If you've ever spent time under the hood of a vehicle, odds are you know the frustration of dropping a bolt in the engine bay. The bolt always seems to roll to the most inaccessible spot, leaving you cursing under your breath and trying to fish it out. Fortunately, there is a solution for this problem: the magnetic pickup tool. These handy-dandy tools range from simple extending metal tubes fitted with a magnet to more complicated swivel- and LED-light–equipped affairs.
To determine which tool in this category reigns supreme, we went out and purchased 11 pickups, then ran a battery of tests on them. First off, we tested real-world lifting power with 1¾, 2½, 5½, 7½, and 10-pound oddly shaped pieces of metal we found around the shop. Then, to replicate the manufacturer's claimed lifting power, we did a scientific lifting test using a 10-pound flat and evenly distributed piece of plate steel. Other factors considered were accuracy of the claimed lifting power, features, maximum length, and effective distance of the magnet. After testing each magnetic pickup, we determined a victor, so read on to see which magnet gets the “Truckin Tough” seal of approval.
1. Harbor Freight 15-pound Telescoping Magnetic Pickup Tool (PN: 95933)
Anyone familiar with Harbor Freight knows their reputation for making inexpensive tools. Although some people we've talked to consider Harbor Freight tools cheap and flimsy, our seven months of tool testing has shown them to be surprisingly high quality for the money. This month's Truckin Tough reinforced that belief, with their 15-pound pickup placing First in our testing. The first indicator that Harbor Freight doesn't mess around was the scientific 10-pound plate steel test. Not only did this magnet lift the 10-pound plate with ease, it even lifted an additional 5½ pounds stacked on top. Unlike most other magnets in our test, Harbor Freight actually exceeded its advertised lifting power. This tool also did well in our real-world lifting test, had the second longest reach, and the third lowest price. This tool delivers excellent bang for the buck.
2. Craftsman 15-pound Inspection Mirror/Pickup Tool (PN: 947095)
If you've been keeping up with Truckin Tough the last few months, you know we've been pretty hard on Craftsman lately. We've found several of their tools to be relying on the Craftsman name more than the tool's quality and value, but this month's test was different. Our Second Place slot went to the Craftsman 15-pound pickup with inspection mirror. It performed well, lifting 7½ pounds in our real-world test as well as the 10-pound steel plate. The included inspection mirror attachment was also a nice touch. However, it did lose points for its lofty price tag, getting edged out by the three-times-cheaper Harbor Freight.
3. Craftsman 10-pound Professional Telescoping Magnetic Pickup Tool (PN: 941602)
The bronze medal was awarded to Craftsman's 10-pound pickup tool. This model is slightly less expensive than the other Craftsman, with a marginally weaker magnet and no inspection mirror. Nevertheless, our measured real-world and scientific lifting tests showed this model performing nearly identically to the other Craftsman, and it did pick up its advertised claim. Only its shaft play and lack of mirror add-on put this 10-pound pickup in Third Place.
4. ProLine 8-pound Magnetic Pickup Tool (PN: HMP8B)
Orange Industrial Hardware (Local Store) $4.04
You may not have heard of ProLine, neither had we at the start of this test. This pickup tool from our local hardware store caught us by surprise, with its compact size and strong magnet. This tool is only rated for 8 pounds, but was able to lift our 10-pound flat steel plate. Its two-foot reach is also sufficient for most situations. It's worth noting that the ProLine is the smallest magnetic pickup, and this fact combined with its built-in pocket clip means it would be the best model to keep with you at all times.
5. Ultrasteel 8-pound Telescoping Pickup Tool (PN: JA00046A)
We found the Ultrasteel 8-pound pickup tool at our neighborhood Walmart. It was rather worrying when the first tool we picked up broke apart in our hands, but after finding one that was functional we were pleased with its performance. By far the cheapest at a mere $2.87, the Ultrasteel delivered solid value in a simple package. However, the magnet proved weaker than the advertised 8 pounds, as we could only lift 2½ pounds in our real-world test, and the extension felt less than sturdy.
6. Performance Tool Lighted Magnetic Pickup Tool (PN: W9102 v2)
Initially, we thought including a light on a magnetic pickup would be a clever and useful idea. Unfortunately, we found that this was not necessarily the case, since the addition of an LED in the center of the head limits the effectiveness of the tool's magnet. The Performance Tool pickup was the best of the three tools we tested with lights, since it was at least able to lift our 2½-pound weight. In addition, we can see the LED light coming in handy when hunting for a bolt in the dark. Either way, this tool is a fair compromise between a small flashlight and a magnet but doesn't excel at either function.
7. OEM 2.4-pound Heavy-Duty Magnetic Pickup Tool (PN: 25466)
It's interesting that OEM markets this pickup tool as "heavy duty," since its 2.4-pound claimed lifting strength is anything but. Despite this, we found the claimed strength to be accurate, lifting a 2½-pound weight in our real-world test. This tool's construction feels cheap, with a rough raised seam running around the handle from when the plastic was cast. Otherwise, this pickup was simply adequate, with an average price and no outstanding features. Not a bad choice, but not nearly the best.
8. The Magnet Source 5-pound Telescoping Pickup Magnet with Locking Hinge (PN: 07227)
To be honest, we expected more from a company called “The Magnet Source.” Although it claimed on the packaging to lift 5 pounds, we couldn't lift our 1¾-pound weight. The magnet is strong enough for picking up a stray bolt or two, but not much else. It's also too long to carry in your pocket, at over a foot long fully retracted, and the swiveling head won't stay straight. At $13.10, you'd be much better off with the similarly priced Craftsman 10-pound or much less expensive Harbor Freight.
9. OEM 5-pound Lighted Magnetic Pickup (PN: 25934)
The OEM 5-pound pickup tool looks nothing like its competitors, with a screwdriver-style textured handle and flexible extension. We had high expectations for this model, but its overly weak magnet prevented lifting even our lightest weight. Again, the LED light is useful, but less so than a cheap pocket flashlight, and it prevents the magnet from being very strong. The flexible shaft is also loose in the handle, and feels like it could come apart at any minute. We applaud the makers for thinking outside the box, but in this case, it just didn't work out.
10. General 2-pound Telescoping Mini-Lite and Magnetic Pickup (PN: 582)
The General 2-pound pickup combines a swiveling extension, LED light, and small magnet into one tool. This tool's compact size makes it a better flashlight than anything else, as we found the magnet too weak to lift our 1¾-pound weight. Also, the thin extension immediately bent and buckled when we tried to compress it, finding it a place in the trash can immediately after our test. For $9.96, there are simply much better options out there for less money.
11. Snap-on Blue Point 2-pound Hinged Head Magnetic Pickup Tool (PN: PT28E)
Snap-on placed last in a tool test. Yes, you read that right. We never thought we'd see the day either, but this magnetic pickup was not up to par. The design is nearly identical to the Magnet Source pickup, but with a rubberized head. The magnet is rated for 2 pounds, but feels even weaker and would not budge our 1¾-pound weight. Add that to its bulky size, flimsy swivel, and high price tag, and it's clear why Snap-on was left behind in this test. It's worth mentioning that Snap-on and Craftsman are the only made-in-USA pickup tools we found, but between the two, the Craftsman is clearly superior.