The best mechanic tool sets are usually pieced together, bit by bit over a number of years – rarely can you buy a set straight off the shelf that covers everything, and of course, a lot of it will depend on what you’re actually a mechanic on … race cars, SUVs, mowers … they’re all going to be different.
For that reason, what I’m talking about here (at least for 4 of the kits) is the type of tool set that you can throw in the trunk and just let it rattle around until you need it, or perhaps as a starter set for someone wanting to get on the path to doing their own maintenance. The other kit … I’ve included that as an idea as to what a professional mechanic has to spend, and the sort of kit that they’ll have to get the job done.
The Mechanic Tool Set
Mechanic Tool Set
First up, the wrenches and sockets can come in ‘6 point’ or ’12 point’ – which is the style of the bit that grips the bolt or nut, think of it as ‘single hexagon’ or ‘double hexagon’ (and we’re not going to cover ‘flank drive’ because none of these tools use that system).
A six point or single hex socket will offer more gripping power for really stubborn fasteners. It uses more of the fastener for leverage, whereas a 12 point socket can’t grip them as hard without risking ‘rounding off’ the fastener.
With that in mind, many people would ask “why don’t they just use six point wrenches or sockets as the norm then?”. It’s a reasonable question that has a valid answer … the 12 point system allows for double the number of positions when trying to place the socket on the fastener, while keeping the square drive relative to the tool – this is a really useful feature when working in confined spaces, or using a breaker bar.
I think it’s also prudent to point out the differences between the size of the ratchets; a ratchet will usually come in one of three sizes – 1/4", 3/8” or 1/2" (bigger sizes are available). The size refers to the square hole in the socket, the actual ‘drive’. Generally speaking, 1/4" drive sockets are for light duty – lightly tightening or loosening fasteners, 3/8” drive is general duty and will cope with most jobs, although especially tight fasteners should be tackled with at least 1/2" drive.
Finally, the number of teeth that a ratchet has is important, because it means it’s generally smoother, needs less effort to turn (particularly handy when you’re just spinning the fastener undone) and needs less of an arc to actuate the next tooth – great for when you’re working in cramped spaces with little room to swing a ratchet.
1. DeWalt DWMT72165 204-Piece Tool Set
204 pieces in total, all centering on wrenches or sockets and ratchets, although it does have some hex keys also. It uses both Metric and SAE (or fractional) and covers most of the more popular sizes.
All of the sockets and wrenches are 6 point only – there’s no 12 point or double hex stuff here, which shouldn’t be a particular problem for normal use to be honest. The ratchets all feature a 72 tooth arrangement, which makes them smooth to operate and gives a small swing arc – around 5 degrees.
All of the sockets and tools are clearly marked with a laser etch to make identification easy, and the extensions are all knurled to make them a little gripper (ideal when your hands are oily or greasy). The sockets cover 1/4", 3/8” and 1/2" – it’s doubtful that you’ll need much more than that for a regular vehicle.
The kit comes in a quality blow molded case, and the tools are held securely – they won’t fall out if you happen to open up the case upside. It’s a great starter kit, but be aware that the overall size of the case is pretty big – around 24”, if you’re planning on leaving it in the car, it’s gonna take up some space.
2. Crescent CTK170CMP2 170-Piece Tool Kit
170 pieces, covering both SAE and Metric, using a combination of both 6 & 12 point sockets and wrenches. Unlike the DeWALT set, you’re getting more than just a socket set or wrenches – you’ll also get 2 pairs of pliers – long nose and slip-joint, a limited range of screwdrivers, some hex keys and an adjustable wrench.
Similar to some of the other kits, it uses a 72 tooth ratchet, in all the regular sizes – 1/4, 3/8 & 1/2". They fit snugly in the foldable blow molded case. Sometimes a little too snug, you may need to lever them out with another tool if your hands are the slightest bit oily.
I’d consider this as more of an all-round tool kit. It offers a wider selection of tools than the DeWALT kit, but not as many different sizes of wrench and sockets, with that said, it’s less than half the price, so you can’t expect everything.
3. Stanley STMT73795 201-Piece Mixed Tool Set
210 items in total, all held securely in the sturdy carry case. Again, the STMT73795 tool set has been designed as offering something for everyone. It includes tools like slip-joint and long nose pliers, a range of screwdrivers, lots of different screwdriver bits and hex keys, a utility knife and adjustable wrench – it’s kind of like a ‘do it all’ tool set.
It does the three popular drive sizes, from 1/4" through to 1/2", using a combination of both SAE and Metric, in most of the popular sizes, although it could potentially do with a few of the larger ones. The sockets are single hex only, but as I stated before, that really shouldn’t hold you up for the main part.
The molded case holds the tools securely and there’s a full lifetime warranty on the tools – a neat little kit that should work for 90% of the day to day stuff.
4. Craftsman 50230 230-Piece Mechanics Tool Set
230 pieces, but lets start with the less good stuff … the hex keys that come with the kit (40 in total I think) are packed loose in to plastic bags … that really isn’t good enough to honest – either make them fit, or leave them out … don’t just throw them in there as an afterthought.
Also, the sockets stand on their ends in the carry case, very loosely. If you happen to open up the case upside down, you’re going to be spending the next hour picking up sockets and arranging them back in the case, again … not good enough if you ask me.
Aside from those two niggles, the rest of the kit is good quality. All of the tools are made from a durable alloy steel and there’s 116 sockets in total, covering both SAE and Metric in the most popular sizes, with all the regular drive sizes covered also.
While there are some issues that Craftsman need to iron out, for the money, it’s a well thought out kit that will do most jobs. It’s definitely worth buying one of these kits if you’re not looking to get all spendy on your tools.
5. JH Williams WSC-1390TB 1390-Piece Mammoth Tool Set Complete
Okay … lets just clarify a few things; I don’t usually mention prices, but let’s get this out there … this is tens of thousands of bucks so I really can’t avoid it. Secondly, this is aimed more for the professional mechanic rather than the home tech, and it gives you an idea of just what sort of budget a pro spends on their tooling. Thirdly, JH Williams are part of the Snap-On group – they are the industrial brand of Snap-On, so you’re not getting low quality gear, it’s all top end.
Where do I start? There’re 1,390 pieces in this kit, it includes a top box, roll cab, side cab and roll cart, which in total, gives you over 75,000 cubic inches of space, across 35 drawers … you could almost live in this thing.
Of course it uses both Metric and SAE tooling, in 6 & 12 point, with regular hand tools and impact sockets, not only does it cover 1/4", 3/8” and 1/2", but it also goes one step further and has a selection of 3/4" tooling as well (unless you’re working on rigs, or really big equipment, it’s doubtful that you’ll use it).
There’s a comprehensive selection of tools, that includes ratchets, sockets, accessories and wrenches, and then a wide selection of other mechanical tools such as punches, saws, chisels, pliers, hammers & screwdrivers, and even includes specialist equipment such as gear pullers, scrapers and pry bars; there’s enough equipment to tackle most jobs you’re likely to come across.
My only real concern with this kit is that when you’re spending this type of money, you are better off building the exact kit that you want. Because JH Williams have included a lot of stuff that you may never need or use … like the 3/4" drive sockets and ratchet handles … I’ve spent over 25 years in the industry and can honestly say that I’ve never needed anything bigger than 1/2".
It’s a fabulous set, just make sure that you’ve got the space to fit it all and that your insurance covers the cost of replacement … that’s an awful lot of kit to lose in a robbery.
Caring for Tools
Ask any professional mechanic, and they’ll all tell you that they never put their tools away dirty, or covered in oil (unless they’re trying to protect them from rust) – oil in particular can be a problem for a mechanic – grabbing a handful of wrench or ratchet to loosen a fastener is only ever going to go one way if the tool is oily, and that’s going to end in pain.
Also, tools are expensive … abusing them (like using a ratchet as a hammer) is just costing you money, or same as the oil … going to cause you pain when the ratchet breaks while it’s fully loaded with as much strength as you can muster because you’ve damaged the mechanism.