Best Hand Tools For Automotive

Article by Mark Trotta

Through the years I've accumulated a lot of tools. Many of them are now 30+ years-old, and every year I keep needing and buying more tools.

tools needed for old car restoration

Most of my hand tools are American-made, but quality tools are quality tools, regardless of where they're from. These include screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, hammers, sockets and ratchets, and many others.

This article covers the different types and brands of hand tools for automotive repair. For other restoration tools:

Read: Tools Needed For Automotive Restoration

Read: Best Automotive Air Tools

Read: Automotive Engine Build Tools

If your American car was manufactured before 1980, "standard" tools will probably suffice, no metric tools needed.

Popular Tool Brands

Most popular tool brands are no longer "lone" companies, and have become part of a larger corporate family. For instance, Bosch owns Dremel, Vermont-American, and others. Snap-On owns Blue Point, Sioux, Williams Tools, and others. Ideal now owns S-K Tools. Every year, tool companies are buying and selling other tool companies.

Tools Made in USA

Like most countries, Americans have always had a sense of pride in owning U.S. made products. At one time, they were the leader in many industries, including automotive hand tools.

For decades, American-made tools were considered to be among the best in the world. Many European tools were also top quality, but when manufacturing costs rose, cheap inferior tools started flooding the market. Most of these were from the Pacific Rim, like China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Craftsman Tools

Once 100% USA-made, Craftsman is now a mix of U.S. and imported. They were originally an exclusive Sears brand, made by several tool manufacturers, including Danaher Tool Group, who also manufacture tools for Matco, Allen, K-D Tools and GearWrench. Their hand tools have always had a hassle-free replacement warranty.

In 2010, Sears sold off Craftsman tools to the Black and Decker group.

Stanley Works/Black & Decker

Stanley Works merged with Black and Decker in 2010, and is now called Stanley/Black and Decker. Their home base is New Britain, Connecticut, and they are a Fortune 500 American company. The company also includes Porter Cable and Dewalt.

Chances are you already have some basic hand tools. These should include:

tools needed for old car restoration

Flare Nut Wrenches

To prevent stripped nuts on power steering hoses and transmission lines, use flare-nut wrenches to loosen and tighten the ends. An open end wrench can be used to speed up the process in between loosening and tightening.

Ratchets and Sockets

  • Ratchets in sizes 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" (Shop)
  • Breaker bar in 1/2" (Shop)
  • Six-point sockets from 7/16" to 7/8" and 12mm to 19mm (Shop)
  • Deep-well Sockets (Shop)
  • Socket Extensions in three drive sizes from 1-1/2" to 12" (Shop)
  • Socket swivels in 1/4", 3/8", and 1/2" (Shop)

Martin Tools

Based in Arlington, Texas, Martin Tool and Forge has been a family owned business since 1917. All Martin tools are made in the USA with the highest quality materials and engineering. Automotive specialty tools include hammers, dollies, and spoons.

Mac Tools and Proto Tools

Mac Tools are predominantly USA made with very few import items. They were acquired by Stanley Works in 1980. In 1984, Stanley Works purchased Proto from Ingersoll Rand and it became Stanley Proto. In some cases, a Proto item will be near or completely identical to a Mac item in all but color and price.

Blackhawk is Proto’s budget industrial line and features many American-made tools.

Proto ratcheting wrench

S-K Tools

S-K Tools is another old American tool company. They used to be sold at many auto parts stores up into the eighties. In 1985, S-K became part of Facom Tools. They were nearly out of business, but came back after being purchased by Ideal in 2010.

Pliers and Vice-Grips

  • Needle-Nose Pliers, several different lengths (Shop)
  • Channel-Locks, several different lengths (Shop)
  • Allen Keys (hex wrenches), metric and standard (Shop)
  • Vice-Grips, several different sizes (Shop)
best hand tools

Tekton Tools

Although largely internet based, Tekton (pronounced "Tectin") does sell in a few "brick and mortar" stores as well. They are a U.S. based company, but a large part of their selection is sourced from Taiwan. Tekton offers perhaps the easiest tool warranty out there--send a picture of your broken tool to them, and they'll send you a replacement no charge.

best hand tools for automotive repair and restoration

Shop: Tekton Hand Tools

Tekton also has a good selection of shallow and deep impact sockets.

Wright Tools

Ohio-based Wright Tool is a privately owned company that focuses on the industrial market. They produce very high quality tools. Wright Tool doesn't have as many tools in their line up as other companies (like auto specialty tools), but they are 100% made in the USA with U.S. steel.

Williams Tools

Williams Tools was acquired by Snap-On a few years back and now they're technically Williams Tool Group, and operates as Snap-On's industrial tool division. Be aware that there are two Williams lines - one is U.S. made, while the other is Taiwan-sourced.

Vaughn Tools

Many modern hammer designs in use today were originally introduced by Vaughan Manufacturing, who have been around for over 135 years. Located in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, manufacture of a Vaughan hammer starts with U.S. made, high carbon steel. They are made with an attention to detail that is exceptional.

best hand tools made in USA

Other tool companies that manufacture in the USA include Bondhus, Channelock, Chapman Tools, Eklind Tool Company, Estwing, Park Tool, Snyder, and Stiletto Tool. Klein Tools has been manufacturing tools in America since 1857.

Armstrong is known for their very unique looking ratchets which are of excellent quality. However, they be hard to find. Fastenal is one place that sells them.

Most Snap-On and Matco tools are still made in the U.S., although no longer 100%. Cornwell hand tools are mostly U.S. made.

Snap-On box end wrench

I'm sure there are more American-made tools, but the point is made. There are still plenty of quality, precision tools made in the U.S.A.

Taiwan Tools

Today, some of the Pacific Rim tool manufacturers are stepping up quality and producing a quality product at a reasonable price. For instance, Taiwan-made GearWrench and Kobalt are a good tool for the money.

Japanese Tools

In 1995, Japan-Industrial brand "DEEN" began offering tools, and are one of the best-known brand tools in Japan. The Japanese-built Kokon is sometimes referred to as the "Japanese Snap-On".

"Good tools, as a rule, don't wear out, and good secondhand tools are much better than inferior new ones." (Robert Pirsig, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance)

Hand Tool Use and Abuse

You should care for your tools and know how to properly use them. I have broken more tools than I care to admit, but admittedly from misuse.

Inexpensive Tool Kit

When you buy a set of tools you get more for your money. DeWalt offers socket/wrench sets in two sizes, a 204-Piece set and a 118-piece set. DeWalt hand tools feature a lifetime warranty.

portable tool kit

DeWalt tools are made in multiple countries, including Mexico, Brazil, China, Italy, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Good Tools vs Cheap Tools

Always buy the best hand tools you can afford - they reduce fatigue and last a lifetime. Quality tools will be kept and used for generations to come.

best hand tools for automotive

Read: Tools Needed For Automotive Restoration