Building a Toolkit Post #3 Pliers


This is post three in our series on the well put together homeowner’s toolkit. In the previous two installments, we covered how to make good choices when looking for a hammer and an assortment of screwdrivers.  There’s also a directory of all our posts on tools in the Subject Matter Organizer.  Links below may be affiliate links; see Disclosure on Affiliations .


Usefulness Group: Essential

Pliers have a couple of different functions depending on the type you are looking at.  The common parts will be that they’ll have handles and jaws joined by a pin. The jaws will nearly always be shorter than the handles (some extra long needle nose types are an exception). What this arrangement allows for is a lever action where the force you put on the handles is increased, giving the jaws more gripping power.   At the core, that’s what pliers are for, to grip something you’re working on stronger than you could with just your hands. That same action can also be used to cut materials if you have a cutting edge instead of a wider jaw.  See figure 1 below for a visual on how pliers work.

Plier Fig 1
Figure 1. The mechanical advantage pliers give you
To gain the most functionality, I recommend five sets of pliers be in every toolkit (although my own pliers drawer is a bit overfilled).  Here’s the list:

  • Slip Joint – Standard pliers like the ones in figure 1 above
  • Linemans – Heavy duty and great with heavy wire
  • Needle Nose – Gets you into tighter spots and finer wire work
  • Wire Cutters – Good for snipping all kinds of materials
  • Groove Joint – Bigger jaw opening and lots of clamping force

The pliers (and some adjustable wrenches) drawer of my tool cabinet.
The good news is bundled sets usually include all five of these. I’ll cover each individually first with a link to a high quality option and then link to some sets of varying quality at the end.

Continue reading “Building a Toolkit Post #3 Pliers”

Building a Toolkit Post #2 Screwdrivers


Light fixtures, electronics, kitchen appliances, the battery door on kids toys, cabinet doors, curtain rods, furniture, and just about anything else you can think of is probably held together by screws.  This is likely to be the most frequently used tool in your arsenal,  and there are plenty to choose from beyond the basic Flathead (which also goes by slotted or standard) and Phillips versions. This post will make sure you’re equipped with enough knowledge to build a screwdriver set that will tackle a wide range of projects with as little frustration as possible.

This is the second post in the series. See the first post here: Building a Toolkit Post #1 The Hammer and a directory of all our posts on tools in the Subject Matter Organizer.  Links below may be affiliate links, see Disclosure on Affiliations .

The Screwdriver

Usefulness Group: Essential

A Simple 4 Piece Set

There are really only three parts to a screwdriver, the handle, the tip, and the tip.  You grip the handle to apply torque to a screw.  The tip is just a shape that matches a recess on the screw-head (like a lock and a key).  And the shaft connects the two.  Starting out, we should cover some basic dos and don’ts plus some features that you’ll be looking to consider when choosing which screwdriver is right for your kit.

  1. A screwdriver is not a pry bar, a can opener, a hole punch for drywall, etc. I’ve tried most of these examples through the years and have several broken tips, skinned knuckles, ruined projects, and other reminders to not misuse tools.
  2. Having a variety of lengths matters. The standard length works great on most things, but having a long or stubby option available when you can’t reach something any other way makes a job go much smoother.
  3. Handles aren’t just about comfort (see figure 1 below). While it should fit well in you hand, look for some shape that will be easy to grip tightly. That handle is what decides how much of your force can be applied to the screw. You need a good surface that won’t slip around in your hand (for instance, a smooth handle with no ridges is awful). Triangles, pentagons, and hexagons with various amounts of raised features are all popular and work well. Big thick handles are great for generating that extra bit of torque but take up quite a bit of room in the toolbox if you have a full set.
  4. You need to select the right sized bit/head to avoid damaging the screw head. If there’s a lot of wiggle (often referred to as play) when you put the screwdriver tip into the screw head there’s a bigger chance it will damage the metal (called stripping the head). The connection should be as tight as possible while still allowing the tip to be fully inserted for good contact between the two. This allows all the force you put on the screwdriver to transfer evenly to the screw. Too big is often just as bad as too small, as both sizing mistakes cause damage.
  5. Since this is such a frequently used tool, I want to stress a consideration for higher quality. Manufacturing methods (like cold or drop forged) and higher quality alloys help the tools hold up well over time. When using these tools, they don’t flex and deform nearly as much and last a very long time. I’ll include some higher quality examples below in the buy it once selections.
Screwdiver Fig 1
Figure 1. Screwdriver Handle Torque

Continue reading “Building a Toolkit Post #2 Screwdrivers”

Building a Toolkit Post #1 The Hammer


If you own a home, rent an apartment, or sleep in the back of your truck, you need some sort of a toolkit.  It could be an eyeglass repair kit, mini-screwdriver, and some business cards for repair services in the kitchen junk drawer.  For others it may be a garage so well outfitted and stocked that you could build an addition without a single trip to the hardware store.

This series of posts will offer guidelines and tips on what you would expect to see in an effective toolkit for getting small projects done and some background on the why. They’re broken down into usefulness groups as follows:

  • Essential – this is a tool that should be in everyone’s kit
  • Eventual – might not be something you want to get right out of the gate but eventually it should end up in your kit
  • Specialty – limited circumstance for use (think pipe wrench) but might be worth having around
  • Luxury – a time-saver or something you could get by without that makes jobs easier

This is the first post in the series.  If you’re reading this later all future posts will be listed in a directory of all our in the Subject Matter Organizer.  Links below may be affiliate links, see Disclosure on Affiliations .

The Hammer

Usefulness Group: Essential

The ubiquitous claw type hammer

Why you need one:

Some say if the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat every problem like a nail. Truth be told, a lot of those little projects around the house involve nails or other things that need to be treated like one.  If you need to pound, smash, break, pull, or pry on something, a hammer (or its claw) is likely what you need.  The explanation on why you need a hammer is much like the tool itself–simple and blunt.

Unsurprisingly, (even for something this simple) there are more types of hammers than the simple claw variety most are familiar with (see the ball-peen,  framing,  engineers, and dead blow as examples for the curious).  We won’t get into all those and their uses here as they’re more like specialty tools with specific uses in many cases.

For the well put together toolkit, you’ll be looking at something with a head that weighs in the 16-20 ounce range.  The heavier it is, the more force you’ll generate when you swing, which makes nails easier to drive.  The converse is that the heavier the hammer, the harder it is to swing/control.  Stick to the lighter end of this range (16 or 18 ounce) for a home kit as all you really give up is a few extra swings for a lot more control.

Handle options are going to be hardwood, fiberglass, or possibly steel.  It’s really hard to go wrong with any of these options (unless you find one that has a thin hollow steel tube).  Solid steel is tough, but non-replaceable and heavy.  Hardwood is easy to replace but also easier to break; it’s also a lightweight option.  Fiberglass is a nice balance between the two on durability and is also light weight.

The real trick for effective use is to not choke the grip by holding the hammer close to the head.  To generate the maximum force for either a strike or a pry motion, you want the longest lever possible.  Get that lever by trying to always grip as low as you comfortably can while maintaining control and swinging with a purpose. Continue reading “Building a Toolkit Post #1 The Hammer”