Tools For Saving Time, Money, and Frustration

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Tools You Probably Don’t Own — But Should

A well-stocked tool kit helps you complete household fix-it projects more quickly and easily. Having the right tools can save you money, too, because you will be less likely to need to call a plumber or carpenter to do the job for you. And you’re less likely to injure yourself or do costly damage to your home during do-it-yourself attempts.

Nine tools for $50 or less that all home owners should own but often don’t…


Japanese-style handsaw. This allows you to cut with much less effort than other handsaws do because it cuts on the pull stroke rather than the push stroke. Cutting on the pull stroke makes a saw less likely to get stuck and bend, which means that the blade can be made from thin metal. Thin blades displace less wood and thus require less muscle power. The teeth also cut more aggressively than traditional saws.

Example: Vaughan Bear Saws are well-made, and most feature easy-to-replace blades. Prices typically range from $15 to $30, depending on the size (


Basic wrenches and screwdrivers have their place, but sometimes there are better options…

Strap wrench. This consists of a length of durable rubber (or occasionally leather or nylon) attached to a plastic or metal handle. You loop the rubber strap around something that screws into place, such as a piece of pipe or a plumbing fixture… you pull the strap tight to create a firm grip… then you turn the wrench to tighten or loosen the part. Strap wrenches also can be used to loosen stuck faucet knobs and jar lids. Unlike conventional wrenches, they generally will not scratch the item being turned.

Example: Craftsman 12-inch-diameter strap wrench sells for around $15 at Sears (

Ratcheting box wrench. With a conventional wrench, much time is wasted removing the wrench between turns, then putting it back in place. But with a ratcheting box wrench, you slip the ring end over the top of a nut just once, then simply ratchet back between turns. Ratcheting socket wrenches with removable sockets can do this, too, but they tend to be bulky and often won’t fit into tight spots. Modern ratcheting box wrenches are barely larger than conventional wrenches.

Examples: Craftsman offers good quality at a reasonable price. Expect to pay $40 for a set of five. Professional-quality Snap-on ( or Matco ( box wrenches sell for $100 for a set of four or five box wrenches.

Locking pliers. Conventional pliers stay in place only as long as you hold them there. Locking pliers — also known as Vise-Grips, the name of the best-known brand — maintain a secure grip until they are removed. That can be very useful when you need to hold something in place but also need your hands free for other purposes… or when holding a wrench in place by hand would mean maintaining an uncomfortable position. Some home owners have one pair of locking pliers, but it’s worth buying at least three or four in different sizes and with different jaw shapes so that you can get a grip on objects of all dimensions.

Example: A three-piece set of Vise-Grip locking wrenches sells for around $35. The set features a six-inch needle-nose pair, a seven-inch flat-jaw pair and a 10-inch round-jaw pair (


Two pounding tools that every home owner should have…

Dead blow mallet. Most mallets have rubber or plastic heads that are designed not to leave a mark. A dead blow mallet’s head contains lead shot. The momentum of this shot reduces the rebound when the mallet is struck, transferring more force to the surface where it’s needed and reducing the risk for injury or property damage from mallet bounceback. Dead blow mallets are the perfect tool for banging stuck cabinet drawers, bumping hubcaps into place or pounding tight-fitting parts into position when assembling furniture or children’s toys.

Example: Most home centers and hardware stores stock a 24- to 28-ounce dead blow mallet for around $20. Brand is not terribly important.

10- to 12-ounce hammer. Most home owners buy big hammers — 16 ounces or heavier — but small hammers are sufficient for most household projects, easier to swing in tight spots and less likely to cause major damage if they hit a wall or a thumb.

Example: The Vaughan 10-ounce “Little Pro” hickory-handled hammer is well-made and just the right size. It sells for around $20 (


Three more tools worth owning…

Speed square. This simple triangular measuring tool, also known as a “pocket square,” is a quick and accurate way to mark a 90° or 45° angle. Every carpenter owns one, but very few noncarpenters do.

Example: Swanson seven-inch Speed Square generally sells for less than $10 (

Adhesive transfer tape applicator. Adhesive transfer tape is like glue, only much easier and cleaner to use. The applicator rolls out a one-quarter-to-three-quarter-inch-wide transfer tape like a conventional tape dispenser, leaving only adhesive. The result is comparable to using glue — only with no mess and no worries about applying it evenly. It’s an extremely versatile and effective way to stick things together. Depending on the type of transfer tape selected, it can be used to temporarily hang decorations on a wall or window… or permanently bond items, including paper, cardboard, wood or plastic.

Example: The Scotch ATG 700 Adhesive Applicator typically sells for $50 to $70 ( Rolls of adhesive transfer tape generally cost $3 to $10, depending on size and type selected, in craft stores or from packing-supply companies such as Uline (

Electrical checker. This small, inexpensive device sounds an alert when it senses nearby electrical current, even if that current is in a wire that’s behind a wall. It is not foolproof, but it reduces the odds of electrocution when working with a home’s wiring or when cutting into a wall that could have live wires hidden behind it.

Example: The Circuit Alert Non-Contact Voltage Tester from Gardner Bender typically sells for less than $15 (

Source: Sandor Nagyszalanczy, a furniture designer and tool consultant based in Bonny Doon, California. He is a former senior editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, a 10-time winner of the Golden Hammer award for excellence in home and workshop writing, and author of The Homeowner’s Ultimate Tool Guide: Choosing the Right Tool for Every Home Improvement Job.

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