As promised on my super sweet Facebook page, I want to talk about what I think are basic tools a person needs if they want to make stuff. This will be a multi post series and I’m going to try to group things based on general interest. These posts will be largely my opinion so I invite discussion in the comments if you disagree. Don’t worry, I’m a benevolent dictator.
First, the absolute basics. Every person or household needs, at a bare minimum, these tools. Many of these can be found in good shape at Goodwill or the Restore.
Claw hammer. This may be a surprise but there are 1.7 million different varieties of hammers… okay I made that up but there are a lot. Ball peen, tack, dead blow, rock, MC, the list goes on and on and most of these are specialized and intended for a specific job. Generally speaking, a decent claw hammer in the 16 to 20 ounce range is about as versatile as it gets and allows you to do everything from driving nails to prying things to killing zombies. Avoid ones with textured faces, since they’re more specialized for heavy framing, and get one with a solid handle as opposed to a hollow tube handle.
Screw drivers. While you can often get away with a cheap hammer, cheap screw drivers can make even a basic job miserable by rounding out the tip and causing the screw to strip out. Basically, expect to pay 20 bucks or so for a five to seven piece set that has both Phillips and Standard head screw drivers in it. While there’s something to be said of classic style screw drivers without interchangeable bits as they can get places others can’t, I’ve had one of these for about 20 years and have used the hell out of it. Being able to replace the working tip of a screw driver as they wear out is nice and the design discourages loved ones from using it as a prying tool.
Pliers. If I had to pick just one type of pliers to buy, it’d be these. Ya’ll need pliers for holding things and general part manipulation and you can think of pliers as an augmentation of your own fingers and that’s all because what they’re not are wrenches. Don’t use pliers to try to turn a bolt unless it’s already damaged and that’s the only way you can grip it. Locking pliers are probably more useful since they can work as a clamp as well.
Wrenches, specifically combination wrenches. You can get a decent set of combination wrenches for about 35 bucks and if you’ve only ever used the terrible stamped sheet metal “wrench” that comes with some big box furniture, you’re in for a serious treat when you ditch them for a real quality wrench. They come in metric and standard (‘Murican) sizing and if in doubt, get a set that has both. Adjustable wrenches (AKA the Crescent Wrench) have their place but unless you get good ones you’ll find they tend to damage tight bolts, thereby compounding problems.
Hacksaw. A hack saw is a great tool you can get for cheap that is super versatile. They can cut metal, wood, plastic, and bone and I’ve seen determined men cut through several inches of steel with one. You can get them for as cheap as 5 bucks but I’d plan on spending 15 to 20 for a sturdy one. The blades are replaceable as well so buying one quality saw is a good long term investment.
Flashlight. A good flashlight is worth its weight in semi-precious metal and there’s a lot of crap on the market as well as some not quite crap that certainly is not my first choice, like Maglights. Get an LED light made by Streamlight, Pelican, Fenix, Surefire, or other well respected manufacturer and get one powered by disposable batteries as opposed to rechargeable. In the event of an emergency, being able to replace dead batteries with new ones and having instant light is huge.
This is by no means an end all, be all list but if you’re new to getting your hands dirty, hopefully this will get you started. In Part Two I’ll start talking about basic power tools.