The best tap and die set contains a wide assortment of taps and dies. Since there are two standards in the U.S., you should purchase a set that offers both metric and SAE sizes. Unless you are extremely slow and careful, using plenty of cutting oil is going to be crucial to successful threading, as lack of lubrication will cause your dies to bind and break. Remember to cut a full turn, then back off half a turn, apply cutting oil as needed, and then repeat the process. Do a few practice cuts before you tackle a job that will not give you a second chance, as a tap and die set is a precision tool, and very unforgiving. Here are our top picks:
The thing that earned the GearWrench 3887 a ranking as the top tap and die set is the ratcheting handle. Instead of having to reposition your hands for each fraction of a turn, the double-ended ratchet allows you to simply crank backwards a short distance. The 3887 includes most common sizes in both SAE and metric, which is important for precision thread-cutting. Be sure to use a high quality cutting oil, or you will run the risk of breaking your dies. Even though this set is made overseas, it is sufficiently well-made, and the ratchet turns solidly without any annoying “wiggle” in the mechanism. The plastic case keeps everything organized for you, and that will save you time once you get used to the location of your most commonly used pieces.
Using a tap and die set takes practice and patience. If you are not familiar with the process, the ratcheting handle can lead to costly mistakes. Because the ratchet adds torque to the process, it is easy to apply too much force, and that could lead to broken taps or dies, or even causing you to strip the threads on what you are trying to repair. As long as you approach the job slow and careful, this GearWrench set will not cause you any problems.
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For use at home or in the garage, the Neiko tap and die set is another good option. It contains all of the commonly used taps and dies, and the case design is well laid out so you can easily find the piece you need. All of the parts are made from high-quality metal and are designed to stand up to the torque necessary for cutting thread or drilling out new holes. You may want to look at a heavier set if you use your tap and die set in a commercial setting, but this one will do fine for repairs and custom cutting around the house.
If you are looking for a high quality tap and die set that is made in the USA, the Irwin Tools 26376 is a good candidate. It includes taps and dies for both SAE and metric sizes, and the handle is small enough to prevent over-torquing when you are cutting threads. The plastic case is not very well made, and the pieces have a tendency to rattle around during transportation. This is not a big deal initially, but the sizes are printed on the pieces instead being etched into them, and when those sizes wear off, you’ll wish the case held them in the case’s marked positions a little better. You can get around this by lining each position with a piece of paper towel to help hold the dies in place.