By Jim Kerr
I must admit to being a tool junkie. My tool cabinet is overflowing with tools, some of which have been necessary in my career as an auto mechanic. Many of those tools aren’t really necessary but sure are nice to have. Like so many other people, I have tried to curb the urge to buy more tools, but there are so many unique and useful tools out there (tool junkies have to justify their cravings somehow!). Receiving the latest tool catalogues at work didn’t help. There’s even more neat stuff in them, but there are some tools that are indispensable to me. Here are the tools that I use the most for working both on automobiles and fixing things around the house.
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I have to start with my quarter-inch drive socket set. This set is used all the time. A ratchet, a driver handle, a short and long extension and a set of metric and standard sockets enable me to take apart (and hopefully put together again) most household appliances, bicycles and many of the smaller parts on a vehicle.
Screwdrivers are an integral part of any tool kit. Straight and Philips blades of various lengths make up the majority of my screwdrivers but I use only a couple of each most of the time. To work on modern vehicles, I have added a couple Torx bit screwdrivers although using separate Torx bits with the quarter-inch socket set is almost as useful. Two of the screwdrivers I use most at home are Robertson square drive #2 and #3. Most household electrical connections and many appliance screws have Robertson heads. Finally, I have one big screwdriver I use mostly as a pry bar (I know – you shouldn’t use them as pry bars, but it is so handy) and a set of small jeweller’s screwdrivers that are great for tightening up those eyeglass screws.
It’s difficult to work on something you can’t see. Lighting is critical. A 110-volt fluorescent trouble light is wonderful. It throws lots of bright light, doesn’t burn carpets or arms like an incandescent light bulb can when working under the dash of a car, and is almost unbreakable. The second light I couldn’t do without is often called a flex-light or bendable light. A small krypton bulb on the end of a long bendable stalk allows me to see in the darkest corners – perfect for looking inside car doors or under the dishwasher without glare in my eyes. Add a small inspection mirror and even the backside of parts in tight spots becomes visible.
Dropping a tool is inevitable, usually in a place that can’t be reached. Then come out two handy tools – a small but strong extendable reach magnetic pick-up tool and a flexible spring tip “mechanical fingers” tool. Neither of these are expensive – I got the magnet for under $10 and the “fingers” tool was on sale for $1.98 at the local surplus store. If you can’t retrieve a tool or part with one of these tools, then you are probably never going to get it back.
Hammers are great tools to relieve frustrations, but they can be useful too. A carpenter’s claw hammer is used around the house but a 16-ounce ball peen hammer is used for stubborn mechanical items. A dead blow hammer (plastic hammer filled with metal shot) has been the most useful hammer in my toolbox. It doesn’t bounce (hence called a dead blow), packs a solid wollop and doesn’t mar machined surfaces. I use it for everything from pounding in garden stakes to adjusting panel fits on a car body.
If I could only have one pair of pliers, I would choose my needle-nose. Perfect for holding small parts and springs, they can also be used to hold hot parts and cut wire. A set of Vise-Grips would be my second choice.
Recently I picked up a set of ratcheting wrenches from a local department store. With an open jaw on one end and a ratchet box end on the other, these wrenches have quickly become a favourite. They will never completely replace all my other wrenches but are the first ones I grab from the drawer.
A digital caliper became desirable as my eyesight changes. The digital readout is easier to see than the small graduations on my older caliper and it switches from standard to metric readings at the touch of a button. Perfect for measuring the size of a bolt or the depth of a hole, I use the caliper more than I ever dreamed.
Some tools aren’t used often but can be handy. An awl can be used to punch holes or line up existing holes so screws can go back in. My new 3/8-drive torque wrench vibrates when the correct torque is reached, so I don’t have to even look at it anymore as I use it. A Unibit drill bit (tapered drill bit) can drill several different size holes in thin material without having to change bits but more importantly, it drills round holes in thin sheet metal, so screws fit properly.
These tools are only a small sample of the tools found in my cabinets, but have proved to be some of the most versatile. I already have more than my share but I am sure there must be room for a couple more that I can use to fix something. Now where did I put that tool catalogue again?