Best workshop chain tools 2022 rated and reviewed

We find out what makes a great workshop chain tool

Chain Tool Buyers Guide
(Image credit: Paul Grele)

A good chain tool is an essential workshop mainstay allowing you to keep your drive system functioning well. Along with a chain stretch measuring tool and possibly quick link pliers, a chain tool should be regarded as essential for any home mechanic.

As they will stay in a toolbox or on a workbench weight is less critical than for the best multitools and can actually be a positive in this scenario as the larger the tool the more leverage you're likely to get. 

All the tools on test will break an 11 or 12 speed chain and most will also remove the rivet on a wide singlespeed chain - making them suitable for everything from the best road bikes to the best commuter bikes. Methodology will be discussed further on. 

The ubiquity of quick links (be it single use or reusable) has often made the art of rejoining a chain with it's rivet and loosening a tight link fairly redundant, and understandably so. Quick links are easy to use and reliable. Even Shimano, who held on to using replaceable rivets for a long time, now offer a quick link.

In brief, if just removing a rivet from a multispeed chain is your sole objective then they all do that, and well. However if you work on a variety of drive types from different eras you may appreciate the other functions that a quality workshop tool can offer.

Topeak All Speeds Chain Tool

Best overall

Specifications

Chain Type Compatibility: 1-12s + Campagnolo hollow link 11s & 12s
Weight: 271 grams
Spare Pin Included: Yes, in Handle
Does Pin Spin?: Yes
Chain Hook Included: Yes, in Handle
Can Tool Break Shimano Rivets Off?: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Easy, smooth & powerful to use
+
Well made 
+
Reasonable price
+
Pin spins

Reasons to avoid

-
Nothing

The Topeak All Speeds Chain Tool will accommodate chains from a wide singlespeed chain (1/8' type) to a 12 speed chain and it can also peen the hollow rivets on Campagnolo 11 & 12 speed chains. The tool is nicely made and incorporates all of the features that I would expect to see in a workshop tool.

The hollow body handle stores a spare pin and the chain hook. The pin in the driver handle is a spinning type allowing the tool to drive a rivet out without adding a rotating force onto the rivet. It's a nice engineering touch. The pin stayed true throughout the test.

Using it with a selection of different width/speed chains I found that it drove rivets out very easily due in part to the leverage afforded by the sliding handle. I really liked being able to see how far out the rivet had been pushed so as to not push it completely free.

This matters if you want to rejoin the chain in the old way. When rejoining the chain it was easy to see when you had centralised the rivet ready for the chain to be used. In event of a tight link there is a second chain bridge allowing the quick and easy loosening of this. 

When using a Shimano rivet the tool has a neat function in the end of the driver handle. It has a chain pin breaker slot which is a bit neater than my usual method using pliers!

I really enjoyed using this tool and liked the clear visibility of being able to see exactly where the rivet was in its travel. The smooth power from the handle was great and I liked having all the functions contained in the one tool. Very nice design.



Birzman Damselfly Universal

Great looks and effective

Specifications

Chain Type Compatibility: 1-12s
Weight: 238 grams
Spare Pin Included: Yes
Does Pin Spin?: No
Chain Hook Included: No
Can Tool Break Shimano Rivets Off?: No unless you use slot

Reasons to buy

+
Easy, smooth and powerful
+
Good feel in the hand
+
Self adjusting bridge is good
+
Unusual styling
+
Well made

Reasons to avoid

-
Can't adjust a tight link
-
Spare pin is included but not able to be kept on tool

The Birzman Damselfly Universal is a really striking looking tool with it's angular styling. It has a sprung loaded chain bridge which allows any (1-12 speed) chain to be correctly set before having the rivet pressed out. 

In use I found that it had a really nice action and needed minimal pressure from the thumb and first finger to rotate the pin handle. It was comfortable to hold the body handle too. It replaced a rivet nicely too. You can use the top of the slot to break a Shimano connecting rivet off. Neat!  However It doesn't loosen a tight link as there is no second bridge. 

If you just want to set a chain to the correct length and rejoin with a quick link, then this tool does that job with style and panache. However, for me, the lack of a second bridge is an issue. 



Park Tool CT-3.3

Robust and versatile design

Specifications

Chain Type Compatibility: 1-12 plus SRAM AXS 12s & Campagnolo 13s
Weight: 271 grams
Spare Pin Included?: No, but it is available
Does Pin Spin?: No
Chain Hook Included?: No
Can Tool Break Shimano Rivets Off?: No unless you use slot

Reasons to buy

+
Well made
+
Copes with nearly all chain types
+
Good power and leverage

Reasons to avoid

-
Can't adjust a tight link
-
Spare pin is not included
-
Spare pin not able to be kept on tool

The Park Tool CT-3.3 is made from steel and features a rugged design with its iconic blue adorning the pin handle. I think it's fair to say that you'd expect years of use from this tool especially as many bike shops use Park Tools daily. 

It will accommodate all chains from wide singlespeed to 12 speed as well as SRAM AXS 12s, Campagnolo 13s and even half link chains. Whilst it will work with Campagnolo hollow link chains (11-13s) it is unable to peen the reinstalled rivet.

Similar to the Birzman it has an adjustable chain bridge to automatically set the correct distance for each chain type. In practice it seems a bit loose initially but once loaded up with a chain it settles in correctly and I had no issues with it during the test. In use it has good power and pops a rivet out with ease. 

Reinstalling the standard and Shimano type rivets was equally straight forward and I used the slot to snap off the Shimano type rivet. A bit of an unofficial feature maybe. I liked that it was very easy to see how far out the rivet was, which helps with the removal and resetting of it.

The pin is a fixed type and replaceable but not included. Park do supply them as Part No. CTP. Also there is nowhere on the tool to store the spare pin. 

Like a few of the tools here it was unable to deal with a tight link as there was no second bridge. Maybe it's now all about quick links, which I do like and use, but I'd prefer the option...



Pro Chain Tool 9-12

A great compact option

Specifications

Chain Type Compatibility: 9-12s
Weight: 175 grams
Spare Pin Included?: Yes in handle
Does Pin Spin?: Yes
Chain Hook Included?: No
Can Tool Break Shimano Rivets Off?: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Jewel-like machining
+
Smooth action
+
Spinning pin
+
Spare pin in handle

Reasons to avoid

-
No second bridge for adjusting a tight link
-
Potentially limited 9-12 speed...

The Pro chain tool 9-12 is the smallest tool in this guide but don't let that put you off as it is jewel-like in its machining. The writing on the body is very precisely etched and handily states its chain type capability. 

Despite shortish pin and body handles there was plenty of leverage and the threading was some of the smoothest on test despite being the smallest diameter. The rivet was easy to pop out and reset, and again I had clear vision where it was in the process ensuring that I didn't completely remove it (unless that was wanted of course). 

I felt that the rotating pin helped with the smooth action this tool. At the back of the chain support there is a hole to release a rivet and it worked to break off the Shimano type rivet. There was no ability to adjust a tight link though. 

Pro state that this tool has a "misuse prevention feature" only allowing to be used with 9-12 speed chains. If you want to break a 1-9 speed chain you need to use their other model. 

It worked very nicely with the 11s Shimano chain so I tried it with the narrow singlespeed chain being very careful to check for any compatibility issues. It worked fine. When I tried to setup the wide singlespeed chain it didn't look happy as it was unable to sit squarely in the chain bridge, so I didn't proceed.

If you only want to deal with relatively modern 9-12 speed drivetrains (although it seems to cope with some others) with quick links then there's a lot to like about this tool.



KMC Reversible Chain Tool

A solid tool, although there are better options

Specifications

Chain Type Compatibility: 1-12s
Weight: 187 grams
Spare Pin Included?: Yes
Does Pin Spin?: Yes
Chain Hook Included?: No
Can Tool Break Shimano Rivets Off?: No unless you use slot

Reasons to buy

+
Pin spins
+
Works well
+
Spare pin kept on tool

Reasons to avoid

-
Pin and body handle too close together
-
Spare spare pin not kept on tool!

The KMC Reversible Chain Tool is the second smallest and lightest on test. The body and handle are made from steel whilst the body handle has a rubberised 'Kawasaki' green cover. The pin spins and it can swapped around if a pin breaks.

I found with the first couple of chain breaks that the rotating handle felt slightly graunchy compared to the other tools on test. I greased the thread a little and it became much smoother in action. Something to bear in mind. 

It dealt with the deriveting and reriveting well apart from a couple of things of note. Firstly, when installing a Shimano rivet it was really difficult to remove the chain from the tool as the protruding end of the rivet was held captive in the slot (see pic 2 above). 

There is a cover to the end of the slot that gets in the way. It took some waggling to extract the chain and once released the rivet end could be snapped off. The other issue is that if you wrap your fingers around both the body handle and the pin handle your knuckles clash as there is not enough room between the handles. 

The sliding pin handle did give good leverage though. It accommodated all the test chains easily. However the lack of a second chain bridge meant that I couldn't adjust a tight link... again! Spotting a theme here?

I haven't been able to see exactly what is reversible about it. It maybe that the spare pin being double ended is reversible? Each end measures the same length... So whilst a spare pin is included and is not storable on the tool, it does store a spare on the 'reversible' pin.



Lezyne Classic Chain Drive

Great looks and satisfying action

Specifications

Chain Type Compatibility: 8-12s
Weight: 304 grams
Spare Pin Included?: Yes
Does Pin Spin?: No
Chain Hook Included?: No
Can Tool Break Shimano Rivets Off?: No

Reasons to buy

+
Classic Styling
+
Great leverage
+
Powerful in use
+
Can adjust a tight link
+
Spare pin kept in handle

Reasons to avoid

-
A little expensive compared to the others
-
Pin doesn't spin
-
No Shimano rivet snapper

The Lezyne Classic Chain Drive is a really lovely tool to look at and feels well constructed when in the hand. The wooden handle instantly sets it apart from the other tools in the test. It is the heaviest (just) in the test and also physically the largest, but the leverage from the long pin handle makes it very light in use. In that regard it is similar to the Birzman tool. You only need to apply pressure with a thumb and first finger knuckle on the handle to drive a rivet out. 

In use, the threaded chain support can be wound in or out to set the correct distance needed for the chain to sit correctly in the chain bridge. As the support has a good sized slot machined in it you are able to clearly see how far through a rivet is, making the breaking of and rejoining of a chain really straight forward. Then, if you encounter a tight link, the support may be wound back making the chain bridge effectively the second bridge. 

Lezyne state that the Classic will deal with 8-12 speed chains (but not hollow pin chains) but I tried it using our selection of a Shimano 11s chain and connecting rivet, then the KMC Narrow and Wide singlespeed chains (rejoining in the old fashioned way) and had no issues whatsoever. 

The pin is replaceable with a spare that is kept in the handle, and whilst it doesn't spin it didn't spoil the experience of using this versatile and powerful tool.



Lifeline Pro Chain Rivet Extractor

A good budget option

Specifications

Chain Type Compatibility: 1-12 speed
Weight: 302 grams
Spare Pin Included?: Yes
Does Pin Spin?: No
Chain Hook Included?: No
Can Tool Break Shimano Rivets Off?: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Nice feel from 'S' shaped handle in use
+
Has a Shimano rivet snapper in chain support
+
Can adjust a tight link
+
Spare pin included and kept on tool

Reasons to avoid

-
Can't see how far through a rivet is
-
A bit fiddly to use compared to the others on test

The Lifeline Pro Chain Rivet Extractor is a fairly accomplished tool despite being one of the cheapest on test. It is nicely made in steel with rubberised covers for the handles. It can cope with everything from 1-12 speed chains. It can also deal with Campagnolo hollow rivets too apparently. 

The little threaded part (kept on the chain support - on far left of the above picture) may be threaded in to chain support centre to allow Campagnolo hollow link to be installed. I was unable to use this feature in our test however.

The Lifeline Pro worked well with our sample chains and I found the 'S' shaped pin handle particularly nice to use. It was plenty powerful enough to extract a rivet and then rejoin a chain. However I found it awkward with regard to knowing how far through a rivet had been pushed as the chain support obscured my vision. Whilst there is a knurled ring on the pin handle thread to allow you to set the depth, it took a while to calibrate it. 

If you only use one width of chain I suppose it would matter less but I found with our selection of 3 different chain widths (5.5mm, 7.4mm & 8.65mm) it was a bit fiddly. Also, when rejoining the Shimano 11s chain with its connection rivet, I found that the chain support had to backed right off to allow the protruding rivet to be released. The tool could then easily snap the rivet end off though. 

Methodology and expectations

Firstly a chain tool must be able to accurately and reliably break a chain by removing a rivet, secondly it should be able to refit a rivet. Then it should be able to loosen a tight link, and finally should the pin break on the tool it should be replaceable. Otherwise the tool would be rendered unusable.

Next there are some nice to haves namely:

Does the pin spin? When a rivet is moved in or out of a chain bushing we want the pressure applied one direction, across the tool. With a static pin you also apply a rotating force to the rivet as well. It's not a deal breaker but it is a nice engineering touch.

Is the tool supplied with a spare pin, and can the spare be stored in or on the tool. It saves it being lost or mislayed. 

Finally, does it have a chain hook? This stops the chain from being under tension (from the derailleur) when removing a rivet or quick link and firing important bits of chain across your workspace when you've forgotten to drop the chain off the front ring to detention the chain... 

Initially all tools were used to break a Shimano CN-HG701 11 speed chain (11/128" type 5.5mm outer width) and then to connect it back using a Shimano 11 speed connecting rivet (CN9000). If able to, the guide part of the rivet was snapped off using the tool and finally a tight link was loosened.

Then, I used a narrow KMC Z610HX singlespeed chain (3/32' type 7.4mm outer width) and drove the rivet out, then rejoined the chain and finally loosened any tight links.

And lastly a KMC Z1 wide singlespeed chain (1/8" type 8.65mm outer width) was tried using the same process as before.

If a tool was unable to accommodate a chain in the bridge it wasn't tried. The chain had to sit down correctly in the bridge and sit squarely in the tool.

Tech terms:

Pin driver handle: The handle that you rotate to bring the pin to the rivet and then push the rivet through the chain

Body handle: The handle that you hold to steady the tool

First chain bridge: The most used section to support the chain allowing the accurate alignment of the rivet then to be driven out

Second chain bridge: Used to loosen a tight link

Anvil: used to peen the hollow rivets used in some Campagnolo 11, 12 & 13 speed chains. Not within the scope of this test but some tools have the ability

Conclusion

All of the tools here were very capable of driving a rivet out of a multispeed chain, so If you are 'just' looking to do that task and then using a quick link. you won't be disappointed. The differences start to show themselves when dealing with older style chains and joining practices, alongside ease of use. Although they can be initially expensive, a versatile and quality chain tool will repay you with reliability and durability over time. It will make a job more enjoyable too!

The Topeak was my personal favourite tool with its ability to deal with everything on test, it was well made and is keenly priced. It was closely followed by the more expensive Lezyne tool. There was little to separate the Park Tool, Birzman and Pro tools and really it was just the inability to loosen a tight link that let them down. The Lifeline tool is able to deal with nearly every chain type going but is a little fiddly to use/set up and finally the KMC's handles are too close together for me. 

Paul Grele

Over 40 years cycling in a variety of disciplines including road riding, commuting, a self-supported Land's End to John o' Groats trip, XC mountain biking and several Polaris Challenge two-day events. Adventure, escape and fun are the motivations for my riding. I also love bike and kit design and have fillet brazed a couple of framesets using Reynolds 853 steel tubing for myself. A very satisfying experience to ride your own bespoke bike!

Height: 180cm

Weight: 66kg