Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Tooling Up

Buying tools can be an intimidating task, and can very quickly become a money pit. As a professional tool-user, I get asked a fair bit about basic tools for homeowners.

The aim of this series is to provide a bit of direction to your initial purchases. After those purchases, you can acquire tools as you find a need for them, just like professionals do.

This week, we'll look at the hand tools you'll want to pick up first. These tools cover the basic needs for repair and maintenance work around the home. In the coming weeks, we'll cover some power tools and a few specialized tools you may want around.

There are countless hammer styles and weights on the market. For general use, I recommend a 16 oz claw hammer. Heavier hammers look like they'll do more work, but they're far more tiring to use and harder to swing accurately. 

Be sure to get a hammer with a smooth face! They work better with smaller nails and are far more forgiving to finished surfaces when you miss a swing.

Multi-head screwdrivers are a very popular option, and for good reason: I can replace between 6 and 11 individual drivers with one tool, saving money, space on my belt, and time spent looking for the right tool. For designated screwdriver tasks, they're top-shelf. 

The one area where they are lacking is prying strength. I know that screwdrivers aren't usually meant to be pry bars, but they do a great job of it. With that in mind, pick up a multi-bit driver that suits your needs, and a couple large, cheap flat-blade screwdrivers to use for "improper" tasks.

The wide variety of bolts and nuts that need to be turned in this world require an equally wide variety of wrenches to turn them, and this need can be met with sets of individual wrenches or with a few adjustable wrenches. 
  • Individual wrenches grab fasteners better and are stronger, but require more space and are more expensive when you buy all of the ones you need. 
  • Adjustable wrenches (sometimes called Crescent, which is a brand name) can turn a range of fastener sizes, but aren't as precise. 
For a do-most-everything single wrench, an 8" or 10" adjustable is hard to beat. Pick up individual wrench sets later, as money and tasks dictate.

There are a few pairs of pliers that belong in every tool box. Primary among those are needle nose pliers, water pump pliers, and a set of diagonal cutting pliers. 
  • Needle nose pliers are good generalist pliers, holding material or reaching things down in a hole. I use mine several times every day. 
  • Water pump pliers, colloquially called Channel Locks (another brand name) are usually employed in plumbing tasks, as the name indicates. Their angled jaws are designed to grab pipe and fittings, and they also provide a strong mechanical advantage when gripping round items. 
  • Diagonal or side cutting pliers are ideal for cutting tough materials, and also work great for gripping and pulling small metal items like staples and nails.

There are a million and one kits on the market that claim to be basic tools. Sadly, most of them are very light duty, or with glaring holes in the included items. The alternative are large sets that are quite complete, but far more expensive than a starting kit. This kit is a great deal, and probably bridges the gap better than any other that I've seen.


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