Ask Hackaday: What’s Your “Tactical Tool” Threshold?

With few exceptions, every field has a pretty modest set of tools that would be considered the minimum for getting most jobs done. A carpenter can make do with tools that would fit in a smallish bag, while a mechanic can handle quite a few repairs with a simple set of socket wrenches and other tools. Even in electronics, a lot of repairs and projects can be tackled with little more than a couple of pairs of pliers, some cutters, and a cheap soldering iron.

But while the basic kit of tools for any job may be enough, there will always be those jobs that need more tools. Oh sure, sometimes you can — and should — make do with what you’ve got; I can’t count the number of times I’ve used an elastic band wrapped around the handles of a pair of needlenose pliers as an impromptu circuit board vise. But eventually, you’re going to come upon a situation where only the “real” tool will do, and substitutes need not apply.

As I look around my shop and my garage, I realize that I may have a problem with these “tactical tool” purchases. I’ve bought so many tools that I’ve used far fewer times than I thought I would, or perhaps even never used, that I’m beginning to wonder if I tackle projects just as an excuse to buy tools. Then again, some of my tactical purchases have ended up being far more useful than I ever intended, which has only reinforced my tendency toward tool collecting. So I thought I’d share a few of my experiences with tactical tools, and see how the community justifies tactical tool acquisitions.

Blame It on Harbor Freight

Back in the day, avoiding the tactical tool purchase was a much easier prospect than it is today. Before the days of big box retailers, if you needed a tool to finish a job, your choices were pretty limited. The local hardware store was usually your best bet, but it was hit-or-miss — you weren’t likely to find any specialized tools there. Trade suppliers, like plumbing or electrical supply houses, would have been a good place if you were looking for a tool particular to that trade, but they tended to keep hours that made it hard for the home gamer to patronize them, and the atmosphere in those places can be unwelcoming to the do-it-yourselfer, to say the least.

One place that was always a great source of tactical tools for me was the local rental house. While most people associate tool rental with once-a-year needs like a lawn aerator or a pressure washer, most rental houses have a nice selection of specialty tools available on the cheap, and importantly for the DIY set, they’re usually open at least some of the weekend. I’ve lost track of the number of gear pullers I’ve had to rent over the years, usually on a Saturday afternoon when all other options have been exhausted.

But my visits to rental houses have become much rarer over the years, primarily because there are so many more places to buy tools for not much more than you can rent them. Home Depot was the first big box that managed to enable my tactical tool problem, with that great big “tool crib” stocked full of just about anything you might need on short notice, and critically on weekends. Lowe’s followed, with completely different brands of tools but functionally the same offerings.

Part of my one-time (and no-time) use tool collection. Apparently I’m a sucker for black blow-molded carrying cases.

The real problem for me, though, was when Harbor Freight started expanding aggressively. The discount tool retailer has been around for decades, but it’s only relatively recently that I’ve had the mixed blessing of having one of their stores close enough that it made sense to take a quick trip to get a tool that would make the job at hand either possible to complete, or more likely, make it marginally easier. And now that I have a Harbor Freight store a mere five-minute drive away, there’s very little that’s stopping me from dropping everything right in the middle of a job and heading off to get just the right tool.

Quality or Quantity?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Harbor Freight is just full of cheaply made tools that are as likely to fall apart on first use as they are to actually help you get a job done. That’s certainly true of a lot of tools they sell, and I’ve been bitten by this a time or two myself. But I do have to say that Harbor Freight’s quality has really gone up lately, especially for their power tools. That monster right-angle drill in the picture above, which I bought to drill a hole in a well casing in a confined space about 4 feet underground, is a remarkably powerful machine. It performed admirably, and while I might not want to rely on it for daily use, for one-off jobs and other occasional uses, it was perfectly fine. And as a bonus, it cost less than I would have spent getting someone to do the job for me.

For me, I guess that’s the driver for my tactical tool obsession. I like being the guy who not only knows how to get the job done, but just happens to have the right tool for it. It may be a long time before I need a drill capable of twisting your arm off if you’re not careful, but when I do, I can just get the job done without much further fanfare. I find this to be especially true with automotive tools, because car problems stand the very real problem of rapid escalation into the territory of financial ruin. This almost happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when my usually rock-solid 2003 Toyota Tundra started hesitating and bucking just as I was starting a trip. I nearly broke down in the center of a one-lane bridge, which would have resulted in a towing charge and whatever the garage I ended up at decided to charge for the diagnosis and repair. Instead I managed to nurse the truck home; the fuel pressure gauge seen in the picture above will be used to diagnose what I strongly suspect is a fuel flow problem. Fifty bucks for tools plus maybe a fuel pump or filter sure beats the $1,000 or so that I would have been looking at otherwise.

Your Turn

Look, I admit it — I’ve got a tactical tool problem. But the tendency to over-tool my life hasn’t really caused me any problems, at least none that I’ll admit to. My family thinks it’s pretty cool that I’m likely to have the exact tool needed to tackle any job, even if they poke a little fun at my collecting habits from time to time. And at the end of the day, when nobody has to pay a plumber to make an emergency call for a leaking water heater, and oil changes and brake jobs are done gratis in my driveway, everyone wins.

But what about you? What’s your feeling on tactical tool purchases? I suspect there may be a better balance between buying one-time-use tools and the alternatives, like paying a pro or making do with what I have. I’m willing to admit that maybe I need to change my approach a bit, but only if it makes sense overall. Have you found the proper balance in your tool purchases? We’d also love to hear about any tactical tool purchases that have turned out to be widely useful. Sound off in the comments below.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to check out that fuel problem in the Tundra.

128 thoughts on “Ask Hackaday: What’s Your “Tactical Tool” Threshold?

  1. I have a simple strategy for this. If I want a tool, I add it to my amazon save for later, then I do without it. I leave it there, and every time I think I want that tool I come back to it and reconsider whether to do without it *again*. If I find myself coming back to the tool over and over, I buy it.

    Maybe errs on the side of not buying enough tools, but it works for me.

      1. Me too! Sometimes it ends up happening over the course of a season or two and then I request it as a birthday or Christmas gift.

        I also like to find a workshop when I’m interested in taking up a new skill. For example, if I wanted to take up leatherwork I’d try to take a workshop before buying the tools myself, that way I know I like it and I know what I think of at least some version of the tools.

    1. I would highly recommend Home Depot’s online storefront over Amazon actually, they’ve been working on it a lot and I’m a huge fan. Their shipping has pretty-near parity with Amazon, and you don’t get counterfeit tools mixed in like you do with Amazon. I once ordered a “new” Makita hammer drill that showed up in a shredded box with half of the parts missing.

  2. I was just looking at a specialty orchard tractor for what’s basically a one time job on my property. After asking the dealership to move the machine from another of their locations, I had cold feet. Then the machine showed up and I was sure I couldn’t go through with the purchase, but the dealer convinced me to at least come look at the machine in person. At the dealership I was also not sure, but still felt uncomfortable (the price was quite high, and I worried mice and oxidation would get the best of the machine rather than me). After going home without signing any paperwork, I finally told the dealer I couldn’t do it. This year, I said, I needed to focus my extra cash more on my lab full of electron and ion and atomic force microscopes.

    1. Don’t suppose you want my dad’s old mass spec?

      About late 1980s vintage, complete with IBM lab computer of same vintage, and docs. Don’t have details on hand. Was once expensive university equipment.

      Might have spiders. Currently in my late dad’s garage, in KC MO.

      I can’t throw it away…but my mom has no use for it. Dad really didn’t either. Pack rat genes.

      I’ll make a pulse jet out of it. Somebody stop me.

    2. Yes, electron and ion and atomic force microscopes are a much better investment. These are *invaluable* tools for me when I need to maintain my agricultural engines.

  3. Buy the cheapass harbor freight if you aren’t sure it’s a heavy-use tool (or even better find a garage sale which might be cheaper and far better, you might even find some Craftsman from back when Sears was good).

    If you use that to the point of wearing it out, go on Ebay and find vintage tools of good repute to replace it. There’s a couple new-production specialty toolmakers that are top-notch, but on average quality has dropped enormously since the 20th century and the used prices are so much better for a comparable metallurgy and build quality that you may as well do that. The reign of quantity has obviously begun, but that’s another story.

    1. THIS.
      And Ye Olde Hazard Fraught (as a few tool dorks like to refer to the chain) has some good stuff in it, along with some real clunkers.

      My personal bias for power tools, however, is Ryobi, mostly because I have a number of their battery packs and about three times as many tools. (Hence the phrase “investing in a battery system”- when the batteries are as much as the tools, one tends to buy tools that match the batteries one already has.) Without rambling too much, they have a few specialty tools that are good enough for prosumer use, and I’ve seen their mainline tools in the hands of pros, so they aren’t all that bad anymore.

      1. Yeah, a few lines of decent product and a few simple gadgets they can’t manage to screw up are conveniently available for cheap in single quantities, but when they make a clunker, they overcharge you for it.

      2. “And Ye Olde Hazard Fraught… has some good stuff in it, along with some real clunkers.”

        Whenever something goes on sale, you can increase the odds that something is wrong with it. Two examples I’ve had:

        Transparent storage case with compartments; shrink wrapped with full box sized label on top picturing items stored in those compartments; bought two, removed shrink wrap to find that the label on each was FIRMLY glued (nothing would remove it; none of the usual adhesive softeners/removers) onto the case’s topside over the entire underside area of each label.

        Hole saw drill set; the centering drill bit and its tip looked perfectly good and sharp; ground angles seemed right; would NOT drill into anything; returned it; employee didn’t believe me and tried it; same result

      3. I’d second Ryobi – I don’t much go for cordless tools, but the lime green stuff hasn’t let me down yet, and the battery are compatible with even older tools in the old colours if you come across one. Which is also nice as it means the battery really should and does seem to contain all the smarts so the battery should be rather more useable for other things, and the tools probably won’t care at all as long as there is the right voltage – though I don’t know this to be true having never got round to really digging into it (as I don’t do cordless tools I already have wired tools for the job usually, so those studies are low priority).

        1. I can’t speak for the tools (though I bet it is just wanting the right voltage) but I know the batteries have all the smarts and expect no communication from the tools, so you can (and I have) use the batteries as a power supply for any project where the voltage is suitable. My personal favorite project is using their 40V packs on my e-bike.

    2. You have to be careful assuming HF will be the cheapest; a lot of times you can get half as much tool for nine tenths as much price, but sometimes they’re not even any cheaper than whatever you can find on amazon with free shipping.

      1. Prices at HF have hugely inflated over the past 10 years or so, seemingly much more than just due to normal price inflation. I see DEEP SALE prices for things that were the normal price back then.

    3. I do the same.
      Buy the second-cheapest tool that fits my needs. If I find myself using it a lot and if it wears out, then buy the high end of the price/quality optimum that’ll last for years.

      Also, I have a drawer labelled “Tools: quickgrab”. Basically 10% of my tools that do 90% of the job, if you count in the screw/drill and skillsaw that are in their carrying cases. The drawer is quite small and I have changed few in it the last few years.

      1. I assume you mean circular saw if so that’s always bugged me, Skil is a brand that makes all types of saws. For instance my jigsaw is a Skil saw but, my circular saw is not lol.

    4. That is basically the philosophy I have adopted. If the tool to do the job is a 1 off that I know I am never going to need again, I rent. If I am going to need it more often but unfamiliar with the tool/unsure of how often it will actually be used, I buy a cheap version to figure out what features I want/need and how often I will end up using it. When I know the tool will be used a lot and I know what features I am looking for, I heavily research the available options and buy the best tool I can afford that fits my needs. This is why the auger to dig holes when I built my fence was rented, the wood lathe is a small bench top Harbor Freight model, and why my electronics bench has the Siglent line of tools.

    5. I have a lot of vintage tools, some of them so vintage that they have no practical purpose these days. I can say this much about old Power Tools though, with a few exceptions they’re not worth the hassle. Yes they can be less expensive than a new one, but the amount of work you get per pound out of a brushless motor and modern casings is preposterously more than what you get out of a 1960s zinc diecast AC monstrosity. I have some old electrical tools that are clearly built to defeat Soviet tanks in plains Warfare but most of them are just very heavy and don’t work very well. From an economic perspective and an environmental perspective I think it’s a good idea to maintain any tools you already have until they simply cannot be maintained any longer but if it comes to acquiring a tool that is new to you always go with a newer one if you can get away with it. Now, this really only has to do with electrical tools, hand tools are not similarly restrictive. And it’s important to note that just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good, there were crappy manufacturers 70 years ago same as crappy manufacturers now.

  4. Hi, I’m Bob and I’m a tool addict.

    I certainly suffer from this in a number of areas I have interests in. Machine tools and electronics is top of the list, followed by woodworking. It’s not bad when you can find a one use tool at a flea market, auction, or the like, and I really enjoy the hunt. It’s when you start buying _more than one_ because you got a great deal that it becomes problematic. But at 2 in the morning working in the shop or on the bench and you _need_ the adjustable purple framastat, the joy of having the right tool for the job pays for all the storage space! I suffered through improvising in my younger years, then had some disposable income and bought the right basic tools such as a very good soldering iron, quality hand tools, etc that were the everyday go-to tools and the change in my work is very noticeable. But that 8080 board hand wired and soldered with a soldering gun is still something to be proud of even if it would have taken 75% less time with a decent soldering iron.

    The key is a) knowing what you have and b) knowing where it is. Once you give in to the addiction, these become key. If you can’t find it, you don’t own it. This applies to materials as well.

      1. It’s the finding part that’s dragging me down now! I’ve got tools on top of tools. It’s now faster to buy a new one than find one of the existing ones… sometimes, anyway. I’m like, 95% certain I’ve got two Ryobi power planes. I know where one of them is. The other I know about as it’s in my Amazon history from a year before!

  5. The ol’ chief engineer I apprenticed under would say ” Ten percent of your tools do ninety percent of your work.” I often found this to be true.
    But as a field technician who often takes small planes and helicopters to get to remote job sites, I also have found Murphys Laws as applicable to tools holds true, ” The one tool you need is the one you didn’t bring.”
    So I generally bring as many tools as the gross weight of the aircraft will allow so I can more quickly deduce which tool I actually need but don’t have. XP

  6. The only thing on that table you should not have bought new is the conduit bender. The world is full of those things cheap. I have at least 4 of them that came with whatever i wanted from auctions.

  7. I started building an airplane with a modest set of tools. By the time I was done, I had replaced the only cheap set of open end wrenches with multiple high quality sets (6 point and 12 point). I also got many specialized tools from aircraft tool suppliers. That started my to collecting.

    Now I go to estate sales, craigslist, Facebook marketplace to get really good tools for a good price. Lots of just in case tools, along with “if only I had that tool last time”.

  8. I’ve always been a “teach a man to fish” person at heart and its hard to do that without the tool itself (and some spares). Many have a toolbag, but I’ve been an apartment-bound aviator for most of my life and the 5 gallon bucket does the trick in such a small space. I have a jigsaw and a sander/buffer that don’t fit in it, but then again, without a garage or basement or shed or workshop to keep them in, they will always be clutter when not in use.

  9. I rarely hesitate to buy a tool. I rarely regret a tool purchase.

    Over the years I have built up an good selection and good tools enable me to do what I want to do and to do it well. They are enablers. My tools include a small mill/drill and an Atlas lathe. I am surprised how often I use those, especially the mill. How does anyone live without a drill press?

    How does anyone live without a Rigol DS1054 oscilloscope.

    Space (and money) limit the acquisition of some bigger tools (a Bridgeport mill for example). If I had a bit more space I might add a cutoff saw — and I do intend to squeeze a bandsaw into the space I have.

    I see no point in being minimalist in the area of tools. I have two soldering stations. One next to my microscope, the other out in the “rough and ready” part of my shop. For certain things (like a soldering station) it is good to have spares. Saving yourself time is important.

    I have some regrets about the table saw I have (a “contractors” saw). I use it infrequently, it is dangerous as hell, and hogs a lot of space. But when I do use it, it enables things I could not do with the same quality otherwise. So it sits right on the tipping point.

    1. Funny you mention the oscilloscope. I agonized over the 300 buck to get that exact one. Now I don’t know how I lived with out it. I use it at some point on almost every electronic project.

      1. I bought the Siglent SDS1204X, to replace my old Tek 465, which let out some magic smoke when I powered it on. I hate to say it, but that cheap Chinese scope is better at most things than the 465. Digital storage,serial decoding, it just keeps on surprising me.

  10. My rule of thumb: if I need it more than once and it’s specialty I will buy it. Harbor fraught is great when it’s 3 pm Sunday and the car just died. Otherwise I’ll fake something. Tis why I am a Hacker and not a licensed mechanic, can’t afford the buy in for the special stuff I need anymore.

  11. There is something to be said for coming from a long line of what we now call “makers” that used to just be tinkerers or “the fix it guy.” It was super awesome to go to grandpa’s house to find not only one but a drawer full of speciality tools collected over generations. Stuff made out of American Iron that I thought would never die. Things like whole sets of Hart ball peen hammers, American Craftsman tools, ancient super unsafe but bulletproof power tools without safety guards, or B&S, Starrett etc measuring tools. One weekend I needed to do some metal stuff for a school project and came home with my first Craftsman metalworking lathe. The family motto was “two of everything.” Unfortunately after grandpa died it was all out our house when it caught on fire and burned to the ground, though I was certain everything would out last us- I was wrong and starting over has been hard. eBay for the win though and now I can really pick and choose the finest tools made this past century. But now without the nostalgia of using grandpa’s or great-grandpa’s tools. Sadly for society it seems many people these days sell this good stuff for scrap prices but it’s good for us/me.
    Sorry for rambling. I will close by saying buy good tools used if you can. Or new if you can’t and even for a one-off job, sell it on eBay to someone that otherwise cold not afford the best or doesn’t have grandpa’s tool cabinet anymore.

  12. Guilty.
    I pledged to stay away from the specialty tools and not gather more junk, but some tools are just cheap enough, that instead of renting it four times, I might as well buy it. Other things, like the electrical sanders are cheap enough that I have two loaded with different papers.
    And with basic tools, I like to “hide” multiple versions of the same tool at different places. The bike maintenance kit now has a couple wrenches and hexnuts in it and I don’t have to search for a 15mm hexnut in the toolbox every time, there just permanently is “another copy” with the bike tools.

    1. “If it can’t double as a hammer, I don’t want it”- an old friend of mine
      “Stop looking at the inspection microscope when you say that”- me

      There’s the right tool, the right enough tool, and the only tool on hand that can be pressed to the job. Then you get to the wrong tool.

      Yes, I have a micrometer that is fit as a welding ground clamp. I use it, too. (It was no longer useful as a micrometer)

  13. Adam Savage’s book recommends buying the cheap version of a tool first. If you use it a lot and it breaks, then splurge for the expensive version. It’s worked well for me so far.

      1. If you have “Adam Savage” money or you’ve already made a career out of building things, then he isn’t talking to you. Furthermore, whatever video you saw the $140 tape dispenser in, more than paid for the tape dispenser. :)

        1. Just observing that, like many, his advice isn’t what he seems to practice, just like Alton Brown creating a religion around not buying unitaskers. Tool purchases are value choices affected by a lot of personal criteria. As you observe, having lots of money makes a lot of things easier–there’s a difference between Adam Savage spending $140 on a whim and a minimum wage maker spending $140 on a whim. There’s also huge differences in people’s value weighting–if you are just getting a job done, a $20 block plane from Home Depot may be fine, but if woodworking is an avocation pursued for relaxation, the feeling of a Lie Nielsen in your hand may contribute to your zen state. Decisions are also impacted by other factors–how much space you have, the quality of work you are trying to achieve, how many times you pick the tool up, the consequences to your work of a failure, the value of your time. Just saying others’ philosophies about tool buying may inform your personal view, but shouldn’t dictate them ‘cos everyone is a unique flower.

      2. And are there cheaper versions of that automatic cut tape dispenser to buy that are not clearly vapourware? (yes you got me looking it up)

        $140 is not a huge amount of money for a power tool, which that qualifies as, and he has been making for a living, probably making a good amount doing it, and been living that way for a very long time now…
        Of course most of his tools are mostly at this point more expensive versions. The junk ones will long since have been replaced!

        He may not be exactly living his suggestion the way most of us would, as he can probably afford to get better but still ‘cheap’ versions. But that doesn’t make the suggestion bad or mean he is hypocritical – far as I can tell on the few views around his shop none of his tools are out of the ordinary maker sort of quality range either, most of them could still be considered ‘cheap’, he just has lots of them in many different fields. But they are not the brand new but still built like its 1865 quality level high end run forever industrial machines, they are mostly lots of pretty generic common power tools, with some older heavy metal…

  14. Kinda like Norm- he doesn’t change router bits, he changes routers.- I don’t change grinder wheels, I change grinders. Keep a wire wheel, a cutting wheel, a grinding wheel, and a flap wheel on different ones. Might have a few routers, too.

    1. Ha. I have three grinders–cut-off, stripping, and flap wheel. And, er, five full size routers, three small-sized, and a 220V shaper. Really should pare that herd down but too lazy. The only tool purchases I seem to regret happen when I buy crap tools, they fail, and it creates work. Like the #^$% rivnut setter I bought off Amazon that left me cutting out half-set rivnuts.

    2. Most dangerous tool in your collection.

      Seriously, cracked grinding wheels _should_ give you nightmares.

      The non-obvious fatal things that can go wrong with a surface grinder are yet another thing. I digress.

  15. Some tools never quite live up to the expectation… and then there’s the kind of tool where you go “how did I ever get anything done without this”. Example of the former, my steeply priced Weidmuller wire stripper. Example of the latter, my JBC soldering station. ;-)

  16. I tend to try to compare the cost of hiring the work done, and buying the tool myself. If it’s cheaper to buy the tool and learn to do it, obvious purchase. If it’s the same, then it needs to be something I’ll use repeatedly.

    There’s something to be said for knowing whether a tool is a real winner, or a novelty. I bought a wrench specifically for adjusting door hinges. Tried to use it once, didn’t have much success, and haven’t touched it for the intended purpose since. And then I’ve purchased some niche tools that actually do their job well, and used them repeatedly. Like a pocket hole jig for adjustable shelves in cabinets, or a big DeWalt hammer drill. There is something satisfying about having the exact tool needed to do a job well.

  17. For the most part, I have bought the tools I use regularly for whichever job I happen to be doing. Some of my kit was bought new 50 years back. Some of my tools are antiques for the simple reason that they are no longer made. Quite a few have been replaced numerous times.

    The right tool for the job isn’t necessarily a big outlay – who remembers the Lucas points adjustment tool? (screwdriver with a “feeler” slip guage).

    Many of the more oddball tools I have for those important little wrinkles, I have ended up making the tool – often in the absense of there being a tool already on the market …

    Case in point, a doohickey for dismantling IDC connectors, the doodad for unlocking the cover of an old terminal, a CD drive eject tool or the interlock cheater for certain unspeakable printers.

    The less said about having to invent lock-outs for various electrical gear the better.

    Yes, I accumulate tools, but I tend to spend carefully, and make my pennies count.

  18. my dad would go to all sorts of lengths to avoid buying a new tool and i consider it one of his real weaknesses as an around-the-house handyman, it limited his effectiveness and added to the list of undone tasks. so kind of as a rebellion, i am very eager to buy a tool, especially for the kind of tasks that you might hire a contractor for. buying all of the carpenter tools is cheaper than renting a carpenter!

    but i also like to buy the cheap version of a tool. for example, the only thing i bought when they opened a harbor freight outlet here is a set of 29 drill bits. if i was repeating a task, i know i’d find out why these were so cheap and i’d go out and buy some expensive bits of specific sizes. but for now, i love having the variety. i just always have a bit of exactly the size i need. this kind of philosophy often has be using a cheap tool — my cordless saws all run on elbow grease — but i always have a *correct* tool, which is such an improvement over my dad.

    but lately, even that mentality is meeting limits of storage. the sad thing is, it’s all a lifestyle problem. i actually have plenty of space for a lot more tools. but ever since i had kids, my workbench has become a utility space…i go down there and work on my thing (which often feels like a chore now!), and then i have to move on. it’s been literal years since the last time i performed any deeper cleaning than just putting tools back. there’s every kind of pile — packaging, broken prototypes, leftover components, unopened boxes. it’s a disaster. i just push the remains of the last project onto another pile before i start working on a new project. i need to spend a solid week just cleaning / trashing / sorting before i can buy anything bigger than a cubic foot.

    1. Getting rid of things can be expensive – at the extremes of minimalism, you do away with the washing machine, only to rent someone else’s on a regular basis. Of course, if you have more things than space, you’ll never find what you’re looking for and you’ll need to buy it again anyway. *shrug*

      1. “you’ll never find what you’re looking for and you’ll need to buy it again anyway.” ack!! you’re killing me!

        there’s nothing like buying a second copy of a tool to make the first one come out of hiding. thank god i mostly only do that for small tools like rulers

        1. And your can’t even cheat by attempting a “buy to return”. The old one doesn’t pop out until you’ve unpackaged and/or used the new one to the point of not being able to return it.

  19. I lost a friend more than 20 years ago – his personal pacifier for when he got angry at his wife was to go to Sears and buy some tool that he did not have – eventually, he stopped going to Sears because he had bought every tool they sold. I miss you, Jim Dana

  20. A good tool is better than a bad tool, but a bad tool is better than no tool.

    … and that, combined with a slight obsession of being prepared, is why my key chain have a small Leatherman Squirt PS4, while I almost always carry a Leatherman Wave with carbide cutters in the same pocket. Having one of them have been incredibly useful a lot of time, but having both have actually saved me several times. Often something that would be a major pain in the butt, or a missed event, ferry or aborted hike or trip, just becomes a short delay, and no big deal.

    I tend to store dedicated tools and the occasional spare bolt or nut where I might need them, in a reverse Murphy’s Law kind of way. If they are there, there is seldom a need.

    1. You need a 4″ crescent adjustable wrench because sometimes the leatherman won’t fix the loose nut
      while holding the bolt head AND the crescent wrench fits in the tool pouch

  21. This is exactly how I ended up with a (folding) engine crane. Needed it for one job. It made that job much easier, but now it just takes up a lot of space.

    That said, it’s like a hammer looking for a nail, and has found occasional use lifting heavy things that aren’t car engines (metalwork, logs, bikes).

    1. As someone who used to collect heavy stuff as a hobby, I wish that I had bought the folding crane 5 years earlier! Now I use it because my back is a mess. It doesn’t get used often, but it lets me do stuff I could not do otherwise.

    2. The simple shop folding crane started my obsession with heavy-duty stuff. When I figured out that I could work with 1500+ lb parts, tools, equipment, etc. with $150 of Chinese tube steel, the doors flung open.

      A month ago I bought a F450 flat deck, single cab service truck with a 4 Ton Heila knuckle-boom crane. It can lift 7700 lbs at 6 ft distance or 700 lbs 40 ft in the air. The truck cost about the same as similar year Super Duty Ford with a conventional box, despite having what was once a $100k crane on the back.

      It’s massively overkill for most, but I needed a truck anyways and this thing is just a tad bigger than an average Super Duty. The ability to be able to pick up and move almost anything, and pick and place it almost anywhere is just so cool to me. I could literally build a house with this truck, or field swap a tractor engine. The deck can fit 4 average size pallets and has a folding 5th wheel receiver. This truck is just so massively overbuilt, it will do anything I could ever need it to do.

  22. If you made it this far here is your prize:

    What a bunch of hoarders. I bet you got a great deal on that socket set that’s missing the 10mm and 9/16th sockets. Life isn’t worth living without ten spark plug gap tools. Wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight if you passed up that handful of pens with laser pointers (that just have dead batteries).

  23. I’m a mechanic and garage owner, and I specialise in hard jobs that other garages don’t do, so my specialist tool collection is insane. The way I work it is the job (1 job) has to buy the tool or it’s not getting done. This applies to mechanical tools, diagnostic tools really need to just be rolled into cost of businesses as there so dear. But that way if I do one job twice I make out ok. So some jobs are essentially lossess to buy tools, but in the grand scheme it works out. I always push everyone I know to buy tools, you never know when you need em, and youll always be greatfull you have them.

  24. This is the reason I have a transmission jack. And a slide hammer. And a door jamb saw. And a concrete mixer. If it was the same price (or cheaper) to buy the tool and learn to use it, I bought the tool. And used it once. Except for that concrete mixer… I’ve used that way more than I ever wanted to.

    1. >Except for that concrete mixer… I’ve used that way more than I ever wanted to.
      You must have a lot of ennemies…

      (Seems like or maybe it is a legend that mafia mold a block of concrete around people feets and throw them into some big lake/ocean…)

    2. This is a lot like the reasons I buy tools. The only exception it that there are some jobs I just don’t want to touch. It has allowed me to collect a bunch of skills that have been useful in my career and personal life.

  25. My Father was an aircraft mechanic and he had a bunch of tools. For my 16th birthday my parents got me a huge Craftsman socket set. When dad passed away in 06 I got his tools and sadly was able to keep half of them when I got married and mom lost the house from the housing market crash. I only have a few tools from Harbor Freight. A lot of my tools that I have bought since getting into the AV Integrator / Alarm system trade I have bought from Home Depot or ADI. I honestly try and stick with Milwaukee but they don’t make all of the tools I need in my field. However when I first started out I had Ryobi and use those for home tools now.

    1. The cheap HF bendy camera has been used many more times than I thought it would be. Now, I can see inside walls! Figuring out what I’m seeing and which way is up, is more of a challenge.

  26. Speaking of tools, I made myself a white pocket protector with my name on it, where I house red and black double sided markers and 3 screwdrivers. One flat and nr 0 and 1 philips head. I look like a total nerd in my blue ESD jacket, but over the years I’ve saved a lot of time having these screwdrivers at a ready. Its was originally done when I was operating testing machines that needed probe changes, which were attached with philips head screws, but I still keep finding myself going for them frequently.

    1. I loved the Sun Microsystems pen sized flat blade screwdriver! The screwdriver 🪛 was used for attaching/removing cables from the machine and the small Allen wrench on the other end was used to remove the VME boards. I wonder if I still have it somewhere?

  27. My process:

    If a job needs a special tool I will buy it, as that tool is almost always cheaper than:
    1. Paying a professional who has the special tool to come & do the job
    2. Trying to do the job without the special tool and messing things up
    3. Trying to do the job without the special tool and taking 5x as long of my precious free time

    I’ll generally buy cheaper versions of “low-use” tools, and I’m gradually upgrading my heavily used tools to better quality ones as things either wear out, break, I find nice stuff on offer, or I need to pad an order out for free postage.

  28. I’ve never yet bought a tool that didn’t pay itself back within the single job I needed, except my CNC mill. If you need to ask someone else to use their tool to fix your thing, you’ve paid for the tool and not got it. I have a house over-run with tools.

  29. An internet connection.

    Genuinely, 99% of the problems in my day to day IT work whether its programming/development, operations or infrastructure) can be resolved with the wealth of information and tools available with a decent internet connection. I no longer have to carry around HDD (which eventually became a usb key) with a full set of tools, I don’t take apart laptops, very often, desktops are easy to pull apart. Even when I used to develop stuff, the tools, examples, libraries are all online now. Wallet, phone, keys and that’s it, occasionally I have a might have a notebook or a spare router with me, but once there’s an internet connection…

  30. The problem becomes storage and finding that tool you know you have but put away somewhere a year or two ago.
    There’s a tipping point where it becomes an issue.

  31. I used to just have a hammer, a screwdriver (interchangeable) and a soldering iron.

    The screwdriver would open up 3/8″ holes in panels on projects, you name it.

    I could get a lot done with that log as a boy.

    Now, it’s the other end of the scale… I think peak tool was reached when I got my lathe (except, now I buy tools for the lathe!)

    What I miss are a couple of tools I still have, but wore out, or got lost under other tools, and you can’t buy any more. The main one being a sheet metal nibbler that works off a power drill. Much more fun than tinsnips!

  32. My policy is simple:
    Never buy when you can rent.
    Never rent when you can borrow.
    And if you borrow a tool, always return it in as-good or better condition than when it was loaned to you.

    If I need a tool I can’t otherwise rent or borrow, my first question is, “How often will I be using it?” If only once or twice, I buy cheap. If I’ll be using it regularly, I pay for the good stuff. And I absolutely never go cheap on a tool where my or anyone else’s life is at stake.

    This policy has served me well with only a few exceptions. Years ago I bought a 1/2″ drive socket set because I thought I would be using it a lot more than I actually did. Fortunately I didn’t pay all that much because I bought it surplus. I absolutely have far more screwdrivers and tape measures than I need because I keep misplacing them, buying a replacement, then finding them again. And there’s the floor-standing drill press I got because it was being thrown out and was just too damn impressive not to bring home, even though I seldom use it.

    But still, even with this policy, I probably still have far more tools than I actually need.

  33. If a necessary but tactical tool costs less than paying a person to do the job, I get the tool. If I expect to ruin the tool, I get a cheap one – otherwise I usually try to get a near top-end one simply because it will give pride of ownership like fine art, and pleasure at each use.

    I grew up with Sears tools in the 1960’s, and still have them. I used Snap-on when my employer paid – they were choosy about fasteners and had their own Snap-on part numbers to ensure the correct fit. Most times, the better tool ruins the fastener less! Good tools outlive numerous owners (Perhaps a reason to save on a cheaper one).

    Sometimes a project is good excuse to acquire tactical tools. When building my RV-8, I had an excuse to buy tools that I always wanted, but otherwise could not justify. (A mid market bandsaw and a OXY/ACET torch set are examples. I don’t use them often now, but they are good to have when the rare need comes.) An air powered drill is especially satisfying to use, and I still use my Cleco clamps almost 20 years later, and they make me happy.

    I have been fortunate enough to get a few high quality tools over the last 50 years, mostly by purchasing them gradually and opportunistically. I also inherited my grandfathers farm tools – a 3/4 inch socket set – for example.

    Now, I am downsizing and need to somehow liquidate about 80 percent of my tactical tools and a lot of duplicates.

    I have no kids, and can’t find anyone that appreciates tools, much less nice ones. Seems like the young-us don’t even use tools?!?!!!
    (Even good tools are relatively inexpensive now – compared to the 70’s, so everyone I know that can use them has them.)

    Does anyone have any suggestions for where to give tools away?

    1. Have a search for any local makerspaces and/or hackspaces. Most would, I’m sure, be keen to upgrade their kit. Certainly most will have members who would be interested.
      Sadly, it doesn’t sound like you’re anywhere near me, in Scotland!

  34. I got boxes full of old tools I can’t throw away because “i might need them”. I often keep cheap junk around to modify into special tools. I have two modded flathead screwdrivers for drum brake springs for example. Rather not modify my beautiful Wera tools. I have more pry bars than I ever pried.

    To help myself organize my mess, I finally started with gridfinity, hopefully that can organise my chaos. Next stop is making drawers for it. Already got french cleat on the walls in the workshop, but drawers are very needed.

  35. I have to say I really want the knockout punch kit for making fan holes in seriously stifled OEM cases. The front panel is easy enough if its plastic, but if I need to get airflow next to a steel or aluminum side panel its a pain to use a hole saw. Not to mention dangerous if (when) it catches and spins the thin metal at your body parts. Also looking longingly at nibblers and oddly enough vacuum pumps. But then I remember my battery tab spot welder and how I have no space to use it, and its out of reach to even access. And do as the first commenter suggested and add it to Amazon and never buy it unless actually needed.

    I usually make do with a replacement that costs 1/5 or 1/10th the price. I bought a hammer style crimper for large terminals instead of a hydraulic on way hen I had a golf cart. The last one I actually crimped for a friends car battery I just used a line up punch instead and it worked great. For the odd times I need ball joint presses I rent them at the local store less than 2 miles away. I’ve rented them maybe 3 maybe 5 times in the last 20 years, but I’m ok with that. The vacuum pump isn’t needed, I have a venturi effect box from the good old HF that works in a pinch.

    If I can’t get a cool looking tool for 50% of regular Harbor freight (sliding scale as they go above 200-300-400 it has to be 60%/70% off etc). If I ever see it at the second hand store/estate sale/Facebook or Craigslist there is a chance it will wind up at my house. Anybody need a set of and controls for a gas and brake pedal in a car.

  36. I inherited a lot of tools and equipment from my late grandfather who were an old school farmer until he wore his body up.

    And while I probably could’ve fixed the play and slop in his old massive drill press, it simply was too big for me.

    And he also had a giant stick welder which he supposedly used to weld the prefabbed steel beams together for the storage barn extension so he had space for a combine harvester too.

    But things like that took up too much room, so I contacted some who make a living out of buying heavy duty tools and either refurbish them or use them for parts for other tools.

    I did keep things like his mig welders, since I just had enough space for that, and I was about to buy one anyway.

    1. My dad was a farmer and many of the tools he left me when he died were huge wrenches and tools he acquired used from estate sales. Had to throw a bunch of them out to scrap as they were almost unusable. I got his huge buzz box stick welder and a really nice set of acetylene torches. I will say this about my dad and his old tools. He could fix any tractor with those tools and was a blessing to many a farmer in his local. He understood the value of tools and friendship. He seldom ever charged his neighbors for any work he did for them. And they did the same for him when he needed something.

  37. I’ve been bad about this when it comes to silicon.
    Back when I was trying to build synths, I often bought 10-20 of some chips (4049s, 741s, etc etc) just because they were dirt cheap back when i did. Also got some of them at a local shop before it shut down.

    I now have a huge backstock of random op amps and oscillators and other logic that has yet a purpose.

    Moral of this story: don’t browse Jameco when you’re hungry for chips.

    1. I, too, have suffered that same addiction and have had to reluctantly clear my shelves of perfectly good ttl and cmos dip ICs. Then they were replaced with risc based devices. Sadly, it has never ended.

  38. I live in Europe, but we have some weekend-opened toolshops here too. They have about the half of tools you need. The rest is available from webshops only (with 2-5 days wait and postal fee $4-$10).

    I’m used to have tools and I don’t regret buying tools.

    But to be honest, at least quarter of tools I have, was created using welder and angle grinder when I have needed them. Like very long screwdriver from broken one and a philips bit. Or air compressor from junkyard parts and some plumbing parts.

  39. Have a search for any local makerspaces and/or hackspaces. Most would, I’m sure, be keen to upgrade their kit. Certainly most will have members who would be interested.
    Sadly, it doesn’t sound like you’re anywhere near me, in Scotland!

  40. Tools are power. More power to control your own destiny. Controlling the outflow of money is key to controlling more of your destiny. It has also led to me being the neighborhood tool shed. Everyone knows who is mister fixit in my corner of the world. No one can compete for number and selection. Harbor Freight means I can get one or two use tools and if it does not return to me, meh, no big deal. Glad to be of service. I love my neighbors anyway. They are always welcome. In any case, my garage has saved me 10s of thousands of dollars in repairs and installations and expanded my world view of things and serves as a haven as I have a zen mindset when starting repairs. I stay in the present moment and stillness and then the tools perform their magic. Along with a little Youtube university for reference. Stay frosty.

  41. There’s a variant of this ailment, which is when somebody with inadequate self-discipline is faced with a nice Snap-on or Teng display and cannot resist the temptation to buy one of everything so that he has a complete set. I know a non-woodworker who could justify a router for a one-off job, but then bought an enormous range of boxed cutters to pave a drawer in one of his tool chests (and it goes without saying that the router was an expensive one).

    But frankly, I blame it all on Olympus. It was they who, in the 1970s, upped the ante enormously by bringing out the OM range which not only had interchangeable lenses, but interchangeable finders, backs, winders… it was an incredibly effective business model and there were many dilettantes unable to resist the force: particularly when they replaced their original brushed chrome with a tempting dark finish.

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