The Home Toolkit
A Guide To Compiling A Tool Kit for Homeowners
Most home owners and flat dwellers own tools, if only a hammer for hanging pictures or a drill and screwdriver for mounting a towel rail. But these few implements, however useful they are, hardly comprise a comprehensive tool kit for home repair and improvement.
On the other hand, there is hardly any project, not even the erection of an entire house, that needs every tool that can be found in a hardware shop. Many of the items sold there are for rarely encountered contingencies; others may be gadgets of dubious value.
This article offers a guide to the items that make up a reasonably comprehensive, truly versatile tool kit for the home. The tools are presented in categories, that is: those for measuring are in one group, those for cutting in another, and so on.
The guide describes the features and the uses of each tool, and explains how to tell quality tools from inferior ones, for example, how to distinguish a hammer designed to drive nails straight and true from one that is likely to bend them. It also recommends which of the varieties of a particular tool you should own, how coarse a file, how many screwdrivers of what sizes, how long a saw, and gives maintenance pointers for tools that require them. Where we have reviewed such tools, a link is provided to see those reviews.
The business ends of most tools are fashioned from one of three steels, carbon steel, low-alloy steel or high-speed steel. Carbon steel is a mixture of iron and carbon; low-alloy steel also contains small amounts of alloying elements such as molybdenum or tungsten.
Both metals are used in hand tools, such as hammers, chisels and socket spanners, which generate little heat in use. High-speed steel, which contains relatively high percentages of molybdenum or tungsten, can withstand the heat of friction generated in a power tool by drilling, sawing or routing.
The cutting blades of the most expensive power tools are made of tungsten carbide, not a steel at all, but fine particles of a mixture of tungsten and carbon bonded at high temperature.
Methods of Making Tools
As important as the metal used in a tool is the method by which the tool is made. Most tools are formed by the three common methods: casting, forging or machining. In casting, molten steel is poured into a mold and allowed to cool.
As the metal hardens, small bubbles form in the material, making it vulnerable to fracturing that can cause a spanner handle to break unexpectedly or a hammer to chip away. Therefore, casting is an unsuitable method for making most tools; the exceptions are those that suffer little impact, such as vices and plane bodies.
The forging and machining processes start with an ingot of cast steel, heated until it is relatively soft, then squeezed between heavy rollers, which remove most of the bubbles in the casting. A small piece called a blank is cut from the rolled ingot. In machining, the blank is cut or ground into the shape of the tool.
In forging, it is reheated, then stamped into the shape of a tool by a hammer weighing a ton or more. The blow of the hammer completes the elimination of the bubbles, creating a tool that will withstand severe stresses. Tools that are formed in this way can often be identified by the words "drop-forged" stamped into the metal.
Three Steps for Hardening
Whether cast or forged, a tool is usually heat treated to harden it. The process normally consists of three stages. First, the steel is fired to about 1500°F. Then the metal is cooled (or, in technical language, quenched) by plunging it into a batch of oil or water.
The tool is now hard but brittle; it is tempered by reheating it to a lower temperature, between 400° and 1000°F. These steps produce a tool that is hard enough to hold a cutting edge and yet resilient enough to resist breaking.
Choosing Quality Tools
When it comes to choosing tools, let the job pick them for you. In this way, you buy only the tools you need, when you need them. If you own only a few tools, or if they are of poor quality, the first project you tackle may require extensive purchases.
But the second job, particularly if it is similar to the first, will mean the addition of only a few more tools, and eventually a complete set of good tools will have all but assembled itself.
Buying tools to match the job also helps to determine whether you will need hand tools, electrically powered models, or both. Hand tools are adequate for most small projects and have obvious advantages if you are working outdoors far from electrical outlets.
However, a power tool is an asset where the amount of work to be done or the precision required justifies its price. The electric drill is so inexpensive and so useful for boring holes that a hand drill is all but superfluous. (Many recent models are battery powered, so they can be used in places remote from a power source.)
Also, anyone who has ever tried to carve long housings in cabinet work with a mallet and chisel will recognize a high-speed router as an irresistible work-saver. And a circular saw can cut panelling for a large room in just a few hours; the job might take days with a crosscut saw.
Such, a buy-as-you-go philosophy is obviously inappropriate for some items. It makes more sense to take home a complete set of spanners or bits for a drill, for example, than to buy them separately. They are always less expensive in sets, and buying them all at once will avoid a trek to the hardware shop each time you want to drill a hole of a different diameter or tighten a nut of another size.
Some projects call for specialized tools that are not really part of a basic home tool kit. Included in this category are such items as long cramps for squeezing joints together while glue is setting, industrial-sized sanders and polishers for finishing floors, concrete mixers and smoothing tools for laying a patio.
Many of these tools, especially expensive ones that are going to be used only once or twice, can be hired. Remember to bear in mind, however, that the hire fees can quickly add up to the purchase price of a tool if it is needed frequently or for a long period of time.
The Case for Quality
Do not be tempted by cheap tools. Shoddy screwdrivers and hammers will break, causing injury and damaging the work. A cold chisel stamped out of metal that is too soft cannot do the jobs it is specially designed for. Tools should help to minimize errors, not create them; an unsquare square, or any other such inaccuracy in a tool, will make a home project an exercise in futility and frustration even for the most skilled carpenter.
High-quality tools are sold at hardware shops, D.I.Y. centers, online and many department stores for reasonable prices altogether, the tools listed in this guide cost no more than, say, a good-quality hi-fi system, and, because they last for years, they are the only true bargains in tools. On the other hand, it is rarely necessary to own the most expensive lines of tools; usually they offer only subtle improvements in balance and workmanship.
For the home handyman, these qualities may not justify the extra cost.
When you are selecting a tool for purchase, look for the name of a reputable manufacturer. Study online tool reviews to find out how they perform. Examine each tool review to confirm that it incorporates as many as possible of the features that are recommended in this guide.
Before settling on a brand or model, read the terms of the manufacturer's guarantee. Most hand tools carry unconditional guarantees against faulty workmanship or materials. You should expect power tools to be guaranteed for at least a full year, and parts should be easy to replace so that the device will be inexpensive to repair.
It is advisable to shop around for the best price. High-quality tools are widely discounted and frequently to be found in sales. Always choose double-insulated power tools; their shockproof plastic housings will relieve you of any concern about whether electrical outlets, and the tool itself, are properly earthed. We always try to find the best available prices for tools that we review.
It is essential to use the right tool for the job. The wrong tool often makes it impossible to achieve professional looking results. A good tool used incorrectly can be ruined, voiding its guarantee. Remember that tools should do most of the work for you; they become inefficient and difficult to control when too much force is applied.
Swing a hammer so that the weight of the head, not your muscle, drives the nail.
Saw without excessive pressure; if the saw is as sharp as it should be, it will cut quickly enough and hold to a straight line.
Excessive force used with power tools can overheat motors and scatter dangerous fragments of blades and bits.
Work Safely With Tools
In addition to a light touch, other precautions are necessary to prevent accidents.
Keep an orderly work area, free of clutter.
Wear safety gear to protect your eyes from flying debris and your ears and nose from the din and dust of power tools.
Follow all the instructions that come with a power tool, and keep them for future reference.
Whenever possible, avoid using electrical tools in damp areas, even if they are double insulated or earthed.
Wear tight fitting clothing, tie back long hair and remove all jewellery, including rings and watches, that might be caught in the tool as you work.
Use cramps or a vice to lock work pieces firmly. On drill stands, small objects can be secured with blocks of wood bolted through the slots in the stand's base or table.
Remember to disconnect power tools before changing blades or bits, and keep all adjustment nuts tight.
Caring For Your Tools
Tools function safely and reliably if they are properly looked after. Hang up tools instead of dumping them into a toolbox where they will be hard to find and subject to damage. Keep tools clean and free from rust.
Wipe them after use and then apply a coat of light oil to the metal to prevent oxidation. (However, do not oil hammers, files or spanner handles: when slippery, hammers can glance off nail heads, files will not cut and spanner handles can slip from your grip.)
If youre using a chainsaw in the garden, you may like to check out our safety tips here.
Metal that has rusted slightly from humidity or condensation can be restored with fine steel wool and paraffin. Turpentine is an excellent solvent for removing wood resin from saw blades and other metal surfaces.
Keep Tools Sharp.
You can renew the edges of plane cutters and chisels yourself. However, most saw blades, because of their compound bevels, and all drill and router bits require special sharpening tools and techniques that are available from professionals.
To sharpen a chisel or plane, hold the blade so the bevel is flat against an oil-stone coated with light oil. Rub the blade against the stone at the correct bevel angle until a thin curl of metal appears along the blade's edge. Turn the blade over, lay it flat on the stone and rub until the curl disappears. Turn the blade over again and, holding it at a slightly steeper angle than the bevel, give it a few strokes on the stone to hone the cutting edge.
Power tools, because of their electric motors, require special care. They must be regularly lubricated and cleared of sawdust; this can clog the vents in the motor housing and hinder the movement of a circular saw's safety guard.
Power cables must be protected from oil and solvent, and coiled loosely for storage to prevent damage to the inner wires. Never carry a tool by its cable; the cable can be pulled loose or damaged. Internal electrical contacts, called brushes and usually accessible through external screw caps, must be checked frequently and replaced when worn.
All these details may sound like a lot of bother; but good tool habits, if cultivated from the outset, soon become second nature. Shown consideration, the tool kit recommended here will give years of dependable service.
Measurers and Markers
Steel tape measure.
Flexible and retractable, it can measure curved and straight distances.
A very popular size is one that's 25 feet long with an inch wide blade. Most high-quality measures have a replaceable tape with a protective plastic coating, a lock that controls retraction and a belt hook.
A device for determining whether a surface is level or plumb. A general-purpose level should be no less than 24" long and made of metal so that it will not warp. It should contain indicators, called vials, for checking both horizontals and verticals. Plastic vials are superior to glass ones; they are almost unbreakable, and can be easily removed for replacement. An added convenience is a window located in an edge over the centre vial. Handle a level carefully; dropping it can impair its accuracy.
Handy for determining vertical distances and measuring across wide spaces. It should be made of 1/8" hardwood for greatest rigidity, its segments joined with riveted hinges to prevent slipping, and its markings deeply etched and coated with plastic for long wear. Metal scuff plates on many rules protect the markings when the rule is opened or closed.
Used for marking and checking square cuts, and for drawing parallel or vertical lines on large projects. The square's body (long arm) and tongue (short arm) are marked in 1/16th inch increments running outwards from the right angle. Many squares are also marked with various tables used by professional carpenters to set out staircases and rafters.
A multi-purpose tool for marking and checking not only square corners, but 45 degree mitres as well. It also serves as a depth gauge, a level for short spans and a precision one foot rule. The rule should be grooved so that the cast-iron head containing the level can be locked in place by a hand screw anywhere along the rule. The heads of many squares include a scriber (small awl) for marking and are cast with a protective frame for the level.
Records and transfers bevels and angles other than 90 degrees and 45 degrees. To duplicate angles called for in plans or blueprints, a protractor is used as a guide to set the blade of the sliding bevel. To match an existing bevel, the tool can simply be adjusted to fit the angle. The wing nut on the handle is tightened to secure the blade in the measured position.
A steel scriber for marking lines on metal or wood and for starting drill holes in wood to stop the drill wandering. Flat sides on the handle prevent the awl from rolling on work surfaces. A bradawl is a similar tool with a sharp, bevelled tip which, twisted into wood, pushes the fibres apart to make a clearance for a screw.
Marks long, straight lines. A 50 or a 100 foot spool of string fits inside a case that is filled with chalk dust. Stretched tautly between two points, then lifted an inch or so, and snapped against a surface, the string leaves a straight, chalky mark. Suspended from a nail, the chalk line acts as a plumb bob for marking vertical lines. Worn strings can be replaced; chalk dust can be replenished after removing a cap at the bottom of the case.
Indents metal to provide a starting point for drill holes. Like an awl hole in wood, a centre-punch dent keeps the drill on centre as it bites into the metal. Centre punches should be made of hardened steel, which will withstand hammering and dulling of the point. The squared end of the punch keeps it from rolling.
Grips work for sawing, sanding, planing or drilling. The best type of vice has cast-iron jaws to which wooden (or plastic) faces can easily be attached by means of pre-drilled holes. The faces, which prevent the vice from marring the work, should be replaced when they become gouged, and set aside when the vice is used to grip metal. The vice is shaped to hold work vertically or horizontally and should open at least 2 1/2 inches. The virtue of the clamp-on feature is that the vice can be transferred from a workbench to any sturdy support, such as a table or a counter-top.
Frequently used in pairs to hold pieces of work together for gluing, sawing or drilling. There are G-cramps that open as wide as 12 inches; one pair of 6 inch cramps, made of cast iron or aluminium, is adequate for most tool kits. The head on the screw should swivel freely so that the cramp will grip surfaces that are not quite parallel; the swivel also prevents the cramp from "walking" as it is tightened.
A fast-action cramp on the lines of a clothes peg for holding freshly glued wooden pieces together, and for other light-duty tasks such as mating pieces to be soldered or positioning a cutting guide. Spring cramps come in sizes up to 8 inches mm long with jaws that open 2 1/2 inches or more. A pair of the largest cramps, with tips and handles sheathed in plastic, is ideal for all but the most delicate applications.
For cutting across the grain, the most frequent operation in woodworking. The blade of a general-purpose crosscut saw should be 22 or 24 inches long, made of springy, tempered steel and attached to the replaceable handle with four or more fasteners. A blade with eight teeth per inch (expressed as TPI), is fine enough to leave a clean edge, yet coarse enough for fast cutting and ripping, or sawing along the grain. (When buying this type, specify "an eight-point saw".) The blade of a high-quality saw is taper-ground to be thicker at the toothed edge than at the back. Its precision teeth are double bevelled and alternatively bent, or set, to the sides of the blade to help clear the cut of sawdust and to reduce friction by making the cut slightly wider than the saw blade. A crosscut saw needs precision sharpening to maintain the correct set whenever the heavily used teeth in the middle feel duller to the touch than those at the ends; sharpening is best done by a professional.
Tenon saw and mitre box.
A specialized crosscut saw that makes extra-smooth cuts and tight-fitting joints, particularly 45 degree mitres. A tenon saw should have 13 teeth per inch and a blade, usually 14" long, which is kept rigid for perfectly straight cuts by a spine along the back. The mitre box holds the tenon saw vertical and locks it at the chosen mitre angle while the cut is made. A mitre box should have adjusting devices for accurately setting a variety of mitre angles, regulating the depth of the saw cut and accommodating saws of different thicknesses. Holes in the base make it easy to secure the box to a workbench with bolts or screws.
Pad or keyhole saw.
Makes either straight or curved cutouts for such purposes as mounting an electrical outlet in a wall or allowing the passage of pipes through a floor. The handle of the saw accommodates a variety of 10 to 16 inch crosscut-ground blades. Each blade is locked in place on the handle with a wing nut. The blades range from eight teeth per inch for plywood to 24 for cutting through plastic. When the handle is fitted with a shorter, narrower blade, the saw is capable of cutting sharper curves.
For cutting metal. The saw's steel frame adjusts to accept 8 to 12 inch blades mounted between two lugs and tensioned by means of a wing nut. The frame must be rigid to keep the blade from flexing. Common blades would be 24 teeth per inch blades for general use, coarser ones for thick or soft metals, and finer ones for thin or hard materials. There are also round blades, known as saw files or rod saws, for sawing glass, ceramics and marble, and molybdenum steel blades which, though more brittle, last four to six times as long as ordinary carbon-steel blades.
Cuts intricate patterns in wood or metal. Its narrow, ribbon-like blade is tensioned between two lugs by a screw handle and a stiff metal frame. The blade can be rotated through 360 degrees, for negotiating tight corners, or reversed in the frame so that it cuts on the pull stroke for optimum accuracy. There is a variety of blades for diverse materials.
A versatile tool capable of cross-cutting, ripping, sawing curves, bevelling and starting a cut in the middle of a panel. Interchangeable blades, so inexpensive that they are usually replaced rather than sharpened, enable the jigsaw to cut a wide variety of materials, ranging from wood and metal to wallboard and ceramic tiles. For work around the home, a jigsaw (sometimes called a sabre saw) should have at least a 250 watt, variable-speed motor capable of low speeds for cutting hard materials, and high speeds, up to 3,500 strokes per minute, for soft materials. A blade stroke of 3/4" is sufficient to sever 1 1/2" of wood or 1/8" of malleable steel. Choose a jigsaw that cuts bevels and also blows sawdust from the cutting line. The saw should feel well balanced and should not vibrate excessively when cutting.
Types of blade.
Wood-cutting blades, metal-cutting blades and special-purpose blades are available. Choose the shortest blade that will do the job; with an 3/4" stroke jigsaw, a blade over 4" long may overtax the motor.
Blades for wood, made of high-carbon steel, have as few as six teeth per inch for fast, coarse cutting, and as many as 14 teeth per inch for fine work. Most blades have teeth bent to alternate sides, but a taper-ground blade has no set to its teeth and makes splinter-free cuts in plywood. A narrow blade, called a scroll blade, cuts sharp curves. Metal-cutting blades, with between 12 and 32 teeth per inch, are made of high-speed steel for cutting metals and plastic laminates. Special-purpose blades include a knife-edge for trimming materials such as linoleum or insulation, and a blade edged with chips of tungsten carbide, which cuts hard metals and ceramics and saws hardwood so smooth that it needs little or no sanding.
A heavy-duty tool with interchangeable blades for sawing large numbers of long crosscuts, rips and bevels; also makes housings. The preferred model for a home tool kit should have a 7" blade, to permit cutting through 2" boards at a 45 degree angle—and a motor of at least 1,000 watts. A well-balanced saw with a wobble-free blade shaft (arbor) makes the straightest cuts. Most saws have adjustments for the depth and angle of cut. A circular saw is a potentially dangerous tool, and should always incorporate such safety features as a fixed upper blade guard and a lower blade guard that springs into position when a cut is finished, an automatic clutch that helps to eliminate kickback if the blade should jam, and a splitting wedge that prevents the cut from closing up and catching the blade. Some saws are equipped with an electronic brake that stops the blade the moment the saw is turned off. Other desirable features are sealed bearings that do not require any lubrication, an arbor lock to simplify changing the blades and a discharge chute to direct sawdust away from the work.
Types of blade.
A combination blade, a crosscut blade and a fine-tooth blade are an adequate complement for most home sawing. Made of tempered steel, these blades have teeth set to the sides like hand saws. Some blades are taper-ground to reduce friction and some have specially tempered teeth that stay sharp longer. A combination blade is supplied with most circular saws. With its few coarse teeth 24 in most cases, it is used both for ripping and crosscutting where the edge appearance is unimportant. The finer, crosscut blade, with almost twice as many teeth, causes less splintering and is better for making mitres. A fine-tooth blade can have as many as 202 teeth, specially ground to minimize splintering the layers in plywood. These blades should be professionally sharpened.
For cutting cloth-backed tapes, making paper patterns and countless other tasks. An ideal model has offset handles, which facilitates cutting material on a work table. The carbon-steel blades are drop-forged and curved towards each other to shear without jamming.
Removes insulation from electrical wiring. They can have notches for wires ranging in diameter from 20 AWG to 10 AWG. Cutting edges inside the notches sever the insulation, but they stop short of the wire, allowing the insulation to be pulled away. These strippers normallyincorporate a wire cutter.
Scores glass so that it can be snapped along a predetermined line. The precision-sharpened wheel at the tip draws a fine scratch that weakens the material so it can be broken along the score. A wheel of tungsten steel is adequate for occasional use, but for extensive cutting, a harder wheel, made of more expensive tungsten carbide, stays sharp longer. While a sharp wheel is essential for cutting thin window glass, a slightly dull wheel is better for thick plate glass. The notches at one end of the cutter are effective for breaking off small pieces; the ball at the other end is used to tap the underside of the score before breaking off a wider piece.
A device for cutting sheet metal. For easier handling, a compound lever action, known as Aviation snips, is supplemented by spring-loaded handles covered with comfortable plastic grips. The jaws should be drop-forged for toughness and serrated to prevent slipping. A safety catch keeps jaws and handles closed when the snips are put away. For general use, select a pair of medium-duty, straight-cutting tin snips rather than snips designed specially for cuts to the right or left.
Cutting tools for shaping, carving and trimming. They are particularly suitable for moving small amounts of wood in tight spaces inaccessible to other tools. Two chisels—1/4" wide for fine details and 3/4" wide for bigger jobs—are a minimum for a tool kit. To hold a sharp edge, chisel blades are made of hardened steel. Nevertheless, they require regular honing on an oilstone; sharpening must be carefully done to avoid altering the bevel of the cutting edge. If the handle is made entirely of wood or plastic, it should be driven by a mallet only. If it has a metal cap, it can be driven by a hammer.
Cuts metal rods, bolts and rivets, severs light chain and chips away masonry. A cold chisel is a hexagonal rod of tool steel, bevelled to a cutting edge - or bit - at one end and tempered for hardness. Designed to be' struck with a hammer, cold chisels come in several shapes; a 1/2" wide flat-tipped chisel is best for most projects around the house. Cold chisels have a few extra features, but vinyl grips on some models help to absorb hand-stinging vibrations. If the head of the chisel should mushroom under constant hammering, it must be reground to its original shape; otherwise, dangerous splinters may break off.
Machines wood for tight-fitting joints, and cuts intricate patterns and contours. A router has a high-speed motor— 18,000 to 28,000 rpm—mounted vertically on a two-handled base. A chuck on the motor shaft secures interchangeable bits. Cut depth is altered by raising and lowering the motor with an adjustment ring on the housing. For home use, a router should have about a 500 watt motor. Some routers, incorporate such safety features as a plastic chip deflector and a quick-stop switch in one handle. Useful features of good routers include permanently lubricated bearings, a depth scale on the housing, a built-in work light for better vision and a base faced with plastic to prevent marring surfaces of the wood.
A double-fluted bit and a rebate bit, both of which have vertical cutting edges—or flutes—are the only ones needed to make most joints. The double-fluted bit makes housings, mortises and laps. For accurate routing, it must be guided along boards clamped to the workpiece. The rebate bit has a polished shaft extension - a pilot tip - to ensure uniform width by guiding the bit along the edge of the board being notched.
Finishing and shaping bits.
The rounding-over bit shapes edges of boards into professional-looking, rounded corners. The flush trimmer is used primarily to remove overhanging edges of wood and plastic counter-topping after it is glued to a plywood base. Both bits are pilot tipped, but the flush trimmer rotates inside a ball bearing that will not mar finished surfaces. The flutes of the flush trimmer are tipped with tungsten carbide to withstand the abrasiveness of plastic laminates, and rarely need sharpening. The flutes of the rounding-over bit and the jointing bits, made of less expensive heat-tempered steel, dull more quickly. Both types are best sharpened by a professional.
For screws with single slots. A selection of screwdrivers with tip widths ranging from 1/8" to 5/16" will snugly fit most standard screw heads. Some of these also have square shanks so that extra torque can be applied with a spanner. For comfort, select a screwdriver handle with wide rounded ribs or one fitted with a rubber grip. Cross-ground tips grip screws more securely than smooth tips. Though the best screwdrivers are forged of tough, resilient steel to resist twisting, bending and breakage, tips need occasional regrinding to keep them true. Screwdrivers are durable tools if used only for screws, but can be irreparably damaged if employed as crowbars or chisels.
For cross-slotted screws. Like the flat-tipped screwdrivers, crosshead screwdrivers should have tough steel blades—long ones are preferable to short ones—and comfortable handles. Crosshead screwdrivers come in five sizes, numbered 0 to 4. Two sizes—Nos. 1 and 2—will fit most cross-slotted screws used around the house.
Offset Ratchet Screwdriver.
For turning screws in hard-to-reach places where there is no space for a regular screwdriver. A 1/4" flat tip and a No. 2 crosshead tip are positioned at opposite ends of a shaft mounted in the handle. Inside the handle, a ratchet controlled by an external lever makes it possible to drive or draw a screw without removing the tip from the screw head.
Spiral Ratchet Screwdriver.
For driving great numbers of screws quickly and efficiently. Interchangeable tips are snapped into a chuck. Pushing the spring-return handle causes the tip to make two and a half turns. A three-position control reverses the ratchet so that the screwdriver can remove screws as well as drive them; in the centre position, the ratchet control locks the tool for use as an extra-long conventional screwdriver. A multi-purpose model normally comes with a 1/4" flat tip and a No. 2 crosshead tip, but other tips, are available.
For boring holes, turning screws, buffing and grinding. The recommended model for a home workshop is a reversible percussion drill with a 1/2" chuck - that is, a chuck that accepts bits with shanks up to 1/2" in diameter. A selector switch on the side of the drill engages the motor in one of two gears. Within each gear the speed is regulated by an electronic trigger switch; a button locks the trigger into the fully depressed, high-speed position. A lever directly above the trigger reverses the motor, and a sliding switch on top of the drill body selects the hammer-action for use with stone or concrete.
The chucks of most 1/2" drills are tightened with a geared key. Many models also have an auxiliary handle to help hold the drill steady. Look for a drill with good balance and a light but positive switch.
To drill holes in wood, plastic, metal or masonry. High-speed twist bits are used to drill wood and plastic at high speeds or to drill metal at lower speeds. Twist bits are available in sets ranging from 3/64" to 1/2" in diameter, with the shanks of the larger bits usually machined to a diameter of 1/4" or 3/8". Flat-bladed spade bits are used at medium speed to drill holes up to 1 1/2" in diameter in wood. Masonry bits have edges with hard carbide tips. They grind through such abrasive materials as brick and concrete. To work efficiently, they should be used at low speeds.
Carves round, wood plugs used to conceal deeply countersunk screws and bolts. The plug cutter drills a circular groove into a board; the island of wood left behind is then chiselled loose. The device must be used with a drill stand to hold the drill securely, and the board supplying the plugs must be clamped securely to the drill-stand table.
Bores pilot and shank holes, and countersinks for wood screws all in one operation so that separate drill and countersink bits are not required. Counterbore bits come in various screw sizes from 1/8" to 1/4" in diameter, although other sizes may also be available.
Transform a variable-speed electric drill into a power screwdriver. Available in several sizes of flat and crosshead tips, screwdriver bits must be turned at low speeds. Flat-tipped bits must be kept perfectly aligned with the screw to keep the tip from twisting out of the slot and gouging the work. In a reversible drill, the bits can also be used to remove screws.
An electric-drill attachment for abrading metals. Made of aluminium oxide, grinding wheels come in three grits, medium coarse, for shaping metal quickly, medium-fine, for sharpening woodworking tools, and fine, for sharpening knives and polishing. A grinding wheel fits on a shaft, or arbor, that is purchased separately. When using this grinder, always wear protective gloves and goggles. Tools should be held firmly against the wheel so that they will not slip.
For removing rust and paint, cleaning pitted surfaces, and brushing away burrs from metal surfaces. A cup-shaped brush is better when a drill is hand-held because it will deflect the debris downwards. A wire wheel is used when a drill is mounted on a stand; both hands are then free to hold an object against the wheel. Made of either coarse or fine wire, the brushes usually come with a shaft attached; larger wheels require a separate arbor. You can lengthen the life of a wire wheel by occasionally installing it backwards on the arbor; a wire cup lasts longer if the drill is operated alternately, in forwards and reverse.
For buffing wood or metal surfaces to a high lustre. The polisher, preferably a "bonnet" made of lamb's wool, is tied round a flexible rubber back-up pad; the pad has a spindle that fits into a drill's chuck. The polisher should be rotated at high speeds to avoid swirl marks. Apply only light pressure and keep moving the position of the bonnet to avoid burning the surface. The bonnet can also be used to polish wax on painted or stained surfaces or, coated with polishing and rubbing compounds, to brighten the surface on metal or wood finishes.
Converts an electric drill into a compact drill press for precision jobs and cutting wood plugs. Choose a rigid stand built for your make and model, with pre-formed mounting holes and an adjustable stop that limits the depth of holes. A well designed stand should have a semicircular chuck guard.
For driving or pulling out nails. Its head should weigh at least 1lb and be made of drop-forged steel. The poll, or striking part, is usually crowned to minimize surface denting, bevelled to prevent chipping and angled slightly towards the handle so the hammer hits squarely. The inside edges of the claw should be sharp enough to grip smooth nail shanks. A hickory or ash handle is satisfactory, but a rubber-sheathed handle made of fibreglass or steel, which is not affected by changes in temperature and humidity, will stay fixed in the head more securely.
For striking materials that might be damaged by a steel poll. The head of a mallet should weigh about 1lb and have two replaceable, screw-on faces, one of rubber and the other of plastic. The rubber face is for shaping sheet metal and for tapping wooden joints together; the plastic one is for driving wood chisels.
Countersinks lost-head nails. Made of hardened steel, the nail set has a knurled shank for a secure handgrip and a square head to keep it from rolling when set down. The concave tip has a sharp rim that will not slip from the nail head. The device can also be used to back out protruding nails: simply place the tip against the point of the nail and strike the set with a hammer. A nail set is the only object, other than a nail, that should be struck with a claw hammer. The best nail sets for home tool kits have tip diameters of 1/16" and 1/8".
Tack or upholsterer's hammer.
Handles light duty hammering such as driving carpet tacks and panel pins. The 5oz head has a magnetized poll that holds a tack for the starting stroke. The other end is a claw for pulling out tacks.
For hitting cold chisels and punches, as well as for bending or shaping heavy pieces of metal. The head, specially tempered to withstand impact on metal, should weigh about 22oz. Its poll, like that of the claw hammer, should be bevelled to resist chipping. The hemispherical pein at the other end was originally designed to mushroom the heads of rivets so that they would hold securely.
Spanners and Wrenches
For turning nuts and bolts. A typical set fits nuts from 1/4" to 3/4" across. The ends are cocked 15 degrees so that when the spanner is turned over, common hexagonal nuts can be tightened in cramped quarters that limit spanner swing to 30 degrees. Many are chrome plated to inhibit rust. All spanners should be made of drop-forged steel; softer metal is easily deformed.
Stillson pipe wrench.
For gripping circular objects such as pipe. The loosely mounted upper jaw is adjusted by means of a knurled nut. When the wrench is tightened, the jaw tilts back to form a slight angle with the fixed lower jaw. Pulling on the wrench handle then jams the pipe between the jaws, and sharp teeth bite into the pipe to turn it. Two pipe wrenches, a 14" model, which opens to 2", and a 10" model with a 1/12" span are recommended for the home tool kit. One wrench holds the pipe; the other turns the fitting. The tool can also be used to move nuts with damaged corners.
The hexagonal ends of the key fit into the socket of a setscrew typically used to secure handles, knobs and pulleys to shafts. A set usually has keys to fit setscrews measuring from 1/16" to 3/8". Use the long end for extra reach, or for leverage against tight screws.
A complete set of spanners in a single tool. A knurled screw moves one of the jaws so that the spanner will fit nuts of all sizes. The recommended 10" version opens to accept both square and hexagonal nuts up to 1" across. Select a spanner with a precisely machined adjustment screw, which will keep the jaws at the chosen setting. The jaws should have tapered sides so that their ends can reach into tight places. When using an adjustable spanner, place the strain on the stronger, stationary jaw.
Accepts a wide variety of sockets and other attachments for quickly tightening or loosening nuts, bolts and screws. High-quality ratchets are made of drop-forged steel, plated to resist rusting. Choose a 3/8 inch ratchet—that is, one with a 3/8 inch drive post. The internal mechanism should have closely spaced ratchet teeth so the spanner can turn fixings in places where swing is limited to as little as 5 degrees. A quick-release button on the back of the ratchet makes it easier to remove oily or tight-fitting sockets.
Types of socket.
There are two basic types: extra long, to reach recessed nuts and fit over the ends of long bolts, and standard length, for most other applications. Both types are available with six or 12 points (corners). Six-point sockets are slightly stronger, and better at gripping nuts with worn-down corners. Twelve-point sockets need be rotated only half as far as six-point models to slip on to a nut. Avoid eight-point sockets; they are for square nuts only. Sockets made for larger or smaller drive posts can be fitted to the handle with a suitable adapter. Recommended socket sizes for a 3/8 inch ratchet range from 3/8" to 3/4"; for use with a 1/4 inch adapter, buy sockets ranging from 1/4" to 7/16".
Turns the ratchet into a heavy-duty, offset screwdriver. Crosshead tips, standard tips for single-slotted screws and Allen key tips are available in a wide range of sizes.
Allows a socket spanner to be used on fixings that are otherwise inaccessible. One end of this attachment snaps on to the ratchet, the other into a socket. Two hinges cause the joint to swivel when it is turned by the ratchet, allowing the drive post of the spanner to be angled to the socket.
For otherwise inaccessible fixings. As with the universal joint, one end of the extension fits over the drive post, the other into the socket. Though extension bars up to 24" long are available for 3/4 inch ratchets, 3", 6" and 10" are usually adequate for a home tool kit.
General-purpose gripping and bending tool. A pivot bolt in the handle slips from one of its positions to the other, allowing the jaws to accommodate large or medium-sized objects. Choose a 8" pair of pliers whose drop-forged jaws have sharp serrations to hold work tightly, a wire cutter near the pivot and scored handles for a secure grip. Keep the jaw serrations sharp with a small, triangular file, and avoid using the pliers on finished surfaces: the jaws can triple the force exerted on the handles, enough to mar wood and many metals.
A clamping action keeps the tool from slipping and frees both hands. The jaws clamp on to an object and lock automatically as the handles are squeezed together. A knurled screw in one handle adjusts the gap between the locked jaws. A release lever on the other handle unlocks the jaws. Choose a 10" model with curved jaws for holding round objects almost 2" thick and with a wire cutter near the pivot.
Particularly suitable for forming terminal loops in wires and for holding small screws and bolts. A wire cutter near the pivot is useful for snipping electrical wiring, and plastic grips make the pliers more comfortable to use, while protecting against electric shock. The recommended size for home use is 7".
Especially useful for plumbing work. The jaw span is altered by mating a ridge on one side with one of a number of grooves on the other. This arrangement keeps the jaws nearly parallel over a wide range of settings. Choose a 10" model whose long handles, often plastic coated for comfort, allow a tight grip on objects up to 2" thick.
For use with one or two hands to smooth and fit relatively small pieces of wood. Its tempered-steel cutter is angled between 12 and 20 degrees. The low angle of the cutter keeps the plane from jamming when used to trim across the end-grain of a board, a job for which it is particularly suited. A typical block plane is about 6" long and has a cutter 1 3/4" wide. An adjusting nut at the rear, or heel, moves a lever that runs the cutter in or out for thinner or thicker shavings; an adjustment lever above the nut aligns the cutter laterally. A third lever, secured by the knurled knob at the front, or toe, opens and closes the mouth in the bottom of the plane to accommodate shavings of various thicknesses.
For use with both hands to size, trim, bevel and remove high spots from long boards. Choose a 14" plane; it spans and shaves down barely perceptible humps, which the shorter block plane would merely coast over. The jack plane has a knob near the toe for one hand and a handle near the heel for the other. Its compound blade, consisting of a cutter and a covering plane, or cap, under a locking mechanism, is adjusted much like the block plane's simple blade, except that the bottom edge of the cap must be set within 1 mm of the cutter's edge for smoothest planing. The mouth of the jack plane has a fixed opening. When the cutter of either a block or jack plane is honed in order to restore the knife-sharp edge, care must be taken to preserve its original bevel.
For shaping both hard and soft metals. Choose a bastard (medium-coarse) file, 10" long. The flat side should be double cut, criss-crossed with ridges that form sharp cutting points for fast shaping of flat and convex workpieces. The rounded side of the file is used on concave surfaces. Though made of tough, high-carbon steel, files are brittle and can snap in two if dropped or used as prying tools.
For shaping wood. The surface has large separated teeth for smoothing rough saw cuts, especially curves made with pad saws or coping saws, and for improving the fit of wood joints. A 10", half-rounded bastard rasp is suitable for general work; it cuts quickly and shapes rounded as well as flat workpieces. Where a smoother finish is desired, rasped surfaces must be sanded to remove the deep tooth marks.
Fits over the pointed end (tang) of a file to make it safer and more comfortable to use. The tang slots into a channel in the handle and is secured by tapping the handle against a work surface. If the tang remains loose, hold the file and tap the handle gently with a mallet.
Shapes small concave surfaces and enlarges small holes in metal. Choose a 6" bastard type that is slightly tapered. It often comes with a permanent handle.
For squaring the corners of holes in metal, removing burrs, sharpening the serrations of plier jaws and reshaping damaged threads of heavy bolts or screws. The 6", single-cut type recommended has closely spaced teeth that leave a smooth surface. A triangular file, like all metal-working files, should be broken in on soft metal such as brass, and thereafter used with moderate pressure; too much or too little force dulls it prematurely.
A stiff wire brush for cleaning metal fragments from coarse files. The file card's soft-iron bristles are angled towards the handle so the brush can be pushed along the grooves of the file without snagging. Fine-toothed files like the triangular file can be cleaned with ordinary bristles, such as those on a toothbrush.
Rubber sanding block.
Holds abrasive paper flat for smooth finishing; an improvement on a common wood or cork block, it bends slightly for sanding curved surfaces. A piece of sandpaper is inserted into slots in the ends of the sanding block by lifting flexible rubber flaps; sharp pins inside the slots pierce the sandpaper, holding it securely. This type has finger grips moulded into the sides and is shaped to fit the palm.
Abrasive Papers and Cloths
An inexpensive, relatively soft abrasive for sanding painted or gummy wood and metal, and other materials which would quickly clog sandpaper grit. The coating consists of quartz chips. Four grades of glass paper, identified by the words coarse, medium, fine or extra fine printed on the reverse side, are commonly used. Like other abrasives, glass paper may be either closed coat (completely covered with chips) or open coat (50 to 70 per cent covered). Closed-coat papers cut faster, but are more likely to clog than open-coat papers.
Garnet paper. An excellent abrasive for general wood sanding, either by hand or with an orbital sander. The natural garnet chips last twice as long as the quartz chips that are used to coat glass paper. Garnet papers are usually graded with a grit number that indicates the size of the abrasive particles. The higher the number, the finer the paper: No. 36 for extra-coarse paper, a range of 40 to 60 for coarse, 80 to 120 for medium, 150 to 180 for finer, and 220 to 320 for extra fine. This abrasive is also available with a cloth backing; in this form, it is used for work requiring more durability and flexibility.
Aluminium oxide paper.
For shaping, sanding and polishing hard metal such as iron and steel, but also effective on wood. Aluminium oxide, a brown synthetic, cuts much faster and lasts longer than garnet. It also comes with a durable cloth backing for flexibility and for heavy-duty applications, such as rust removal and metal shaping. Waterproof cloth is available as a backing for use with water or various lubricants. Aluminium oxide papers and cloths are graded by the same grit numbers as garnet abrasives.
Silicon carbide paper.
For sanding hardwood and plywood, soft metal like brass and aluminium, and plastic; also used for smoothing glass edges and frosting glass surfaces. This fast-cutting synthetic is almost as hard as diamond, but it is too brittle in the coarser grades for use on hard metal. Silicon carbide is backed with waterproof paper or cloth in grits as fine as No. 1200. Silicon carbide paper, also known as wet and dry paper, can be used wet for fine hand sanding of paint or varnish between coats, or can be coated with oil for smoothing and polishing metals. The oil and water help keep both the abrasive and the surface cool and float away grit-clogging wastes.
Used for initial smoothing of wood and metal, and for final polishing of paint or other finishes. The motor turns a felt or rubber sanding pad in small circles, or orbits. Cramps on the ends of the pad, which is shaped to fit into corners, hold a sandpaper strip firmly against the rotating pad. Look for a direct-drive model, that is, one with the motor connected directly to the pad. For a swirl-free finish, the pad should make a 1/8" or smaller orbit at a rate of at least 9,000 orbits per minute. A sander with reciprocating action, in which the pad moves backwards and forwards, or a continuous-belt sander is less desirable than the orbital type: a reciprocating model sands too slowly; a belt sander, used mainly on rough surfaces in industrial jobs, is difficult to control.
Afford protection from flying chips of wood or metal during the use of hand tools, as well as power tools. Held in place by an adjustable elastic band, the lightweight plastic goggles are large enough to fit over spectacles. A flexible frame, perforated with small air circulation holes, provides a comfortable fit.
Filters out dust, mist and fibrous materials that can irritate the respiratory system, and possibly cause lasting injury. A feltlike filter cemented across the front of some models stops small particles. The filter should be dusted with a clean paintbrush before it is put away, and the mask replaced after 24 hours of use or when breathing becomes difficult. Select a respirator with soft, rounded edges that form a tight seal round the nose and mouth without causing discomfort. For protection against toxic substances, such as insecticides and some paints, use a respirator with an activated charcoal filter.
Softens the din from power tools, such as routers and circular saws. Distracting noise can lead to accidents; sustained loud noise can damage hearing permanently. An effective ear-muff device, which cuts noise almost by half, has rigid plastic ear cups lined with foam rubber. The cups have air cushions that fit closely round the ear, sealing out sound without uncomfortable pressure. Ear plugs may also be used.
Protect hands from blisters, as well as from cuts and splinters, when handling hot, sharp or rough materials. These come in a wide variety for different applications.
OTHER BASIC TOOLS
To fill cracks and crevices with a wide variety of sealing compounds. The sealers are available in interchangeable cartridges; when the trigger is pulled, a ratchet inside the handle advances the notched plunger, pushing caulking through a nozzle in the front of the cartridge. The tip of the sealed nozzle can be cut to any diameter up to 3/8". Turning the plunger so that the handle points down releases pressure on the cartridge, allowing it to be withdrawn.
For small masonry jobs, in-cluding patching mortar between bricks, known as pointing, and filling small holes in concrete. Trowels must be cleaned and dried thoroughly after use, or the water in mortar and plaster will rust them.
For glazing windows, and smoothing caulking and patching small imperfections in walls and woodwork prior to painting. A high-quality putty knife has a tempered steel blade that extends all the way through a wooden or shatterproof plastic handle. Select a knife with a flexible blade about 1 1/4" wide; it fits conveniently into small cans of patching materials.
For small dusting jobs around the workshop. Any inexpensive, 1 1/2" paintbrush will do. Use it to brush wood chips off corners, to clean the motor-cooling slots of power tools, and to clean sawdust from fine sandpaper.
A specialized fastening tool, it hammers home large staples with a single blow of a spring driven plunger that is cocked and released when the trigger handle is squeezed against the grip. Choose a heavy-duty model capable of driving staples up to 5/8" long into hard materials, such as plywood and soft metal.
Strips away rust and flaking paint from rough or textured surfaces. Stiff, carbon-steel wires are folded double and stapled at the folds into holes in a hardwood handle. A curved handle protects against scraped knuckles. Keep wire brushes dry; water will rust the bristles and can warp or crack the handle.
Sharpens knives, chisels, planes and similar small tools. An 8" combination stone made of silicon carbide is recommended. One side is coarse-grained for rough sharpening, the other has a finer grit for final honing to a keen edge. A thin coating of light oil should be applied to the oilstone during use, both to keep it from losing its cutting ability and to float away steel particles ground from the tool.
Two oil dispensers are needed around the home, one for medium oil, the other for light machine oil. A long spout is desirable for reaching recessed machinery, and the cap should have a tight seal to prevent leaks.
Portable illumination for dark work spaces. This model is equipped with a sturdy gripper that allows the lamp to be clamped in place, freeing both hands. The light bulb is protected by a reinforced wire guard, and the reflector behind the bulb is fully rotatable, to keep light out of the eyes.
Permits use of power tools at remote locations. A reel normally contains 45 to 75 feet of cable, which can be neatly rewound inside the plastic casing for safe and easy storage. Rolled-up lead becomes warm when carrying heavy currents, so always pull the lead out to its full length if the load is to be greater than 500 watts.
A small, two-battery model provides enough light for most tasks where electricity is not available, or where it should not be used because there is danger of shock or explosion.
Indicates the presence of electrical current. The mains tester, a type of electrician's screwdriver, has an insulated shaft and handle with a resistor in the handle to prevent shocks. If a live terminal is touched with the tip of the tester, a neon bulb inside the handle lights up.
Bonds copper wire with resin core solder, an alloy of lead and tin. A 25 watt model, with a sharp, replaceable tip, is ideal for repairing small appliances. Always heat the metal, not the solder; melted by the hot metal, the solder will flow smoothly into the joint.
Used to open clogged drains and traps. The recommended type resembles a tightly wound steel spring that bends and turns inside curved plumbing pipes. The auger is turned by its pipe handle, which can be locked in place with a thumbscrew anywhere along the shaft. A spiral hook at the top of the auger catches any obstruction and dislodges it.
Force cup or plunger. Cleans drains by means of water and air pressure. A rubber cup on the end of a wooden handle presses against the bottom of the drain to form a seal. When the handle is moved up and down, air is removed from the pipe and water pressure frees the obstruction. Coating the cup lip with petroleum jelly improves the plunger action by making a tighter seal.
Fits large screws not often used around the home. The broad tip combined with a large diameter handle make this the only screwdriver with enough turning power to loosen large screws that have been frozen with rust. Its size and strength, used wisely, make it a useful tool for minor levering and prying.
For use in tight spaces, where a larger tool cannot fit. Available with single-slot and crosshead tips, these tools have a large-diameter handle that supplies considerable turning power even when the screwdriver can be grasped only with the fingertips.
Fits screws used in spectacles, clocks and other small appliances. Commonly, a set has five blades that lock into an aluminium handle, three with standard tips up to 3/16" wide, one has a No. 0 crosshead tip, one shaped rather like an awl. The flared index finger rest at the end of the handle revolves independently of the rest of the screwdriver, so the tip can be held in the tiny screw slot as the screw is turned.
All-purpose prying tool. Drop-forged and heat treated for hardness, it comes in 15" and 5" lengths. The longer model is for heavy jobs, such as pulling nails and opening windows that have been painted shut. The shorter one is for lighter work, such as opening paint cans and pulling tacks or heavy staples. Both models have sharp edges to scrape paint, glue or caulking from narrow gaps and crevices.
Removes old paint from wood. They have a shaped wooden handle to give a firm grip. The angled head accepts a replaceable steel blade which extends slightly on either side of the body to give access to awkward corners.
Electric-drill attachment for distributing pigment evenly throughout a can of paint. The propellers have blades angled to force paint up from the can's bottom and down from the surface to make a homogeneous mixture.
Below is a short video on how to make your own paint mixer. Also a good way to utilize some of your newly acquired tools!
Removes paint, putty and labels from glass and other hard material. A single-edged razor blade, slipped into a retractable holder, shaves the glass clean. After use, the thumb lock is depressed and the blade and its holder are withdrawn into the handle. To avoid cutting your fingers when you replace the blade, push it from the holder against a table edge.
Used in pairs to build supports for workpieces during such operations as cutting, gluing and finishing. Because they will accept legs and crosspieces of varying lengths, such brackets can be used to build custom-fitted saw-horses for specific work areas. Each hinged bracket holds two legs and one end of the sawhorse crosspiece. The three pieces of wood can be nailed permanently in place through small holes in the brackets, but the crosspiece is generally left unfastened. When this piece has been removed, the legs can be folded together on the brackets' hinges for compact storage.
Garden Tools for Homeowners
There are many variations of lawn mowers available to you nowadays. The choice of which model to buy can be very confusing. There are a lot of factors to consider if you want to avoid purchasing the wrong model.
As with most tools and equipment, chainsaws also offer a sometimes bewildering array of different products. We are continually reviewing these options for you, you can read our reviews on the best electric chainsaws here.
Some people prefer to use an electric chainsaw that requires the use of a power cord, we have also reviewed some of these available models here.
You can find our safety tips for using a chainsaw here.
If you ever need to chop down trees, here is a short guide to help you accomplish it safely.
We have reviewed a very popular model of chainsaw from Husqvarna, the 455 Rancher model here.
We have quite a lot of reviews on our site reviewing leaf blowers. They are a very useful tool, particularly for the main job that they're obviously intended for, but they also do some other useful tasks as you can find out here.