Let’s face it, in your workshop there are convenient tools, and there are quality tools, but so often they aren’t both. Think back to the tools you reach for first. Very often for me, speed and convenience win out. I don’t want to look too hard for that drill or saw, and want them to work as expected when I reach for them. At the same time, there are some tools that simply must be stored away, and can’t perch on my workbench forever or sit on a shelf.
It really is a balancing act sometimes. I don’t have a sure fire formula for when to break out the expensive tools, and what jobs are easy with the less expensive. I’ll lay out some of my most-often utilized tools in my arsenal, then I want to hear from you on your own faves.
Convenience Over Quality
I put a lot of wear on my tools, and they usually stop looking pretty early on, so for me, spending a lot of money on a tool only makes sense if it brings with it greater functionality or durability. For instance, I have a crapass “Workforce” ratcheting screwdriver that does what I want it to. It has a decent ratcheting mechanism — none of the slipping you see in the cheapies. Prehaps even better, the Workforce has room for bits in the handle, giving me 7 to choose from without having to look for my bits.
I also have a gorgeous SuperKrome ratcheting screwdriver. It is black and green and chrome, and clicks like a Swiss watch when it ratchets. After owning it for around six years, I can tell you it’s been used around 10 times. Mostly it’s so seldom because the SK driver comes in a storage case and the bits are in the case alongside the tool, necessitating that the whole deal be stored in the case all the time. For me, if I have to break a tool out of a case, it’s just one more level of complexity to deal with.
Sometimes you just want to have a “beater” that you can use without worrying about. Some well-meaning relative gave me an expensive level as a gift. I’m talking hardwood with brass fittings and end-caps, weighing around 7 pounds. Its vials look like instruments from some 19th-century schooner. For how much that must have cost, I could have bought every size of cheap plastic level with enough money for a hot dog afterwards. It’s also terrible to store, due to the weight.
The Hot List
With that info in mind, here are the tools that used the most in my projects:
Cheap Meter: For basic stuff nothing is faster than the DT-830B that has been cloned all to hell. Did I mention it’s cheap? I have a couple of nicer meters, Extechs, but if I’m just testing a couple of things it’s so convenient to use this guy.
Cordless Drill: I use an 18v cordless drill quite a lot, for driving screws as well as drilling holes. It’s probably my #1 homeowner’s tool as well. If you’re in the market, I would definitely say to buy a quality name brand. In many senses they’re all the same, the top tier of Makita, DeWalt, Milwaukee, and so on. You just have to buy into an ecosystem so all your batteries will work together. I’ve used no-name cordless drills and they’re cheap pieces of junk waiting to fly apart (and be scavenged for drill motor hacks).
Multitool: Any time I forget my multitool I find a reason why I should have had it on me. Everyone has their own favorite; I’ve been using a SOG No. 61 forever and have few complaints.
Cordless Dremel: This is one of the few cased tools I use on a frequent basis. It’s fairly tough, with a sturdy plastic and steel frame that helps absorb a lot of the tool’s vibrations. Cordless means I can use it much more readily than its corded cousins, bring it to play in all sorts of situations. I haven’t found the best way to store bits beyond in the case.
Laser Cutter: My favorite tool; it usually just does what I expect. I use the hackerspace’s laser, and I’m finally fine-tuning my processes to the point where I don’t ruin projects as often as I used to. Limiting myself to just a couple of common materials, I know just what settings to use to output quickly and surely.
Digital Caliper. I have one of those $15 cheapies that works perfectly fine, but is very light and flimsy. I’m on the lookout for one that I can leave out of the case without worrying about it. For the money it’s a fantastic tool — it just weighs next to nothing.
Hot Glue Gun: Anyone who pays a lot of money for their glue gun better be getting WiFi and padded seats with it, because even a midrange $10 model will give quality work for years. One more expensive version I’d like to try is a cordless electric glue gun (like a DeWalt), but only if I was working on a big project.
Hex Wrench: I have a set of Eklind hex wrenches that work brilliantly for my needs. I spent literally years fumbling around with other hex drivers, searching around for the right hex size, swapping in vaguely hexlike security bits when I couldn’t find the right one. Once I had an opportunity to try one of these guys, I never looked back. Eklinds are incredibly simple, with one wrench per size, and with imperial and Metric sizes available. They also have really long necks, allowing you to tighten socket-headed bolts in hard-to-reach places. I use these guys for robots and other projects with socket-head bolts.
Automatic Wire Strippers: I really like these classic automatic wire strippers that over the years have been cloned repeatedly and no longer are sold under any recognizable brand name. I have some different sets of wire strippers that are intrinsically better constructed and more precise, but this set is faster and easier to use.
Measuring Tape: The same as with levels, a large number of cheap tapes is better than one amazing one, unless it does something really cool like cleaning your soldering iron’s sponge. The convenience factor alone makes it worth getting 10 cheapies since, let’s be realistic, you’re not getting any added value from the fancy pants tape.
Enough about my tools. Leave a comment! I want to hear from you about your favorites. What works for you and why?
173 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What Tools Do You Reach For First?”
What I told man son as he got his own house, every project especially a wife one needs a new tool. Then you can slowly build up a good tool set. By doing it yourself saves lots of money and spend part of that on tools.
I get paid once a month and every month I go tool shopping. Slowly amassing an awesome collection of tools. If I know I have a project coming up that’d benefit from a tool, I buy it in advance. Otherwise, I buy whatever I don’t have and think will come in handy one day.
My thinking is that when something breaks suddenly, I’ll more likely have the tools I need NOW rather than having to improvise or make an emergency run to the store to get a tool. That’s if I’m lucky and the stores are still open or that I have the surplus funds to get that tool at the moment.
Resist the urge to buy junk tools, doesn’t have to be gold standard Snap-On stuff… just not crap.
Oxyacetylene cutting torch and an oxygen lance.
Sometimes C4. There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives.
Nah, I just use a 2 by 4. Much safer!
stops unwanted naturally occurring micro-patterns from spilling all over the place…
Afterall you don’t want to be walking down the street with some other bio-machine’s serial number plastered all over you!
Another useful tool is your surroundings… Makes for a good stealthy hack… of the permanently disable unwanted bio-hardware sort.
The beauty with C4 is that can tell the customer that *it* will never need fixing again!
C4 the good old days.
in 1986 (RV86) was its code name in Canada.
I was in CER1 in the Canadian Armed Forces then. This was the largest Exercise since WWII.
The night before we planted 4 thousand pounds of C4.( yea a lot. )
It was to be detonated at 6am. I didn’t have a radio then. There was a exploration at 6am and it looked like the area I was guarding. Well I was wrong. I waked back just before 6:30 got to the site at 6:30 then. BANG.
I was about 40′ from it.
I walked out of this with out a scratch.
That is what I think about when I hear C4.
One tool I always have in my pocket is a Petzl Zipka. I’ve tried a lot of different lighting solutions over the years and nothing even comes close. SO compact and handy. I probably use it 4x a day. You can’t work on stuff you can’t see.
Saving other readers a search: it’s a headlight
If it is a tool I am not sure I am going to use much, I will buy a cheap version. After the tool proves it’s worth, then I buy the good one.
When I was young and didn’t know better, I bought a cheap combination wrench set. Then when I was building my airplane, I wore out a couple wrenches. Bought good ones, and have never looked back (although I think that wrench set is still in the attic).
For me, the key is keeping the tools organized so I can find them. Nothing is worse than having the proper tool, but not knowing where to find it. I buy multiple good screwdriver sets for this reason. Sometimes the family borrows them, and doesn’t return them.
I have a soft sided tool bag with lots of pockets in the sides for wrenches, screwdrivers and other items to keep thing organized when I am out. The pegboard rack is working for me (I know it doesn’t work for everyone), so I have that above the workbench.
I have a good meter that I paid a lot for, but it is bigger, and not always convenient. I also have lots of the cheapie cloned meters, and use them occasionally. I have a medium auto ranging meter that has lots of probes and accessories that is smaller than the good meter, and a bigger display than the cheapie meter and I use that most of the time.
Buy new tools first for cheap, then learn to use and abuse the tool, learn what the important features of the tool are, en where it is most likely to fail, THEN start looking for a good one that suits your needs.
You have to be careful with that. I’ve had instances where the inferior tool needed so much tinkering, that it cost in time and frustration many times over what a destroying a good tool would have cost me. Not to mention that you’re more likely to ruin work pieces and parts. That even was one of those tools that the community recommended as a good, very cheap alternative.
I wish I just shelled out for good quality tool instead. It doesn’t have to be the titanium space grade stuff either, just something that does the job.
Just a mention that one tool that it’s worth buying a LOT of if you see dirt cheap is vice grips, to use as clamps. Okay, if you crap gold bricks you can buy lots of the decent ones instead. If you want to use them as locking pliers or attempting to turn stripped nuts etc, I recommend you get the good pairs for that.
I recently bought a set of Kobalt QL3 ratcheting screwdrivers with replaceable bits and love them. They come in the standard hex bit size (5/32″ I think?) and the smaller precision size as well. Inexpensive, uses easily replaceable parts, pretty solidly built too. They replaced a set of aging, proprietary swappable bit screwdrivers that I can’t remember the manufacturer of…
After burning through a bunch of generic/cheap (Harbor Freight, Black & Decker) cordless drivers, I settled on a Bosch 12V Max cordless pocket driver (PS21, I think?). It’s enough for all my household stuff, drywall, plywood, etc. It’s tiny compared to a lot of the major league devices, and the runtime is fine. I’m a very light user of it, so I only have to swap the battery between the charger and the driver about once every 6 months or so. It also takes the same bits as the larger Kobalt QL3, so I can buy once and use in both tools.
One tool I was slow in getting and now can’t live without, especially with a 3D printer is a caliper. I got the iGaging IP54 Electronic Digital Caliper and it works great, cheap but no cheapo.
Another tool not mentioned is a 3D printer. I have fixed all sorts of things by producing the part. Thingiverse has 30,000 items to download and print. Taught myself to CAD and I make broken parts. I love it.
“…make broken parts.”
Much better than planned obsolescence…
But better still to make things to replace broken parts. I never found much use for printing broken parts myself but it does take all sorts. :)
Oh come on, we’ve all printed broken parts at some stage, I’ve even printed fresh air.
I replaced my digital calipers with an analog variant, and never looked back. Never runs out of batteries, you cannot forget to zero it, and it is just as accurate (or in case of cheap ones, even more accurate)
I’ve got three sets of calipers. A cheap digital caliper that seems to work fairly well, an old high quality dial caliper that I got when a previous employer switched to digital calipers many years ago and a set of vernier calipers from the same source. I find that I use the dial caliper most often.
I always stuck with a good vernier as they’re very accurate and have a phenomenal battery life but with age it’s getting hard to read the vernier so I have some cheap digital’s now to.The digital’s have more resolution than precision so If I need accuracy then I find a pair of glasses and go with the verniers.
I gave up on digital calipers a long time ago. The cheap ones are inaccurate when the batteries are weak, and they still draw current when they’re turned off, so the batteries are always weak or dead.
I carry a plastic dial caliper that won’t get damaged if I drop it. It’s accurate enough for most uses. Mine is sold by Empire (the level company), available everywhere. Some day I’ll buy a more expensive metal one, but I seldom need that much accuracy. If I need a metric measurement I multiply by 25.4 (every smartphone has a calculator in it).
Also, note the word “carry”– it’s not much use if I don’t have it with me. Small hand tools tend to wander off at a hackerspace, so I bring my own.
Wait until your eyes get like the batteries, weak. That’s when you will use digital.
I use my digital calipers to work on bicycles where you are constantly jumping back-and-forth between imperial and metric units. A few times I’ve even done conversions with the calipers rather than get a calculator out of the drawer.
When I got my vernier calipers way back when, the discussion would have been vernier vs. new-fangled dial calipers.
Agree with most of your points BUT a large number of cheap measuring tapes is actually the worst possible scenario. When you’re measuring stuff, you want a certain level of accuracy and (most of all) consistency. Using several measures will get you neither.
I agree with this. I bought a reasonably nice tape when I bought my house and have used the same one for years There have been a few times that I misplaced if for a couple of days and was sad but so far it has turned up each time.
Agreed. I used, for some reason, two different folding rules to measure a large panel for a cabinet I was building. That was a mistake… only later did I notice that things were slightly crooked which resulted in hours of tweaking to get things to look/work right. Turns out one of the folding rules had been dropped and one of the segments had shifted a couple of millimeters.
Sometimes, millimeters matter. Fun exercise: compare all your rulers, tape measures etc and you’ll probably be shocked by how much they divert from each other.
I by rulers that are marked as standard at 25 degrees Celsius.
Reference or measurement tools need to be of reasonable quality and accurate.
I once bought a plastic ruler at Dollar Tree,
when I compared it to a professional metal ruler, the cheap one read 30cm at the 29.7cm point on the other.
Plastic has a high thermal expansion coefficient. That makes plastic especially poor for volume measurements like liters etc.
My philosophy on tools is pretty straightforward, and has served me well: If I need a new tool, I buy it as cheaply as I can, whether that is garage sale, Harbor Freight, or what have you. If I use it enough that it breaks, I then buy a better version.
Ten years ago, I bought a 4″ angle grinder at Menards for $20, it came with 10 replacement wheels. I’m still on the first wheel, but it almost worn down.
Bosch 12v driver. I love the little thing. Lightweight, plenty of power, small for tight spaces, LED lights. Always in my tool box and gets tons of use.
2) Polar Toneohm
I didn’t realise just how much I used the Toneohm until I fed it rectified mains up its resistance measuring a few weeks ago. I was without it for maybe 3 days while I waited for new op amps and stuff and nothing got mended. I was so lost I just bought another so that I am prepared for the inevitable next time I blow it up.
Laser cutter fell off the bottom of the list, Having had it for two years and never used it other than converting it to RAMPS I figure it isn’t proving too necessary.
Automatic Wire Stripper
Spring-loaded flush cutters (I have a CHP-170, though the Hakko ones are good too)
Small, spring-loaded needle nose pliers (Great for bending component leads)
Reversible screwdriver (Double-ended Phillips and Standard bits on either end, plus the shaft can act as a socket/nut-driver for 1/4″ and 3/8″ nuts and bolts)
Stainless dissection/dental picks (Fantastic for holding SMT parts in place while you tack down the corners, also great for clearing solder from plated thru vias, since the solder won’t stick to the stainless)
Bent-angle anti-static tweezers
Bluetooth multimeter (cheap chinese ones go for $50-$60, pairs with your phone over bluetooth for data logging)
My favorite tool is my Victorinox Manager, a keychain knife with the World’s Greatest Screwdriver™. If you want an even cheaper and more compact version, get the Rally, which doesn’t have the ballpoint pen or scissors.
I love my Wiha screwdrivers. I recently added a set of Wiha torx drivers.
Next to that, I could not live without my Fluke meter. It is an ancient model 77. A purchase I have never never regretted, but may upgrade to a newer model.
After than, my Rigol DS1054, that thing has changed my life.
Good tools are always a joy. They are a pleasure to use, work better than cheap ones, and last forever.
Ah, one other thing, my battery powered Dremel. That thing is a marvel.
Thing for those working on sheet metal called a nibbler. Dremel is handy as well.
I love my nibbler! Along similar lines, I have several tapered reamers. They got a lot of use back in the ’70s (what they say about good tools lasting forever is true, they actually are still fairly sharp (I’ve never abused them)) on chassis for vacuum tube equipment, such as audio amps and ham equipment.
Step drill to go with those tapered reamers.
I bought a set of those step drills. They are great, but the people who designed them missed a trick. The set of three that I have are metric and are ALL multiples of 2 mm steps. It would have been nice if the middle one was 3, 5, 7, 9 etc to give 1 mm choice.
Are we talking the motorized nibbler (like the ones you attach to a drill) or a hand nibbler here?
Because I wondered if those hand nibblers are any good, both in use and in how well they last.
I think you’ll get carpal tunnel before a decent pair of hand nibblers wear out.
I have a pair of the hand nibblers that I have been using for 30 years intermittently. I had an air powered nibbler that broke the anvil in the first week. It was pretty difficult to control. The hand nibblers are pretty easy to control but slow.
The tool I most often grab for is my gentleman’s grease gun.
But seriously I think the most commonly reached for tools are bit and socket set. Maybe multimeter.
I always buy cheap tools unless I have already worn through a cheap one and used it enough to justify the purchase of a decent one. The only exception to this are precision instruments (torque wrenches, angle gauges), metrology equipment (callipers, micrometers) and anything that failure could mean death or injury (jacks, spring compressors).
That’s about it, I don’t really have a tool philosophy or grand idea of what a tool box should have in it. I just buy what I need when I need it.
Talking about grease guns I bought a pneumatic grease gun that pumps out of a 10L pail – now I never want to use cartridges again. Then I bought a LockNLube Grease Gun Coupler….stupidly expensive but worth every penny as I get no more wasted grease around the zerks and it saves me tons of frustration.
Most of my home projects tend to involve a corded Makita drill that looks like something a construction worker would be using to bore through I-beams. Because it is. After going through two cordless drills – one that was almost completely worn out and the other just constantly seemed to have its batteries trashed – I decided the nuisance of a cord was preferable to finding a battery wouldn’t take a charge when I needed it, and that it’s better to have a heavy, overbuilt drill than an underbuilt one.
I never understood why there aren’t corded adapters for cordless tools? I have a Ryobi circular saw that can get through a handful of studs before it needs charge. I have since upgraded to a Makita corded circular saw but might use the other if it had a corded attachment for the battery slot.
Because an adaptor will cost way more than a new tool because of the current needed for the low voltage motor.
Batteries are the lock-in to cordless tool “systems” Look for the Ryobi sets at the big box stores around Christmastime, and look at the prices for individual battery packs, and you’ll notice that the tools themselves are loss leaders.
It’s no wonder that the service life on those battery packs isn’t that great.
My criterion for a cordless tool is a screwed together battery pack. Once you have that it’s easy.
Ryobi has a few combo corded/cordless tools available.
Back in NiCad days, I had a Skil cordless drill that did come with an adapter for corded use.
Never used it much as I already also had a corded Milwaukee.
It’s still the NiCad days! :-D
Well all the cordless tools I own are used NiCad ones bought at “it’s dead” prices, and I cycled the batteries back to life, or replaced a cell in the pack etc.
They exist, I just looked on Amazon and there are a couple of different types, for the low low price of only $200+
Seems like a good candidate for a project…
I already cooked one of those up for a set of AA powered decorative lights – if I have any cordless tools with dead batteries that I haven’t gotten rid of, I just might cut open the battery pack and make one.
Same here. Amazing how tough some of the old houses are. Good bits are a must too.
When it comes to most power tools, if it’s something that I don’t use on at least a semi-regular basis, it’s almost always going to be a corded tool. From my personal experience, I’ve found that even the cheap tools work well enough for most projects (and most of those are hand-me downs.) For cordless tools, the batteries almost always go before the tool itself does and often times the replacement cost of the batteries are high enough that you’re often better off to buy a new cordless tool.
A tool that I often grab the cheap version of due to convenience would be a soldering iron. I have a nice Hakko FX-888D station but sadly don’t have the space to keep it out all the time, so for very quick jobs it’s a pain to pull out of the closet. I pull out the cheapie Weller iron for those quick jobs. The chisel tips for the Weller seem erode in record time sadly (but I’ve gotten Weller to send me replacements when I complain.) The conical tip seems to hold up a bit better.
Butane soldering iron for field work.
That’s the exception to my “everything infrequently used must be corded” rule. Butane can be stored a long time!
Yes, that! Cordless convenience is wonderful but.. if you aren’t using it regularly it will not be charged when you need it. Also, you won’t get enough uses out of it before the battery goes soft from age.
Author says “One more expensive version I’d like to try is a cordless electric glue gun (like a DeWalt), but only if I was working on a big project.” I hope he does a lot of big projects then!
I used to reach for the CHP-170 flush cutter until I got fed up with its poor construction. Got a Tronex flush cutter which cuts perfectly every time and will probably last a lifetime or two.
Thermal wire strippers are the only kind I’ll use if I’m near my bench. Unlike every other stripper I’ve used, they never so much as nick a single strand.
A used vernier caliper may cost twice as much, but is so much more reliable than an El Cheapo digital caliper. Just make sure to get one with a vernier that’s a good length (i.e. 0.05 in / 1 mm instead of 0.025 in / 0.5 mm).
Cordless electric drill-driver; my good old Makita. Use it for many, many things. Also a headlamp (Tikka2 if it matters) and Super Tinker knife.
FWIW I love the SOG EOD multitools but the Phillips screwdriver bits are a study brittle fracture promotion (really, I use one as a demonstration in class) and not covered by any warranty (https://photos-eu.bazaarvoice.com/photo/2/cGhvdG86c29n/41690943-e722-5f8e-a4f0-a7a1063a6ba6 you can see the fracture progression along the “A” stamped into the piece) so my Skeletool finds its way into my pocket these days. That broke too, but they fixed it without question.
I had a few really crappy hammers in my time. I remember bending the handle on one while removing a nail — apparently it was hollow. I bought a 16 oz Estwing a few years back and the quality and utility is surprisingly noticeable compared to whatever crap I was using before.
Roofing hammer, no smooth face, although I have one of those too.
I love my Estwing geology hammer. Don’t get to use it much anymore.
Thought I lost my go to claw hammer this week. Almost got panicky when I realized I’ve had it 43 years. Longest owned tool in the arsenal, though far from the oldest tool in the collection. That honor goes to a 220+ year old wood plane/shave. It came with the 220+ year old post & beam house. And the tool marks match. :)
I have been spoiled for the really cheap tools, by working with tools for a living in different jobs over the years.
I will still occasionally buy a Harbor Freight tool for something that I need it just once, but not for hand tools, and 99% of the time, not for anything powered by electricity or air either.
My favorite tools for regular use?
A set of Wiha screwdrivers, a Fluke 179 meter (bought cheap and verified against a cal standard), an old set of Klein wire strippers, a Weller WD1 that my work retired, and a tool bag of mostly Craftsman hand tools, acquired over the years.
Yes, buying any of this new would be a bit painful, but over time, or scrounged from the broken parts piles and repaired, they’ve all worked well for me.
Harbor freight has served me well in some cases. But one place it has served me exceptionally well is my angle grinder. I bought one when I started welding figuring I would replace it soon when it broke. It is still going strong after 10 years or more. And I bought a second one that I keep one of those nasty cup wire brushes on to tear rust off of metal that has been laying around. Granted I am not welding for a living and don’t use it every day, but it was probably the best Harbor Freight item I ever bought. I am particularly surprised because in general I would never buy anything with an electric motor at HF. Actually there is another exception, a miniature belt sander that uses a 1 inch wide belt. It is well regarded in the knife making community and is working out well for me.
Kinematic impactor will fix almost all. Swiss knife will make the rest.
Time is my limiting factor on just about everything and that makes tool choices for me. Around the house, if I’ve done the type of project before I figure it will take me 2-3x as long as I estimate. If I haven’t done it before it’s usually at least 5x.
To help battle that overrun I’ve found things like having 3 power drill/drivers is important (no bit changing — drill, countersink, drive). I also find that cheaping out on hand tools is horrible for your hands so buying good work gloves that fit and using hand tools that are comfortable and amplify your power will make you faster because you fatigue much slower.
I must have been into the attic of this house 50 times by now. I’ve lost several pliers up there, and cut myself on sheet metal twice. I no longer go up there without a bucket to place my tools in and a few bandaids.
Surprisingly a first aid kit is the one thing a lot of people shortchange themselves on.
Agreed on the drills. I’ve got three hand-held drills and a drill press. And I really use them all. I hardly ever change bits and save a lot of aggro and time that way!
I find things take 8T the first time, as I scratch my arse and overthink every move. then they take 4T the second time as it’s all just trying to remember and fumbling through it, the third time they take 2T as you go, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah and work at careful speed, the 4th time it takes T, you just cruise on muscle memory… you can get down to 1/2 T if you do it a hell of a lot and discover shortcuts.
crappy wire strippers and dollar tree phillips head screwdriver.
Knipex Pliers Wrench, 7″. A god among tools. Hilariously lifechanging.
” Mostly it’s so seldom because the SK driver comes in a storage case and the bits are in the case alongside the tool, necessitating that the whole deal be stored in the case all the time. For me, if I have to break a tool out of a case, it’s just one more level of complexity to deal with.”
Actually I look for a lot of tools with cases because it’s so easy to lose things otherwise, and it keeps the workshop neat.
Three tools that come in handy. One is a BT laser tape. Other is a digital protractor. Last is smart tools app on the phone.
Is no one going to put a bit of Snap On worship in?
Nope, it’s a cult, you’re brainwashed :-P Normal ppl buy craftsman or husky and a porsche with the difference.
I buy every Snap-On, MAC and MATCO hand tool I can lay my hands on at garage sales, flea markets and the like. The ratchets from Snap or Mac really are better. Their newer cordless impacts are downright amazing in daily use.
I have a 3/8 drive cordless impact from Snap On that is right at 20 years old. It has been used on average every weekend for several battery discharges after it got retired from front line duty 10 years ago. Still holds charge, still retains the sockets, still makes about 80lb/ft. (kind of weeny but doesn’t break much either)
No, I will not buy off the truck.
That being said, a lot of my tools are Craftsman or Harbor Freight because I keep the best tools in my big tool box in the shop and several mismatched but complete sets scattered around in the various vehicles, camper, enclosed trailer, and house. It is handy and if I loan tools it is the cheap ones. Nothing goes out of my big shop box.
My go to wrench set is a set of Snap On reversible ratchet wrenches with offset heads. A cordless 1/4″ impact is my other mainstay.
You might think I’m being difficult, but I’ve actually broken 2 snap-on pieces I bought used because they were supposed to be good… One was a breaker bar, simply taking off lug nuts. The other was a click breakaway torque wrench, set to 130ftlb and I didn’t think I was even close yet, not hearing the click annnnnd the ratchet exploded.
I do own a few odd other pieces that arrived with other stuff, like a 3/8 wrench and some socket, I have not destroyed those yet, but being odd bits they’d be first on the “volunteer” list for hazardous duty.
I’ve had a great set of Snap On mechanic’s screwdrivers forever. Once upon a time I needed a throwaway set of screwdrivers to use at a jobsite, (I expected them to be stolen) so I bought a set of 20 or 25 no-name drivers for $10 at Mill’s Fleet Farm. The little jeweler’s size drivers aren’t so great, but the larger ones that match the blades on my Snap Ons are excellent! I usually reach for them because the handles are much more comfortable and more grippy.
The small ones are nothing like my Wihas, but after about 8 years, I’ve never chipped or bent a single one of them.
As a bonus, I guess they looked so cheap nobody stole them.
I wish I took more care of, and didn’t lose half of, the first set of cheapo jewellery screwdrivers I got back 2 decades ago. But they were a buck, disposable right?… Erm yah, so 5 years later when I buy another set, I discover my error… these ones are nasty, fat blades, the phillips is just a rod with 4 nicks around it… if you get them firmly lodged in a screw, the bit spins in the handle.. gah…. and they’ve stayed about the same since. I don’t know what the good sets are, but I know you can buy overpriced dollar quality sets at $15 and more.
A couple of my favorite Phillips screwdrivers arrived in Sullivan Television Cart boxes (for assembling the cart).
As a TV repairman, I used to assemble the carts for our customers.
Their bit has never burred. Now I keep them in a Safe Deposit Box at our bank, as I’ve already lost a half dozen of them, and I don’t want to lose these two! B^)
They’re just too expensive. I have some that I got used at flea markets and garage sales, they are really nice, but those new prices…
What is surprisingly handy is an awl. I mean the thing that is like an icepick but where the sharp tip widens into a somewhat square shape then like an icepick becomes a round screwdriver type shaft ending in a handle.
It’s very handy to pry and make predatory holes for drilling/screwing. And the squarish part after the tip means you can twist it to widen the hole, unlike the round icepick design where you can’t.
Other than that I also like to mention the classic T-shape screwdriver, sure it doesn’t replace a regular screwdriver, but boy is it handy when a screw is really tight, which happens so damn often. So if you see one for cheap, get it.
Agreed. I have an awl and I am always reaching for it for things I never would have predicted. Actually what I have is a scribe intended for marking lines on metal (probably previously coated with Dykem). It is a precise probing tool and also works well for its intended metal marking purposes. You don’t want to get carried away prying with it of course, but someone with an IQ above 20 can make good use of it.
Nice to see an agreement.
Little correction though: I of course meant to type ‘preparatory’ holes
‘predatory holes’ is a whole different subject :)
Auto correct makes monsters of us all.
Yes, an awl is pretty much an essential tool for woodworking; I use mine every day. I got a nice vintage awl with a beautifully turned handle and decades of patina.
The most used tool in my workshop would have to be my mouse! Second would be the little swiss army knife. Anyting I have made either on the 3D printer, Milling machine or electronics wise gets deburred, trimmed, stripped or adjusted and sometimes screwed in with this little thing.
The first tool I reach for is a 50+ year old Nepalese Kukri…..
… then 98.26% of the time I put it back in disappointment as I realise that nothing needs cleaving in twain.
A bit too subjective… It really depends on the task…
Oh a nail… HAMMER
Ah a minor dent… HAMMER
Needs a hole… HAMMER
a screw… HAMMER
Building a PC… HAMMER
Stuck platters data recovery…. HAMMER SHALL FIX IT!!!! (:-D)-}–<
Seriously though… The grey matter between my eyes and ears is the first tool I "grab". It is used as a situation-comparator:
Situation (-/negative/gone-bad), Tools-available (+/positive/situation-improvement) and the output is the midpoint result of the two where 0=(+n)+(-n) is the ideal situation or otherwise R=(+T)+(-S) Where R=result, S=situation, T=tools.
Thoughts count as output of the grey-matter tool where T is incremented by the viability of the idea… thus tools can outweigh the situation giving a better end result… only if viable.
I’m a fan of my Leatherman Crunch:
and my Illumi-Loupe:
You know they sell those loupes with their own LED light right? Although I do sort of like this grunge/steampunk design.
Incidentally, I did not realize leatherman also made the clamp style pliers, interesting to see.
Yeah, I had a few minor quibbles with their design but really just wanted a goofy project. I think the Crunch was a limited offering from Leatherman and isn’t for sale anymore, but you can find them on eBay and so forth. definitely worth it.
They are still current line at Leatherman. I first saw them maybe 15 years ago, so not a limited offering. Great tool.
4″ crescent wrench, victorinox alpineer lock blade, victorinox mini champ w/ ink pen & led light, 7′ lufkin tape measure. Fixes 85% of my problems. They are always in my front left pocket ready @ a moment’s notice.
It used to be my Dremel. But… I have more tools now and barely touch that.
Now, I don’t know.
my dad had a good philips screwdriver that has now lasted 30+ years without getting rounded, and he also had a needlenose pliers just the right shape. both are now mine, because i stole them when i moved out. woo.
always got needlenose pliers, wire cutters, strippers, and 3 screwdrivers (philips, small philips, small flat blade) sitting out at all times. multitools are for camping.
There is one single tool i have always on my table. It is a tiny flathead screwdriver. Kind of accidentally (young me grinded it down for some reason) it has such shape that it opens most small screws, are they Phillips, Pozidrive, multiple sizes of torx and hex, pentalobe, triple-lobed, or even stripped… Also it’s first thing i reach for if i need to pry some case open, poke a hole, ream a small hole bigger, apply soldering paste, cut some trace or scratch glue. It has survived for more than three decades of abuse. Really awesome little tool.
Our relationship is complicated. It has also taken my blood, many times.
But still, I will cry when it should break one day.
I have a screwdriver like that!
When I was very young it was part of a set of inexpensive, almost toy screwdrivers that were given to me as toys. All have long since been broken or lost except for the smallest. That one was accidentally buried for some amount of time in a hole child-me dug and it rusted in just the right way. Having re-dug the hole, discovered it and cleaned it so long ago that I now have no idea my age at the time or what year it was I still have it. The tip is very rounded and just seems to fit almost any size or shaped slot. The wider the hole the farther it pushes in.
My reading glasses or magnifying safety glasses.
My luxo magnifying lamp nowadays.
1. Coca~Cola, canned, 12 ounce, aluminum, frosted
Not purchased individually meaning some merchandiser’s grubby hands did not fondle the lip.
2. 6 inch plastic ruler (in, cm, mm)
3. Needle nose pliers (plier?!) 4 to 5 inches
4. Walmart 1$ folding serrated knife
5. Electrical Tape, black, rubbery, likes long walks on the beach
That is all I can reasonably carry to where ever doubles as my work space.
What? No duct tape? What kind of caveman are you?
WD40 and Duct tape
This is the best product idea ever invented!
Aaaaggghhhh…. HTM/L tag limits!!!
Plastic ruler? Stainless steel is the thing!
PB swiss allen set (metric and standard)
Knipex pliers (better than an open face or crescent wrench)
Hakko Soldering iron
Wera screwdriver set small to large
ultrafire LED flashlight
and 6″ mitutoyo caliper
wow, good list!
Nobody has mentioned a set of Optivisors. I used to see old guys in the shop using those and wondered why. Now I know. I suppose they don’t get mentioned here because most of the Hackaday readership is young people with sharp eyes. These things have become my new friends.
Hmm, interesting thought but why? I am 62.
We need a poll on that but I reckon it will be a Gaussian distribution biased towards the older end.
I use a 20MP camera with 10x Optical zoom that has an eye-fi (wifi) card that transmits the picture to my PC and then zoom in on it with my 37″ monitor. I can make the smallest SMD resistor the size of a large torso.
You mean your telemagnetic magic-lanternoscope?
Close enough lol.
I started electronics in the valve (tube) ere when components were large and bulky and my sight was as sharp as a razor.
Now components are pinhead size and my vision is gone so that’s the solution that works for me.
Duct tape and WD-40.
Bah! Gaffers tape and Kroil.
Gorilla tape and PB Blaster.
First tool I reach for? A hammer. Always a hammer.
Important tip for all the married peeps out there:
Always ask your spouse to buy your tools. Every time I’ve done that my wife has ALWAYS bought a better version of the tool than I would have. I go for “good enough”, she always gets “nice????“. (This assumes the two of you are currently on good terms, mileage may vary depending on location. This does assume the spouse feels you have a working knowledge of most tools.)
Forget to mention my fave woodworking tools: hand planes. I’ve restored some rusty old thrift-store finds back to working order and they really are a joy to work with. There’s nothing more relaxing than hand-planing a rough piece of wood to a silky smooth surface. Very tactile and satisfying work.
Kroil is often the first thing I reach for. I seem to have a knack for finding stuck threads.
Ms 200t a 35cc top handled chainsaw, mostly up trees but frequently in the wood shop and occasionally in the house, I have 2, a14″ and a 12″ they’re both 17 years old and totally reliable, in second place to these is a 1985 Mercedes Unimog, and a selection of hammers, Unimog maintenance involves hammers, lots of hammers, or it’s an electrical fault.
It all depends on the job.
The electronics bench, it is the aforementioned magnifying lamp, the Xcelite LGS (little green screwdriver), it’s blue handled friend Phillip, the green handled Xcelite baby dikes and matching needle nose, and the generic yellow handled wire strippers take care of 90% of the unpowered bench work.
Metcal soldering iron has replaced the aqua Weller WTCPN after > 3 decades I’f service.
In the garage, either the Craftsman 3/8 drive ratchet with 9/16,1/2, or 7/16” socket, or the 9/16-1/2” open end. (My Triumph and I are looking at you Jenny List!) cheap multimeter.
In the machine shop, sharpie, machinist square & dial caliper.
Wood shop, marking knife.
How has no one mentioned ViseGrips?
Someone did mention visegrips, or rather put up a picture of one, a leatherman one.
i have vice grips. i’m not too proud to admit that i use them sometimes, too. but even the bench vise and the table-top drill press see a ton more usage than those shaft-manglers do.
Perhaps disturbingly more often than not, a fire extinguisher.
Serial port, but I am mostly known for breaking things.
A privilege to use
Well, if you want to go down that road…
HP 70000 MMS. The swiss army knife of the RF workbench. Spectrum analyzer, network analyzer, signal generator, power meter, counter, and so much much more, dc-40GHz. But a tad noisy, warm, and takes up a bit of real estate when used with a 70004 display.
The 8568B is a fantastic tool too. Pretty much any HP instrument is worth playing with at some point.
Nobody has mentioned the dispicibable pocketknife, alright!
I don’t reach for it, it’s an extension of my hand. :-p
Currently in my pockets are a victorinox camper, a chestnut tools “losable knife”, a cheapy “credit card survival tool” and a screw together micro (glasses) driver set on a keyring. So yah, when confronted with loose screw or nut, one of those it coming out to it first..
Also carried from time to time are knockoff leathermans.
This one time, at band camp, I had to pull a camshaft seal, and got all prepared with 2 sets of professional picks and seal pullers… well it was in there good, I unbent all the picks…. pullers wouldn’t get purchase on it either…. soooo out came the knockoff SA knife I’d had for years, flipped open the can opener, gouge and pull, did in one attempt/30 seconds what I’d been struggling with for over an hour with the “correct tools for the job”.
This discussion prompts me to ask however:
How do you store your go-to tools?
After trying leaving them all over the bench, a small tray, a spinning pencil tray, holes in the workbench, and a large variety of other bits of insanity, I ended up using large binder clips on the edge of the workbench. Allows me to move tools around at will, add/subtract, etc. And I can use them to hold things to the bench.
DRP. image insert fail
On the wall; they need to be visible All my tools are mounted to the wall of my shed with the every day use tools in the nearest and easiest to reach places. And I try to design tool holders that are secure and quickly release whatever they’re holding to avoid disturbing my workflow. Like my drills that are always plugged in and ready to deploy while they are safely sored in their cubby holes.
i’ve had the same progression as you, more or less. i have a natural kind of spot for long straight tools to hang out beside eachother (3x screwdriver, pen, sharpie, x-acto), but the pliers and cutters and strippers were always wandering and tangling cables and so on. so i just put nails along one edge of my workbench for those tools to hang on, and so far that has actually been perfect. it took me a long time to figure that out though.
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