Friday, 13 July 2012

What hand tools do I need?

I was asked by a friend recently what tools I would recommend to a person just starting out with tinkering / repairing of mechanical equipment. I wasn't really prepared for this question because from a young age, I had always had tools around due to my dad being a builder and a diesel and petrol mechanic. In an effort to try answer his question, I will give a breakdown of what I have and give some justification for why this would be necessary. Please remeber, I have collected these tools over the last 17 years and many (if not most) I have bought second hand. DO NOT USE CREDIT TO BUY TOOLS!!! Be patient and check garage sales, ebay and cent sales. Deceased estates are also rich in tools. Avoid buying new if you can and give an old handtool new life!

Work Bench
This is probably the most important piece of equipment for the garage tinkerer. The workbench needs to be solid and must be able to withstand the weight of the projects and the wear and tear caused by dragging things over it's surface. My work bench has a steel covering so I can weld or solder on it without damaging it. It is also large enough to fit several projects at once. The addition of drawers and a shelf below are handy for items that would otherwise clutter the work surface.

 Steel benches that have welded joints make much better tables than wooden benches in general. Wooden benches end up with play in the joints making them a rickety alternative to a steel bench.

Bench Vise
There are loads of cheap vices available now. They are Chinese variants of popular brands. For the most part though, the cheap knock-offs don't hold a candle to a decent quality vice. I have a Record No. 3 vice and recommend the Record vices. If you don't have a vice, do yourself a favor and buy a decent one first time.
You can find used vices at reasonable prices but check them carefully. The jaws should be parallel to each other and the screw should be smooth, free from dents and chips. The jaws are generally replaceable but given the cost of parts, unless you have machine tools to manufacture them hold off until a good one comes along.

I can't recommend good lighting highly enough. It's depressing working in poor lighting and it ruins your eyesight. Do yourself a favor and get a good bench mounted lamp to light up your projects. I have 5 different Luxo lights and a flouro light attached to the bench. I also have a flouro light with magnifier which is used when working on small projects.

Hand Tools
Now we get down to the tools themselves. It's hard to recommend tools because the choice depends on the type of projects a person works on. I do general tinkering and mechanical / electric / metal work so I have a mix. The following picture will be used as the reference:
  1. Pliers and snips. Get good quality first time. Cutters I recommend are Knippex and Bahco
  2. Slotted Drivers. If you have an option have 2 sets. 1 for rough work, one for clean work
  3. General cutting tools. I have an Olfal knife which has snapable and replaceable blades.
  4. Steel ruler. This is absolutely necessary in every garage workshop. I have an adjustable block for repeatable measurements and scribing on sheet stock.
  5. Cold chisels. These are often overlooked but are extremely useful for shearing bolts, unfreezing nuts etc... I have a variety of sizes and patterns. I tend to use Stahlwille chisels because their steel seems to last a long time under use.
  6. Adjustable / slipjoint pliers. These are useful for general crimping, bending or holding tasks. I also have a Norwegian "Kongsberg" pipe wrench to the left of the pincers. 
  7. Philips head screwdrivers. I have 2 sets. This set is my PB Swiss quality set reserved for clean work.
  8. Calipers. These are used for measuring the depth of holes, diameters and thickness. These are indispensable in a workshop. This is my rough set as I also have some digital Mitutoyo calipers that are used for more accurate measuring.
  9. 1/2" ratchet and breaker bar. These tools are compulsory in a workshop. In fact, the first tool set I ever bought was a Sidchrome socket set. What you pay for in a set is the ratcheting mechanism. If you go cheap, you will regret it due to the course teeth in the mechanism and the potential to break teeth or slip under load. Avoid the dollar store specials here and get a reputable brand. The two you see in the picture are Hazet (breaker bar) and Stahlwille (ratchet). These are my heavy-duty or rough use tools.
  10. Misc flat blade drivers. These are my stubby and long flat bladed drivers. Theyare  useful when trying to get at hard to reach screws. Spend some money on these to make sure you get good steel. Once the blades wear a little, they will cause cam-out making screws difficult to remove. Since these drivers are used for screws found in difficult places, don't compound the problem by using drivers that cam-out.
  11. Philips head screwdrivers. This is my rough set.
  12. Bolt cutters. These small bolt cutters are used to clip screws, nails and hard wire. They save my pliers from getting damaged since they are designed for heavy cutting.
  13. 12" Wrench. This gets used when I need to put serious torque onto a large bolt or nut.
  14. Universal joint socket adapter. These are used for hard to reach nuts and bolts. They allow the socket to reach around corners in a sense, making life easier in general.
  15. Magnetic bowl. If you don't have one,you need one. This will keep all your screws and small parts in one location and save you having to look for bits on the floor.
  16. Micro screwdriver set. These are necessary for electronics and small mechanical components. I have reviewed these tools here: PB Swiss screwdriver review  I also have a centre punch which is used for marking metal surfaces so drill bits can get purchase instead of skating on the surface.
  17. 6" Wrenches. These are handy if you are unsure what size a nut or bolt is. Adjustable and a handy size for general mechanical work.
  18. Alan key / hex set. I have 2 sets, one in inch and one in metric. It is necessary to get good quality hex keys. Many times that is the difference between getting a rusted hex bolt out or snapping your key
  19. Magnetizer / demagnetizer. This tool needs to be in every tool kit! Many times a magnetized screwdriver is a major annoyance, other times you wished the driver would just hold that difficult screw so you can get to that hard to reach spot without it falling off. This little gem will both magnetize drivers when needed. then de-magnetize when it isn't needed. They are only a couple bucks and are a must.

  1.  Ratcheting Flex-head Wrenches. This is a stellar gift idea for any woman wanting to impress her hubby with her gift ideas. They are expensive, but make the perfect tool to convince the man to help assemble all that Ikea furniture.
  2. Specialized pliers. In this case they are pliers for removal and installation of circlips. These are not necessary but are handy to have. They are the kind of tool that you can buy as you need them.
  3. Small hacksaw. This little guy is useful for shortening screws, bolts and small metal things. It has fine teeth and causes less damage to parts than a larger hacksaw.
  4. Spanner set. For years I have used a Chinese spanner set that although was functional, was not a pleasure to use. It was made with sloppy tolerances and the metal was a little soft. I finally upgraded to a set of Stahlwille spanners and am very happy I did. I have all sizes from 19mm - 6mm and have a quarter inch just in case.
  5. Vice grips and aviation snips. Vice grips are necessary in any tool kit. They allow you to close the jaws and the mechnism holds them clamped onto the object. They are adjustable and extremely useful. Aviation snips are used for cutting sheet metal and are also a handy addition to a tool kit.
  6. PPE. This stands for Personal Protective Equipment. You should have eye, hearing and dust protection available at all times. Your health is not worth risking so these are one of the most important pieces of equipment.
  7. Stubby spanners. These are shorter than normal spanners and allow you to work in tighter spaces.
  8. 1/2" Ratchet and extensions. These are my clean 1/2" tools when I am working on equipment that isn't greasy and dirty. These are kept in absolute pristine condition. They are made by Sidchrome.
  9. 1/4" Ratchet and extensions. 1/4" ratchets are less robust but are much smaller than 1/2". They allow you to work in confined spaces and are very useful. I have a 1/4" driver as well for when I don't need the ratcheting feature.
  10. Misc tools. This magnetic strip is where I have the miscellaneous tools. I have my thread gages, open ended spanners, weird wrench, scriber, dividers and screwdriver / bandsaw vice handle. 
  11. Sockets. A full metric set in both 1/2" and 1/4"
  12. Hacksaw. This saw will handle steel and is used for shortening bolts or removing metal stock when making tools.
Hammer Time!
Having the right hammer is vital and I have a wide selection of hammers for different tasks. In the the image below, you can see a claw hammer used for carpentry, a cross peen hammer, and a dead-blow hammer. The dead-blow hammer is filled with sand to avoid recoil when it strikes an object. This is especially useful for seating things in vices or tapping metal parts that have a tendency to "bounce" out.

The top hammer in the below picture is a small sledge hammer. This is a heavier hammer that packs a lot of whallop when swung. The next down is a soft face hammer used when I don't want damage to a surface. The final hammer is a rubber mallet which I use when I need to distribute force over a large area and I don't want to marr the surface.

Metal Removal
 At some point in time you will need to drill or file. There are different tools required. First we'll talk drills. If you need to drill holes in sheet metal, do yourself a solid and get a step drill set. These make drilling sheet metal a breeze and prevent tearing or twisting of thin stock.

Files are esential. Get a set that covers round, rectangular and triangular profiles. These need to be looked after so don't just throw in a drawer together. Keep them rust free and maintained.

When metal parts seize and get stuck, heat makes life easier. Heating the parts and undoing them while hot will save hours of time. I use a self starting torch.

I bought this 4 years ago and I am still on the same gas bottle. It has seen a lot of use in various projects.

Work Holding
It will be necessary at one point in time for you to clamp materials together or to the bench. Sometimes Vice-Grips are sufficient however most times the parts are too big. This is where the Irwin Quick Grip and the F clamp come into their element. The Irwin is fast to use and holds reasonably well. The F clamp is better suited where serious pressure is needed or you will be applying heat. I have a range of F clamp that spans 6 inch to 2 1/2 foot.

Oil Can
A good oil can is a useful item in the workshop. Oil is needed to un-seize things, stop rust or just lubricate joints. Cheap cans leak and have poor quality pumps. The can below is about 25 years old and still going strong. It pays to get quality.

So there you have it. This is a very basic run-down of the tools every tinkerer should have. If you find yourself asking, "what hand tools do I need?", then you can use this as a guide. Feel free to comment or ask any questions. This list was created with mechanical repairs in mind. I have not gone through carpentry tools and machining / grinding although I probably will at some point in the future. Stay safe.


  1. Great setup Pauly! I am in the process of setting my tools up & upgrading to mostly Kinchrome handtools. I fully agree with the cold chisel comment too - it's suprising how much use you get out of them. The only other thing I would say is having the right hammers. A good ball pin, claw and rubber mallet are a real bonus. Anyway mate - love your posts.

  2. Hey Dazza, believe it or not I had the photos but forgot to include them. Thanks for the heads up. The Kingkrome tools are pretty good. The ratchet drive spanners I have are Kingkrome and have been excellent.

  3. You should do one on power tools. Prob big thing apart for choice ones to get is what to get cordless or not. Let's face it - not every thing needs to be mobile (circular saw comes to mind as an example as you normally are clamping material etc. )

  4. Oh - one other thing. Getting a good bench is killing me. Ideas?

  5. Hey Dazza, I agree with your view on powertools. Most powertools I own are 240 volt and not cordless. The reason being is that they have more power than cordless. I also recommend corded tools wherever possible because batteries degrade over time. A little known fact is that lithium batteries degrade over time and heat accelerates this. In negative temps batteries cut out and the tool is useless (as I have unfortunately found out). The only cordless tools I own are a cordless drill, and a cordless impact driver.

    About the work bench, check this site out:

    I know the legs and frame are wood, but it appears to be well built. If you know anyone with a welder, they could build you a bench for a fraction of the cost. Just make sure you make it long enough. I wouldn't go shorter than 1.5 m because you really want room on the bench for working and laying things out in order so the re-assembly process is easier.

  6. Hey Dazza, here are some more links for workbenches:

    Ebay is also an excellent option. Check out this item: 230822912409 on ebay. It has all the cabinets and drawers for $1449 dollars which I think is very reasonable given it's free freight to Brisbane.The store has loads of benches with different options.

    1. HI,
      Hand tools are very useful product. Woodworkers use lots of hand tools and give best products. To use any tool you have to get a lot of control on that tool to use it in a perfect way and then the best result will come out.

      Hand tools

  7. Hello,
    Hand tools always make from a different style. It seems very good and it's quality is also better than other products. The use of such products always gives a sign of smile and happiness.
    Importance of Toolkit Packages In Garage Workshop