been around since 1882). Click here to read more about Knipex pliers on their website.
Question: Do Knipex tools have a lifetime warranty?
Answer: Yes, Knipex tools have a lifetime warranty. It is important to understand that every brand defines lifetime warranties differently. It is important to read their literature about their warranty directly from their website, for Knipex you can read about their warranty here.
Basically, if you have had a tool for 10 years and have been using it every day and then you send it in for a warranty repair because the teeth are worn out they may refuse the warranty claim. This is because to them this is seen as normal wear on the tool, and you should be buying a new one after 10 years anyway. It is a topic of much discussion, and every brand will withhold the right to refuse your warranty if the tool can be seen as just worn out after normal use.
Question: How do I warranty Knipex tools?
Do you have broken Knipex pliers or other tools? They ask you email KNIPEX Tools LP at (email@example.com) or call their support line at 847 398 8520. Knipex warranty claims require the return of the defective tool, proof of purchase, and confirmation from you that you are the original end-user purchaser of the tool. All shipping and transportation costs are excluded from this warranty.
Make sure you hold onto your receipts people!
Question: How do you pronounce Knipex correctly?
Answer: From a YouTube video released by the company in German, it is pronounced in English like K-knee-pex. To see the exact part in the video to listen to the pronunciation click here. THE K IN KNIPEX IS NOT SILENT! Ka-knee-pex. Just go listen to the German in the video pronounce it a couple of times!
#6 Top Brand For Hand Tools: Tekton Tools
Tekton tools are neither made in the USA nor are they very expensive. However, where Tekton really does awesome work is with their warranty and claims process.
Tekton does not make you mail in the broken tool most times, and if they do, they will pay for shipping both ways. They simply ask you to send them a photo of the broken tool and a short description of what happened on their website (link here). Their tools aren’t as high-quality as some of the other brands I listed before, but they do make some really great hand tools that won’t break the bank at all. Some of my favorite Tekton tools include the Tekton 1/2″ deep impact socket set on Amazon that is crazy cheap. I have used those sockets and beat on them as hard as possible with my 1/2″ impact gun, and never had a problem.
FAQ about Tekton Tools:
Question: Are Tekton tools made in the USA?
Answer: Tekton tools are not made in the USA, they are most often made in Taiwan. People have had some problems with their quality, but the price and warranty are unbeatable. They will warranty broken tools fast and with free shipping. This is super important, as you do not have to waste your money sending back a broken tool. They also will not keep you waiting for weeks while they verify the tool is broken. Simply send them a photo of the broken tool and you should hear back from them soon.
Question: Are Tekton tools good?
Answer: For the price, they are pretty amazing. The best tools they make are their impact sockets and breaker bars. I would stay away from their torque wrenches and their cutting pliers. However, I have personally used and abused their impact sockets and never had a problem. Plus they typically come in an awesome plastic case and have easy to read numbers on the sockets.
Here are some of my favorite Tekton tools on Amazon (their prices are insanely low):
#7 Top Brand For Hand Tools: Kobalt Ratchets (Lowe’s)
Ok, I can’t personally say I would ever buy Kobalt ratchets but that doesn’t mean people don’t like them. The benefits are you can always go to a Lowe’s and return/replace them should they break. That is definitely a benefit if you do not deal with online vendors and warranty processes via email/photos. My personal take on Kobalt ratchets from holding them and pricing them out, is that they are typically heavier and cheaply built Snap-On copies.
Another annoying thing about most Kobalt ratchets is that the loosen/tighten mechanism is backward to Snap-On ratchets. It can be confusing because your hand will naturally set the mechanism thinking you’re loosing a bolt and it can be frustrating to constantly have to really focus.
You really can’t beat this price for a three-piece Kobalt ratchet set, the Pro90, that is both fine-toothed, well-reviewed, and has a lifetime warranty. People love them on Amazon, check out this set for an amazing price on Amazon here. Just remember it is a very cheap set, don’t expect it to be anywhere near Snap-On level at that price point.
#8 Top Brand For Hand Tools: Craftsmen Pro (Sears)
Look, once again I personally dislike Craftsmen products. I find Gearwrench to be better quality, better priced, and more durable. My main beef with Craftsmen is that I have used a ton of their very cheap ratchets, and I personally think they should be banned from being sold. They are so bad it isn’t even funny! That being said, if you’re going to be buying Craftsmen stick with the Craftsmen Pro series. Technicians still like that line up of tools, and they do make pretty good ratchets. You just will never find one in my toolbox. Also, in my area of California, all the Sears are going out of business meaning it will be harder to warranty tools quickly. That is a big drawback to buying Craftsmen in 2020/2021.
Honorable Mention: Armstrong Tools (Now out of business)
Question: Are Armstrong tools still made in the USA?
Answer: As of 2020, Armstrong tools no longer exists. However, you can still get some ratchets and sockets on Amazon that were made prior to closing the factory doors. All of Armstrong’s tools were made in the USA prior to Apex tools closing their factory down after buying them out.
Question: Who owns Armstrong tools? Are they still making tools?
Answer: Armstrong tools were acquired by Apex tools in 2010. In 2017, Apex tools announced it was going to close the Armstrong plant in Sumter, South Carolina. They decided to focus on another one of the Apex tool brands that were seeing major growth (Gearwrench tools). Source Wikipedia.
You can still find some awesome ratchets on Amazon that were made by Armstrong tools before they closed. Here is an awesome made in the U.S.A., 1/2″ Armstrong Ratchet that rivals any Snap-On equivalent. Or this 3/8″ drive Armstrong locking head ratchet.
Cons of Buying Armstrong tools in 2020:
Because Armstrong tools were bought out by Apex tools in 2017 they have no updated their tools or their mechanisms. The hand tool industry has moved more toward finer toothed ratchets that give a smoother hand feel. Pretty much every Armstrong ratchet I found on Amazon still had a very low tooth count, and the reviews suffered for those reasons.
They are very durable tools, that are still made in the USA. But if you’re looking for a ratchet you’re going to pick up all the time then you will want finer toothed ratchets. The difference in hand feel is just too much to ignore, and every hand tool maker in the industry is moving towards higher toothed ratchets (80 teeth or more).
Reasons To Avoid Tool-Truck Brands:
I spent ten hours writing a guide on how to get used tool truck tools cheaply here. Unless you are buying the tool truck brands used, I believe you can get similar quality tools much cheaper in 2020/21.
However, there are plenty of other brands that make very high-quality hand tools that in 2020 can compete with the tool truck brands. You no longer need to be buying from Snap-On or other tool truck brands to know you’re getting a top quality ratchet or hand tool. Because of the internet and people sharing their experiences we can all pick and choose from different manufacturers to fill our toolboxes for way less than before.
It is also important to note that even the highest priced companies do not make all their tools in the USA anymore. For example, I spent 10 hours researching how you can figure out what Snap-On tools are still made in the USA before buying. Click here to see how to know where your tools are made by Snap-On.
Is Snap-On The Best Hand Tool That Exists:
I want to just say that I do believe Snap-On is the top hand tool you can buy. It gets murkier when you start talking about power tools and air guns. Snap-On’s 1/2″ Cordless Impact Wrench, for example, is not well liked by professional mechanics and fails to have anywhere near the torque values that a much cheaper Milwaukee does.
If you’re a professional grinding every day on flat-rate, then having Snap-On tools may make sense for you because of the quick turnaround with warrantied items. I spent a ton of time researching how to figure out what tools are still made in the USA by Snap-On and you can read my guide here. I also wrote a guide on how to get used Snap-On tools cheap, where I explain all my tips and tricks for grabbing great deals.
In order to compete with the lower cost of production of these overseas brands, Snap-On has moved a decent chunk of their production overseas (around %20).
To some, including myself, this gives me all the more reason to avoid paying the ridiculously high price tag for new Snap-On tools since many of them are made in China or Taiwan anyways.
For any “tool-truck” brands like Snap-On, Mac, Matco, Blue-Point, etc. You are paying both for the brand the convenience.
- The convenience of the tool truck that pulls into your shop so you can easily swap out broken warrantied items.
- The brand name that is respected by all professional mechanics.
- No one will give you crap for working with Snap-On tools and being professional.
- However, with some of these other brands, some professional technicians may actually think of you as less simply by using them. Don’t let them get you down, they are just bitter you won’t have tool truck payments for the rest of your career.