In The Shop: Most Expensive "Gotta-Have" Tool?
Nov 14, 2010
There are expensive tools I use only one or two times a year, but when I need them their cost is offset by their value. Tap and die sets are good examples.
A good general purpose tap and die set costs well above $100. A large-size set that will handle bolts above 1-inch or 18 millimeters will carve a $300 hole in your wallet. Total the cost of owning general-purpose standard and metric sets as well as large-size standard and metric sets, and you're easily looking at $1000 of tools that sit idle in your toolbox most of the time.
But when you need them, they're golden. The alternative is to drive to town for replacement parts, and those replacement parts are often very pricey, considering all you really need is to have the threads in ONE little hole cleaned up. I can't advocate that every farmer has a full set of large and small, metric and standard taps and dies. Heck, mechanics in our shop carefully compare with other mechanics so we don't have duplicate sets, and share among ourselves. But if you have standard taps and dies and your neighbor has metric taps and dies, you've got most of the bases covered.
The alternative is to buy only the most common sized taps and dies. In standard measurements, that would be 5/16, 3/8, 1/2, 5/8 and 3/4-inch taps and dies in "coarse" threads. In metric measurements it's more of a gamble because manufacturers use more incremental-sized nuts and bolts, but 8. 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 and 22-millimeter taps and dies in coarse threads will handle most thread-cleaning chores. But from my experience, from what you pay for individual taps and dies, you could probably buy a complete set.
This has been a boring post about mundane tools that are expensive and rarely used. But someday you're going to need a certain tap or die in order to avoid a long drive to town or to save the cost of replacing an entire housing. Some will get in the truck and order the part and accept the hassle and cost. Others will rummage in their toolbox and find a rarely-used tap and die set they had to buy behind their wife's back because it was so expensive.
My wife is in for a surprise someday, when after my funeral they inventory my toolbox...