SIX MUST-HAVE HAND TOOLS: Invest in These And You’ll Be More Capable

If you plan on tackling home repairs or home maintenance chores, then you need at least a few basic hand tools. Pliers and wrenches are a great place to start your collection because they’re so useful. Trouble is, there’s also a lot to choose from out there. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. So here are six of my personal favourites – tools you’ll never regret owning.

Adjustable Wrenches

Adjustable wrenches like this are versatile since they can fit many nuts and bolts. Just don’t use them when a lot of force needs to be applied. Better to use a fixed-size wrench or socket.

Adjustable wrenches sit high on my list of must-have tools because they’re so versatile, as long as you respect their limitations. A thumb wheel opens or closes the jaws, allowing you to grip small-, medium- and large-size nuts and bolts. Just remember two things:

  1. Only use adjustables that are in good condition with straight, flat jaws. Worn wrenches round over the heads of bolts. Who needs this frustration?
  2. Never use adjustables where a lot of twisting force is required. What adjustable wrenches offer in versatility, they take back in terms of strength and safety. They’ll break or slip off bolt heads if you apply too much force. Always use some kind of socket wrench whenever you need to apply a lot of force.

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Needle Nose Pliers

Needlenose pliers don’t hold things with a lot of force, but they do offer finesse and precision. Most have wire cutting cabilities, too.

Needle nose pliers are finesse tools that let you sneak into confined spaces, and grab things that are too small for your fingers.

  • They come in both regular and curved-jaw styles.
  • I find the most useful models have jaw sizes that are 3 or 4 inches long, with wire-cutting edges near the swivel point.
  • Buy larger or smaller needle nose pliers as needed.

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Locking Pliers (aka Vise Grips)

Locking pliers come in many different jaw configurations, including clamp-style models with pads for gripping and holding things.

These are another all-time favourite of mine. Generically called ‘vise grips’ after the company that made them popular, vise grips come together like a pair of regular pliers as you begin to squeeze them, but they lock shut when closed all the way, and stay there under tension.

  • These days vise grips are sold in a huge variety of sizes and jaw styles.
  • Start with a pair of standard, flat-jaw vise grips.
  • Add a pair of the needle nose or round-jaw versions if the need arises.

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Socket Wrench Set

A full-featured socket set like this is indispensable for working on your car. The long wrench is a torque wrench and it’s essential for doing up nuts and bolts to a predetermined ideal tension.

A socket wrench set is a great investment in self-reliance because it’s so versatile. The long wrench shown above is a torque wrench, used to tighten nuts and bolts to the correct level. Torque wrench are never part of socket sets like you see here, but they are worth considering if you want to do top quality automotive work.

  • All sets include a wrench handle, an assortment of detachable sockets (sized to fit different nuts and bolts), and a couple of extensions.
  • These snap in place between the wrench handle and sockets, extending the reach of the tool into deeper locations.
  • Spend a little extra money and buy a socket set that comes with a lifetime warranty.
  • The best brands allow over-the-counter exchange of broken tools with no questions asked.

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Combination Wrenches

Sear’s Craftsman brand of hand tools offers one of the best lifetime warranties. The coverage is complete and it’s easy to swap new tools for broken ones. I got these wrenches for Christmas 1985 and they’re still working perfectly.

Combination wrenches have two different ends – a U-shaped open end and an enclosed ‘box end’.

  • Wrenches like these do what adjustables do, only they deliver more torque (though less conveniently because you can’t change their size).
  • The box end slips over the top of nuts and bolts, the open end slips in from the side.

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Slip-Lock Pliers (aka Channel Locks)

Irwin currently makes the best slip-lock pliers I’ve used. Jaws can be moved further or closer as needed before gripping an item.

I really like these pliers in general, and Irwin’s offering in particular. They use an adjustable jaw design to grip various sizes of round, hexagonal or flat objects.

  • The width of their closed jaws ranges from zero to 4 inches, depending on the size of pliers.
  • The channel-lock plier design has remained the same for years, but newer models include a spring-loaded center swivel that locks the jaws into a half-dozen different sizes.
  • Unlike older-style channel-locks that can slip into wider positions accidentally during use, new designs always grip tightly.
  • When you want to select a wider range of jaw size, just push the pivot button, open or close the jaws to the desired range and then release the button to lock the tool.

Beyond the basic wrenches and pliers mentioned here, build your collection one piece at a time in response to the real-world challenges you face working in your home and yard. Buy quality and keep them stored and organized. If you’re anything like me you’ll feel good every time you reach for the tool you need to succeed.

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