We tested 10 wrench sets, from the cheapest to the most expensive on the market, and render our judgment on which is the best wrench set for you.
Choosing a wrench set may seem like a trivial decision. After all, they mostly look the same and maybe they differ only by a wrench or two in terms of the number of wrenches and range of sizes that you get. However, think about the decision like this: once you have a wrench set, you’re likely to keep it for a very long time. Basic combination (box end, open end) wrenches rarely wear out, especially at the hobbyist level. You’re more likely to lose one or two over the years and replace them. I’m about to turn 60 and I can still find wrenches in my toolbox that my father bought for me when I was 17 and he didn’t want me borrowing from his toolbox any more.
Cheap vs Expensive Wrenches
Here’s one true thing about wrenches. The cost difference between low-price and high-price tools is effectively zero if you think in terms of using a wrench for decades, but the quality difference remains very high for the same length of time. To adapt the old proverb, the annoyance of a crappy wrench persists long after you’ve forgotten what you paid for it. The late, great John Muir, author of “How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive” said that your wrenches should feel good in your hands, which will inspire you to do good, careful work.
On the other hand, I bought wrench sets for this test that are far from the highest price, and found them to be generally as functional as the most expensive sets on the market. The test will be how they look in 20-30 years after some hard use, long after you’ve stopped wiping them down and placing them back in careful order in your wrench drawer. Cheap tools will start to see the open-end jaws bending and the chrome flaking off, while quality wrenches really will last a lifetime.
How The Best Wrench Sets Were Tested
To perform my tests, I tightened a series of standard SAE fasteners to a standard torque at and above the recommended torque for the fasteners to test each set of wrenches under real-world conditions. Some wrenches are looser than others, and I used a standard set of feeler gauges to determine fit on standard size nut and bolt heads, and did a careful slip-test to gauge if these wrenches are more or less likely to slip off a used fastener.
For the slip test, I overtightened the fasteners past their designed torque spec, but not enough to strip the threads. Similar to the situation faced daily in any automotive shop. Typically the excess torque was about 25% past the recommended torque spec. Then I leaned on each wrench until the fastener came loose. Then I tightened the fasteners again to the same over-spec torque, especially watching for flex on the open-end jaws.
The test wrenches include basic combination wrenches in SAE sizes, and also a selection of ratcheting GearWrench options, which are normal open-end wrenches, but include a ratcheting box-end in a couple different styles. We put the ratchets to the same torque test as the solid steel box ends.
Best Wrench Set At a Glance:
- Best Overall: Milwaukee Tools 11-pc Wrench Set, RRP: $120, buy now.
- Best Value & Best For Amateurs: Kobalt 24-pc Wrench Set, RRP: $46.
- Best Stubby Wrenches: Craftsman Professional Short Wrenches, RRP: $60, buy now.
- Best Professional Ratcheting Wrench Set: GearWrench 90-Point Reversible, RRP: $179, buy now.
- Best Professional Wrench Set: Snap On, RRP: $488 / £521, buy now.
- Best Ratcheting Wrench Set: GearWrench 90-Point, RRP: $109, buy now. £90, buy now.
- Best Set For Large Wrenches: Klein Wrench Set, RRP: $289, buy now.
- Best Wrench Set For Teens: Pittsburgh 22-pc Wrench Set, RRP: $20.
Milwaukee Wrench Set – Best Overall
RRP: $120, buy now.
One of my favorites in this test is the Milwaukee brand set. At $120 (£99), this is among the more expensive sets, though not nearly as expensive as some others. This is an 11-piece set that comes in its own storage tray that you can hang on the wall or place in your tool chest. The Milwaukee set features a fullered I-beam cross-section, and the wrench size is highlighted in red paint. The contrast stands out to your eye, which is handy if you’ve ever had to squint in a poorly lit area to see what wrench you were picking up. Plus, the paint is in the recess of the numbers, so it won’t wear off.
The Milwaukee set goes from 1/4 up to 7/8-inch, which is a good range for most garage work. Milwaukee wrenches are also longer than the others we tested, which is good because you are going to get a little more leverage and a little more control when you’re using them.
Another feature of the Milwaukee set to mention is the set of ridges and grooves in the open end wrenches. These features are designed to grip the nut or bolt along the sides and at the corners, but not to round the nut or bolt heads. It’s also designed to avoid slipping. This allows a looser fit on the nut, and we were able to get a 0.013 feeler in between the nut and the Milwaukee wrench. However, the Milwaukee set was solid in the torque test and never rounded the nut or slipped.
The Milwaukee wrench set is finding a home in my toolbox, and it’s my favorite among all the sets we tested because of the features and the way the wrenches feel in my hands.
Check out Jeff’s full review of the Milwaukee Wrench Set here.
Kobalt Wrenches – Best Value & Best For Amateurs
One nice feature with the Kobalt combination Metric/SAE set is that the SAE wrenches are marked with a red band, and metric wrenches have a blue band. This is handy for sorting, which we all have to do from time to time. The problem is that the red and blue bands are not very durable. Ours started to wear off during the workshop testing we did for this article, and wouldn’t last long under real-world conditions. That being said, we liked the convenient plastic carrying case that holds all the wrenches in order. A careful mechanic would notice immediately if a wrench was missing.
This set of 24 SAE and metric Kobalt wrenches sells for $46 (£38). On a per-wrench basis, this is the second least-expensive set in the competition. The Kobalt products test well for fit and finish, with a 0.012 gap in the open-end wrench to a standard nut. However, the jaws are smooth, which doesn’t yield as good a grip on the nuts as some other brands.
On the good side, when you get to the smallest wrenches in the set, the Kobalts have a little more metal around the box end, which will help them keep their shape over time.
The Kobalt set gives you a nice well-finished wrench. Not a bad deal at all for the price.
GearWrench 90 Reversible Wrench Set – Best Professional Ratcheting Wrenches
RRP: $179, buy now.
The top of the GearWrench product line is the 90-tooth reversible 14-piece wrench set. For $179 (£147), this set includes wrenches from 1/4 to 1-inch, and offers the ability to reverse the direction of the ratcheting box end with a switch, like a socket wrench. This set comes in a convenient tool roll suitable for mobile use.
Like the other 90T GearWrenches, the ratcheting mechanism is nice and tight on this set. The switch works very well and you can really put some torque on these wrenches with confidence. Also like the single-direction 90T GearWrenches, the open ends have shape to grab ahold of the fasteners to avoid slippage.
In my estimation, a set of GearWrenches is not a substitute for a good set of combination wrenches, but rather an essential additional set of tools. If you have a set of 90T GearWrenches, you can safely buy a less expensive set of basic combo wrenches and be ready for anything.
One point to make is that you should buy the brand-name GearWrench or other quality brand instead of a lower-cost ratcheting wrench that might be an off brand of dubious quality, because the consequences of having one of these things strip out or come apart while you’re working can be dire for your knuckles.
When shopping for GearWrench sets, insist on the 90-tooth varieties and pay the extra money for them.
Craftsman Standard Raised Panel
An 11-piece wrench set of the standard “raised panel” Craftsman combination wrenches are chrome-plated and offer 1/4 through 7/8 SAE or 8mm though 19mm in Metric. Notably, the metric set does not include 7mm, which correlates to a 1/4-inch wrench and is often used on automotive applications. Both SAE and Metric sets are priced at about $36 (£45) for an 11-wrench set. The set we tested is one I’ve relied upon for well over a decade, and Craftsman hasn’t changed a thing.
Craftsman used to enjoy a reputation as a top maker of tools. Sadly, that’s fallen off over time, mainly in the realm of socket wrenches, which used to be among the best and now are among the worst. When it comes to basic wrenches, the feel and finish of the basic Craftsman set is not up to the standards of other brands, just a step above the lowest-priced Pittsburgh. The finish is commensurate with the price, however. One other concern was the design of the box end, which is a series of angles, compared to the machined spline design on other, more expensive brands.
However, the Craftsman wrench scored the tightest in our open-end fitment test, where we had trouble getting even a .008 feeler between the jaws and the nut. On the torque test, the Craftsman showed a slight tendency to round the nut, but not more than other smooth-jawed brands
With Craftsman, you’re really not getting a whole lot more than you got with the Pittsburgh tools from Harbor Freight at half the price.
Craftsman Professional Short – Best Stubby Wrenches
RRP: $60, buy now.
They’re hard to find, but the Craftsman Professional 7-piece short combination wrench set can fill an important role in your tool box. When you need to get a wrench into a small space, the short or “stubby” wrenches have room to move. The downside is that you can’t get much torque on them because of the short handle length. Still, when you need a short wrench, your choices are to have a set of these, or to cut a cheap wrench in half. If you can find a set of these, they’ll run you about $60 (£50). The seven wrenches in the set include the most often-used sizes between 3/8 and 3/4 inches.
One thing to note about these wrenches is that they’re part of Craftsman’s upmarket “Professional” series. That means these wrenches have the kind of polished finish generally associated with premium tools, and they feel a bit nicer and better in your hands. The Craftsman Professional short wrenches are made to a tight tolerance, with just 0.010 in (0.25 mm) of space between the open end jaws and a standard size fastener.
On the torque test, the Craftsman Professional short was able to get a good grip on the fastener, but lacked leverage because of its length. You’ll never round off a nut with one of these. The box end fits well, and the Professional series has all the hallmarks of a quality tool.
If you want a set of Stubby wrenches, the Craftsman Professional series costs more, but they’re a nice set of tools.
Klein Tools – Best Set For Large Wrenches
Klein tools is a brand aimed at professional users. Wrenches are only a small part of their product line, and these are among the most expensive sets we tested at $289 (£237) for the 14-piece set that ranges from 3/8 to 1 1/4 inches. However, you can get essentially the same set through 3/4-inch for $99.99 (£83). The Klein wrenches are chrome-plated, which is nice provided you keep them in smooth condition and away from salt.
The 12-point box end is a machined spline style, and among the best at gripping a nut or bolt head. The open jaws are smooth and mirror-bright, which is handy for tightening anodized aluminum hose fittings such as Aeroquip without scarring the anodized finish. One nice point for mechanics on the go is that the Klein set comes in a convenient roll-pack. This makes it handy for off-road kits, racing setups for the track, and other mobile applications.
On the standard tests, fitment was reasonably tight, at 0.010 inches. The Klein wrenches are big with a long handle, so they perform well on the torque test. One point to Klein’s credit is that their wrench set offers tools up to 1 1/4-inch, and getting those larger wrenches can be very expensive if you buy them individually. If you need a larger wrench set, the Klein tools can be a bargain.
Klein tools are professional grade, but you can probably be just as happy with a less expensive set that fits most automotive applications.
Pittsburgh (Harbor Freight) Wrench Set – Best Wrench Set For Teens
The Pittsburgh brand from Harbor Freight Tools is the least expensive set in our test group at $20 (£17) for a 22-wrench set with both SAE and metric sizes. In SAE, the wrenches span from 1/4-inch to 7/8-inch, and in metric from 7mm to 19mm.
The Pittsburgh set is another with a convenient plastic carrying case, which is a definite plus. Finish is comparable to the Craftsman line, though you can see where this is a less expensive set compared to options like Milwaukee and even Kobalt. You can see that less effort goes into the aesthetics, but at the price it’s hard to go wrong.
The Pittsburgh wrenches are smooth-jawed, and among the tightest fits in our test at 0.008 inches by the feeler gauges. The box end is about the same tightness as all other brands, with a basic 12-point design. The wrenches are standard length, not long. Time will tell if the chrome plating will hold up or give in quickly to rust.
Overall, the Pittsburgh is not at all a bad choice for the beginner mechanic. At the price, you cannot go wrong. You can always replace these with a better set later.
Snap On – Best For Professionals
RRP: $488 / £521, buy now.
Snap On tools are near-legendary, and certainly don’t need my endorsement. However, I use Snap On Flank Drive wrenches in my own workshop and have never been disappointed in any Snap On product. This set is the most expensive we tested at $488 (£400) for a 10-wrench set, although Snap On offers a lower-priced Blue Point line at $312 (£256).
The Snap On Flank Drive open end wrenches have ridges to help grip the fasteners, and do not slip. They are also among the tightest fitting wrenches at 0.008 gap. The box end is equally tight and delivers a confident grip on any nut.
Snap On is still the first choice of professional mechanics, however, lower-priced brands have raised their quality to the point that an amateur can be perfectly happy while spending a fraction of the money. By all means aspire to Snap On, but if you’re on a budget, there are other good choices.
RRP: $80, buy now.
GearWrench offers a number of options. The open end wrenches are not different in application from other brands, but the box ends include a ratcheting mechanism that allows you to work conveniently in tight spaces. Among the lower-cost options with GearWrench is a 10-wrench set in the most popular SAE and metric measurements for $80 (£65). This set offers 72 teeth in its ratcheting function, for a 5-degree minimum swing to catch the next tooth. (This matters in tight spaces.) With this set, the gear direction is not reversible, and you have to flip the wrench over to change direction.
Note that this set comes in a nice plastic tray that can keep your GearWrenches organized in your tool chest.
On the open end, the 72-tooth wrench offers smooth jaws, and a clearance of 0.013 inches to a standard nut or bolt head. It’s a decent wrench, but does not inspire great confidence. That extends to the ratcheting box end, which is useful for light duty but showed stress on our torque test. If you really press hard on these wrenches, the ratcheting mechanism will stick. If you flip the wrench and apply pressure the other way, it unsticks but we’re not sure how many times you can do that before the mechanism locks up or fails. The ratcheting mechanism also feels a little loose.
This set is handy enough for light-duty household use, but we wouldn’t use it in an automotive shop. Luckily, GearWrench also offers better models.
GearWrench offers a set of wrenches with a 90-tooth ratcheting system. Using 90 teeth rather than 72 means you can work in tighter spaces with just a 4-degree swing. These wrenches are still single-direction, meaning you have to flip them over to switch between tightening and loosening, but that’s easy. The 90-tooth set has “90T” stamped into the handle, so you know what to look for. A 10-piece SAE set of 90-tooth GearWrenches sells for a bit more at $109 (£90).
However, you definitely get more value for your money, because the 90T wrenches are a lot better in every way. The ratcheting mechanism is sturdy and has less wobble, and it will take more torque. The open end has shape in the jaws to grip the fastener, so it’s better in that way as well. The gap on the open end side of the wrenches is 0.010 for a nice snug fit.
The GearWrench 90-tooth options are much better for automotive work than the 72-tooth option, and it’s a much nicer set of wrenches and well worth the extra price.
How To Buy The Best Wrench Set
When you decide to buy your first wrench set, chances are good that you need that set immediately, and you’ll go to the nearest hardware store, tool store, or home improvement store for it and buy the most affordable set that gets the job done. Then later you’ll see other sets and wish you had something different. Don’t worry about that, everyone does it.
When you have a little more time to spend, like now when you’re reading reviews, you can think a bit more about your own personal wrenching situation and what features you want in a wrench set. Do you need unusual sizes, or do you need a short-handle set? Do you need a ratcheting wrench set, or do you want a set that you can carry into the field? Above all, you can comparison-shop among online and brick-and-mortar retailers for the best pricing.
How Are You Using The Wrenches?
When making a choice, any of the wrench sets that I reviewed can be the right choice, if your selection is based on your needs. If you think you’re likely to lose wrenches or need to lend them out, the least expensive sets from Craftsman, Kobalt, and Harbor Freight are good choices. If you know that your wrenches will never leave your garage, then consider Milwaukee, Klein, and Snap On.
Ratcheting wrenches like GearWrench (and many other brands including Snap On, Milwaukee, and others) tend to be an addition to the tool chest, rather than a primary set of standard wrenches. This is also a great choice because in the real world, you need more than one 1/2-inch or 13mm wrench, because the fasteners are the same size on both ends of a bolt. A set of GearWrenches allows you to put a wrench on both ends at once.
As a rule, you will always be happier with new tools, because used tools tend to be severely worn before they come up for sale. However, there’s a special piece of satisfaction when you find a quality tool in good condition at a swap meet or estate sale, so use your best judgment.