Access to Common Hand Tools can help you save money with home repairs
You'll want to have common hand tools around the house if you're going to save money on basic repairs, adjustments and creations of your own. What's more, you'll need to know how to use them.
One aspect of frugal living is doing things yourself so a 15 minute repair or adjustment doesn't cost you $65 for a service call from a professional who has to drive out to your location. The basic concept here is don't be dependent on others unless you really have to and you're ready to pay for it.
Here we'll add to the discussion of do it yourself with an examination of basic hand tools that you should have around the house. These are things that shouldn't cost much to acquire, and will come in handy in an emergency and for daily chores.
Let's talk about:
- measuring tape
- wire cutters and strippers
- awls and punches
- pry bars
That should be sufficient scope for a basic introduction to common hand tools, all of which can be carried in a small tool box. The point here is to introduce the tools and show an example or two of how they can be used.
Specific projects will be addressed on another page where the focus will be the project, and not the tools.
Hammers are a guy's best friend. If you can't fix it with the hammer you have, you can always get a different hammer. And, if you still can't fix it, just get a bigger hammer. That's one of the reasons these common hand tools come in different designs and different sizes.
That's also one of the reasons you need to keep a phone book handy so you can call the professional when the "bigger hammer" man in your life whacks the crap out of something and turns the adjustment into a major repair.
A set of common hand tools always has a claw hammer in there somewhere. Claw hammers are meant for nailing and removing nails. They get their name from the shape of the "claw" on the backside of the hammer that is used to extract nails.
The three hammers in the middle of the photo left are claw hammers.
Typically, the head of a claw hammer weights 16 ounces and is made of steel. There are smaller and lighter claw hammers too. The red handled hammers in the photo above are lighter weight claw hammers.
A hammer with a more gently curved claw is a framing hammer. These are used less for pulling nails and more for prying up boards, so the claws are more straight. The hammer in the far right of the photo above is a framing hammer.
There are also heavier hammers like a three-pound hammer. These are like smaller versions of sledge hammers and are useful for driving much heavier objects like spikes and large chisels. They aren't exactly one of the common hand tools, but I include them here because sometimes a claw hammer just isn't sufficient for the job.
Three-pound hammers usually have a short handle to make them easier to swing. The hammer on the far left in the photo above is a three-pound hammer.
Mallets are a type of hammer, but not for driving nails. A mallet it used for tapping things into place or out of place, and driving other common hand tools like chisels and punches. Mallets have a much broader cylindrical shaped head made of wood, plastic, rubber or leather.
The three mallets in the uppermost portion of the photo right are made from leather or rawhide. The blue-green handled mallet is made from white rubber to minimize markings on objects that it strikes. The remaining mallet has small yellow plastic faces.
The idea behind the mallet is to be able to tap or whack something without denting it or making a mark in it like a steel headed hammer would. The broader head accommodates a less accurate strike on the end of a chisel, so you can concentrate on what you're doing with the business end of the chisel instead of how you're striking it.
The broader head of the mallet also distributes the blow across a larger area to help protect what you're striking. If you hit the edge of a piece of plywood with a claw hammer, the edge would tend to split because all the force is focused on an area the size of a quarter.
With a mallet, the size of the striking surface is about the size of a soup can or larger, so the chance of denting or deforming the edge of the plywood is much less. Nevertheless, if there is a way for a man to mess up something with a hammer, given enough time, he'll do it.
If you're into woodworking, or otherwise nudging things into place, you'll want a mallet as part of you set of common hand tools.
Screwdrivers are a mainstay of the handyman (or woman) and one of the most common hand tools. Many things in life are fastened together with metal fasteners called screws. The screw is a handy little device that makes use of the inclined plane principle - you know, a ramp that makes it easier to drag things up from one level to another.
Except in this case, the inclined plane goes around the shaft of the screw such that is can bore into things like wood, metal and plastic. The leverage afforded us by this spiral inclined plane provides the grip we need to hold things together.
Screwdrivers come in a lot of different sizes and shapes. The most typical are the flat head (shown above) and the philips head. The flat head screwdriver is used for turning screws that have a single slot across the head of the screw. The philips head screwdriver is used to turn screws that have a cross shaped indented head.
Flat head screwdrivers can have long or short shafts, for reaching far or for getting into tight places. The shaft can have a wide or narrow blade to fit the width of the screw head. The thickness of the blade can also vary to match the width of the screw head slot. A proper snug fit works best. If the fit is loose, you'll damage the screw head and possibly the screwdriver blade.
Philips head screwdrivers (shown to the right) come in various shaft lengths, and various sizes for the head. As with any screwdriver, the right fit will produce better results.
Screwdriver handles also vary for comfort, sure grip and two-handed grip.
One reason that flat blade screwdrivers are perhaps the most common hand tools is because they can be used to pry, scrape and chisel to some extent. They end up getting abused quite a bit because of this versitility. To make the blades of your screwdrivers last, use appropriate tools for tasks other than driving screws.
Pliers are perhaps the second most abused of all common hand tools. They aren't so much abused themselves as they are used to abuse other things. Often a pair of pliers are used when a wrench is called for. Pliers have a way of mauling whatever it is they grip. The inner portions of plier jaws have agressive teeth that round off nuts and bolt heads, and scar nearly everything they are used on.
Pliers are best used for holding something in place, rather than trying to turn or twist something that is meant for a wrench. Pliers are also good for gripping odd shaped objects where a wrench can't be used for holding.
Pliers come in a range of designs and sizes, each for a special task at hand. Think of pliers as really strong fingers for holding things.
The traditional pair of pliers is a standard slip-joint design. There are also lineman pliers, long nose pliers, needle nose pliers (shown in the photo right) and water pump pliers (also know as channel locks because they adjust to grip objects of various sizes using channels).
Water pump pliers (shown in the photo left) are handy and can be used to apply tremendous pressure when holding things. This is partly because their jaws are designed to fit around opposite sides on an object, thus giving you the advantage of putting a "death grip" on the object.
If you look closely in the photo above, you can see the channels in the red handled pliers that allow the jaws to be adjusted for gripping objects of various thickness. The chrome plated pliers above are also channel lock pliers, but they are shown in the position that creates the smallest size grip.
Wrenches are another mainstay of the tool box and another of the common hand tools. Wrenches are useful when dealing with nuts, hex nut bolts and other fasteners that have a square or hexagonal head on them. Wrenches allow you to get the proper grip on an item for twisting and turning.
Wrenches also come in different sizes and jaw configuration for different applications. Long handled wrenches allow you to get leverage on things. Short handle wrenches are for lighter work with smaller fasteners and for work in tighter spaces.
The basic types are "adjustable" and "end" wrenches. An adjustable wrench (shown left) is relatively self-explanatory - it adjusts to fit various size nuts.
These are often called cresent wrenches. A thumb wheel on the wrench allows the moveable jaw to be adjusted against the stationary jaw until the proper size opening is achieved.
End wrenches (shown right) are typically found in two basic configurations - open and boxed (or closed). They can also be found as a combination wrench - one with an open end and a box end (as shown in the middle of the photo right)
An open end wrench can be slid onto a nut that might be located in a confined area. A boxed or closed end wrench must be slid over the top of the nut.
The boxed end gives superior grip because the nut is held all the way around, whereas the open end wrench holds the nut on two sides only.
Measuring tape comes in handy for helping determine the size or length of something. Whether it's the length of a bolt or how much room you have for a shelf on the wall, a measuring tape is important to make sure things fit.
Measuring tapes typically are flat metal bands that roll up automatically inside a housing.
The tape can be locked into position by a toggle or sliding mechanism that binds the tape and keeps it from retracking under spring pressure.
You'll notice that the end of the tape has a lip that allows you to measure by gripping the edge of something as you extend the tape. The lip is loose at the end, so it would appear that your measurements might be inaccurate because of the "play" that is built into the rule.
Not really, the "play" is there to make certain your "inside to inside" measurements are accurate. The "play" is there to make up for the thickness of the lip. So, when you measure "inside to inside", the thickness of the lip is included in the measurement.
When you cut a board to fit that "inside to inside" measurement, you hook it over the edge of the board, and the "play" automatically adds the thickness of the lip to your measurement so it is accurate.
Wire cutters and strippers are common hand tools that are handy for cutting wire and other small objects, and stripping off insulation when you are doing electrical work.
The standard wire cutter is also known as diagonal pliers or dikes (shown with green handles in the photo right). The cutting blades can be used effectively for gripping as well as cutting, but be mindful that the cutting blades leave small marks on whatever you grip.
Wire strippers are often incorporated into wire cutters to allow plastic insulation to be removed from wiring so it can be installed into sockets, switches and fixtures.
Awls and punches are tools for making holes in things and exterting force on narrowly defined areas such as pins, dowels and rivets.
Also known as a scratch awl, the pointed awl (shown with a black rubber handle in the photo lower left) is useful for making a tiny dimple in material such that a drill can be set into the dimple so as not to wander as the hole is started. It can also be used to make a scratch mark across soft material like wood.
Punches are often used with a hammer to apply a sharp force in a small area to knock free items that will respond to a hammer blow. Punches can be pointed, but most often have a rounded shaft with a flat end.
Awls are common hand tools that are almost always hand size, but punches can be found in all different lengths and sizes, up to about 18 inches in length.
Pry bars are another of the common hand tools and come in a wide range of styles and features. For simplicity, I'll include crow bars and wrecking bars in this discussion. They all can be used to pry, move, adjust and lift things that are heavy, fastened together or otherwise stubborn in nature.
Pry bars are often used alone, but can also be used with a hammer to help drive them into tight places where they can get a grip. Also, pry bars can have a special feature that allows them to be used for pulling nails. The larger the nail, the longer the pry bar required.
Various shapes and angles of the pry bar allows it to pull nails and move materials that are in awkward places.
There you have it. Common hand tools that can help you do things around the house and be more self-sufficient. Many of these tools can be found at garage sales and auctions for very little cost.
Your frugal living "tool box" should include these common hand tools. Even if you're not an expert with them, when you get help from a neighbor, you'll have the basics to work with. Have common hand tools ready to fix things, or have your checkbook ready to pay someone else.
Done with Common Hand Tools, take be back to Do it Yourself