The 10 Best Hex Wrench Sets
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in April of 2016. Anyone who has bought furniture from IKEA is likely to be be familiar with these tools. Whether you call them Allen keys or hex wrenches, these handy little drivers make tightening or removing those specially designed bolts a quick and simple process. We've included sets in a variety of sizes and designs, so you can select the style that best suits the jobs you plan on tackling. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
May 25, 2021:
We thought the last editor for this page did a decent job of putting together a nice mix of options – including T-handle styles like the Bondhus 13390, L keys like the Wera 950 and ratchet-ready hardware sets like the Neiko 10075A – but we noticed that their was no folding models to speak of — with the exception of the XtremepowerUS Xtr-4475, a kit that includes a couple such tools, but as more of a sideshow to complement its main set of keys. With that in mind, we eliminated the Wiha 36986 and Workpro WO22018A, which were both unavailable at the time of this writing, in order to make room for a couple of new, folding choices.
If you work in a trade that requires the regular use of hex wrenches, you might be shaking your head right now, and that makes sense; if you’re thinking that there’s no room for a folding option on a best-of list, you may make a fair argument. Admittedly, if you give me a choice between a comfortable T-handle or a folding option, in the moment I’m almost sure you choose the T-handle. But for all sorts of professionals, including myself, who rarely require an Allen key, but still feel like they should keep a comprehensive set in their tool bag, folding options can present a great solution. They’re compact, fairly functional, typically quite affordable and – most importantly – they completely eliminate the frustrating prospect of possibly losing a key somewhere along the way.
Considering all that, we added the DeWalt DWHT70262 and Bondhus GorillaGrip 12553 to our rankings. The DeWalt option is an eight-in-one tool that caught our eye with its three-position locking functionality, which is quite an uncommon feature for this sort of equipment. It’s available in both metric and imperial configurations, but if you’re the sort of person who likes to have both, then you might be better off with the Bondhus option, which comprises one set of metric keys, another set of SAE wrenches and even a bonus set of Torx drivers, offering a total of 24 implements (seven imperial, eight Torx and nine metric). While it does lack the DeWalt’s slick locking functionality, it also come to the table with a lot of extra tool for not that much extra cash, which might be the better option for somebody who will be using these keys infrequently.
December 27, 2019:
Removed the Titan Tools Ball Tip because of concerns that the steel used had low tensile strength. Added the Wera 950.
Hex wrenches come in several varieties - allen keys, sockets, and T-handles among others. If you're a professional mechanic or millwright, you'll likely need a set of each. The Allen keys allow for the greatest accessibility in virtue of their angled shape. The T-handles allow for slightly less accessibility but excellent leverage and therefore torque. The sockets allow for the least accessibility but provide the means for the greatest torque when paired with a ratchet or impact wrench - if an impact wrench is used, make sure that the sockets used are impact approved, otherwise they might shatter. For these reasons, the hex wrench type was not taken into account in the rankings.
Working on machines is inherently dangerous and all safety protocols should be observed to avoid personal injury or damage to equipment.
October 16, 2018:
Removed the Ares Ball Key from the list after noticing reports that the ball ends of the wrenches tend to lack precision and accuracy. Researched the Sunex 2637 and added it into a prominent position as a high-quality comprehensive set that can be used for a variety of applications.
Klein Tools JTH98M At nine inches in length, some might find that this set is cumbersome to handle or too bulky to realistically stash in a tool bag, but if you're looking for a reliable T-handle set to keep around the shop, and you don't mind paying a higher-than-average price, then it's definitely worth considering. kleintools.com
Pro Bike Tool Torque Wrench If your main purpose for this purchase is bicycle maintenance, then you might want to consider this nifty gadget, which provides three-, four- and five-millimeter Allen keys, plus a T25 Torx driver, all in a lightweight and compact housing that's easy to bring with for a ride. probiketool.com
The History Of The Hex Wrench
Previous screws had heads that could potentially snag on a worker's clothing, get tangled up, and drag that worker into the teeth of the machine.
Whether you call them hex wrenches, hex keys, Allen wrenches, or something else entirely, these little tools have only been around for about a century or so.
The first patent was issued in 1909, by William G. Allen (hence the name). There is some debate among people who debate this sort of thing as to whether Allen actually invented the wrench that bears his name. Designs might have been around for at least 50 years by this point, but as far as anyone can tell, no one actually made one of these devices until Allen, in large part because no one was making screws with hexagonal heads, and thus there was no need for hex wrenches.
In fact, Allen's company, the Allen Manufacturing Company, began making the screws before they made the wrenches. Billed as the "safety net screw," these new devices were created as part of a general push in society to make conditions safer for factory workers.
Previous screws had heads that could potentially snag on a worker's clothing, get tangled up, and drag that worker into the teeth of the machine. This made for some pretty grisly injuries. Allen's recessed, headless screw, on the other hand, had no exposed parts that were capable of grabbing onto some cloth.
Once released, these new screws and wrenches caught on. Anyway, most mechanics and engineers weren't interested in switching to a completely new system that required purchasing all-new tools, regardless of the safety benefits.
That all began to change during WWII. Since the war effort required a massive amount of industrial manufacturing, and many of the people who would ordinarily be tasked with doing said manufacturing were fighting abroad, factories needed a way to quickly assemble products without placing inexperienced workers in harm's way. The recessed screw, and with it the Allen wrench, was seen as one of the answers to this problem.
While Allen wrenches haven't cornered the market by an means, they're now seen as an essential tool in any handyman's basic toolbox. If you've ever put together pre-fabricated furniture, you're well aware of their existence — and you've probably learned a few new swear words because of them, as well.
A Secret Tip That Makes Using Allen Wrenches Easier
Using an Allen wrench can be a frustrating experience. It can be difficult to get the wrench to stay put in the socket, and turning that little key is a chore, especially if you have big hands or are working in tight spaces.
So, what would you say if we told you there was a better way?
Don't worry, we're not going to try to sell you our overpriced course on "Secrets of the Allen Wrench" just yet. But there is a way to use these wrenches that's faster, easier, and less punishing on your hands — and all it requires is for you to break your tools.
But there is a way to use these wrenches that's faster, easier, and less punishing on your hands — and all it requires is for you to break your tools.
You're probably familiar with the basic shape of a hex key. It looks like an L, with a short little handle and a long shaft. Typically, using the wrench involves gripping the handle and trying to generate enough torque to tighten or remove a bolt. It's both painful and time-consuming.
So, what you need to do is get rid of that little handle.
Put your wrench (you can do this with all of them or just one, your choice) in a vise and tighten it. Then, using a hacksaw or a grinder, shear off that little bit of metal at the end. You can then use the grinder to clean up any remaining burrs, if you like.
Congratulations — you now have a hex key-shaped drill bit.
That's right, you can put this new little tool in your drill, snug it up, and use the drill to make short work of putting together that table or bookshelf.
Listen, we're not heroes, and you don't have to thank us. All we ask is that you send us a big basket full of money in exchange for all the time and frustration we just saved you.
Putting Together The Ultimate Cheap Toolbox
Now that you've created your own perfect little Allen wrench bit, what other tools do you need to have in your toolbox?
Before we start, we should say that we realize that tools can be expensive, so you shouldn't buy any more than what you need — and only you know what you truly need. Still, the options below should be used frequently enough by anyone to warrant inclusion in your tool set.
One of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck is to select tools that can fill multiple roles.
One of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck is to select tools that can fill multiple roles. While this can mean investing in a high quality multitool, it also requires you to think outside the box a little bit while shopping.
For example, you can use vise grips in place of pliers, clamps, wire cutters, and more. You can use a flathead screwdriver as a chisel or even a knife if need be. Now, these things won't work as well as tools designed for those tasks, and you run the risk of damaging your tools in the process, but this is a great way for the cash-strapped novice to build a collection on the cheap.
That being said, don't be afraid to splurge if it makes sense in the long run. As mentioned above, a cordless drill can be extremely useful, and can potentially replace a huge assortment of handheld tools, saving you a lot of space in your cabinet, as well. Likewise, a socket set can take the place of most wrenches in a pinch.
Of course, over time you'll add more and more pieces to your collection, especially if you find you have a knack for this DIY stuff. This should be enough to get you started, though, and most importantly, it will give you an excuse to go tool shopping.