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Hex Key Brand Comparison (photo intensive)

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Hex Key Brand Comparison (photo intensive)

Old 01-15-21, 07:00 PM
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aggiegrads
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Hex Key Brand Comparison (photo intensive)

Inspired by Eric F 's hex key question, I decided to take some good photos of various hex key tips to try and help me articulate why I prefer some keys over others. The tip really highlights the differences between manufacturers, and for me is the clear indicator of overall quality (that's where the work is done, after all).

I have many hex keys, more that any reasonable person should have. I have accumulated various hex keys over the years and they are spread across my workbench, my travel kit, my car, my son's tool kit, etc.

Here is the gang:


From left to right: Beta, Wera, Wiha, Silca (Included with Pump), Bondhus, Elkind, Ikea, Proto (socket), and Park (folding).

First up is typical Ikea/furniture assembly garbage. Only including to show what truly bad tools are. You can see how the end is sheared off and minimal cleanup was done. On the lower right, you can see where the edge is bent over during the shearing process. The metal is often soft and they strip easily. This means that you are likely to deform fasteners, even if you use these when new.


Next up is Elkind. You can see that it has also been sheared, and is not square on the edges. This is typical of big-box store keys like you generally see at Home Depot and Lowes in the US. I don't recommend these, even for people on a budget because unlike Ikea throw-aways, these are hardened and even more likely to do damage to fasteners.


Next is Bondhus GoldGuard. For me, this is the minimum level of quality. First off, you notice that the edges are chamfered to get rid of any burrs in the separation process.
The finish isn't great (You can see how course the grinding wheel was that was used for finishing), but everything is square, and the chamfer should help align the tool in the fastener.
At $14 bucks for a nine-piece set, I cannot in good conscience recommend anything below this level given how much they are used.


Here is the end of the Park key. This is on the folding set. It looks like the chamfering was done before a nice, thick oxide coating. The chamfer looks ground (instead of machined), but is consistent.
‘this key has not been used much at all. It resides in my car and has only been used a few times when I needed to help someone fix a minor issue.


Here is the Wiha. This has the best finish so far, although the chamfer is a little bit off center. You can tell that this end was turned because the end face is round instead of hexagonal.
This wrench has actually been used quite a bit, but shows no sign of wear whatsoever.
At roughly the same cost of a Park-branded set, I definitely recommend these over Park.



Now we start getting to the premium stuff. This is the Silca. It has a clean chamfer and a mirror polish that makes it pretty hard to photograph. I cannot speak to the durability because I only have two sizes that were included with an unbelievable, albeit overpriced pump. According to a source at Silca , they use the same hex stock as PB swiss, but Silca does their finishing in Taiwan instead and coats with a polymer for better grip and durability that you get with paint. Everything seems a bit more "rounded", so the wrenches probably spend more time in the shaker or at the polishing wheel. I expect that these are the exact some quality as PB Swiss and the only difference is finishing.


Wera uses a different shape that works really well. They grind down from round stock and the finish is excellent. There is a slight "star" to the pattern so that the tool grips on the flats of the fastener as opposed to contacting at the corners. I see the logic in this approach, as no matter the tolerances that the wrenches are built to, the fasteners will generally be built to a lesser tolerance. You can see in the photo that the machining is excellent.
I was able to get these for $25 a set before this past Christmas, and at that price, this is my clear value winner.


Next is a Proto bit socket. I understand that Proto builds and tests to a higher spec due to several aerospace contracts (including NASA). They are a high-end industrial brand made in the USA. This bit is machined down from 1/4" stock to its final dimension and the machining is excellent. I have these on short sliding t-handles and the bits show almost no wear after several years of use. There is a much larger chamfer on these guys, and it does make it a bit easier to find the fastener in practice. This bit gets used a lot because it is the bit that I use in my torque wrench.


The last tools are the Beta sliding t-handles, and they are also a favorite of mine. I have probably used these more that any other hex key. They are machined down from round stock, and the level of machining is impressive. You can see six separate facets in the "tip" of the tool, as well as machining marks on each face. The oxide finish is not as thick as on some of the other brands. These are my "largest" sets, and every so often these will not fit into a fastener.
Because some of the bits are oversized, I wouldn't recommend these to someone due to their cost unless they were specifically looking for Sliding T handles. There are definitely times when a sliding t-handle is the best tool, because it allows the user to apply torque very close to the fastener. It can also help get the shaft out of the way when there is interference (like bottle cage bolts).



I am not a big user of ball-ends. They are fine, but they don't work well at all in button-head fasteners and deform socket head fasteners if you use them at too high of a torque. I use them to "run-in" a screw, but use a square end for any reasonable amount of torque.

If you are looking for hex keys, I hope that you find this helpful.

Last edited by aggiegrads; 01-16-21 at 08:08 AM.
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Old 01-15-21, 08:53 PM
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This is awesome and I wish it could be stickied.
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Old 01-15-21, 10:19 PM
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Very good summary. I agree that ball-ends have limited torque capacity but are very nice for starting bolts in awkward locations where a straight-in approach isn't easy or even possible. The Bonddus ball-end sets (metric and Imperial) I have only have the ball at the end of the long arm of the L so you really can't apply a lot of torque to them.
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Old 01-15-21, 10:53 PM
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Originally Posted by HillRider View Post
Very good summary. I agree that ball-ends have limited torque capacity but are very nice for starting bolts in awkward locations where a straight-in approach isn't easy or even possible. The Bonddus ball-end sets (metric and Imperial) I have only have the ball at the end of the long arm of the L so you really can't apply a lot of torque to them.
When I was first getting back into fixing bikes over a decade ago, I used a Park ball-end Y wrench for almost everything. That was a bad idea because it allowed more torque than you should really apply with a ball tip. The contact area is just too small.

I don’t remember where I got it, but I have an 8mm ball-end socket with a 3/8” drive. I can’t think of a single situation where that would be a good idea.
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Old 01-15-21, 11:47 PM
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aggiegrads Thanks for this thread. I appreciate the additional knowledge. I now know way more about hex wrenches than I will probably ever need. I'll take a pic of my incoming Feedback Sports T-handle set when it comes in.
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Old 01-16-21, 08:01 AM
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Nice write-up. I got the Silca set over Christmas and it is a nice set. I was tempted by the Wera but the Silcas were discounted.

So far, so good. Doing my second build with them. They fit well, don't flex, and are skinny & long for tight fits.

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Old 01-16-21, 08:51 AM
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Originally Posted by DorkDisk View Post
Nice write-up. I got the Silca set over Christmas and it is a nice set. I was tempted by the Wera but the Silcas were discounted.

So far, so good. Doing my second build with them. They fit well, don't flex, and are skinny & long for tight fits.
I have two sets of Silca and one of Wera and aside from color coding on the Wera, I do really like the Silca just a bit more as they aren't so thick in the hand plus with the other set of Silca I have a non-ball end set.
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Old 01-16-21, 09:17 AM
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The Weras I see on eg. Amazon come in either some sort of laser black or in shiny stainless steel. Thoughts on what if any quality difference there'd be between on or the other? If the only point of stainless is corrosion resistance, that's not a selling point for me.
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Old 01-16-21, 10:38 AM
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Part II - Ball-Ends

OK, so I spent some more time looking at ball ends. I did see some interesting things when I looked close up. One thing that it important to know if that the contact area in a ball end is much less than it is with a straight square key. Another is that the key is inherently weaker due to the necked end. I work in a capital equipment manufacturing factory, and I have seen many broken ball-ends in fasteners. Most ball ends have been removed from the manufacturing floor and the ones that remain are controlled by the supervisors and are only to be used in specific circumstances where the design does not allow a standard tool to work.

I will start with the Bondhus T-Handle that I have had for a long time and used quite a bit. Even though the tool shows a lot of wear, the edges are sharp across the entire profile of the ball and neck. You can also see from this photo exactly where the wear occurs. It is obvious that the contact area is extremely small, the silver "band" is less than a millimeter wide. Most of the wear is near the edges.


Next is the Elkind. I don't like this design at all. The "backside" of the ball is straight, which defeats the purpose of the ball. The neck has interesting surface that leads me to believe that the neck may have been forged to net shape before the profile was put on the ball end. Again, I would not recommend the Elkind for either end of the tool.


Here is the Bondhus GoldGuard. The machining is nice, and the surface is very consistent.


Here is the Wiha. Again, the machining and surface finish are very nice. The ball is "longer" than the Bondhus balls, which lead me to believe that you may get more surface area when the wrench is at an angle.


Next up is the Wera. The machining blows me away. It is obvious that the machine tools used are kept sharp - the other brands you can see inconsistencies in the tool marks that indicate nicks or burrs in the cutting tools. There is no evidence of that here whatsoever. The other thing to notice is that the ball shape is consistent on both sides of the ball. None of the other brands seem to have this same consistency in the shape, and my guess is that this geometry leads to more contact area.


Finally, we have the Silca. In this case, I believe that the chrome coating and high polish do the tool a disservice. All of the edges appear to be rounded. This ball appears to be the "stubbiest" of all of the brands.
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Old 01-16-21, 10:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
The Weras I see on eg. Amazon come in either some sort of laser black or in shiny stainless steel. Thoughts on what if any quality difference there'd be between on or the other? If the only point of stainless is corrosion resistance, that's not a selling point for me.
Personally, I would not get the stainless versions. You cannot get the same hardness that you can with a carbon tool steel, and a oxide finish gives sufficient corrosion resistance.

You see similar tradeoffs in knifemaking. You can get really hard steels that hold an edge for a long time, but they are more prone to rust. Kitchen knives are very rust-resistant, but you have to sharpen or hone them much more often.
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Old 01-16-21, 11:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
The Weras I see on eg. Amazon come in either some sort of laser black or in shiny stainless steel. Thoughts on what if any quality difference there'd be between on or the other? If the only point of stainless is corrosion resistance, that's not a selling point for me.
I’ve had the stainless WERA Hex-plus for years and really like them for their fit and precision fit. If the black WERA are “Hex-plus” they will be the same as the stainless.
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Old 01-16-21, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Davet View Post
I’ve had the stainless WERA Hex-plus for years and really like them for their fit and precision fit. If the black WERA are “Hex-plus” they will be the same as the stainless.
I'm interested, but I have to wonder and am confused as to whether there are significant or tangible differences between their many offerings.
Example:
Here's a 9pc Metric set, Hex+, BlackLaser coating. $13.65 (on sale from $16). https://www.kctoolco.com/wera-022086...-key-clip-set/

Here's another set: 9pc, Blacklaser, Hex+. Comes with a fancier holder maybe? and colored handles: $55 on sale from $65. https://www.kctoolco.com/wera-022210...ding-function/

Are these basically all the same tool and quality, though with color coding added for a $40+ fee? The stainless set with color coding at the same site adds another $10 onto the black ones ($65 sale price).
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Old 01-16-21, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
I'm interested, but I have to wonder and am confused as to whether there are significant or tangible differences between their many offerings.
Example:
Here's a 9pc Metric set, Hex+, BlackLaser coating. $13.65 (on sale from $16). https://www.kctoolco.com/wera-022086...-key-clip-set/

Here's another set: 9pc, Blacklaser, Hex+. Comes with a fancier holder maybe? and colored handles: $55 on sale from $65. https://www.kctoolco.com/wera-022210...ding-function/

Are these basically all the same tool and quality, though with color coding added for a $40+ fee? The stainless set with color coding at the same site adds another $10 onto the black ones ($65 sale price).
The expensive set that you link has the “holding function”. If you look at the tips, there is a spring loaded ball bearing to hold a fastener to the tool. I would not get these as it solves a problem that I don’t have and undoubtedly takes away strength from the tips.

Looking at the tips of the $14 set, the photo doesn’t clearly show that they are the hex plus. The hex plus looks like a torx key at first glance. Wera must make their own hex stock with the hex plus profile machined into their dies. On the more expensive keys that are machined down from round stock, the hex-plus profile seems much more pronounced. To me, the round keys with the plastic color coding are much more comfortable in the hand, especially when dealing with stubborn fasteners.

I recommend the set that is $39. It is the exact set that I have and $15 less than with the holding function. https://www.kctoolco.com/wera-073593...-key-clip-set/

Last edited by aggiegrads; 01-16-21 at 12:03 PM.
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Old 01-16-21, 12:08 PM
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Originally Posted by aggiegrads View Post
The expensive set that you link has the “holding function”. If you look at the tips, there is a spring loaded ball bearing to hold a fastener to the tool. I would not get these as it solves a problem that I don’t have and undoubtedly takes away strength from the tips.

Looking at the tips of the $14 set, the photo doesn’t show that they are the hex plus. The hex plus looks like a torx key at first glance.

I recommend the set that is $39. It is the exact set that I have and $15 less than with the holding function. https://www.kctoolco.com/wera-073593...-key-clip-set/
Ahh.. missed what the 'holding' thing was a reference to. Visible in a part of their video (snapshot below). Yeah wouldn't need that.



The black set does have some different ball-end shaping, and the hex end shape continues into the body of the tool instead of going to round. Otherwise, it certainly is supposedly labelled as Hex+. Maybe a cheap $6 set of neon nail polish colors could do my own colorcoding :-)
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Old 01-16-21, 03:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
The black set does have some different ball-end shaping, and the hex end shape continues into the body of the tool instead of going to round. Otherwise, it certainly is supposedly labelled as Hex+. Maybe a cheap $6 set of neon nail polish colors could do my own colorcoding :-)
I used colored heat shrink tubing. Unfortunately, none of the brands have consistent coloring, so my Wera set is different, and so too would be PB Swiss and Bondhus.
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Old 01-16-21, 04:23 PM
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Very informative and useful thread. Thanks for posting it.
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Old 01-16-21, 08:57 PM
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So all of my bikes are high end, not rusty. I don't work on cars or motorcycles or anything like that with my tools.

I use the $7 set of Harbor Freight ball end hexes and have never stripped a bolt. Actually, I've never even been close.

Not that I don't appreciate your pictures, but I wonder how much any of it has to do with bike repair. I've only ever seen stripped heads because of a standard Allen set being hamfisted onto a bike.

Worst I've come across is removing the cleats on well beaten SPD, bit I've managed.
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Old 01-16-21, 11:54 PM
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Originally Posted by rosefarts View Post
So all of my bikes are high end, not rusty. I don't work on cars or motorcycles or anything like that with my tools.

I use the $7 set of Harbor Freight ball end hexes and have never stripped a bolt. Actually, I've never even been close.

Not that I don't appreciate your pictures, but I wonder how much any of it has to do with bike repair. I've only ever seen stripped heads because of a standard Allen set being hamfisted onto a bike.

Worst I've come across is removing the cleats on well beaten SPD, bit I've managed.
agree - degree of care and attention when using the tool is a far more significant factor than the quality of the tool itself (for anything better than the IKEA throwaway, at least). I’ve been using the same sets of Harbor Freight hex keys and hex heads (metric & imperial) for more than a decade on cars and bikes, and have never stripped or rounded out anything. Not to say that quality tools aren’t nice, just not the most important factor
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Old 01-17-21, 07:48 AM
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I picked up a set of these wera keys when I was ordering some other things a while ago and they're a lot better than all my other allen keys. Although I agree with rosefarts. If you're working on nice bikes that don't have stuck fasteners, pretty much any tool will get the job done. I also ride off-road motorcycles and the difference is much more noticeable when I work on those bikes, especially on the larger sizes.
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Old 01-18-21, 04:01 PM
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Feedback Sports T-handle set. Tip looks similar to Wiha/Silca-type shape. If they had sliding t-handles, they would be a step better, but for the price I paid ($40), I'm extremely pleased.


Last edited by Eric F; 01-18-21 at 04:04 PM.
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Old 01-18-21, 04:03 PM
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aggiegrads I like the heat-shrink color coding. That's a good hack.
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Old 01-18-21, 06:39 PM
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I pretty much just use a driver bit set these days. I do have a standard L-set, and also a 3/8 drive socket set mostly I use that for pulling/installing cranks or pedals with high torque requirement (8 or 10 mm). Never had a need for a ball-end.

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Old 01-18-21, 07:24 PM
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Thanks for the study. We can all go as cheap or fancy as we want, but this helps make it an informed choice.

Most of my hex wrenches are from a bin marked "free" at my workplace.
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Old 01-18-21, 07:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric F View Post
Feedback Sports T-handle set. Tip looks similar to Wiha/Silca-type shape. If they had sliding t-handles, they would be a step better, but for the price I paid ($40), I'm extremely pleased.
Those look very nice. You will be very happy with them. I have a couple of Feedback Sports tools, and I am pretty sure that Taiwan is their country of origin. That is a good thing. Taiwan has grown leaps and bounds in the manufacturing skill and process control.

If I have the choice between made in China and made in Taiwan, I will pick Taiwan every time. There are some very good tools being made there. Sunex, Tekton, and Capri are three brands that I can think of that are primarily made in Taiwan and provide excellent value.
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Old 01-20-21, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by aggiegrads View Post
The expensive set that you link has the “holding function”. If you look at the tips, there is a spring loaded ball bearing to hold a fastener to the tool. I would not get these as it solves a problem that I don’t have and undoubtedly takes away strength from the tips.
I switched from regular Wera to Holding Function hex heads, sockets, and Torx heads. It solves a problem I DO have - dropping fasteners and then wasting time looking for them. I run a shop and time is money. The ball bearing is on the ball end only, and is not on the short end. Since one shouldn’t put a lot of torque on the ball end, plus the ball bearing actually pushes against the bolt, it doesn’t take strength away at all.

(The Wera Holding Function Torx heads do not use ball bearings).
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