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Tools

AP Reviews Tools

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been surveying our audience to see who makes the best tools – at least in their professional opinions. The answer, of course, is it depends. The best ratchet is likely made by a different brand than the best drill. You can break it down into trades, tool classes, power sources and so much more. But still, I wanted to know what the general perceptions are out there. So here’s how our audience answers the question, “Who Makes the Best Tools?”

Different people might have different ideas of what they consider the best tool brands. Nevertheless, certain brands are consistently at the top of independent tool reviews. Time and again, they fulfill the criteria buyers expect from them.

We’ve taken a closer look at a wide range of well-known tool brands by delving into their backgrounds. For each brand, we’ve also selected a tool that we feel is typical of the brand’s high standards.

Hand Tools vs Power Tools: What’s the Difference?

When shopping for tools, there are two options available: hand tools and power tools. DIYers and homeowners often have a hard time deciding which one is better. The answer will depend on the needs, preferences and budget of the user.

Before making a decision, it helps to have an understanding of the differences between these two tool types, their advantages, and their drawbacks.

What’s the difference between hand tools and power tools?

Hand tools are exactly what they sound like – tools that require manual labor to use. Power tools have a power source that allows them to operate automatically and without human intervention.

That power source may be a battery, air compressor or electricity.

Power tools also have motors and other mechanisms that allow them to run more efficiently and more powerfully than their manual counterparts.

Manual tools have fewer moving parts, and their designs are simple in nature.

The Benefits of Hand Tools

One of the primary benefits to owning hand tools is that there’s no need to worry about mechanical or computerized parts breaking. Hand tools have few moving parts, so they tend to last longer than their powered counterparts.

Hand tools also give users more control over the tool’s movement, which is ideal for wood carving and tasks that require finely detailed work.

Because hand tools require human power to run, they are always available for use. There is no need to worry about recharging batteries and power outages. These tools can be used any time.

With most manual tools being lighter in weight and more compact in size, they are also travel-friendly.

The Benefits of Power Tools

The main benefit to using power tools is their power. Equipped with motors, these tools use a power source, like a battery or electricity, to run. They are far more powerful than manual tools, which contributes to many of the other benefits these tools offer.

Greater power also means greater accuracy and time saved on projects. Power tools are usually more precise because they move quickly, and some have guides to make cutting more precise. More power also means that jobs get done far more quickly than they would with a manual tool.

Some power tools also handle tasks that are nearly impossible with manual tools. The jackhammer is a great example of this. Try driving nails or screws into concrete with a simple hammer. The powerful jackhammer can take care of this task with ease, which allows contractors to secure concrete anchors into walls to secure them to concrete floors.

In many cases, power tools (while dangerous themselves) are safer than manual tools. Cutting down a large tree with a manual saw takes longer and is far more dangerous than using a chainsaw.

How We Researched The Tool Market?

The power tool industry is big and complex. One brand might make the best drill while the other might make the best jigsaw. Also, the power tool lineup within each brand can get very granular, because most brands want to cover the widest market possible.

The idea behind this article was to find the best brands based on the following criteria.

I did some major renovations in and around the house recently, so I had plenty of opportunities to talk with various contractors about the tools of their trade.

I also have some friends who are carpenters, builders, and woodworkers and they are always happy to talk about the equipment they use.

The homeowners I talked to are my DIY friends and neighbors. I’ve heard them say that they’ve either inherited their tools, bought them on sale, or they did thorough research before buying them.

Warranty Length

The warranty length usually implies how confident the manufacturer is about the quality of their product. In most cases, it’s true that the longer the warranty, the better the quality.

I went through each manufacturer’s warranty page on their website to get a better feel for what type of warranties they offer.

In the power tool industry, it’s almost impossible to compare warranties just by brands, because almost every power tool has its own warranty policy.

But, generally speaking, each brand on this list has at least 2 years of wear and tear coverage on their tools. If you want to get deeper, I have included a link to each brand’s website, where you can also find their warranty pages.

User Ratings

We scanned the Trustpilot ratings for all major power tool brands.

We also visited the Amazon and HomeDepot websites to check the user rating for each brand’s most popular cordless drill (it’s a safe bet that cordless drills are among the best selling products for each brand).

Best Brands for Professionals

We have tried to find the brands that not only have the best tools but have also built a reputation over the years. Lots of happy customers help to build trust in a brand and are a good indicator of future quality and service.

The tool market is competitive, with new companies entering the market all the time, but our recommended brands have risen to the top with years of experience, high-quality tools, and expert customer service.

1. Milwaukee

Established in Wisconsin in 1924, Milwaukee has been owned by many different companies, but the quality has remained consistent. In 2005, they were acquired by Techtonic, who also owns Ryobi and Hoover.

Their reputation formed when they released their lightweight one-handed drill, the Hole Shooter, and the company only grew from there.

Now, they offer construction tools, outdoor equipment, and more. They have amassed a large line of cordless tools, leading the way with a cordless revolution.

2. Bosch

In the United States, Bosch has not kept up with rivals, and certain innovations are launched later or not at all compared to Europe.

Bosch manufactures some incredible tools. In general, their 12V and 18V series of tools aren’t as powerful as same level competitors’. Although some of their previous products were inspiring, there are fewer reasons to invest in any of Bosch’s cordless power tool systems today.

3. DeWalt

Nice quality, wide variety, comfortable ergonomics, and high reliability are only a few of this brand’s advantages. Dewalt has been successfully improving their 12V Max Xtreme Subcompact series and their 20V Max and FlexVolt cordless power tool lineups.

DeWalt enters into some product markets, such as automotive tools, with delay. Their 12V Max lineup needs to be worked on, and they seem to be improving it.

Dewalt continues to be a pioneer in many fields. They no longer play catch-up, and they’re breaking the boundaries once again.

4. Makita

Makita power tool brand earned some #1 spots in certain lists, trouncing DeWalt, while taking #2 or #3 in other tool comparisons which led us to giving it a (still respectable) #2 finish here. As mentioned above, the one factor that dipped it down below a first place slot was its wonky warranty program, under which most tools are only covered for one year from defects, while specific tools like their pneumatic nailer and battery-powered tools get the privilege of being covered for three times as long. The Makita XT505 18V combo kit comes with a hammer driver drill, variable speed impact driver, Recipro saw drivers, and a 6 1/2 inches circular saw.

And as a Japanese-based company we won’t fault Makita for not having all its tools made in the good ol’ USA, however a significant portion of its manufactured power tools do still come straight out of its production facility located in Buford, Georgia. That is why it’s our 2nd best power tool brand.

5. Ridgid

The company has topped several lists among professional construction workers for their power tools, though their primary focus (and expertise) is in manufacturing just about everything a plumber would need to do their job effectively.

Ridgid has taken some flak in recent years for leasing the brand out to another Hong Kong-based company called TTI, which also manufactures products for the likes of previously American-made brands like Hoover, Dirt Devil, and Homelight.

That said, with so many accolades under their belt it doesn’t seem as though Ridgid has let the quality of their tools suffer as a result of this rebranding, which is why although not the best brand out there, has still earned a respectable slot on our list of the best tool brands for 2021.

6. Black & Decker

Even if you are not a contractor, you must have heard about the Black & Decker brand. This is because it makes a lot more products other than power tools.

This company was founded in 1910, making it over 100 years right now. You do not survive in the same industry for over a century if you are not good at what you do.

The most notable moment of the company was in 1917 when it invented the first portable electric drill. Since then, the company has been in the forefront in coming up with innovative tools.

As we had mentioned above, it acquired DeWalt in 1960. It helped to turn DeWalt into a profitable company even when most saw it as a competitor to Black & Decker.

7. CRAFTSMAN

The Craftsman 115-Piece Mechanic Tool Set (available at Sears) is a fine example of the capable and affordable tools offered by the brand, focused on meeting the value and performance expectations of the home user.

Sears created the Craftsman tool brand in 1927, which was initially only available through Sears and later Kmart. The company soon expanded its production of hand tools and now also offers power tools, gardening equipment, work clothing, and footwear.

Long considered one of the great home-grown American tool brands, Craftsman manufacturing now occurs mostly in Taiwan, though automotive tool production remains in the U.S. In 2017, Stanley Black & Decker acquired the brand, though Sears retained certain rights and still sells Craftsman tools. Though critics suggest quality control is not always what it used to be, Craftsman tools still represent good value for the DIY user.

8. Kobalt

The Kobalt 24-Volt Cordless Impact Wrench (available exclusively at Lowe’s) is typical of this brand that provides competitive performance and pricing across an enormous range of power tools.

Lowe’s introduced Kobalt tools in 1998 to compete with rival “house” brands from Sears and The Home Depot. Kobalt tools are made for Lowe’s by a number of different suppliers. While some manufacturing occurs in Taiwan, some production is based in the home market. The company wholly manufactures its hand tools in the U.S. and assembles some of its power tool product line in the U.S. from components sourced worldwide.

While Kobalt’s reputation perhaps isn’t at the same level as the best tool brands like Bosch, DeWalt, and Makita, it is still considered a high-quality tool producer that sits above the run-of-the-mill budget market. The term “prosumer” specifies the middle ground between DIYer and professional, and it suits Kobalt tools well.

9. Skil

Skil was founded in 1926 in Naperville, Illinois, where its U.S. headquarters is still based today. The company’s first product, the worm-drive circular saw, was incredibly popular on construction sites despite being very expensive for the time. This saw set the foundation for Skil becoming known as “the” saw company for decades, though the range now includes many different tools. Company ownership has been somewhat volatile, passing from the Skil Corporation to Emerson Electric in 1979, to Bosch in 1996, and to Chervon of China in 2016, where the company now manufactures most products.

Though it can be slightly confusing for consumers, Skil uses two brand names to differentiate target markets. Skil tools are intended for the DIY user, while those branded Skilsaw are for more professional use in construction and other trades. Specifications and prices reflect this difference.

10. IRWIN

Irwin Industrial Tools began in Martinsville, Ohio, in 1885 when Charles Irwin started manufacturing auger bits. The company still manufactures a wide range of drill bits, in addition to saws, chisels, hammers, pliers, wrenches, snips, screwdrivers, knives, levels, and squares. Today, IRWIN is a part of Stanley Black & Decker.

Initially, IRWIN’s primary markets were professional carpenters and associated trades, and the American-made tools always had a reputation for durability and precision. Production now occurs mostly in China, and while there are critics, it seems that, in general, IRWIN has preserved its reputation. These are certainly not cheap tools, but they remain a contractor standard and are popular among DIY users prepared to pay for above-average quality.

Why you should trust us

I know a decent amount about tools. I have spent 10 years in construction: first as a carpenter, then foreman, and finally a supervisor running multi-million dollar renovations and helping to build some pretty unusual houses (like this one with a glass staircase). In addition to my work in the trades, I’ve been writing about tools since 2007, with articles appearing in Fine Homebuilding, Popular Mechanics, This Old House, The Journal of Light Construction, Popular Science, and Tools of the Trade. In addition, I spent three and a half years completely gutting and rebuilding my 100-year-old farmhouse, and I have since moved into a 250-year-old colonial saltbox in need of updating. As both a tradesman and the owner of old homes, I’ve become all too aware of the core group of tools necessary for general maintenance and repairs.

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