A Brief Guide to help the Professional Tradesman Select the Best HSS Tap and Die Set!
Top Rated 2021 Recommendations
For the professional machinist, metal fabricator, millwright, or mechanic who cuts threads on a regular basis only the best HSS Tap and Die Set will do.
Most sets include tooling that is made from sometimes questionable grades of high carbon steel. While these threading tools work OK if they are machined to Class “2” tolerances and correctly heat treated. Unfortunately they won’t last long under production conditions. For high usage or production conditions a set made from HSS is the only way to go.
Finding a good quality HSS set can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. To make the task even more frustrating, many tool manufactures don’t provide the important specs and other important information you should know without digging for it.
As a journeyman toolmaker I have purchased and used many brands and types of metal cutting tools over the years. Most of them I still have and use regularly in my home-based machine shop where I do machining and tool work for various industries.
This close-up familiarity with HSS Taps and Dies gives me a unique perspective when it comes to selecting tools.
The purpose of this article is to provide you with the information you should have to select the best HSS tap and die set for your particular needs.
What are the Best HSS Tap and Die Sets?
Any of the three HSS Tap and Die Sets recommended below will produce good-fitting Class “B” internal and external threads when used correctly. Each one has a different variety and range thread tool sizes and accessories as well as different price points. In my professional opinion, these are the three best HSS tap and dies sets for professional use in my opinion.
#1 BEST OVERALL
Vermont American HSS 58 Piece Tap and Die Set
- Tap and Dies Sizes: NC, NF – 6-32, 8-32, 10-32, 10-24, 12-24, 1/4-20, 1/4-28, 5/16-18, 5/16-24, 3/8-16, 3/8-24, 7/16-14, 7/16-20, 1/2-13, 1/2-20, 9/16-12, 9/16-18, 5/8-11, 5/8-18, 3/4-10, 3/4-16 , (NPT 1/8-27, 1/4-18 pipe sizes)
- (3) Tap Wrenches: (1) T-Handle, (2) Adjustable
- (2) Die Stocks: (1) Small size, and (1) Large size
- (5) Sizes #1 – #5 Screw Extractors
- 1 U.S. (SAE) Thread Gauge
- Wooden Storage Case
Vermont American is a familiar name to those of us who have been in the metal working trade for a while. This set is genuine American Made to high standards and tight tolerances to ensure proper fitting threads.
The Vermont American 58 Piece Set contains (21) Taps and (21) Dies covering both NF (National Fine) and NC (National Coarse) American Screw Thread sizes #6 thru #12, Fractional NF and NC sizes ¼” thru ¾”, plus (2) NPT Pipe sizes NPT – 1/8-27, 1/4-18.
Each tap and die is made from HSS (High Speed Steel) and is finish ground. Black Oxide is used to inhibit rust and tarnishing plus improve chip flow.
The Dies are solid HEX style for greater torque application and better control. Each of the taps are PLUG Style with 3 to 5 beveled threads for easier starting and less turning effort.
The Vermont American 96502 58-Piece High-Speed Steel Tap and Die Set is distributed under the familiar BOSCH Tool name.
This is a fine set of tools that has all the important features for the demanding tradesman to cut exacting internal and external threads. A beautiful, well-made wooden storage case segregates each tool.
The Vermont American 96502 is one of the best USA made HSS Tap and Die Sets for machine shops, high volume auto repair garages, commercial HVAC, mill wright, sheet metal shop, or other mechanical shops where threading is a common operation.
#2 BEST VALUE
TEKTON 7560 HSS Tap and Die Set, 45-Piece (SAE or METRIC)
- (1) ¼” T-handle Tap Wrench: Holds small tap sizes up to ¼” square drive
- (1) ¼” to 1” T-handle Tap Wrench: Holds tap sizes from ¼” square drive up to 1”
- (1) 2” T-handle Die Stock
- (1) 1-1/2” Die Stock Adapter: Enables smaller 1-1/2” diameter dies to be used in 2” dia. Die Stock
- (1) Screwdriver: Use to secure dies in stock
- SAE (Inch) Set ONLY (20) Plug Tap and Split Die Sizes: Coarse threads (NC): ¼”-20, 5/16”-18, 3/8”-16, 7/16”-14, ½”-13, 9/16”-12, 5/8”-11, ¾”-10, 7/8”-9, 1”-8
Fine threads (NF): ¼”-28, 5/16”-24, 3/8”-24, 7/16”-20, ½”-20, 9/16”-18, 5/8”-18, ¾”-16, 7/8”-14, 1”-14
- Metric Set ONLY (20) Plug Tap and Split Die Sizes: Coarse Threads: 6m x 1.0, 8 m x 1.25, 10m x 1.5, 12m x 1.75, 14m x 2.0, 16m x 2.0, 18m x 2.5, 20m x 2.5, 22m x 2.5, 24m x 3.0
Fine Threads: 6m x 0.75, 8m x 1.0, 10m x 1.25, 12m x 1.5, 14m x 1.5, 16m x 1.5, 18m x 1.5, 20m x 1.5, 22m x 1.5, 24m x 1.5
- Plastic Blow Molded Storage Case
TEKTON has become a familiar name among craftsman who demand quality tools at prices that make sense. The TEKTON 7560 HSS Tap and Die Set is available in both SAE (Inch) or Metric sizes. Each tap and die is crafted from close grain tungsten alloy High Speed Steel to close tolerances. You can expect long life with these tools when used for industrial applications.
Each Tap and Die is PLUG-style to make starting easier and to reduce the necessary torque to cut clean sharp threads. Each Tap has 2 flutes on the smaller sizes and 4 flutes on the larger sizes to create multiple cutting edges that make threading easier. The Dies are SPLIT to enable slight adjustment for initial and finish cuts.
Use this tap and die set for creating new threads in most metals including non-ferrous, cast iron, mild steel, Stainless, and most tool steels. As with any metal cutting make sure to use a quality grade of Cutting Oil such as Forney 20857 Tap Magic Industrial Pro Cutting Fluid which is what I use for all my thread cutting. It is simply the best tapping fluid available!
You can also use these thread-cutting tools can also be used to clean-up lightly damaged threads.
The TEKTON 7560 HSS Tap and Die Set is ideal for the machinist, toolmaker, maintenance person, commercial HVAC installations, sheet metal worker, metal fabricator, mill wright, and high volume auto repair garage.
In my opinion, you will not find a better quality or more complete HSS tap and die set close to the current price point! You can choose either SAE and METRIC sizes at check out.
#3 BEST ECONOMY SET
TTC 60 Piece High Speed Steel Tap & Die Set
- Adjustable die stock
- Adjustable handle tap wrench
- T-Handle tap wrench
- (2) Screw pitch gauges
- Plastic case
- (1) each of National Coarse Tap and Die sizes: #4-40, #6-32, #8-32, #10-24, #12-24, 1/4″-20, 5/16″-18, 3/8″-16, 7/16″-14 & 1/2″-13
- (1) each of National Fine Tap and Die sizes: #10-32, 1/4″-28, 5/16″-24, 3/8″-24, 7/16″-20 & 1/2″-20
- (1) each of Metric Tap and Die sizes: M3 x .50, M4 x .70, M5 x .80, M6 x 1.00, M7 x 1.00, M8 x 1.25, M9 x 1.25, M10 x 1.50, M10 x 1.0 & M12 x 1.75
- 1/8″-27 NPT Tap and Die
The TTC 60 Piece High Speed Steel Tap & Die Set Model TDS-9560 is a budget-priced tool package with quality made tooling. Each tap and die is machined from HSS (High Speed Steel) to close tolerances and will cut internal and external threads to SAE specifications. The taps in this set are PLUG Type and each Die is Solid Round.
Don’t let the low price fool you, this set will cut a thread just as well as with a set costing two times as much. The accessories are decent although not as good as you will find in the more expensive sets.
The TTC 60 Piece High Speed Steel Tap & Die Set is ideal for someone starting up a machine shop on a shoe string budget. It is also a good fit for a home workshop, maintenance and service persons, auto and mechanical garage, commercial HVAC installation, hobbyist or anyone who wants the higher level of performance high speed steel tooling delivers. NOTE: Also available in
Why Choose HSS Taps and Dies?
For occasional hand tapping and thread cutting such as in a small auto garage or home workshop taps and dies made from Moly High Carbon Steel will work just fine. But in a production environment such as a machine shop, HSS (High Speed Steel) is necessary to withstand the extra wear and higher temperatures.
As a tool and die maker most of the threading I have done has been with a milling machine, lathe, or drill press. Power threading generates much more heat than with hand threading and high carbon steel tools just won’t maintain a sharp cutting edge for long under those conditions.
Unless you plan on using your taps and dies for production or machine-powered applications, Moly High Carbon Steel tools will do the job and cost considerably less than HSS tooling.
High Speed Steel VS High Carbon Steel
There tends to be a lot of confusion when it comes to High Speed Steel vs High Carbon Steel as it applies to taps and dies. The assumption is that high carbon steel is inferior to high speed steel which just isn’t the case.
Many tool manufactures, both domestic and foreign, make taps and dies from both alloys. While High Speed Steel (HSS) is a specific alloy designated as M2 by the AISI (American Iron and Steel Institute) the name High Carbon Steel applies to any alloy with a carbon content of between 0.55 percent and 0.95 percent. Any percentage over 2.0% is considered an impurity and the alloy becomes what is loosely called cast iron.
High Carbon Steel Applications
Various grades of High Carbon Steel such as AISI designations 0-1 or D-2 are commonly used to build high production piercing, stamping, and blanking dies and other production tooling. These alloys can be heat treated and tempered to as high as 65 Rc which is just as hard as High Speed Steel. High Carbon steel is extremely strong and has excellent wear characteristics also.
The main difference between High Speed Steel vs High Carbon Steel is that HSS has the capability of maintaining its hardness in machining applications where the tool can become quite hot. If the heat exceeds the draw temperature the hardness of the steel decreases and the sharp cutting edge begins to dull increasing the heat even more to the point of failure.
High Carbon Steel begins to draw down when it reaches approximately 815° f. while High Speed Steel can maintain its hardness up to about 2100° f. As a point of reference, when steel reaches 900 degrees f. it begins to glow red. At approximately 2500 degrees it becomes white hot.
Machining tooling such as end mills, lathe bits, drill bits, reamers, countersinks, etc. are the most common applications for HSS.
Taps and dies that are often used in machining applications High Speed Steel is the best material to use. However, the majority of threading with taps and dies is done by hand and almost no heat is generated that can damage the cutting edges. The wear characteristics of a good grade of high carbon steel is similar to that of HSS and will maintain a sharp edge when turned by hand.
Unless you intend to use your tap and die set in a machine shop environment a set made from High Carbon Steel will do the job just as well as HSS and last just as long.
What to Look for in a HSS Tap and Die Set
A quality set of tools represents an investment. Quite often, a significant investment that could enhance your ability to do your job and make a living. Here are some things I believe you should consider when selecting a set of HSS taps and dies.
- Thread Sizes and Series: The most obvious thing to look for when choosing a tool set of taps and dies is to make sure it contains the thread sizes and series you expect to use the most. Some sets are put together with SAE only or Metric only while some contain both series.
- Tap Type: Examine the tool kit to determine if it comes with Plug taps which are the ones most commonly used or if it includes Bottoming taps for threading shallow blind holes.
- Round vs Hex Dies: There are two different styles of threading dies: Round and Hex. For the smaller size threads, round dies work just fine. But for the larger sizes I prefer the HEX design because of the higher torque necessary to turn them into the metal.
- Solid vs Split Dies: Some sets come with solid dies which work fine for most applications. If used correctly they will produce good threads. SPLIT dies give you the option to adjust the die to cut slightly over-sized or undersized threads for certain applications. Often times I have adjusted a split die to cut oversize for a rough cut and then relax it to do a finish cut which produces a cleaner thread.Obviously, split dies require additional operations to produce and therefore cost more than the solid style.
- Coatings: Metal coatings have advanced considerably over the last 3 decades. The old familiar Black Oxide finish is still used today for metal cutting tools and does a good job of improving rust resistance but does nothing to improve cutting performance. Titanium Nitride coating is by far the most popular general purpose coating used for metal cutting tools. Characterized by its familiar gold color, it increases the effective hardness of the tool from 60 to 81 RC. It reduces the metals frictional coefficient to 65 while measuring only a measly 2 to 4 microns thick. These characteristics result in a cutting tool that withstands high usage while maintaining a sharp cutting edge and reduces the amount of torque to turn the tap or die. In my opinion, a TiN coating is worth the slight extra cost for any tool. Its benefits are most realized with taps which generally receive much more use than dies. I own dozens of both that are non-coated and they still work just fine after decades of use.
- Accessories: A set should include a quality set of tap wrenches and die stocks. Some sets include screw/stud extractors and thread gauges which are very helpful.
- Domestic VS Foreign Made: Personally, I prefer to purchase products produced here, in the good old US of A. Some of the best tools available are made right here at home. However I have also purchased foreign-made when it made the most sense for my situation. Unfortunately, high taxes, wages, and regulations tend to drive up the cost of domestically manufactured products making them un-affordable to many.Because of the lack of government wage regulations and other factors tools produced in other countries are much less expensive. Just because a product is foreign-made doesn’t mean it is inferior. Just take a look at that communication device you carry around everywhere you go. Non-domestic manufactures can make products to any specifications US manufactures can using the same materials. It is true that foreign-manufactured products create competition for domestic companies, but keep in mind, those significantly less-expensive tools have enabled many individuals to start small business here at home and earn a living.
- 1 A Brief Guide to help the Professional Tradesman Select the Best HSS Tap and Die Set!
- 2 What are the Best HSS Tap and Die Sets?
- 2.1 My RECOMMENDATIONS
- 2.2 #1 BEST OVERALL
- 2.3 Vermont American HSS 58 Piece Tap and Die Set
- 2.4 #2 BEST VALUE
- 2.5 TEKTON 7560 HSS Tap and Die Set, 45-Piece (SAE or METRIC)
- 2.6 #3 BEST ECONOMY SET
- 2.7 TTC 60 Piece High Speed Steel Tap & Die Set