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For years I loved matte-finish hand tools. They didn’t seem as flashy as polished gear, and they’re usually cheaper as well. But as I bought my father a third pay for homework set of fully-polished wrenches for Christmas one year (the first and second set were previous years’ gifts), I started to wonder: Maybe his love for polished tools wasn’t just aesthetic. So I asked him.

His answer: Polished tools are a hell of a lot easier to clean. In fact, you can generally just wipe ’em off with a rag, leaving a slight coating of oil on the surface to protect the tool from corrosion. My matte-finished tools act like grime magnets, requiring a lot of wiping and sometimes judicious application of solvent followed by a wipe-down with oil.

These days you’ve got a hell of a lot of finishes to choose from, including three or four from each of the major manufacturers. So which one do you like? And far more importantly — why?

(Thanks, Julia Manzerova, for the great CC-licensed photo.)

 

25 Responses to What's Your Favorite Finish For Hand Tools?

  1. Jerry says:

    Okay – I’ll be the first kid on the playground. You know, the ones that always gets beat up. So, after you read my comments, you can come back and beat me up – or at least, my opinion.
    I have a lot of old S-K Wayne (not just SK, I believe) tools. Amazing, high-polish chrome. Being the brand they are, they are very durable. Most I acquired more than 45 years ago. Still look new and get a lot of use.
    I had not thought about the grime that gets on those “fuzzy finish” tools but immediately recognized the issue. Someone here has a very wise dad!
    My eye is somehow attracted to the new “black chrome” but I’ll probably pass on them.

  2. Kurt says:

    When I made my living as a mechanic, I would buy Snap On whenever I could afford to. I tried Craftsman, Cromwell, Mac, S-K and others, but they just felt better in my hands, especially since this was so many mechanics wore gloves of one kind or another. They were highly chromed, and the ones that I still have are in very good condition, almost 30 years later. Same with the ratchets.

  3. Slow Joe Crow says:

    I always liked the stealth look of a black oxide finish, especially on Snap-On tools because you normally them from industrial dealers and not regular tool trucks. Realistically most of my stuff is Craftsman in matte finish, or Park Tool in a mix of finishes depending on the item.

  4. Dan Richards says:

    Aesthetically my favorite finish is black chrome, though I don’t actually own any of it. By quantity in box my favorite finish is full-polish chrome but there’s a lot of black oxide in there. I’m not fond of chrome finish on rougher forgings like Craftsman’s raised panel wrenches but those are in there too because I like six-point box ends, but don’t use them enough to pay Truck bucks.

  5. george says:

    i never did like the smooth shiny stuff. gave me many a busted knuckle. but that was about the only thing you could get. i prefered german wrenches.

  6. ToolGuyd says:

    Polished chrome and black phosphate for most hand tools, stainless steel for precision tools.

    I don’t really care for satin finishes.

  7. Toolaremia says:

    Chrome or bright finish for me, please. Ever drop a black oxide wrench or socket into the engine bay? Can’t see the fool things. Much easier to find a chrome tool in the shadowy depths…

  8. ttamnoswad says:

    I knew a shop tech once who took over a shop and attempted to to “organize” all the tools by sandblasting every hand tool in the shop.

    Yes…….he actually took the time to put a pile of tools in the cabinet and sandblast away the chrome finish and plastic grips for several hours.

    In those hours he devastated the shop by ruining the usability of most of the tools.

    Open end wrenches, adjustable wrenches, pipe wrenches, ball pein hammer heads, tin snips, pliers, dikes, chisels………everything!

    Kurt……if your out there……your truly a dumb fuck.

  9. cheerIO says:

    Polished or matte it really doesn’t make a difference to me. What does is the rounded or “melted” edges on the tool. What ever finish those come in, that’s what I’m buying.

  10. fred says:

    Must be an auto mechanic thing – us old plumbers got used to red paint on Ridgid and Reed pipe wrenches

  11. Manny says:

    The smooth grey matte finish looks killer in my opinion. But if its a quality tool for the right price, it doesn’t matter to me overall.

    Good topic though…..

  12. rob says:

    I’m a polished guy myself
    could have sworn I read a post just like this one long time ago here

  13. Brau says:

    I use my tools on my car and when doing woodwork. One speck of oil on wood can ruin a piece so I prefer shiny chromed tools that show all dirt and can be easily cleaned. Although I own some, I don’t like the way my Snap-On and Craftsman tools have their brand name deeply stamped, meaning grease sits in the letters, and really like the newer trend of etching the name in. I almost never buy black tools or ones with satin finishes.

  14. JB says:

    Proto professional or Williams supercombo wrenches are what I use for three reasons.
    1) I like the matte finish. Seems a little more slip proof.(But looks cool also.)

    2) The handles are more comfortable to me. I hate the Snap-on and Mac
    squared off handle profile.

    3) Proto and Williams seem to me to have better dimensional qualities. For example a 13mm will not fit on a 1/2″ fastener. I have never seen this with any other brands, not even Snap-on.

  15. Frank d. says:

    @ JB: I am glad that you mention “slip proof” in connection with the matte finish.

    We design and manufacture high-end chef’s knives (along with several thousand other products for kitchen and household) and we hear the “brushed surface gives you a better (slip proof) grip” a lot when talking to consumers. However, tests have shown that a POLISHED surface gives you a better grip when you have clean, dry hands or work in a wet environment.

    When oil/grease is present, the surface (on a micro scale) makes little difference – you would have to switch to a material other than steel.

    Personally, I prefer the matte finish – mainly because in the 70s and 80s high-end German/EU manufacturers like Gedore and HaZet and Peugeot offered only that variety whereas cheap/no-name products were always polished. But it is true – the silky matte surface IS hard to keep clean.

  16. jimbo says:

    “black chrome” i love the look and they are the easiest to keep clean

  17. Cameron says:

    Maybe it’s just a matter of loving what you have, but I’m content with my Craftsman raised panel wrenches. I received them as a gift when I was in HS, and they have served me well. I’m just a week-end wrencher, so they are not worked hard and they still look great.

  18. Mac says:

    Love my few Snap On tools, but don’t really like the polished finish on them (and other tools). Prefer the rougher finish for grip.

    My hands are usually only clean and dry when I first lift the hood! And if it’s even a little warm out, I’m gonna sweat, making it worse.

    Like the chrome though – agree with Toolaremia, easier to find.

    And I must be getting old – I’d like the size stamps to be better contrasted with the finish on the tool. Some El Cheapos I have look like they were barely stamped on the tool, so I can barely read it.

  19. dreamcatcher says:

    I too like the Craftsman raised panel wrenches. They are “girthy” enough to feel comfortable in hand and the panel along with the grainy surface gives superior grip when hands are greasy.

    I have tried other tools: SK, Snap-On, Mac, Stanley, and even Husky. But I like the Craftsman wrenches the best. They make well designed, quality crafted hand tools…..everything else they make is junk.

    One thing I don’t understand is why anyone would want a black finish tool or even a tool [like a screwdriver or pliers] black with black grips? I try to choose tools with handles that are easiest to see. Polished chrome is certainly easier to see/find/retrieve than matte black or black chrome and I go with red or blue grips over black. Now if they could just invent a fluorescent orange chrome….

    DC

  20. Phil says:

    I have mixed preferences, depending on the application. For most hand tools I prefer a polished finish because it is easy to clean. However, for hand tools I truly muscle around, I prefer a black oxide finish, since any chipping of the chrome results in lots of little razor blades. A lot of my tools I tend to use in a hand/power tool crossover fashion, so I have quite a few black oxide sockets, extensions and ratchets. The lumpy, raised panel surfaces on my polished SK combo wrench sets have served me well for over 30 years, the wrenches are easy enough to keep clean but have enough “grip” for cranking some big torque with greasy hands.

    Lastly, I recently picked up some fully polished wrench and socket sets from different makers (Craftsman, SK, Gearwrench, Kobalt, etc) to remain in my basement workshops geared mostly to woodworking and electronics for their ability to keep absolutely clean. In the past I would bring tools from the garage, then have something spoiled by bits of oil and grease inside the nooks and crannies of the tools. Keeping three distinct major sets of tools stopped a lot of headaches.

  21. cliff says:

    I have a mishmash of craftsman, husky, snapon, allen, no name, whatever, I like the polished chrome finish, except for hand wrenches, because i paint all the handles a different color for each size. makes getting the size you want a snap.

  22. John says:

    extremely clean, mirror smooth chrome vanadium.

    the chromolys and such are abused as lots of them come without the tight specifications on things like 316. but you know when you’ve got it, as the stuff remains mirror smooth for absolutely AGES and never blunts off. you can also tell, because it will cost quite a bit more – that money is the foundry bumping up the chrome / vanadium content, neither of which is cheap.

    i avoid snap-on myself. they’re overboard on the price and too much of the money is going on the name.

  23. Dutch says:

    My father used to have some nice and shiny tools laying around, they seemed to be chrome plated. As it turns out these were propably bought cheap as it turns out they were nickel plated. No problem for me and the most of us but my father wondered for quite a time where this rash came from as he had defeloped a allergic reaction to nickel…

    By the way nickel plating for these purposes was banned here in Europe

  24. Ben says:

    Black Oxide is standard in industrial use because of all the chemicals that may come into contact and “de-laminate” the chrome. Proto (the best ratchets in the world in my opinion) have the black oxide versions available.

    Another benefit is when oil or grease is around…tools are less slippery. Blac!k oxide tools should be left “dirty” ie. Oily…so they wont rust.

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