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Tap and die sets are widely used by machinists, automotive technicians and workshop owners to apply a quick fix to fastened joints whose threads have worn out. They save time; require no sophisticated machine; are easy to use and get the job done satisfactorily. While only one tap or die will fit a particular job, the best tap and die set is the one that allows you to have a solution at hand for the jobs you come across frequently.
In today’s post, we have reviewed popular sets of taps and dies to find the best combination of variety, reliability and ergonomics for different applications.
After the rankings, we’ve also explained:
So without further due, let’s begin.
Gearwrench 75 Piece Tap and Die Set Model 3887 – Overall Best
IRWIN 117 Piece Tap and Die Set with Drill Bits Model 26377 – Best for machinists and mechanics
Gearwrench 114 Piece Tap and Die Set Model 82812 – Most versatile
Efficere 40 Piece Tap and Die Set – Best tap and die set for the money
This Gearwrench tap and die set includes 34 taps and 34 dies half of which have SAE threads and the other half have Metric threads increasing its versatility of utilization across different threading standards any mechanic or home workshop owner may come across.
The size range is also wide that starts from 4-40 (SAE) and M3 (3 mm Metric) and goes up to an impressive 3/4” and M18 (18 mm Metric) bolts and screws. It makes sure you have a solution at hand for light fasteners all the way up to heavy duty bolts and screws.
The set is also a mix of fine and coarse threads along with some pipe threads as well to allow its use in average to high strength bolted joints as well as plumping.
All pieces come packaged in a sturdy and very well organized storage case with proper size markings to ensure your pieces don’t get lost or misplaced. There are some complaints of it getting broken during use, however, its lifetime warranty reduces worries as you can get broken pieces replaced by contacting Gearwrench dealers.
Whether you are trying to thread a brake pedal arm in your old pickup truck, threading a brake caliper pin in your car at your home garage or looking for a kit that fulfills the need of your CNC machine shop, this tap and die set is a great. It will thread worn out holes on your aluminum engine block in your engine rebuild project or tap a steel cradle frame as a mechanic. Its versatility will include people from those working on RC cars to collision technicians.
We found it to be the best tap and die set in competition due to its great combination of versatility with respect to the range of applications and sizes it can serve; its good quality construction and great manufacturer support in the form of lifetime warranty.
This Irwin tap and die set comprises 6 sets of machine screw taps and dies; 10 sets of SAE thread taps and dies; and 16 sets of metric thread taps and dies making it suitable for a wide variety of mechanical and automotive applications as well as use in machining and fabrication workshops.
It has a high carbon steel construction that imparts hardness and durability to its taps and dies making them reliable for use over hard materials.
The size range is also wide starting from 4-40 (SAE) and M3 (metric) going up to 1/2-20 NF and M12 (metric) bolt size. While it is not wide enough as our first pick that goes up to M18, however, it still caters for a large number of applications you routinely come across.
Just like our top pick, this set also features a mix of coarse, fine and pipe threads making it quite versatile. To improve its versatility even more, Irwin has included 36 drill bits and 5 screw extractors inside the storage box as bonus.
Apart from above, it is also a great choice for home garage work, professional tradesmen work and the kit has got covered majority of bolts used in motorcycles and trucks.
Backed by a lifetime warranty by Irwin, we found it to be the best tap and die set for machinists and mechanics due to its strong and durable construction; variety of taps and dies included (especially machine screw) and bonus drill bit and screw extractor set, all packaged in a neat and well organized sturdy storage case.
The Efficeren tap and die set comprises 17 taps and 17 dies of metric threads ranging from 3mm to 12 mm with both coarse and fine thread pitches. The set is well equipped to handle everyday tasks encountered by home workshop owners, DIYers and other non-professional users.
The taps and dies are tough enough to cut threads into materials up to mild steel without any problem. If you are working with lighter metals, you don’t need a premium tap and die set with the surplus strength to cut steel as this is the best tap and die set for aluminum, bronze and copper.
Whether you want to extract a broken bolt in a timing cover of your car and retap the hole; restore the threads on the studs of a car’s wheels that have been damaged by a bad lug nut; restoring stripped threads of a trimmer cylinder head or fixing stripped threads of your SUV’s roof rack, it will get the job done.
From simple tasks like tapping a blind hole in mild steel, stainless steel, black steel or a softer metal like aluminum to maintenance of your MINI to off-road motorcycles, this tap and die set will cover a variety of applications.
All taps, dies and wrench are packaged neatly in a hard storage box that also includes a metric thread gauge, it is priced at less than $50 at the time of this review making it the best tap and die set for the money.
Best Tap and Die Set for Versatility
Gearwrench tap and die set features again on our list with another great package that we found to be the most versatile on our list. Despite having 3 fewer pieces than the Irwin tap and die set on our list, it still has 7 more taps and 7 more dies than the Irwin. Moreover, it also beats the Irwin set in the size range as it goes up to 18mm heavy duty bolts while Irwin goes up to 12mm only.
It features both SAE thread as well as Metric thread types to allow you to work across different machines assembled by using fasteners of different thread standards. The taps and dies have a mix of fine, coarse and pipe threads to suit a variety of jobs.
Whether you are a home mechanic, own a diesel repair shop or heavy equipment mechanic, you will find this tap and die set to be of immense value to your tool kit. From repairing engine mounts on truck; restoring stripped holes for oil pan bolts and suspension fasteners or chasing threads after powder coating race car frames, this tap and die set has got you covered.
Like the Gearwrench set at the top of our list, this set also features a ratcheting T-Wrench and spring loaded cap for quick release of large tap adapters. Backed by lifetime warranty, we found it to be the most versatile tap and die set in competition.
Orion Motor Tech is a US based company that specializes in producing tools for automotive repair and maintenance work. This combo features 2 storage boxes, one is a set of metric tap and die sets while the other is of SAE. Both sets include 17 taps and 17 dies ranging in size from 4-40 (SAE) and 3 mm (Metric) to 1/2” (SAE) and 12 mm (metric).
We wouldn’t recommend this set for professional or heavy duty use, however, for light and occasional use, these sets can be very useful. Like other sets on our list, this set also has a mix of fine, coarse and pipe threads to serve different applications.
Tekton has made a good name in hand tools for providing decent quality tools at a very reasonable price. Costing at under $50 at the time of this review, this Tekton SAE tap and die set comprises 17 taps and 17 dies ranging in size from 4-40 to 1/2-13 bolts and screws covering a wide variety of light to medium load bearing joints.
Whether it is repairing bolts and holes of aluminum LS heads; chasing jacked up threads in a crank shaft or retapping motorcycle pegs, this tool will get the job done.
It features a mix of coarse, fine and pipe thread taps and dies all neatly placed in a hard storage box. One complaint we have is that its sizes are not etched deep enough into the taps and dies to make us confident they wouldn’t fade over time. Nonetheless, for its price, it is a decent set worth recommending to a non-professional user.
How do you choose a tap and die set?
Following important factors must be taken into consideration when making a decision to buy a tap and die set,
Tap and die sets are available in both SAE and Metric systems. Some sets have a mix of both types. It is best to identify what suites your application.
It is important to know the size range in which you work and match the minimum and maximum size of the set with your requirements. If you are working with automobiles, you will need a set up to 18-19 mm like the Gearwrench 75-Piece and 114-Piece sets we have recommended.
Efficare 40-Piece set on our list has 17 taps and 17 dies in the range of 3mm to 12mm while the Irwin 117-Piece set has 32 taps and 32 dies between the same size range. The Irwin set has greater resolution i.e. you have taps and dies in smaller increments than Efficare giving you more options to chose from in between the size range. Therefore, you should look for the resolution that you need in your application and avoid spending on more when you can work with less.
If you are working with assemblies fitted with high load bearing bolts, you would need fine thread taps and dies more than you would need coarse ones. Similarly, if you often work in plumbing, a pipe thread tap and die will be quite useful for you. Always check what the set consists of. All sets on our list have a mix of these three types.
The material with which taps and dies are made of is of great importance. Simple physics dictates that a harder metal will dull a softer metal when ground against each other. Since threading with taps and dies is all about forcing the pattern of one piece of metal over another, if the material of your tap is weaker, it will either produce defective threads or get damaged itself.
All sets on our list are made out of carbon steel or alloy steel best suited for materials up to mild steel. For harder materials such as stainless steel, you would need tap and die sets made out of even stronger materials such as tungsten. You must not only rely solely on the material advertised by the brand. It is better to search product reviews to find complaints of snapping and breaking during use.
Irwin and Gearwrench offer a life time warranty for their tap and die sets. This warranty covers broken taps and dies due to normal use and you can get a piece replaced if it snapped. It is always wise to look for the warranty terms of the set you intend to buy.
Last but not the least, check that the kit you are buying comes in a good storage case to prevent your pieces from getting misplaced or lost. Moreover, also check what else is inside the box apart from taps, dies and T-Wrench. All the sets on our list have a thread pitch gauge. Irwin 117-Piece set features an additional 36-Piece drill bit set and 5-Piece screw extractor set.
Follow the following steps to use tap and die sets,
1. Use a Vernier caliper to measure the nominal diameter of the hole in which you have to make internal threads. In case of using a die to make threads on a bolt or screw, measure the nominal diameter of the screw or bolt.
2. If you are using a die to repair threads on a bolt or screw, use a thread gauge to find the pitch of the defective bolt or screw.
3. Select the size and pitch of tap or die based on your finding of step 1 and 2.
4. To tap a hole, first check if the hole is blind or see through. If it is a blind hole, do check that the thread type of your tap in spiral flute type so that the metal chips come out of the hole when you are tapping into it. Also make the calculation of how deep you want to thread a blind hole that will dictate if you need a bottoming tap or not. If it is a through hole, a plug tap or taper tap will do fine.
5. Adjust your tap or die in the wrench provided with the set. Secure it properly and set the tap up over the job at 90 degrees. This step may require some experience to avoid misalignment. In case of using a die, it is simpler as you just have to insert the chamfered end of the rod or bolt into the tap.
6. Gently push and twist the tap or die over the job. Remain careful in the first few turns as it dictates the rest of the path. You will feel that once the first few turns have been made carefully, rest of the turns won’t require much effort from your side to keep the tap or die straight. Use a lubricant oil in the process.
Please check the video below for better illustration.
(Video Credit: “NewMetalWorker” YouTube Channel)
The 3 types of taps are Taper, Plug and Bottoming.
A sketch of how bottoming, plug and taper taps differ.
A taper tap is characterized by its obvious conical appearance where the diameter of the tap gradually increases over the length of the tap. This taper is useful when tapping into a hole with much smaller diameter and you would want to slowly make your way into threading the hole. It keeps the tap aligned and works slowly but accurately. In general, the first 8-10 threads of the tap are not full threads.
A plug tap has a much smaller taper (imagine cork on a bottle). It is used to repair threads of an already tapped hole or to make threads in a new hole whose diameter is not much different from the tap itself. In many applications, you first create threads using a taper tap followed by a plug tap. In plug taps, the first 5 threads are generally not full threads.
It is the type that falls on the other extreme of the spectrum as compared to taper taps. It only has first one or two half threads and then full threads start. This tap will start digging as soon as it is turned. It is used for making threads in blind holes where you want the threads to reach to the bottom of the hole.
Buyer’s Guide Questions
Tungsten is the hardest metal on earth therefore it is definitely stronger than carbon steel. Tungsten is used in tool steel to impart hardness to steel to make it strong enough to cut through tough materials, however, it is mainly in industrial applications as everyday applications in home and workshop don’t involve cutting through tough steel alloys used in industry.
Carbon steel taps and dies are strong and durable enough to cut threads on materials like aluminum, copper, bronze, iron and mild steel. Anything harder is more likely to either damage the piece or dull its threads.
High Speed Steel (HSS) is the material of choice for making tools to deal with stronger metals such as stainless steel. However, you may not need surplus strength i.e. why spend on the extra strength if your applications involve cutting only up to mild steel?
Technically speaking, as long as the tap (or die) is made of a material harder than the material being tapped, your tap will work just fine. However, steel alloys are commonly used for making tap and die sets. Let us give examples from out list:
Irwin has a great reputation in making quality hand tools. Irwin offers lifetime warranty for many of its tools including tap and die sets. It expresses the confidence manufacturer has in its products. However, it is best to match your needs with the product because no product is one fit for all. We found IRWIN 117 Piece Tap and Die Set with Drill Bits Model 26377 to be best for machinists and mechanics owing to its durability and variety.
Cobalt alloys are harder than High Speed Steel (HSS). Cobalt alloys have a hardness of around 70 HRC while HSS has a hardness of around 65 HRC. Since the threads of taps need to retain their sharpness and profile, taps made of cobalt alloys are better with respect to durability.
However, you will not gain any significant advantage from this enhanced hardness in majority of applications because most users deal with relatively softer materials than HSS. Therefore, the added cost of Cobalt (being a premium material) will not be justified unless you are working on industrial heavy-duty applications.
Do remember that HSS is a steel alloy specifically developed for making tools (especially cutting tools). It falls under the category of tool steels. Therefore, HSS is a great material for tap and die sets.
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