Guide to buying the best tap and die set on the market

Best Tap and Die Set
Image courtesy grsims20 via Flickr. Used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

I realized I needed the best tap and die set when I was a just teenaged kid who had a tendency to break bolts off when working on my cars.

These tools are a godsend to fix those oopsy-dos. Before we start the review, let’s understand what a good tap and die set does.

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What’s it all about?

A tap is a threaded tool designed for cutting or repairing threads on inner side of an already existing hole, thus creating female threads that hold a nut in metallic or other solid materials. The process is called tapping.

A die is the accompanying threading tool for making threads on a fresh bolt or for repairing threads of damaged male screw or bolt. The process is known as threading.

Usually, machines do the work, but manual dies and taps are used when things go wrong — i.e., a bolt head broke off.

These tools make a excellent addition if you do minor repairs of your car, boat or motorcycle at home.

Well-made set worth the money

The best way to determine if a set is worth your while is to examine the price.

Brands like Morse, OSG, Greenfield and Butterfield, though expensive, offer high speed steel (HSS) taps and dies which are of high quality and perform well.

Rather than invest a truckload of money into a brand new set, you can also try locating a used set for sale.

Pawn shops, estate sales, auctions and Ebay are great places to start. You can even ask any retired machinists you know if they are willing to sell you their used sets at a substantial discount.

However, sometimes a full set of brand name HSS taps and dies can be hard to find.

If that is the case for you, you should try starting out with an inexpensive foreign brand, or any carbon steel set, and gradually replace the taps and dies that you use the most with premium HSS tools.

Keep a look out for the single-sized boxes of three HSS taps which are usually inexpensive in common sizes.

High speed steel or carbon steel?

While experts agree that HSS is a better quality metal than carbon steel, you should only buy the specific tap and die set that you need to get your work done.

Heavier HSS tools are important in industrial settings, but carbon steel works just as well for custom cutting for repairs around your home.

As a rule, carbon steel taps and dies are typically sufficient for chasing threads rather than cutting them.

HSS taps and dies are better for cutting most of the time because they stay sharper longer and use less force.

However, since they are expensive, a good set of Hanson/Irwin, Ace or Craftsman/Sears carbon steel taps and dies should work in a pinch if you don’t have an HSS tap or die in the size you need.

How do you handle handles?

If the tap and die process is new to you, an improper handle can lead to mistakes.

For example, ratcheting handles add torque, apply excessive force and have been known to strip threads or break taps and dies.

Smaller handles are better for beginning threaders because they prevent over-torquing and help the beginner learn the process.

However, ratcheting handles are great for experienced threaders.

They save you the extra step of having to reposition your hands every fraction of a turn and they turn strongly without any wiggling.

But, if you find a high-quality used set of taps and dies with handles that are worn or inappropriate for a job, they can always be replaced.

You should never turn down a bargain on brand name HSS pieces because of broken handles that can easily be switched out.

SAE and metric sizes

Tap and die sets are found in two different size standards, metric and SAE. SAE sizes such as halves, quarters and eighths are still used frequently in the United States, so any set that does not feature these denominations is not worth your money if you live that country.

Once you buy a set of taps and dies that includes all of the most common sizes in both SAE and metric, you be able to cut threads with near-perfect precision.

After all, when it comes to threading, “close enough” is simply not an option. That is why quality tool sets must include a wide range of taps and dies to meet the requirements of all jobs.

Carrying case

A sturdy plastic case will keep all your taps and dies organized and immediately available to you.

It will also save you time once you get used to the locations of the pieces that you use the most. A good case should have a clean layout so you can easily locate each tap or die quickly.

Another reason a good carrying case is crucial is that the pieces will stay in their marked positions instead of falling out and getting misplaced upon travel.

This is especially important if you buy a set of taps and dies with the sizes printed on them rather than etched into them, since those sizes will eventually wear off.

If you have a few loose taps or dies that do not fit in your carrying case, you still should not toss them in a drawer carelessly.

You can easily craft a wooden storage rack for the taps and a wooden peg rack to stack the dies. Leaving taps and dies sitting in a drawer can lead to the tools becoming dull, damaged or rusted.

Find the best tap and die set in 2017 on Amazon.