More commonly known as a hex driver, a nut driver uses a spinning motion, like a traditional screwdriver. But instead of a flathead or Phillips head on the opposite end of the handle, nut drivers feature a hex or square-shaped inlet. Then, this fits over different size nuts and bolts, which you can tighten or loosen by twisting in the appropriate direction.
Typically, electricians use nut drivers to start spring nut bolts, install ballasts, attach ground pigtails, punch through knock-outs, and mount boxes and panels, as just a few examples.
As a licensed electrician, plumber, or general contractor, the fact of the matter is that you need to be prepared for any situation you encounter, whether it comes to real-world experience or carrying the right tools for the job. In this instance, you’ll most often use nut drivers when working with smaller fasteners, bolts, and nuts.
Whatever the circumstance, it’s crucial that you shop around for one or more nut drivers that meet your unique combination of needs and preferences. Otherwise, you might end up handing over your hard-earned money for a nut driver set that doesn’t deliver.
What Are Nut Driver Sets Used For?
It’s always wise to have a set of nut drivers in your toolbelt, regardless of your specialty in the electrical field. However, a good set of nut drivers will come in especially handy if you frequently need to:
- Start spring nut bolts – As their name implies, spring nuts feature a spring over the threaded part of its bolt, which is attached to a rectangular piece of metal at one end.
- Install ballasts – Ballasts control and regulate fluorescent and HID lights and are integral to their functionality and cost-effectiveness.
- Attach ground pigtails – Small sections of copper wire with a green rubberized coating and a grounding screw at one end that works perfectly with a small nut driver.
- Punch through knock-outs – No electrician wants to rap their hand when punching through a knock-out, which is where a nut driver’s flat end can come in handy.
- Mount boxes and panels – Whether inside or outside, electricians often use hex screws to mount electrical panel boxes.
Important Features for Nut Driver Sets
From a high-level perspective, it’s essential to have several nut driver sizes and lengths (standard options include 3/16”, 1/4”, 5/16”, 11/32”, 3/8”, 7/16”, and 1/2”, and 3” and 6” lengths) in your tool belt so you can accommodate just about any situation you’ll encounter. Otherwise, you could end up spinning your wheels instead of moving one step closer to completing the job.
For example, imagine you’re installing a junction box in a hot, humid attic and forget your small nut driver to attach the ground screw. Now, you have to crawl out and then back in, just for a few twists of the wrist.
Or, you’re mounting an electrical panel, and you don’t have a larger nut driver, causing your partner to hold everything in place while you run back to the truck. Either way, not having the right tool inevitably leads to wasted time.
Zooming in on potentially useful nut driver features, consider the following:
- Rust-proof – Many nut drivers come with plated shafts that help reduce rusting and maximize the life of your tools.
- Compatibility with other tools and accessories – Some nut drivers are handheld, like a screwdriver, while others can attach to drills and other accessories for maximum versatility.
- Magnetic ends – These models contain rare earth magnets that latch to steel nuts and bolts and keep them firmly in place.
- Rubberized grips w/nut driver size – For easy identification and no-slip comfort on the job.
- Wrench assistance – A handle or body shaping that allows you to hold the nut driver over the nut or bolt, clamp down with a wrench, and then use it for extra torque when turning.
Square Nut Drivers vs. Hex Nut Drivers
As their names imply, square nut drivers feature the same essential design and operation as hex nut drivers. However, whereas the latter works with five-sided hex screws, the former is used with square nut and bolt heads.
Keep in mind that these aren’t the only shapes available for nut drivers, although they are the most common. Other configurations can feature a T-shaped handle that maximizes grip and torque, ratcheting models, versions that work with sockets, and even flexible models that can tighten or loosen nuts and bolts around corners and other obstacles.
You’ll also encounter spinner handles, which feature similar handles and shafts as nut drivers. But at one end, they come with a drive fitting that allows you to change sockets and nut drivers as needed. However, this configuration results in a solid, non-hollow shaft.
Nut Drivers vs. Nut Setters
We’ve discussed that handheld nut drivers look and operate like screwdrivers but feature four or five-sided heads to work with similarly-sided nuts and bolts. You can attach some standalone versions to drills and other accessories.
Comparatively, nut setters – also called nut driver drill bits, nut driver setters, nut driver drill bits, and impact nut drivers – are used with power tools to tighten and loosen metal and self-tapping screws. The three nut setter types include:
- Hex – Drives five-sided nuts using the corners.
- Lobular – Drives five-sided nuts using the sides without putting force on the corners.
- Impact / Torsion – Built to handle the torque generated by power tools.
What Is a Hollow-Shaft Nut Driver?
Manufacturers frequently emphasize that their handheld nut drivers feature hollow shafts. But what does this mean, and what benefits does it provide?
Imagine that you’re standing in a bucket, high above the manufacturing floor of an industrial warehouse. You’re in the process of preparing to run conduit from one area to another, so you’re attaching hangers to one end of a long, threaded rod (frequently referred to as a stud).
To thread each hanger’s hexagonal nut onto the rod, you need a nut driver – but not just any will suffice. Since the nut reaches several inches up the rod, you need a hollow shaft nut driver.
As their name implies, these nut driver models feature hollow shafts that allow screws and bolts to recess inside the tool while you loosen or tighten nuts.
For the most part, these nut drivers are only hollow within a few inches of their heads, although some extend to the handle’s neck.
What’s more, some models come with completely hollow handles, thereby allowing protruding bolts or threaded rods to pass entirely through to the other side. These are commonly referred to as “full through” nut drivers.
Another benefit of a full-through nut driver is that its entire body is often forged from a single piece of high-quality steel. Compared to non-pass-through nut drivers, this design can add strength and durability against breakage.
In addition to electrical work, hollow shaft nut drivers can come in handy when repairing appliances, working on automotive projects, and using sheet metal screws.
Best Affordable Nut Driver Sets
Choosing a relatively inexpensive nut driver set is easy on the wallet, and in most instances, can deliver a lot of value for the money. After all, most of the options in our list feature durable metal construction and corrosion-resistant coatings for maximum life.
However, buying a lower-cost hex wrench set means that you might have to give up some unique features, such as magnetic tips, proprietary metals, and comfortable, shock-resistant grips.
Milwaukee 3-Piece Shockwave Magnetic Nut Driver Set
Milwaukee’s 3pc Mag Nut Driver Set includes 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″ hexagonal nut drivers, all of which are engineered from proprietary heat-treated steel for controlled hardness and extreme durability.
At the tip, you’ll find their powerful Shockwave Impact Duty™ magnetic ends for a secure grip, chamfered edges for work in confined spaces, and color-coded rings that make your nut driver’s sizes easily identifiable. Each nut driver is 1-7/8” long.
Compared to alternatives, this nut driver set delivers a lot of bang for the buck.
Great Neck 6-Piece Nut Driver Set
With its super-competitive price, plated finish for durability, and heavy-duty shock-resistant plastic handle, the 6-Piece Nut Driver Set from Great Neck earns a spot on our Best Affordable Nut Driver Sets list.
These handheld, hex nut drivers (3/16″, 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 11/32,” and 7/16”) also feature nickel-plated, high-carbon steel to provide durability and protect against rust and heavy-duty shock-resistant plastic handle. Despite its competitive price, the nut driver set also comes with a lifetime warranty.
Keep in mind, however, that these nut drivers do not feature hollow-shaft construction.
Best Handheld Nut Driver Sets
Handheld nut drivers look a lot like traditional screwdrivers, except for their hex or square-shaped ends in place of flathead or Phillips options. Designed for lower-torque situations, you simply grab the handle, place the end over a hex or square-headed bolt or screw, and twist your wrist in the appropriate direction to tighten or loosen.
On the other hand, nut setters accomplish the same task but fit into the end of a power drill and other tools. Nut setters are often constructed from harder metals, can withstand thousands of pounds of torque, and come in three popular versions (hex, lobular, and impact/torsion).
The bottom line is that nut drivers are ideal for low-torque situations and confined spaces, whereas nut setters can be better suited in high-torque scenarios where you have a bit more room to move around.
Apex/Cooper Tool 5-Piece SAE Acetate Handle Nut Driver Set
Apex/Cooper Tool’s 5-Piece SAE Nut Driver Set features chrome-plated hollow shafts that resist corrosion, with color-coded, easily identifiable sizes (3/16″, 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 7/16″) etched on their blades. The nut driver set also boasts tri-lobe extruded translucent acetate handles and a 3” shaft length.
In many instances, 3” shafts might be too short, so make sure you weigh these between the 6” options.
Klein Tools 4-Piece Nut Driver Set
Klein Tools’ 4-Piece Nut Driver Set comes with 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, and 9/16″ hex nut drivers, each of which features a 3″ hollow, chrome-plated shaft to resist corrosion while you work on stacked circuit boards or other long bolt applications. The company also includes internal flanges for a reliable connection, with cushion grip handles for added comfort.
While Klein’s nut driver set delivers a lot of value for the price and the company has a reputation for quality, it’s important to point out that this set is more expensive than many of the other options on our list.
Best Magnetic Handheld Nut Driver Set
Compared to magnets made from components like ferrite or alnico, many handheld nut drivers feature magnetic tips made from rare earth alloys also commonly found in electrical components, lasers, glass, and specific industrial processes.
To boost nut driver grip and performance, these rare earth magnets deliver immediate surface strength with hex and square-shaped nuts and bolts, along with high resistance to demagnetization.
Pro tip: It’s possible to magnetize non-magnetic nut driver heads by merely rubbing a rare earth magnet in a one-way direction for several minutes. Depending on the magnet and your nut driver, this process could take a couple of tries.
Greenlee 7-Piece 0253-01MAG Magnetic Nut Driver Set
The Magnetic Nut Driver Set (model 0253-01MAG) from Greenlee includes the following sizes:
These hex nut drivers are built with a hollow-core shaft for installing and removing nuts on long studs and are coated with a high-grade, rust-resistant, and chrome-plated finish for maximum durability. Additional features include rare earth magnetic tips for a firm hold on nuts and bolts and color-coded handles for easy size identification.
It’s worth noting that a set this large and with these features comes with a higher price.
Best Magnetic Impact Nutsetters
Putting them side-by-side, the differences between a regular nut setter and an impact version might not be immediately apparent.
However, the former is used to tighten and loosen nuts and bolts using only rotational force (and minimal downward force from pushing with your hand). In contrast, the latter adds impact force to drive the nut or bolt past different points of resistance.
Because of the force generated by impact drivers, you’ll find that many impact nut setters come with magnetic tips to hold the nut or bolt in place. These models frequently also come with ratings that can repeatedly withstand thousands of pounds of torque without failing you on the job site.
DeWalt 5-Piece Impact Ready Nut Drivers
Compared to handheld models, DeWalt’s 5-Piece Magnetic Hex Nut Setter Set comes with industrial-strength magnets for fastener retention and designs that work with impact drivers and wrenches. It also boasts hi-tech construction that can withstand up to 2,000 pounds of torque and recessed corners to minimize shavings.
The set also comes with a competitive price, but not necessarily all the bells and whistles found on higher-priced models.
Milwaukee 3-Piece Shockwave Magnetic Nut Driver Set
This 3-Piece Magnetic Driver Set from Milwaukee features 1/4″, 5/16″, and 3/8″ hex nut drivers built for impact drills. Each one boasts proprietary Custom Alloy76™ heat-treated steel construction for hardness and extreme durability and delivers extreme durability and up to 30x the life of competing nut drivers.
You’ll also get powerful magnets for a more secure grip, chamfered edges for fastening bolts and nuts in confined spaces, and nifty color bands for easy size identification. All of these features are offered at an ultra-competitive price.
However, if you need a set with more than three impact-ready nut drivers, this probably isn’t the one for you.
Best Hex Nut Driver Sets
Just like Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, nut drivers are designed to perfectly fit the nut or bolt they’re loosening or tightening. Therefore, hex models work with five-sided nuts and bolts, while square versions work with four-sided bolts.
When it comes to electrical jobs, you’ll find that most nuts and bolts feature hex-shaped heads. However, while they’re increasingly rare, square-head bolts are commonly found in older buildings or homes for aesthetic purposes.
Together, it’s a good idea to keep a set of hexagonal and square head nut drivers in your tool belt at all times.
Klein Tools 4-Piece Nut Driver Set
The 4-Piece Nut Driver Set from Klein Tools includes hollow shafts in 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, and 9/16″ hex nut sizes, making them ideal for working on stacked circuit boards or other long bolt applications. Other features include color-coded Tip-Ident, which allows you to quickly identify different nut driver sizes just by looking at the handle.
Each of the four 3” shafts features chrome-plated construction for resistance against corrosion, a shaft anchor with internal flanges to help resist twisting, and grips that are cushioned for comfort.
Compared to many other models on this list, this set also features through-handle construction, thereby allowing you to torque hex nuts onto threaded rods, regardless of length. However, if you’re looking for the least expensive set, this might not be the one for you.
Stanley 6-Piece Nut Driver Set
Stanley’s 6-Piece Nut Driver Set comes with 3/16″, 1/4″, 5/16″, 3/8″, 7/16″, and 1/2″ sizes, each of which has solid, bar-plated shafts to resist rust and corrosion, along with a hex shank for extra torque. You might also appreciate the set’s grips, which are marked with hex symbols and sizes.
It’s important to point out that this set comes with solid, one-piece construction, compared to some other – often lower-priced – models which feature two-piece construction (i.e., the shaft and handle are separate parts).
As with many of Stanley’s other tools, their 6-Piece Nut Driver Set comes with a limited lifetime warranty against deficiencies in material and workmanship.
The bottom line is that most people engage in electrical work for various reasons and in multiple capacities. As such, whether you’re a professional electrician or handy homeowner, you need to have the appropriate tools on hand — including nut drivers — when it’s necessary.