4 Tools Everyone Should Own

I had finished this column and gone to bed, intending to give it one last read before I submitted it in the morning...

The alarm goes off, HM makes the coffee and I turn on the local all-news station NY1 to watch Pat Kiernan’s “In the Papers” segment, where he reads us highlights from the morning papers. Pat gets to a feature in the Home section of a NY newspaper of note in which a contractor selects tools everyone should have. HM and I freeze. WE’VE BEEN SCOOPED. However, as Pat points out, the recommendations are highly priced for around-the-house tools.

Uh-oh. There is nothing that gets under HM’s skin more than BAD ADVICE.

I jump up and fetch the paper from our front stoop. We read the article in shock. The Handy Maniac is livid. “$43 for a pair of PLIERS? $160 for a FLASHLIGHT? THAT’S JUST A BUNCH OF STUPID TOOLS THAT A BUNCH OF RICH GUYS WILL BUY AND NO ONE WILL USE.”

He starts storming around the house; the next thing I know, he has assembled this photo.  

“THIS is what I want everyone to have in their home!”

HM's "Still Life with Tools."  ·  © H. Maniac

HM's "Still Life with Tools."  ·  © H. Maniac

I point out that the article I have already written is titled The *4* Tools Everyone Should Own.

“Yeah, you gotta get off this 4 tools thing,” HM says.

“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” HM isn’t the only one who can talk in all caps around here. I suggest that his assembly of a new list of “must-haves” minutes before my deadline is akin to me spilling a bucket of paint all over a floor he just polyeurethaned.  He backtracks. “Or, okay, say it if you want...but I have never left the house without these things. I CAN SOLVE MOST OF THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS WITH THESE.”

I remind him through gritted teeth that we are supposed to be empowering readers to solve their OWN home repair problems, and, I suggest, looking at his STILL LIFE WITH TOOLS, there are a few things there that look advanced. I point. He names: “Metal file. Baby hack saw. Razor sharp pull saw—also known as a Japanese saw.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“I’m not saying they’re going to be able to DO anything with them!” he says. “The reason to have a set of tools is so that if you can’t fix it, you have what’s needed for someone else to help you! These are what you’ll need if your father or I come by.”


HM says, “YOUR MOTHER. Your sister. Your BEST FRIEND. WHOEVER IS HANDY." He wasn’t saying most WOMEN didn’t know how to use tools: most MEN don’t either!  

I sense we are getting off track. I need to salvage this article. Can he just tell me what’s in this ideal tool kit, and we will explain how to use those tools in later columns? And then I can get back to the original article we AGREED ON?


What’s in HM’s tool bag

  • Two pairs of Channellocks and a small Crescent wrench (also known as an adjustable wrench). “I really love those. I can get under sinks, behind toilets.”
  • A small metal file. “Don’t ask, just have one. Tight-fitting locks. Dulling down a sharp metal edge on a car, a metal door. Just HAVE ONE.”
  • Claw hammer and 4-in-1 screw driver.
  • Baby hack saw. “This is used to trim small pieces of metal, cutting a bolt off a toilet, a key broke off in a lock, ETC.”
  • Razor sharp pull saw, a.k.a. a Japanese saw. “It’s for cutting small pieces of wood. Moldings, stool legs, dowels. Picture frames.”
  • A small set of Allen wrenches (a.k.a. hex keys). “To tighten up doorknobs and plumbing fixtures. IKEA.”
  • Measuring tape. “Don’t get a honking 25 footer. Those are for landscapers and house builders. Get a small one you can carry around. Three-quarter inch/16-footer is my favorite tape.”
  • WD-40. “This can be used for everything. It removes tar and chewing gum, frees rusty bolts and you can eat it in a pinch.” (*Note: Do not eat it. This is HM HYPERBOLE.)


The Original Article

Okay. Flashback to the first assignment. Two days ago HM and I go shopping at Lowe’s and I ask HM: What four tools should everyone have in their house?

I am certain I know the first item. The Handy Maniac wants to be “buried with his Leatherman. Because the first question Saint Peter’s gonna ask is whether I can fix the pearly gates.” HM is seldom without this all-in-one tool. If he could shower with it, he would. He hates air travel because he can’t take it with him unless he is checking a bag. And he is particular about which Leatherman: The Wave. PERIOD. END OF STORY. “It’s the right size. The right tools. No frou-frou. No corkscrews. It might be the best tool ever made.” In spite of all this, the Leatherman does NOT go on HM's list of tools everyone should own. (Though it did make it onto the other paper’s list.) That’s because HM says people can never find their Leatherman when they need it. “Unless you’re ready to commit to wearing it all the time, DON’T BUY ONE.”

HM is never without his Leatherman. 

HM is never without his Leatherman. 

Here are the ORIGINAL FOUR.
1. The 4-in-1 Screwdriver.  This is a screwdriver that has different reversible bits inside the handle, allowing a single screwdriver to be turned into four (two sizes of Philips-head and two slotted). HM points out it’s technically a 6-in-1 because the hex-shaped shaft can be used on both sides as nut drivers (to remove nuts). “But most people won’t get that.” HM hates nothing more than those gift sets that have 137 screw drivers and you can never find the four you ACTUALLY USE because they all get separated. Most screws can be unscrewed with a 4-in-1.  (His is in his tool bag photo.) Estimated cost: $7-9.

2. A Corded Drill.  You may think that a cordless drill would be the best thing to have in your home because it makes you more mobile. You can take it wherever, including on a high ladder, and not worry about having to plug it in or get an extension cord. You would be wrong. Because you will forget to charge your cordless drill, and you will hardly ever use it anyway, so when you DO need it, it will be out of juice. And then you’re shit out of luck, back to watching TV. HM firmly believes that if you only have one drill, it should be corded. It’s not that he doesn’t like cordless drills. At last count, he had a dozen of them. He buys them like candy. But for most people, a cordless is great to have as a SECOND drill. So for your one drill: “I highly recommend a medium duty, 3/8" keyless chuck, variable speed/reversible.” It would take a longer article than this to explain what that all means, so I would suggest you just repeat that to the salesperson. (And pick up a multi-pack of “bits and drivers” while you’re at it.) Estimated cost of drill: $50-80.

HM's very own corded and cordless drills. But if you only have one, it should be corded. 

HM's very own corded and cordless drills. But if you only have one, it should be corded. 

A good set of bits and drivers makes an excellent gift. According to HM. 

A good set of bits and drivers makes an excellent gift. According to HM. 

3. A Claw Hammer. I had to pressure HM to put this on the list, because I happen to know it is one of the only tools I ever use. To him, it doesn’t even count as a tool. It’s like a fork. Everyone has one, so why does he have to take up precious list space explaining that you need a hammer? But he does admit that many people have THE WRONG HAMMER. Our trip to the hammer aisle reveals that there are many tempting hammers on the market these days. Long ones, shiny metal ones, ones with black rubber grips. (The fancy leather-gripped one that other article recommends.) You can drop some serious bucks on a hammer. DON’T DO IT. Unless you are a roofer or a framer, all you need is a lightweight wooden-handled claw hammer (see HM's Still Life photo). Estimated cost: $10.

4. Channellocks.  When he shows me these I am confused. I always thought these were called pliers. Or wrenches. Turns out I’m right. HM informs me that “Channellocks” and “Crescent wrench” are brand names like Kleenex, and are terms that HMs use interchangeably with "pliers" and "adjustable wrench."  (Other terms they toss around for these tools include LINESMAN, NEEDLE NOSE, DIKES (OR DYKES), VICE, etc.) HM is cheating a bit in this category. Probably to make up for having to put the hammer on the list. He wants you to buy a cheap multi pack of assorted wrenches and pliers. Estimated cost: $18-25.

HM wants you to have this speed pack of two pliers and a wrench. 

HM wants you to have this speed pack of two pliers and a wrench. 

How did a fun piece on shopping get so contentious?

In case you’re worried about HM and I being all testy with each other over this article, don’t be. This column has united us in the crusade to get simple, useful information out there while battling what we view as unhelpful or inaccurate advice. Or at least that’s how I would put it. He’s just mad at CLOWNS.

Extra Credit

HM wants me to add this bonus section containing the six kinds of tape you should always have in your home. Can you name them without looking at the caption? “They all have a story,” he says. So stay tuned...

This article originally published on Cafe.com on Tuesday, November 4th 2014