Once upon a time you could walk into any local hardware or auto parts store and find a decent selection of high quality, American made, hand tools. Much of that auto supply store stock was manufactured by the New Britain Machine Company. New Britain was a huge manufacturer during most of the 20th century and did much of their business manufacturing tools for private label brands such as Craftsman (Sears), Penncraft (JC Penny's), NAPA, PowerKraft (Montgomery Ward's) and others. In addition to their Namesake brand as well as the None Better and Mustang budget lines, they would eventually own the rights to Husky and todays focus, Blackhawk.
Blackhawk was a big deal at one time. Mid century Blackhawk stuff had a real art deco type style and were some of the best looking tools ever made in my opinion. They invented the lock-on socket, gearless ratchet, and though it never caught on, they produced a 7/16″ drive line aimed at eliminating the need to have both 3/8″ and 1/2″ drives. I routinely as myself how anyone wrenching in the 50's and 60's could NOT have not chosen Blackhawk. That mid-century stuff is highly collectable too. I recently saw a “new old stock” 7/16″ bullet ratchet with the tag still on it go for $223 on eBay.
The fact that this exact set isn't still available is proof that mankind is on the downward spiral.
But while vintage Blackhawk may be a rich mans spoil, Blackhawk is still around, and they're still pretty awesome tools. Like many brands during the 70's and 80's, Blackhawk was acquired a couple times finally coming to rest in the hands of Stanley/B&D in the mid 80's where it still operates today as Proto's “budget line”.
I've logged almost 10,000 post on internet tool forums and I'd be willing to bet 75% of them have been Proto related. Wherever there's someone with a Proto related topic to talk about, theres a good chance you'll find me. People are always looking for suggestions on what wrench set, socket set, etc., to buy and often times budget is a concern. They want good quality tools at prices a DIY guy can justify. I often recommend Blackhawk, but find that a lot of times they know very little if anything about the brand. Being classified as an industrial brand it really doesn't get a lot of marketing exposure, but that bodes well for the consumer. So today I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about what I feel is the tool kingdom's best kept secret and take a look at some of the tools the have to offer.
Today's Blackhawk is a mix of COO's. You'll find many USA items, as well as European, and Taiwan, but you won't find China. It's good quality stuff. I have a slew of it and I've yet to be disappointed by any of it.
Blackhawk sockets, extensions, etc., are great quality. They are made in the USA and boast excellent finishes, wide selection, and an amazingly affordable price tag, they are a cut above anything you'll find on the shelf at the big box stores. My only gripe with them is that the size stampings are smaller than I prefer, but it isn't a big issue. A quick search of my favorite Blackhawk retailers yielded some great deals:
Today's Blackhawk ratchets are some pretty damn fine looking tools. They were clearly trying to recapture some of that art deco styling that put them on the map, and they did a fine job. Available in standard or quick release versions, they are 72 tooth and also meet foreign object compliance requirements. My only gripe is that they don't offer long handled versions of them. They are Taiwan sourced, but that shouldn't be a deal breaker for their price.
Traditional Combo Wrenches
Blackhawk's traditional combos are fantastic wrenches. Available in full polish, satin, and black oxide finishes, they are the best value on the market in my opinion. I'm almost afraid to publish this for fear they'll realize how cheap these things are and jack the price up. They come in a vinyl tool roll and feature the same Anti-Slip open ends as their Proto cousins. There are various sets, but here are a couple of my picks. You can have every combo wrench you'll ever need, in a quality, American made version, metric and SAE, for under $275. In this day and time that's an amazing value. I think I've talked myself into order them just to have a backup set!
Ratcheting Combo Wrenches
Blackhawk ratcheting combos (as with any Blackhawk item that contains a ratcheting mechanism) are made in Taiwan. They are nice, sturdy, wrenches, and holding them in your hand you can feel the heft when compared to the new China sourced Gearwrenches. Available in reversible offset, non reversing zero offset, and stubby patterns, these share no genetic similarities to Proto's new ratcheting combos we reviewed awhile back, but the don't cost nearly as much either.
The newer Blackhawk screwdrivers are nice as well. Made in France and based on a Facom design, that boast a comfortable, “hybrid” grip that features both hard and soft areas. If you're on of those guys who insist that all your drivers match, the handle is also available on nut drivers, spinners, bit drivers, and some specialty drivers as well. I don't use the screwdrivers, but I've had the spinners and bit drivers for a couple of years now and have been very happy with them.
Blackhawk pliers are a no frills, all business type of plier. Satin finish, non-slip grips, no fancy recessed pivot nut, etc. They come in all the standard patterns including long reach.
They also offer some pretty nice locking pliers. I don't own them, but in talking with several people that do, they all seem to be very happy with them. They're a good buy as well.
Some of Blackhawk's real shining stars are their flare nut wrenches. Full polish, 6 point, excellent quality, made in USA, around $50 a set…what more could you possibly ask for?
They also offer 10 piece crow foot set for under $100. I picked mine up in like new condition on eBay for half that. Satin finish is nothing fancy, but great performers nonetheless.
As you can see, Blackhawk offers some pretty nice stuff. If you're a pro on a budget, a small business owner, a disfranchised Craftsman user unhappy with Chinese tools, or just a DIY guy looking for some nice tools at a reasonable price, Blackhawk is worthy of your consideration. They boast a lifetime warranty as well. It isn't one of those “I'm want to warranty my screwdriver because I'm a dumb ass and stirred paint with it” type of warranties, but if the tool fails, they'll make it right. That's all a reasonable person can ask.
To check out more of the Blackhawk line, check out their website HERE