This article sets out to show you some ways to save money on hand tools. There are really two categories of tools. Quality, last-a-lifetime made in the USA tools, and not so great made-in-China tools. Each of these categories will be addressed independently.
For the average homeowner who uses their tools once a month or so imported tools should be fine. Generally imports are 200%-500% cheaper than tools made in the USA. You really do have to watch the quality on the imports though. Even if the they are claimed to be 'forged' watch out! I have seen wrenches made in forging dies so plugged up with scale and grime that the wrench had 1/8" thick dimples all over the whole thing â making it completely useless! Watch out for imported tools sold from mail-order catalogs â tools sold at major chain stores are usually decent. The softer steel used on these lower quality tools should be all right â as long as you exercise caution and avoid any slipping or rounding-off operations. Imported hand tools can be had tremendously cheaply at yard sales and the like. Recently I bought an entire 5 gallon bucket of sockets for $5 at a yard sale. It worked out to about a nickel a piece.
People who use their tools every day to make a living generally invest in top-quality, made in the U.S.A tools. Serious hobbyists who appreciate quality sometimes also invest in top-quality tools, but this is more for esoteric reasons. Most high quality tools have more comfortable handles, which is nice for wrenching on the weekends but very important if you plan on wrenching 40 hours a week. In a perfect world low-quality tools will work just fine. If you add in real-world factors such as rusted and stuck bolts, dirt, and difficult angles, professional quality tools are a must. The tighter tolerances and harder materials used in domestic tools eliminate some of the variables that could cause slippage or failure in 'real world' situations. The best way to get a deal on professional quality tools is to watch the local classifieds. When mechanics retire they often sell their set of tools for considerably less than it would cost to replace them. The quality of these sort of tools is such that they will probably outlast even the second owner. Look for auctions and tag sales where people do not know how much quality tools are worth, this is where you can get a hot deal. Pawnshops generally know what their merchandise is worth, so it is not worth your time to look there.
Any hammer will pound a nail, but for some specific applications it is always worth buying high quality tools, whether you are a shade tree mechanic or a professional. Flare nuts found on automobile brake lines are an excellent example of such a task. The corrosive nature of break fluid insures that these nuts are rusty and stuck most of the time. Also the fragile brake like can be twisted off if the nut sticks to the tube. A set of high quality flare nut wrenches