Kobalt is Lowe’s house brand for power tools and hand tools. As a house brand, they are less expensive than the big name brands. But are Kobalt hand tools good? And who makes Kobalt hand tools for Lowe’s? I did some digging to find out.
Kobalt hand tools are made by Apex Tool Group, a company owned by Bain Capital. Apex also makes several brands you may have heard of, including Wiss, Allen, and Weller.
Who makes Kobalt hand tools?
Lowe’s doesn’t make the Kobalt products themselves. The OEM for Kobalt hand tools is a company called Apex Tool Group. While you probably haven’t heard of them, Apex owns and makes several storied brands with good reputations. Wiss is famous for metal shears. Weller is the leading brand of soldering tools. And Allen’s name is synonymous with hex wrenches.
Apex also makes hand tools for other stores, including Menards, and has made various Craftsman tools for Sears. Remember, of course, that the Craftsman tools at stores like Lowe’s aren’t the same as the ones at Sears anymore. Not that that’s super important when it comes to hand tools.
Are Kobalt hand tools good?
Kobalt hand tools are good tools for the money, and I’ve certainly seen professionals use them. I know for a fact that professional construction workers will recommend Kobalt to their apprentices, and they don’t do that for just any brand. And I can tell you as an IT professional that I won’t wear out Kobalt screwdrivers taking computers apart with them. If I needed to re-buy the tools I need to work on computers, Kobalt is a brand I would consider.
Don’t get me wrong. Kobalt tools aren’t tool truck quality. They’re not meant to compete with Snap-On, and they usually won’t. They’re prosumer grade tools. But that’s good enough for do-it-yourselfers, and for many professionals, it’s good enough too. If not more than good enough. Kobalt screwdrivers stand up better to abuse (like being used as a pry tool) better than no-name tools or most Harbor Freight’s Pittsburgh brand, and Kobalt sockets are much less likely to rust than cheaper brands. Perhaps the biggest danger with cheaper hand tools is that they’ll rust due to being stored in a toolbox in a garage. Kobalt tools have a heavy enough plating on them that they’re less prone to do that. And let’s face it, you’re going to keep a lot of your tools in the garage, because that’s where you use them most.
Most importantly, Lowe’s backs Kobalt hand tools with a lifetime warranty. Like days of yore, when you could take a broken or rusty Craftsman tool to Sears to get a replacement, you can take a damaged Kobalt tool to Lowe’s and they’ll replace it, as long as you didn’t do something totally ridiculous with it.
If you find a good deal on Kobalt hand tools, there’s no reason not to buy them. The quality is fine, and you don’t have to worry about the battery system. If it’s a tool you need and the price is right, get it.
Craftsman vs Kobalt at Lowe’s
For a while, there were rumors that the Kobalt brand might go away, because in the 2018-2019 timeframe, Lowe’s reallocated a lot of shelf space to Craftsman. And for a while, Lowe’s was blowing out Kobalt inventory at liquidation prices. I know a couple of professionals who told me about the deals they scored in 2018. But when it comes to Kobalt hand tools, the tide seems to have ebbed a bit. In the 2020 Black Friday ad, Lowe’s dedicated a page and a half to Kobalt hand tools. Craftsman didn’t get that kind of billing. On the power tools front, Lowe’s definitely still gives more mindshare to Craftsman over Kobalt, but with hand tools, it’s a bit different.
For perhaps Lowes’ best deal for 2020 Black Friday, they put Kobalt and Craftsman head to head, offering a 232-piece mechanic’s tool set from each brand, priced at $99. It’s a nice deal either way. Which one to pick, if you need a nice socket set in a nice box with an assortment of other tools, is which tool assortment you like better. Or which one is in stock when you go to make your purchase.
Decisions like this always come down to money. In 2020 at least, it seems Apex is giving Lowe’s better margins than Stanley Black and Decker does on hand tools. Of course, what matters to you is what tools give you the quality you need at the best price when you need them. If you need hand tools and Kobalt gives you the best price, go with it.