Wrench Tips - Tip #9: Color Code Your Tools

Grabbing a tool from your toolbox (or off the floor) is kind of like shifting gears when you drive. It's a short, simple process that shouldn't take much time or thought. You do it so frequently, though, that any little improvement you can make to the process will add up to a big time and efficiency savings over the length of the project.

I'm bothering with this defensive preamble because 90 percent of the people who see the solution recoil in homophobic horror. There's something about the sight of a toolbox rainbow that sends most guys into a chest-pounding diatribe about how they can spot the difference between a 13mm socket and a 12mm socket from across the room with one eye shut through a fogged window.

Well I'm here to tell you those guys are full of shit. We're talking about nearly identical little chrome cylinders with tiny little numbers etched into only one side, and it's always the side facing away from you. Now I CAN tell the difference between my sockets from across the room with one eye through a fogged window. The 12mm is black, and the 13mm is bright green. Easy.

Wrench Tips Harbor Freight Socket Set

Harbor Freight Tools, purveyor of cheap knockoff tools made with underaged, crippled slave labor, has finally produced something unique, original and of real value to the world. The color-coded socket set. Add up all the seconds of sorting through identical chrome cylinders that I no longer have to do and in the three years or so that I've been using them, this socket set has probably saved me a solid week of searching. 

Harbor Freight Tools used socket set

As you might expect, the color coating on these cheap sockets is not very durable, but while a few years' use makes them ugly, they're still colorful enough to be easily identified. And despite what you might expect, they've proven to be plenty strong and generally well made. I've broken more Snap On sockets than Harbor Freight sockets.


wrench tips colored electrical tapeHarbor Freight also makes color-coded ratcheting box-end wrenches, but I'm not a fan. The box end is too thick, making them useless in tight spaces, and the ratchet mechanism is a little coarse. Instead, i use colored electrical tape to make my Gear Wrench set match the socket set. It ain't pretty, but it saves just as much time.
Wrench tips color coded gear wrench


 -Dave Coleman


Got any tips of your own? email them to dave@motoiq.com!



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Tuesday, January 12, 2010 4:14 AM
I experienced the bliss of working with Harbor Freight's colored sockets for the first time last year. It certainly is a great innovation. For some reason I never made the leap to the electrical tape solution for the rest of the tools! Thank you for the tip!
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 5:28 AM
Great idea.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 5:46 AM
Spray paint is also an option Ive seen more often.

Spray painting all your tools pink tends to be a good anti-theft measure in a busy shop.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 6:43 AM
I've got the injection-molded Craftsman "200 piece" (100 of which are screwdriver heads) set, which is nice because you can, at one glance, see if any tools are missing. I've just been able to identify the 10mm, 12mm, 14mm and 17mm sockets that are so familiar to any Nissan enthusiast by their location, grease/RTV-matte finish or the ratchet they're installed on (10mm on the 1/4" drive, 12mm on the shorter 3/8" drive, 14mm on the longer 3/8" drive and 17mm on the 1/2" drive).

Harbor Freight also has color-coded screwdrivers. Green for phillips, orange for flathead, with a giant symbol of each type on the end. The difference between the sizes (#1, #2, #3, etc) is apparent because the handles are different sizes. So wonderful. My Craftsman set is completely identical, and screwdrivers are never organized any more than the effort it took to throw them in the box.

I'll have to do this to my wrenches as well, since I've spent countless hours searching for 10mm wrenches, especially since the 3/8" is almost identical and always shows up first.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 4:52 PM
they have had those up here in canada for years... hahaha
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