Review: Why the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set belongs in your garage
Tackle regular maintenance, engine rebuilds, and everything in between.
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In 2013, I cracked open a Ducati dry clutch for the first time. I also flushed the brakes and changed the oil on my trusty, rusty pickup. In 2015, I stripped an old two-stroke Suzuki motocross bike down to the frame and gave it a thorough (but budget-friendly) refresh. During my time with a lovely little Volkswagen, I replaced its pesky high-pressure fuel pump cam follower every 10,000 miles. As I write this, the aforementioned truck is sitting outside with a freshly rebuilt motor, new brakes, and new suspension.
What do all these projects have in common? Aside from me cussing up a blue streak and learning the hard way, they were all completed using the same Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set.
The tools were a birthday gift from my parents, who must have recognized that my penny-pinching frugality and attachment to needy old vehicles weren’t going away. Best, then, to provide me with the tools to keep my various project vehicles up and running. As excited as I was to open that black and red box for the first time, I had no idea how useful it would prove to be.
Years later, I’ve turned enough wrenches and busted enough knuckles to know this tool set like the back of my greasy little hand. I’ve certainly added to my collection during the same time, and I’ve developed fond feelings for several brands of tools, so I’m no Craftsman apostle. I still don’t know enough to get through any repair without an angry YouTube or forum search, but if you want to know about this tool set, you’re in the right place because I have plenty to say.
Pieces: 232rnrnRatchet drives: 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, 1/2-inchrnrnMaterial: Vanadium steelrnrnFinish: Polished chromern
Craftsman builds tools, not intricate packaging slathered in marketing gibberish. Expect your new gear to arrive with a simple cardstock band with basic branding and product information.
If you’ve spent much time around hand tools, you’ll notice that the box itself is midway between high-end tool cabinets and the flimsy storage that’s included with budget kits. Molded plastic is inexpensive, but it does the job just fine. Latches snap firmly to keep drawers in place. An individual slot for each component keeps things organized –– a perk for most, and a blessing for neat freaks like me. Cleaning up at the end of the day is a lot easier when you can quickly scan the tray for open slots instead of retracing your steps to search the whole garage with blurry eyes.
Inside this tool chest are combination wrenches, ratchets, extensions, sockets, deep-well sockets, a dedicated spark plug socket, and hex keys in standard and metric sizes. Some variations also include miniature combination wrenches for small nuts and bolts in hard-to-reach places. A sufficient selection of six- and 12-point sockets let you choose between maximum grip and ease of use. That’s what I call being set up for success.
This tool set’s size and weight stay true to its middleweight identity. It includes the most commonly-used standard and metric sockets and wrenches. Three sizes of ratchets keep the bases covered for all but the most heavy-duty jobs. Still, the whole thing is easy enough to pack around when you want to save trips across the garage or load it into the car to help a buddy across town. Any smaller, and it might not have what you need. Any bigger, and you probably wouldn’t want to move it.
Life with the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set
Contrary to what you see on most car repair shows, wrenching is a messy business. My tools get regular baths in oil, grease, coolant, and a constant cloud of rust dust. I’m consistently pleased with how easily it all wipes right off Craftsman’s chrome plating. Despite all the chemicals, drops, and scrapes, these tools are no worse for wear after eight years of torture and torment.
The whole set is reasonably portable. I’ve loaded it up and taken the show on the road plenty of times. During the break-in period of my rebuilt engine, this tool box stayed in the cab in case my own handiwork got me into a bind. When a friend needed help installing an add-a-leaf kit to his Tacoma, off I went with my tool set in hand. The rest of the time has been spent next to the beer fridge in my garage –– a position of honor. Whether I need a beefy 3/8-inch drive to break a corroded bolt free or a Torx bit to install a new license plate light, opening this old tool box is always the first step to getting the job done.
What separates this tool set from the professional arsenals you’d see in a professional garage? It’s less about what’s in the box and more about what’s not. As strong as these ratchets are, there are times when it’s better to use a simple breaker bar instead. Some bolts are so stubborn that even that isn’t enough, or maybe there isn’t room to tag-team with a breaker bar and cheater pipe. You need an impact driver for that kind of work. The resulting force can be so strong that it compromises the chrome plating on basic sockets, so you’ll need to invest in a set of heavy-duty impact sockets. These can be identified by their matte black finish and noticeable heft.
Working on cars involves plenty of other specialized equipment that requires separate purchase. Plan on buying at least one torque wrench, because your wrist is not calibrated as precisely as you think. Other tools (pullers, presses, and the like) can usually be borrowed at your local auto parts store if you don’t plan on using them enough to justify a purchase.
How we tested the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set
Let’s agree to call the past seven or eight years a long-term review. During that time, I put this tool set through its paces both as a mobile kit and the centerpiece of my garage workbench. It’s had a go at bolts with so much corrosion I had to size up a socket, and high-end components so clean you could eat off them. Oil changes and complete engine tear-downs have been accomplished with the same set of tools.
The ratchets and wrenches got me through my engine rebuild from start to finish without a hiccup. The screwdriver handle and its assorted bits (six-point sockets, included) were a huge help when dealing with endless bolts holding plastic bodywork onto my old dirt bike. Street bikes seem to have more than their share of hex bolts, so having a large selection of keys at my disposal came in handy more than once.
It’s pretty remarkable to think about everything I’ve gotten done with these simple hand tools. The last job I did was replacing the carpet in my pickup, which involved unbolting the seat mounts, unscrewing a few interior trim pieces, and using Torx bits to remove the seatbelts. None of this was complicated or difficult, but it would have cost hundreds of dollars in labor to have someone do it for me. This kind of equipment can pay for itself nearly every time you open the lid and give you the satisfaction of knowing your vehicle is running smoothly and looking its best because of you. Of course, the same is true if your vehicle is a heap.
What we like about the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set
If you can’t tell by now, I’m a big fan of this tool set. I still collect tools like a hoarder who’s inhaled too much brake cleaner, but this was a solid foundation that gave me the courage to dive into this world of DIY work.
Versatility is one of this set’s greatest strengths. The three drive sizes make it easy to delicately assemble aluminum components with the 1/4-inch ratchet or give corroded suspension retaining bolts the business with the burly 1/2-inch ratchet. Most jobs land somewhere in between with the 3/8-inch drive ratchet. All three have extensions to reach into tight spaces. There are enough combination wrenches to handle most other tasks, and the individual hex keys are far more maneuverable than a folding set. The generous suite of standard and metric sizes across the board almost never leaves me stranded (I’m looking at you, Dodge, with your whacky 1-11/16-inch axle retaining nuts).
I appreciate the little touches that make this set particularly car-friendly. One of those things is the selection of deep-well sockets. Being able to spin a nut off a stud without contorting my hand to use a wrench makes a world of difference. Torx bits are a must-have for anyone who works on cars. Not only does this set have 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch drive bits for things like headlight housings and engine accessories, it has screwdriver bits that make popping plastic bodywork off and on a snap. The spark plug socket can save you money and frustration. A simple deep-well socket will work, but having a protective lining to secure a fragile ceramic spark plug makes the job easier and less stressful.
I know that some people swear by high-end tools sold from magical vans. Others have used cheap generic tools from their local hardware store for years without a problem. I don’t have endless money to throw around, and I’d rather not chance it with bargain-bin specials. Craftsman, and this mechanics tool set in particular, give me peace of mind without stretching the budget. This set includes all the most commonly-used components without up-charging for things I don’t need.
What we don’t like about the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set
While a lot to like about the Craftsman set, it usually starts to show its weaknesses deep into more serious projects. Rusty underbodies and high-strung German cars have sent me searching more than once.
When elbow grease doesn’t cut it and professional-grade impact drivers are called upon, the ‘sockets in this tool set aren’t what you need. That much force can crack chrome plating and damage the socket itself. To finish rebuilding my pickup, I had to add impact sockets to level-up my arsenal with power tools. This isn’t a deficiency of the Craftsman tool set, but it is an extra cost you need to plan for if you intend to get deep into the weeds.
Hex bits for the ratchets would also be helpful, but they can be added later. There have been a few times when the hex keys weren’t quite strong enough and I had to buy one set of standard and one set of metric sizes. These are especially handy when working on motorcycles. I opted for 3/8-inch drive and haven’t had a need for anything larger than that. Those of you with cars of the German variety may also be familiar with triple-square bits. They aren’t especially common in the big picture, but I added a set of those just to be safe.
Let’s be real: Most people have no clue how much money it actually takes to keep a car on the road. They’ll criticize a kid with a $40 muffler for being irresponsible, then turn around and drop hundreds of dollars at the dealership for a “multi-point inspection” or “tune-up” that’s little more than an oil change and a new cabin air filter. If you ask these people why they don’t do the work themselves for half the price, they’ll probably say they don’t have the right tools.
Good news, friends: the tools are right here. They’re easy to use, built to last, and relatively inexpensive. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when I opened this tool box for the first time. I started with simple maintenance like oil changes and brake flushes. I read my repair manual until the pages were as thin as tissue paper. Now, I have enough confidence to complete most tasks myself and the humility to hand the rest over to a professional.
Buying a basic tool set can be one of the most empowering and liberating investments you can make in yourself. Put one of these in your garage and start getting your hands dirty; if nothing else, it’s a great excuse to crank up some Waylon Jennings and pop the top on a cold beer. Take something apart. Put it back together. Give yourself permission to learn from your mistakes. Hell, I certainly did.
FAQs about the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set cost?
A: The Craftsman Mechanics Tool Set will cost you about $250. Consider that most shops have a labor rate of more than $100 per hour, and this investment will probably pay itself off the first time you use it.
Q. Is this tool set good for DIY projects?
A. This kit occupies a happy medium between budget tools and a suite of professional-grade goodies that can cost thousands of dollars. It has everything you need to perform most jobs in your garage, including regular maintenance, repairs, and modifications.
Q. Can the Craftsman Mechanic’s Tool Set tackle big projects, too?
A. Big projects usually require specialized tools, but most of what you need is right here. When I rebuilt my truck’s engine, I spent the vast majority of my time using tools from this kit.
Some of the other tools you might want to consider for big projects are an impact driver and sockets, a ball joint press, and a torque wrench. If you don’t have a set of jack stands already, they’re a necessity for many DIY auto repair jobs.
It never hurts to have a good cheater pipe, either.
Q. Are Craftsman tools durable?
A. Craftsman built a reputation for quality long before I popped my first hood. I’ve never had a tool failure or even seen so much as a chip in the chrome, and I ask a lot of my equipment.
If all else fails, the tools in this set are covered by a manufacturer lifetime warranty. No questions asked, no fine print to read, no receipt necessary. Just take a broken tool to any retailer that sells Craftsman products and you’ll be taken care of. That kind of guarantee inspires a lot of confidence, especially at a competitive price.
Q. How do these tools compare to other brands?
A. Hand tool preference seems to be a generational trend. Many younger mechanics and DIY-types will swear up and down that Snap-On is the gold standard. The previous generation loves Craftsman and many of them can’t be convinced to make the switch. Husky is another popular brand and tools are readily available from most retailers.
How much are you willing to spend? Realistically, several brands make solid tools. I appreciate Craftsman because the tools rock and the price is right. I’m more than happy to stock my garage with tools backed by a bullet-proof warranty.
I would recommend avoiding the cheapest generic brands. Ratchets, in particular, are prone to failure if the build quality isn’t up to snuff. Go ahead and invest in quality tools from day one to save yourself from breaking something mid-project.
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Scott Murdock is a Marine Corps veteran and contributor to Task & Purpose. He’s selflessly committed himself to experiencing the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.