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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best hex key (Allen) wrench sets

Last Updated June 2019

Not everything can be fixed with duct tape, a hammer, and WD-40. You need the proper tool to get the job done right. For instance, when you have a screw with a hexagonal socket, there's nothing else that will tighten or loosen that screw but a hex key/Allen wrench. And, since every size of screw requires a different size tool, one hex key wrench is not enough; you need an entire hex key wrench set.

Besides size, there are other factors to consider before buying a hex key wrench set. Handle shape, depth, edge, and the number of keys in the set are all important factors.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about hex key wrench sets, how to use them, and which products we’re recommending.

Because the corners of a bolt had a tendency to catch clothing, the round-shaped Allen safety set screw was invented to reduce accidents and injuries in the workplace.

Primary considerations

Size

Measuring the distance between any two parallel sides on a hex key wrench gives you the tool's size. That measurement is called across-flats (AF). If you do not match the tool size exactly to the screw size, you could permanently damage both when trying to tighten or loosen the screw.

SAE/metric

These are the two measuring systems you will find on hex key wrenches. SAE can also be called imperial, U.S., or inches. The best sets include wrenches with both SAE and metric units.

Length and depth

The length of the long arm on an L-shaped hex key wrench is what gives you the needed leverage to tighten or loosen a screw. The depth of the short arm determines the tool's reach. Sometimes, the space is tight, and you need a lower depth. Other times, inset bolts may be impossible to reach with regular hex key wrenches, so you will need something longer. Consider your needs before purchasing a hex key wrench set to ensure you get the tools that serve you best.

Materials

You want your hex key set to be made of a durable material. A high-grade steel or a performance-enhancing alloy is fine, as long as it is not too brittle. Be careful when considering low-end sets, as these materials may not be as durable as you need, and the corners may quickly round off, making the tool unusable.

Surface finish

The coating on a hex key wrench should be rust-resistant. Many individuals prefer a black oxide finish, but sometimes it can be hard to locate a small black tool at the bottom of your tool box. It can also be hard to find when dropped while working. Because of this, some individuals prefer a brighter or natural finish so the tools can be easily located.

Number of keys

As mentioned above, if you don't match tool size to screw size, you could permanently damage both. Because there is such a wide variety of screw sizes, you need a wide range of tool sizes, both SAE and metric, if you want the best hex key wrench set.

Hex key handles

Although the handle on a hex key is also a primary consideration, there are enough variations to give this feature its own section.

L-shaped: This is the traditional L-shaped tool that you probably picture in your head when thinking of a hex key wrench. It is bent in a 90° angle (like an "L"), and it features a long arm and a short arm.

T-handle: A T-handle is a crossbar on top of a long shaft. Some slide to allow the tool to be more versatile. This design provides balance and moderate leverage, but it won't work in all situations.

P-handle: On P-handle hex key wrenches, the handle is located at the bend, which gives the tool greater versatility. Using the short arm to fasten or unfasten, you get the leverage of an L-shaped tool. Using the long arm, you get the benefit of a T-handle.

Three-way: This is a convenient tool, as it features three sizes in one. (Picture a wheel with just three spokes.) Unfortunately, it can be awkward or unusable in tight situations, so be sure this is a tool you can actually use in your particular situation before purchasing.

Ratchet: A ratcheting hex key wrench set is a good choice in many situations. However, it can have the same limitations as other large-handled tools. If you prefer the convenience of a ratcheting tool and it fits in your work space, this might be a suitable option.

Screwdriver style: Like it sounds, this is a screwdriver with a hexagonal tip. It can be useful in specific situations where a long, straight reach is required. However, other types of tools can often accomplish the same task.

DID YOU KNOW?

Allowing a slotted or Phillips-head screw to cam out is actually part of the design. It is used so a screw can't be overtightened.

Hex key tool ends

The end of the hex key wrench that inserts into the screw has been fine-tuned over the years. Today, instead of one option, you have many.

Straight edge: The traditional hex key wrenches feature a straight edge (90°). This is effective and works fine, but it is not your best option.

Chamfer edge: A chamfer is a beveled edge. It allows for easier insertion of the tool and helps prevent damage to both the tool and the screw.

Ball end: Like it sounds, a hex key wrench with a ball end is rounded to allow you to access a screw at a variety of angles. This is a desired feature in many settings, as it provides the most flexibility. However, if you’re not careful, it could slip and potentially damage the screw and the wrench.

Magnetic end: A magnetized tool helps hold the tool in place while you work. This handy feature can become annoying, though, as it will pick up any stray scraps and filings. Plus, it only works on screws that are affected by magnetism.

Spring clips: Frequently, a spring clip is a better option than a magnetized end. Different manufacturers achieve this in different ways, but the results are the same: a spring-loaded clip applies outward pressure when the hex key is inserted, helping to keep the tool in place while working.

Hex key wrench storage

Since hex key wrenches can be rather small, it is easy to lose them. You need to find a way to prevent that from happening. You could either throw them all in the bottom of your tool box and hope for the best, or you could try one of the following options.

Key ring: Some hex key wrench sets come attached to a key ring. This is somewhat awkward but also effective.

Folding set: Like a Swiss Army knife, you can purchase a set of hex key wrenches that are all attached to a case. When you need one, just unfold it, and the case turns into a handle.

Storage case: Some hex key wrench sets come with a storage case that holds all of your wrenches in one convenient location.

Storage rack: For larger hex key wrenches, a storage case may not be practical. For these types of tools, a storage rack might be your best option.

EXPERT TIP

When purchasing a set of hex keys, it is prudent to spend a little more money to get a more durable tool that will not quickly wear out.


Staff  | BestReviews

Hex key wrench set prices

Most hex key wrench sets are not very expensive. However, there's a huge difference between low price and value. You should be careful with sets under $5 because, although they may serve you in a pinch, they likely won't hold up for repeated use.

Between $10 to $15 is the sweet spot. These sets offer a wide variety of L-shaped keys that can handle most of your needs. Toward the upper limit of this price range, you may also find some P-handle and T-handle sets.

In the $15 to $25 range, you can expect heavy-duty sets, possibly with a longer reach. If properly cared for, a set like this may be the only hex key wrench set you will ever need to purchase.

As you move toward $40 and above, be certain you are getting some special feature that more moderately priced sets do not include. Otherwise, it is not a good investment.

You are in control of the leverage when using an L-shaped hex key. The further out you hold the tool, the greater the force you can exert.

Staff
BestReviews

10 reasons you need a hex key wrench set

Chances are your tool box is filled with a wide variety of flathead and Phillips-head screwdrivers. If you ever had a hex key, it came with something you purchased and you either threw it out or lost it shortly after you used it. However, there is an ever-increasing need for hex keys as more and more everyday items are being assembled with hex screws. Following is a brief list of items that may require a hex key.

  • Furniture: Hex screws are the standard for any unassembled furniture that you build at home.

  • Tools: Most tools that use bits require a hex key to secure the bit to the tool.

  • Bicycles: You can not take apart your bicycle without a hex key.

  • Motorcycle: Just like your bicycle, more and more motorcycles are relying on hex screws.

  • Skates: If you want to rotate the wheels on your roller skates, you're going to need a hex key.

  • Skateboard: Good luck performing any maintenance on your skateboard without a hex key.

  • Automotive work: Whether it's the engine, your seat, the dashboard, or something else, there's a good chance you're going to run into more than a few hex screws when working on your car.

  • Electronics: As electronics become more compact, hex screws become more necessary.

  • Appliances: For any area that is a tight fit, a hex screw is the answer. You might be surprised at the places you'd need a hex key wrench when working on appliances.

  • Plumbing: If you would like to upgrade your shower handles or faucet, chances are you're going to need a hex key wrench to perform that upgrade.

Other products we considered

There are a few more hex key wrench sets we believe are worthy of your attention. Performance Tool's 10-piece T-handle metric hex key wrench set features a large plastic grip for comfort and power. The set also comes with a durable storage rack that can mount on either the wall or a bench. TEKTON has a 26-piece, L-shaped, long-arm, ball-end hex key wrench set that features chamfered ends for an easy fit. TEKTON's set includes both SAE and metric hex key wrenches.

The main sse of a hex key is that it has six points of contact to help tighten or loosen the screw. By comparison, a Phillips-head has four, and a flat-head screwdriver only has two.

FAQ

Q. What is the difference between a hex key and an Allen wrench?

A. A hex key, Allen key, and Allen wrench are all the same tool. William G. Allen patented a unique screw for the Allen Manufacturing Company in the early 1900s. The company marketed that hexagonal screw as the "Allen safety set screw." The tool that fit into the screw was a hex key, but many people refer to it as an Allen key or an Allen wrench.

Q. What is camming out?

A. When the tool you are using to tighten (or loosen) a screw slips out of the slot, that is called camming out. When this happens, the screw is usually immediately damaged. If it happens repeatedly, the screw will quickly become unusable. To avoid this unfortunate situation, the pushing force (into the screw) must be at least twice as much as the turning force. Another reason for cam-out is not having the tool perpendicular to the screw.

Q. What is the purpose of a ball-shaped hex key wrench?

A. A hex key wrench that features a ball end allows the user to reach hard to access screws because it can function at an angle. The main drawback of the ball-end is its tendency to slip under higher pressure (cam out). If possible, it is best to use a straight-end hex key to perform the initial loosening or final tightening of a screw.

The team that worked on this review
  • Allen
    Allen
    Writer
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jennifer
    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor

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