Drive through any city or town in this country before dawn and you'll see America getting ready for work. Pre-dawn lights signal another day, another dollar. Hands that reach through darkness to turn on those lights will be steering a truck or starting tools before the first BMW pulls up to a Starbucks. And somewhere across town bright lights will already shine from a tool store, where sales reps and service tech's wait for the first pickups to pull in. Doors open, coffee hot, ready for action.

And action they'll get. From dawn to dusk sales reps greet and guide construction pros down aisles loaded with tools, and service technicians lean against their counters, huddling with customers over broken tools and open parts manuals.

There's an interesting mix of calm and intensity, trust and skepticism, friendliness and formality. The conversations are highly focused without the hard sell. Some people are on a mission, needing to get in and out as fast as they can; others linger, content to roam around and trade barbs with the sales reps. Tool stores give you a time and place for both.

Something happens when you walk into one of these stores –especially the best ones. For me, it's like being drawn to a magnet. Standing inside the entrance I can scan my world in one view. Here is everything I need to do my work, practice my craft, make my living, and stay safe. I see beauty, power, and function perfectly balanced. It's no wonder that it's so hard to walk out without buying something. It isn't my imagination –when I walk into one of these stores, I really do need something. I just don't always know what it is until I see it.

People revere their favorite tool stores as much for the relationships they build there as the tools they find. Personal attention; experienced, unbiased advice; and a full range of services mean more than high inventory and low prices. How do we know this? We asked, and you told us. We've spent the past year searching for the world's best tool stores and have heard from GCs and subs, woodworkers, manufacturers' reps, and tool lovers from all over the country who couldn't wait to tell us about their favorite stores –the best stores in their worlds –in their words.

"Around here we tell people we go to the First Church of Elliot's," says Ed Williams about Dallas' Elliot's Hardware.

"The guys at Berland's are more like friends than salesmen," says Paul May of the Chicago-area store.

"I'm a beginning woodworker, but the people at DSC treat me like a master craftsman," says Dick Stockment of his favorite store in Poulsbo, Wash.

"The wooden floors at Seven Corners Hardware creak with every step, and the narrow aisles are so full of tools it's almost impossible for two customers to pass," says John Royer about St. Paul, Minn.'s local haven.

You can't really pin down one thing that makes a store great, although a great store often has one thing that stands out –usually a special service. I get just as jazzed walking into a dark, old, work-worn tool shop as I do going into a modern showroom. It doesn't matter if a store offers every tool from every manufacturer, as long as they carry the ones they know their customers want. Key words? "They know their customers."

Prices? Well they've got to compete with big box stores, catalogs, and the Internet, so they ante up with competitive prices, and then raise the stakes by selling only professional-grade models, backed by professional service. They may specialize in pneumatic tools and fasteners, they may focus on woodworking tools and accessories, they may cater to concrete and masonry contractors, or they might have more laser levels than anywhere else, but look beyond the showrooms and shelving and you'll see that the best tool stores in the world have a lot in common.