Tools that aircraft mechanics most commonly overpay for

        Today I just wanted to write  a note about some of tools that mechanics commonly pay too much for.  I think that the most common mistake that aircraft mechanics make in starting out is buying a big tool set from one of the tool trucks.  I understand buying a big set on the school discount, particularly if you don't have many tools to start with, but I think that doing so is a big waste of money.  You will discover that many tools are not worth shelling out extra to get top-line brands in.  First off, the big sets will inevitably include tools that you will seldom, if ever, use.   Secondly, even some of the tools that you use will not be appreciably different than a Craftsman or Harbor Freight knock off that costs, in most cases, less than half what you paid.  It is very difficult to buy tools without knowing what is worthwhile and what you will need.  I advise you to work in your field with the minimal toolset if it is at all possible, and then add to your collection as you see the need and save the money.  I would definitely advise you to save as much money as you can in these areas and save your pennies to spend on tools with moving parts (where the tool truck warranty is of greatest value).  This is a still evolving list, and I will be posting pictures later, but I have been sitting on this since January, so I figured it was time to publish it.

Here is my list of tools that aircraft mechanics most commonly overpay for.  

1.  Sockets - For an aircraft mechanic using almost exclusively 1/4" drive tools, tool truck sockets simply offer little or no advantage to the cheaper ones.  I have five complete 1/4" drive sets at work - two complete Gearwrench six-point shallow sets (one modified to be an extra shallow set), one Craftsman twelve point shallow, one Craftsman twelve point deep well, and one Craftsman six point deep well.  (The double on the deep well is definitely overkill, but I had to use up the slots in the Mechanic's time saver, right?)  I have used the Matco, Snap-On, and Mac tools, and I can say definitively, that in two years of maintenance my sockets have done everything the same as the tool truck sockets, and I have never broken a single one.  I have Craftsman and SK 3/8" & 1/2" drive sockets, and I probably only use them a couple of times a week.  I have a definite preference for American made tools, but you could definitely get away with the Harbor Freight sockets in these sizes.  I also have a Stanley 3/4" drive 5/8"-2 3/8" set that I use for axle nuts, and it works perfectly.  I don't even own any 3/4" drive tools because I always use an adaptor down to at least a 1/2" drive ratchet, but most commonly I adapt down to a  1/4" drive torque wrench, so quality is not a concern at all with these larger sizes.  You are simply going to be after the metal.

2. 3/8" and 1/2" drive tools - I mentioned above that I only use my 3/8" and 1/2" drive stuff maybe once or twice a week.  Don't waste your money to buy a $70-80 ratchet in these drive sizes.  Whatever you have already will work, and if you don't have one, Craftsman sells American made ones for $10-15, and they will serve perfectly.  The big tool sets always include this, even though we seldom use it in aviation. 

3.  Most pliers - In two years of maintenance in a ten man shop, I have never seen anyone take a warranty on a set of pliers.  The reality is that we in aviation maintenance see very few things that are frozen or rusted outside of screws, so we do not have to abuse our tools like people who work on cars or trucks.  The vast majority of tool truck pliers are copies of other pliers, or have been copied well by Craftsman or others.  There are exceptions to this rule, most notably wire cutters and safety wire pliers.  Nobody really makes a good knock-off pair of safety wire pliers in particular.  Some of the long -handled wire cutters I have not been able to find anywhere besides on the tool truck, and a good set of wire cutters are probably worth the money because of the frustration and time they will save.

4. Picks - The tool truck ones just offer 0% added functionality, and Harbor Freight and Craftsman both warrantied the only ones that I have broken (both through abuse).  I could buy ten sets from Harbor Freight for what they want for one tool truck set.

Bet you couldn't tell

5.  Punches - Again, these may be worth the extra money for an auto mechanic, but i just have found that as long as you don't abuse them, the cheap punches will last just as long as the good ones.   

6.  Hammers - Pretty self explanatory.  We don't spend all day with one in our hand, so you don't really need to invest in an expensive sledge hammer.  The one possible exception is a dead-blow hammer, but I have never used a cheap to be able to definitively say.

7.  Files - I have not found any good reason whatsoever to spend extra for brand-name files (more comfortable handle?).  They all are very capable of cutting aluminum, and that is pretty much what we use them for.  

8.  Mirrors - There is no justification for a tool truck markup here.  You have to buy replacement mirrors anyway.  

9.  Magnets - The markup on these things is horrific.  I bought a couple of no name extending magnets from Sears for a dollar each, and they are great.  One source for really strong rare earth magnets is used computer hard drives.  One of these saved my rear when I dropped a tool down into a rudder with no access at the bottom.  I was able to move the tool from the outside and slide it up to a point where I could reach it with a magnet from the top.   They also make awesome magnets when attached to a coat hanger.  You can also buy rare earth magnets on ebay for a little bit of nothing.


  1. Yeah and a Ferrari will get you to the same point as a Honda civic at the end of the day.
    But why settle for less when you can have the best?

    1. You make my point exactly. Not everyone can afford the Ferrari, or would chose to be homeless to own one. Why pay more for functionality (or warranty coverage) that you aren't going to use?

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  3. While I agree with the majority of what you said; I do believe that there are advantages to some of the box truck tools over store bought stuff that you looked over.

    Background: I'm a 33 year old A&P (of 7 years) and have been a mechanic since my first job working in a bicycle shop at 16.

    From car truck, bike, moto, and aviation experience, I have found....

    -Hammers and Files = Yeah, store bought is fine. But buy name brand store bought like (Nicholson) (Estwing)

    -Picks= The metallurgy of, say, a Snap On picks (Sockets & wrenches too) is much better than any store bought brand that I have used. I have bent and straightened and bent Craftsman and Pittsburgh picks as well as separate them from their handles. Never messed up a Snap On pick, awl that I didn't use as a pry bar LOL!!!

    Pliers and such = Knipex (German and affordable) wins hands down. I have chipped, way too many Craftsman, Klien, and now even Chanellock have issues and some of the dyke, nippers are just hard on the hands and the leverage point sucks. Snap on pliers and dykes are awesome and so worth the money but for some reason. Even the BluePoint made in China stuff is decent for a weekly used tool. Oh by the way Mac pliers suck!!! The rivet comes loose way too fast...

    -Sockets = As of around 2012'ish most store bought brands went from made in USA to made in china AND IT SHOWS!!!! new craftsman sockets are so sloppy they fall off my Ernst socket trays and "wobble" on my "Non wobble" extensions. The exception to this is now tools made in Taiwan (Not china) such as Lowes Kobalt brand.

    ANY EXTRACTOR or hardened tool steel object buy SNAP ON and cry once not every time you have to drill a snapped off hardened steel extractor out of a softer metal bolt screw or aluminum!!!

    It is also a really good idea to buy box truck ratchets. Sockets don't break too often, True!!
    But a ratchet that skips a gear and then leaves you with a busted hand, knuckle and some blood blood sucks and gets old fast.

    Real life experience say invest in box truck tools that break often = Ratchets, extractors, ect.

    Also do some research, some truck brand tools are just other brands with box truck logos painted on. Mac sells knipex tool with Mac logo and are much more that the same tool at sears.

    Hope this long winded overly late response helps some of you guys.

  4. Thank you for this. I'm about to get my A&P and it was helpul in compiling a realistic and frugal tools list.

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  6. I have been working on planes since the early 1990s. I agree with most of what you say but differ in one area. Buy top quality 1/4" drive sockets. you will get into situations where cheap sockets will ruin things. Some turbine engines have soft nuts and cheap sockets and wrenches will ruin them. Trust me you do not want to spend a day with a dremel tool trying to cut off a nut in a bad place.

    I recommend that you buy the best quality sockets and wrenches for 1/4" to 9/16". Snap on prices suck but for your most used tools you will not regret the extra cost for long.