tap and die set recommendations?

Hi folks, I'm looking for tap and die sets (SAE and metric) and would like some opinions on brands, sources, and of course what to look for in a "good" set.

A brief web search turned up the cheap import sets for $20, and other sets from $80-200. All these were for "45 pc" sets, SAE or metric.

I want neither the ultra-cheap nor the most expensive. What price would you expect to pay for a quality set?

thanks in advance,


Reply to
Brent Burton
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Brent, I highly recommend you buy as you need. That allows you to spend your money only on exactly what you use. Buy the best, and when you buy taps, buy all 3 (taper, plug, bottoming). Buy carbon steel, not HSS. Taps can be sharpened with a Dremel tool, and if you break off an HSS tap you're screwed (pun intended). I think you'll find that unless you make lamps you probably won't ever need that 1/8-27 NPT tap, but you'll always appreciate having the best 3/8-16 tap money can buy.

I'm lucky. I have had the opportunity to buy a number of machinist toolboxes populated with tooling from retired machinists. I also lived near Boeing Surplus back when they were still usable. I got a lot of my tap/dies that way. By the way, I have owned a couple import tap/die sets and the ones I had were complete garbage. I can strongly suggest you avoid them like the plague. I like Greenfield, but I'll buy taps from any major manufacturer.

For less-used stuff like 1/2" NPT pipe threading dies, buy them on ebay.

The vendors I use in order are:


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If there are any places local to you where you might be able to buy used, by all means frequent them. Keep a list of taps you're looking for in your wallet. Buy a cheap fishing tackle box, flat plastic, with lots of configurable compartments, and sort your taps into that box. It's just as good as a set.

When you need that elusive 9/16 fine thread die just buy it. Don't fiddle around with sets.

That's my 2¢ worth!


Brent Burt> Hi folks,

Reply to
Grant Erwin

Bite the bullet and get yourself a set of Starrett tap handles...... or, do what I did...... get the import set of 3 for $20 and be aggravated every time you use them. Yes, they are expensive but worth it.

Reply to

Grant Erwin wrote: | Brent, I highly recommend you buy as you need. That allows you to spend | your money only on exactly what you use. Buy the best, and when you buy | taps, buy all 3 (taper, plug, bottoming). Buy carbon steel, not HSS. | [...]

Thanks for your post, Grant. Your suggestion is exactly what I'm going to do now. During lunch I stopped at a Lowes (DIY place) just to see what they carried, if anything. Both sets that I looked at had weak-looking cast aluminum die and tap handles. I was not impressed with the tools nor their $70 price tag. HSS, too.

Thanks again. Acquiring individual pieces is the way to go.


Reply to
Brent Burton

Stay FAR away from the sets from Harbor Freight! Those black taps were either so brittle they would almost shatter from being clamped in the tapping wrench, or so soft they would just twist into something looking like a drill bit when used in anything harder than plastic. I threw the entire set I bought out years ago, except for the thread pitch gauge. That was the only thing usable in the entire set!


Reply to
Jon Elson

Hey Brent,

Now see, I agree with Grants philosophy about how to purchase, but disagree with one point. I buy/use ONLY those taps (and dies) made of HSS, with the knowledge that they may be a bit harder to get out if broken, but any broken tap is a pain in the ass anyway, and not to be worked towards. I find the HSS taps, and dies, will take a lot more WHOOPS!! and bending and jamming and back-outs, and not break, where-as the same treatment would cause a carbon tap to break.. And for me, the HSS stay sharp much longer and work better in any sort of a tapping "machine" by far. In the very commonest sizes at a wholesaler, full "boxes" of 12 pieces in a size like 1/4-20 or 5/16-18 are maybe only three times what a "big-box" hardware wants for two in package, and you get to pick your quality. In fact, at a wholesale tool supply place, you may just have difficulty finding carbon taps. That's my take on it anyway, and I'm probably closer to you at the bottom end of the food chain than some of the other experts here.

Take care,

Brian Laws>Brent, I highly recommend you buy as you need. That allows you to spend

Reply to
Brian Lawson

||Grant Erwin wrote: ||| Brent, I highly recommend you buy as you need. That allows you to spend ||| your money only on exactly what you use. Buy the best, and when you buy ||| taps, buy all 3 (taper, plug, bottoming). Buy carbon steel, not HSS. ||| [...] || ||Thanks for your post, Grant. Your suggestion is exactly what I'm going to ||do now. During lunch I stopped at a Lowes (DIY place) just to see what ||they carried, if anything. Both sets that I looked at had weak-looking ||cast aluminum die and tap handles. I was not impressed with the tools nor ||their $70 price tag. HSS, too.

My philosophy is similar and extends beyond taps & dies. I buy a reasonably cheap set ($15!) so I'll have something to chase threads on anything I run into. As I break, lose, or throw one at a stray dog, I replace with the good stuff. I've only replaced a couple in the last 2 years. Texas Parts Guy

Reply to
Rex B

The "buy 'em as you need 'em" recommendation is a good way to go. You can generally anticipate the sizes you'll be wanting to use.. #6 thru #10, 1/4",

3/8 and a few others, depending on the hardware you use most often. As you mentioned later, the handles in the store sets are usually crap.

Tap handles are good metalworking projects. There are numerous styles, one which is two bars adjusted with two screws (and it's effective), with V notches in the working area. The handles can be turned from square stock, then knurled, drilled, tapped and notched.

The die holder isn't too complicated for round dies with a setscrew. Having a lathe makes the project easier, but a couple of sections of tubing can be adapted as the holder.

If you look for high quality holders at flea markets, you'll probably find some sooner or later.

You'll want to get some good cutting lube to make your threading less problematic. I use Lenox Pro Tool Lube for threads and most cutting applications, and would rate it very good to excellent.

WB ..............

Reply to
Wild Bill

I use the inexpensive 20-30 drawer cabinets that you can pick up at Kmart etc. Each drawer has its label, and the taps are laid down on paper towel so they dont rattle against each other when opening closing

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Center right, above the drill drawers


That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer's cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there. - George Orwell

Reply to
25 years ago I bought a Taiwanese tap and die set for Pay'nPak for $5. They are miserable.

In the years since, I have been buying as I need, new taps and dies. The Enco tap handles are great. Enco, J&L, and MSC individual taps and dies are great.

This month, I paid $85 on sale for a red box Hansen Carbon Steel tap and die set, from Enco or J&L. The taps are good. The dies are ok, certainly better than Pay'npak. The die handle is bad. The tap handles REALLY suck. The big tap handle is made in China and I had to take apart and grind on before it could be used the first time. The small tap handle is not as good as the Pay'sPak, that is nearly unusable.

Reply to
Clark Magnuson

look for the Polish or Czech made sets. The Chinese tend to be brittle. IMO, better off buying individual taps and dies to suit the sizes you need - you will find that you usually only use a few of those 45 pieces. Geoff

Reply to
geoff m

I also agree. Being able to NOT break a tap is a virtual requirement as a competent metalworker. I use an 8A hand drill in low gear to run HSS M6 (smallest) taps in cast iron at work. The drill is certainly capable of twisting a tap to pieces but knowing what it _should_ feel like, knowing what a _dull_ tap feels like, and being able to tap a hole squarely seriously reduces the chances of breaking a tap.

That being said, shit happens and taps break. The dies at work don't fit in any EDM machine I've ever heard of so we have welders when push comes to shove. Frequently taps can be persuaded out with a punch and hammer, or one can use a tap extractor if the tap isn't jammed in there too badly.




Reply to
Robin S.

I also like the HSS I was able to buy over 100 taps/dies from a retired self employed machinest. I have many duplicates, but those are the sizes I use most often.

Reply to

Greenfields are on sale 20% off at J&L today and tomorrow. Promotional code is IPGWEB. I just bought some to replace the total crap Craftsman tap which left the undersized threads and munged up a bolt. Just finished making a replacement axle mount for my son's forge cart. That was easier than getting the busted bolt out of the previous one. I'll probably get the taps tomorrow and finish.

Pete Keillor

Reply to
Peter T. Keillor III

Eh? Out of two handles I've had so far, one I broke out of frustration after breaking a #8 tap, the other is going strong. Seems to do just fine on the bed casting, 1/4-20 threads 3/4" deep, blind, bottoming out with carbon steel Hanson tap. Still sharp after the 14 holes, not to mention the many other holes in steel and aluminum it's threaded. Not like this bastardized alloy is very hard to machine...

I also buy as I need... I'm too cheap to get stuff I'm not going to use. ;) Lesse, I've got 6-32, 8-32, 1/4-20, 3/8-16, 1/2-13 and 1/2-20 taps and 3/8-16 and 1/2-20 dies right now.


-- "I've got more trophies than Wayne Gretsky and the Pope combined!" - Homer Simpson Website @

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Reply to
Tim Williams

If you have patience, try auctions. Some farm auctions have lots of tools. Just about any american made set in a wood box would be ok. Some years ago I got an excellent set for $10, included about 45 pieces with good large handles and 1 inch dies. The dovetail box alone was worth the money.

Reply to

Hey Brian,

Congratulations on a very coherent response, one that I almost submitted as well, but deleted it and went out to work on the house today.

I'll have no part of carbon steel taps for my use aside from some offbeat thing I may have to manufacture for limited usage. Carbon steel has it's place, but taps or drills certainly isn't one of them, and for all the reasons you stated. While it may be somewhat easier to remove a broken carbon steel tap from a hole, you'll have to remove one hell of a lot more of them. HSS beats carbon steel hands down for tensile strength, and generally resists wear much better, too. If that weren't the case, HSS taps would not have, for the most part, replaced them. The best part is HSS taps are almost exclusively ground, whereas many of the older type (carbon steel) taps are machined. The difference in surface finish plays a big role in how long and well taps work.

One is far better off to learn to use taps properly than to buy junk taps that give trouble consistently.

Don't power tap with 4 flute (hand) taps, and avoid as much as possible, tapping by hand with power taps. It's also a great idea to follow your tap when tapping by hand, using a center in your chuck, part clamped or held in a the vise, turning the tap with a wrench or tap handle. That keeps the tap on center and dead vertical. It's also a great idea to use a tapping fluid. Using random oils for tapping can lead to lots of problems with tap breakage.


Reply to
Harold & Susan Vordos

All the advice of buying as you need and buying all three [taper, plug, and bottoming] is very good. I do suggest that you may also want to include a "gun" or chips ahead tap. I find these to be very helpful with a through hole as the grind produces a shearing action. These have become my preferred tap.

Two other suggestions:

(1) when you purchase the taps buy screw machine length [short] drills in the tap and body clearence sizes. Short drills are more rigid and depending on your tapping technique can reduce the amount of time you spend cranking the head/table up/down for clearence. (For most of my projects I find the shorter length screw machine drills to be a better choice than jobber length even for just drilling holes.)

(2) Get some small caliber plastic ammunition boxes. I find these to be ideal to hold the taps and screw machine length drills.

It would seem that the supply houses [or the drill/tap index people like Hoyt] would pick up on this and offer "paks" with all 4 tap types and the two drills for a given size.

Reply to

For scope mounting on rifles, an odd size, 6-48 is used. Typically, a gunsmith will have a dozen of these taps.

Reply to
Clark Magnuson

If you can drop into Lowes during lunch, then buying as you need them is probably okay. Somehow I have always lived about ten miles from the nearest store. So I bought a set many years ago. And for me that was the right decision. My life is not so organized that I can predict what tap or die I will need that day. I think you will spend less especially in time buying a set.


Reply to
Dan Caster

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