I’m no mechanic but I like to have the tools handy in case something breaks and my buddy Zeke (think Mcgyver) says “Hey do you have a 3/8th hex wrench” If I have it he might be willing to fix it. He does charge a quarter for every questioned answered.
Here we go…
Popular Mechanics has come up with a list of the 50 Tools Everyone Should Own. Can you guess what the No. 1 tool on their list is? A sledgehammer. Not a hammer, or pliers — a sledgehammer.
And that’s why they call their magazine POPULAR Mechanics. I love that!
1) Sledgehammer — Few tools combine brute force and finesse as elegantly as a sledgehammer. Swing it overhead to deliver bomb-blast destructiveness or to fire a wood-splitting wedge through a big log. Handle it like a putter to salvage architectural elements such as a post-and-beam barn frame that needs knocking apart. Most of us are better off with an 8- or 10-pound model that we can swing easily, not a 16- to 20-pounder.
2) Center Punch — In theory, you use a center punch to start holes in metal. In practice, it’s far more useful than that. You can tighten a loose handle on a knife or shovel by centering the punch on the rivet and then firmly striking it with a ball-peen hammer, expanding the rivet’s head. In a pinch, you can also use a center punch like a steel pencil to mark a line on wood or metal. Or you can use it to countersink a large nailhead or drive down the stub of a broken nail or staple.
3) Putty Knife — The putty knife is more than a single implement. Rather, it’s a group of tools, ranging from knives with flexible, thin blades to heavy-duty models that are ground with a tip like a chisel (which, not surprisingly, are called chisel-edge putty knives). Better tools have a high-carbon steel blade; plastic, disposable ones are perfect for the no-scuff application of putty on painted surfaces.
4) Safety Glasses — DIY projects may come and go, but you won’t get a second shot at good vision—protecting your eyes should be your first priority. Opt for high-impact safety glasses over those rated “basic impact.” For maximum protection, wear high-impact goggles because they cover more of your face and the area around your eyes.
5) Adjustable Wrench — For portability and convenience, you can’t beat the time-honored adjustable wrench, which enables you to turn a wide range of nuts and bolts with a single tool. If you’re going to own just one, make it a 10- or 14-inch model so that it’s big enough for residential plumbing fittings. Pull it so the reaction force is applied to the fixed jaw, not the movable one.
6) Pipe Wrench — A pipe wrench may not be versatile, but when you need to hold a pipe and fittings, nothing else will work. The body is rigid and heavy, and the teeth bite forcefully into smooth, round surfaces. While most pipe wrenches are cast iron, spring for an aluminum model if you face a long day of plumbing.
7) Socket Wrench Set — Reach for a socket wrench when you need to tighten fasteners or loosen frozen ones. The 1/2-inch drive is the heavy hitter of the socket wrench kingdom, followed by a switch hitter, the 3/8-inch drive, which is big enough to do light-duty automotive work yet small enough for some appliances. Reserve the 1/4-inch drive for appliance and electronics repair.
8) Metal File — If the deadly twin-engine Heinkel 219 had been available in larger numbers, some World War II historians speculate, Germany might have stopped the Royal Air Force bombing that hastened the end of the war. As it was, fewer than 300 of the gun-bristling night fighters were made. Today, one remains, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Will Lee is slowly piecing it back together. Along with a rawhide mallet for hammering aluminum, the aircraft restorer’s go-to tool is a metal file. He relies on four dozen files to finesse excess metal—both single- and double-cut, triangular and those he’s cut down to shave rivets. “With a file, I can get right down to the lines I’ve scribed,” says Lee, who did electrical work and built prosthetic limbs before joining the Smithsonian in 1990. He prefers hand tools for the most precise fits. “I seem to have more control doing it the way I’ve been doing it for years,” he says.
9) Combination Square — Used for marking out, measuring and testing the squareness of corners, the combination square is versatile and accurate. For maximum precision, first position your pencil (or the scratch awl stored in the head), then gently slide the square to the pencil (or awl) and strike your line. Check the tool’s accuracy by marking a line 90 degrees to a straightedge. Flip the square and make another mark next to the first. If the two lines are parallel, the square is, well, square.
10) Combination Wrench — Your wife has the family silver tucked away in a felt-lined box, and you’ve got your set of combination wrenches. The tool’s design is prototypically simple—box-end on one side, open on the other. It has no moving parts and is covered in shiny chrome. If you’re lucky enough to have inherited the set from your dad, that makes it as precious as the silver, while cheaper to insure. No one knows who invented the combination wrench or when, but it was popularized in the U.S. by Plomb Tools in the 1930s, a period of social and technological ferment. As automobiles became more numerous and sophisticated, so did the tools to work on them. New steel alloys and forging methods have only improved the wrench with the passage of time. Today’s wrench is thinner, sleeker and stronger than the bulky ones it replaced; it weighs half what it did in the ’20s. While it is hard to improve on perfection, in 2006 Craftsman introduced a new twist—literally—in its Cross-Force Combination Wrenches, turning the handle so your palm presses on the tool’s broad face, not the narrow edge. Back when blacksmiths forged tools, they would inscribe the year onto the head as if to announce that it would last decades, maybe centuries, into an uncertain future. A fine set of wrenches, bearing dates or not, exudes the same sense of permanence.