When I first looked at the Kobalt “Xtreme” Mechanic’s Tool set, I thought… “Oh great… another gimmicky set of so-called “universal” sockets. AND, it has a really goofy, 90’s name!!” But after trying them out, I have to admit, maybe there is more here than meets the eye?
I have made the mistake in the past of buying a couple sets of the el-cheapo ratcheting box wrenches, and they are all pretty disappointing. My first thought when I looked at the new offering from Kobalt Xtreme Access was that I was looking at the latest iteration of the same old goofy design, combining the ease of a ratchet with the versatility of a box wrench. The “pass thru” design allows you to tighten a nut on a longer bolt or threaded rod, but let’s face it… if the bolt is so long that you can’t tighten it with a deep well socket, you are probably using too long of a bolt. Really, how often does this happen? It seems a bit like a solution in search of a problem. Also, the proprietary shank design means that the sockets can’t work with any other socket wrench. And your other sockets won’t work with this ratchet.
Au contraire, mon frere! The good folks at Kobalt have worked out most of these issues, and what they are offering up is, in fact, a pretty nifty product. First off, unlike lots of “universal” gimcracks and geegaws, this set is nicely made. It really is a nice quality product, unlike most of the CCC (Cheap Chinese Crap) that you tend to see from the “As Seen on TV” wonder tools and discount store holiday offerings. The ratchet operates smoothly and there is no slop or funkiness with the reverse lever. The sockets snap firmly into the handle.
To be sure, this set will not live happily in the same tool box with your old, trusty sockets, although there are handy adapters included to go back and forth. But who wants to goof with adapters when you are under the car? Is this set going to make life easier, or just hang forlornly on the tool board? Let’s look at some more of the features, and the pros and cons:
- The sockets are thin-walled, which means easier access in tight areas.
- The sockets are combo metric and SAE, eliminating the need to have separate sets.
- The sockets are “universal,” meaning they fit hex, square, spline, and external-Torx fasteners.
- The set comes with adapters to switch back and forth with traditional bits
- Options for extensions are limited
- Adapters can get lost or broken
- “Universal” tools trade strength for versatility
To be fair, these “cons” are not specific to this tool set, but are generally true of many socket sets. In my opinion, Kobalt has done their best to minimize the down-sides.
Finally, I tried to think of the best applications for this set. First, for a homeowner who does occasional DIY projects, this would be a perfect socket set. For a set of this size, it would handle 99% of the household tasks for which it would be needed. Also, for a tradesman who doesn’t often need a socket set but likes to carry one in the truck, this would be a handy set to carry. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, and it handles a variety of fasteners pretty well.
Lowes currently offers a Kobalt Xtreme Access Mechanic’s Tool Set (14 Piece), for right around $20, or a larger set for just under $40.