KOBALT 63-PIECE STANDARD/METRIC MECHANICS TOOL SET
Normally, I never include conventional tools in this section; things like socket sets and ratchets are as common as houseflies, so you don’t need me to tell you of their existence. Unless, of course, there is something special about them.
Well, Kobalt’s 63-Piece Standard/Metric Mechanics Tool Set (part #338513) has three “something specials”: quantity, quality and price. In addition to a 3/8-inch-drive ratchet, the set includes 18 SAE sockets (8 3/8-in.-drive ranging from 5/16- to 3/4-in., plus 10 1/4-in.-drive from 5/32- to 1/2-in.); 18 metric sockets (9 3/8-in.-drive from 10 to 18mm and 9 1/4-in.-drive from 4 to 11mm, including a 5.5mm socket); a 5/8-in. sparkplug socket; a 3-inch-long, 3/8-in.-drive -in.-drive extension; and a 3/8-to-1/4-in.-drive converter. There’s also a soft-handled nut driver in the set, along with five metric and seven SAE driver sockets, plus three Phillips, three straight-blade, two Torx and two square-drive bits. And it all comes in a molded plastic case that keeps everything securely snapped in place.
That’s the quantity part. The quality is evident in the lustrous chrome finish on the ratchet, extension and sockets. The ratchet has a solid, substantial feel and an exceptionally smooth, 72-tooth gear mechanism that allows it to re-engage after only a 5-degree swing of the handle—great for working in tight spaces. A locking device prevents sockets and extensions from detaching until a release button on the backside of the ratchet is pushed. The sockets also are nicely made and fit properly on their designated fasteners. For quick and easy identification, the SAE sockets have a red stripe around their circumference and the metrics are marked with blue, and they all have their sizes laser-etched on the sides in large letters and/or numbers.
Which brings us to price. Kobalt is the house tool brand for Lowe’s, which lists this set for $49.95 on its website. That’s an excellent price for 62 good-quality tools in a matching case—about 79 cents per piece. But I have seen and heard of these sets being sold in some Lowe’s stores for much less, even as little as $29.95, and that’s a screaming deal by any standards.
Pro bike techs and experienced home mechanics are not likely to have any interest in this set; they no doubt already own a much wider variety of hand tools. But for anyone who wants a starter set that’s both affordable and of good quality, this one is hard to beat.
(NOTE): Since this item appeared in Tool Time, Lowe’s has discontinued this particular tool set but has expanded its line to include 26 sets ranging in price from $9.97 to $199.97 and in content from 16 to 227 pieces.
IRWIN PERFORMANCE THREADING SYSTEM
There’s nothing new about the concept of taps and dies. Such tools have been in use since sometime early in the 18th century when blacksmiths began making threaded fasteners out of metal instead of wood. But there have been countless improvements and innovations in tap-and-die design over the years, and some of the latest can be found in the Performance Threading System (PTS) from Irwin Tools (www.irwin.com). This collection consists of separate tap, die and drive-tool sets, each packaged in a locking plastic case with a clear plastic top.
Aside from their high-quality construction and materials, what makes the Irwin taps and dies different is their self-aligning feature. With conventional taps, which have either full or tapered cutting flutes that begin right at their very starting end, the tap sometimes resists maintaining proper alignment with the hole as the cutting process is begun. But with these Irwins, the first 15-percent or so of each tap has a smaller, non-cutting diameter that’s a precise fit into the correct-size hole for the tap size; this allows the tap to be perfectly aligned before any cutting begins. You just place the tap into the opening and begin cutting, assured that the threads will be perfect straight from the start.
A similar design allows the Irwin dies also to have perfect starting alignment. The first section of the cutting area has no flutes and is sized to fit perfectly over the bolt or rod being threaded; thus, much like with the taps, you slip the die over the end of the bolt/rod and begin turning, with no worry about the first couple of threads being compromised.
Irwin’s PTS tap design does, however, prevent holes from being tapped all the way to the bottom. This requires what are called “bottoming” taps that have full flutes from start to finish. With the Irwin dies, though, you can just flip the die 180 degrees and finish the cut all the way to the base of the bolt or stud if so desired.
Plus, Irwin’s drive-tool set contains an innovative “drive stock” (the traditional name for the handle used to turn the taps and dies). Unlike other drive stocks, most of which use a small set screw to hold a die in place, the Irwin has a nifty locking wheel. You just drop a die into the hex opening on the back side of the handle and give the wheel a 1/6 turn to the right, which locks the die in place and holds it securely.
In addition, the set includes two adjustable tap-socket holders (one for the smaller taps, another for the larger) that also drop into the drive stock and lock in place with the wheel. What’s more, if there’s not room to swing the 9 1/2-inch-wide drive stock, the set comes with a 4 1/2-inch, removable T-handle, along with both SAE and metric thread gauges.
High-quality tools are never cheap, and neither are these Irwin sets, which are available through many popular retail and online hardware, tool and auto-parts outlets. The PTS Alignment Taps (part #4935352 SAE; 4935353 metric) and dies (4935058 SAE; 4935059 metric) generally go for between $45 to $55, depending upon the seller, while the Drive Tool set (4935055) ranges from $50 to $60.
Give them something they actually want, like this midweight leather jacket with twill lining and contrasting leather accents and graphics.