14 Jul Village Praxis: The ZeroGov Festival of Tools and Repairs
Isaac Davis (1745 – April 19, 1775) was a militia officer in the American Revolution. Davis led the first attack on the British Regular army during the American revolutionary war, and was the first to die in that battle.
He was captain of the Acton Minutemen, and his men were possibly the best trained and equipped militia in New England. A gunsmith, he provided every man with a cartridge box to aid in rapid fire and a bayonet for hand-to-hand combat. His company assembled twice weekly for drills and marksmanship.
A Note on Selecting Quality Tools
Tools should not be an expendable item. I recommend paying more upfront for a quality item than buying a cheaper tool over and over again due to breakage. That being said, “used” does not always equate to cheap. Due to the current downturn in home construction, many high quality, “name brand” tools are available in pawn shops and second hand through garage sales, craigslist, and the classified section of your newspaper. I highly recommend checking the second hand market first before purchasing new. Some items may be worth the retail price- Used saw blades may be dull, and therefore unsafe, and while one can spend some quality time with a mill file sharpening them, it may be worth it to you to buy new.
As far as selecting hand tools, one can easily tell the difference between a well made tool and its cheaper cousin. For example, hold a Craftsman or Snap-On wrench in one hand and a cheap “Made in China” Wal-Mart wrench in the other. You will notice the difference in weight. Such a difference could be due to the material types (steel vs aluminum) or that the cheaper tool is thinner and made with less material to save costs in manufacturing. Hand tools should fit comfortably in your hand, have a corrosion resistant finish such as chrome, and have a certain heft due to the robustness of their construction.
That being said, imported does not necessarily mean poorly made. See the tool in person; ask your friends and do some research before making an investment. I have had a good experience with the Lowes Kobalt brand, which are made in China and a disappointing experience with a set of “Made in the USA” Stanley screwdrivers.
Tool List- The basics
A set of flat head and Philips head screw drivers
A set of combination (box and open end) wrenches
A set of socket wrenches
A set of hex keys
A 16 ounce claw hammer
Carpenters Pencil- the flat shape keeps it from rolling away.
Pliers- both fixed joint and needle nose
Extra: Tool belt. All of the items above, except the wrench sets, hex keys, saws and files (files should be stored in their packaging in a tool box or drawer), can be comfortably carried in a tool belt. Having these commonly used items in a tool belt means less trips up and down ladders, into the garage or away hunting for a #2 philips screw driver.
Measuring and Layout (You are only as good as your measurements. I would gladly pay more for quality measuring equipment than almost any other tool)
16 or 25ft tape measure
Spirit level- the longer the level, the more accurate the reading. A 3-4 foot length is probably good for most tasks
Extras- feeler gauges, dial caliper, 100 ft tape measure, chalk lines,
Power tools (Cordless versions cost more and unless you have a bank of batteries, your battery will run out in the middle of a task)
Power drill and bits
Circular saw with a 7 ¼” blade. Recommend buying both rip and cross cut blades. Smaller blade sizes are available, but are not nearly as efficient.
Jig saw- somewhat optional but cuts curved lines faster than a hand coping saw and is less expensive than a bench top or stand alone band saw
Compound Miter Saw- again an optional purchase, but makes angled cuts and compound angled cuts a breeze. Recommend a 10” or larger blade.
Random orbital sander
Extras- hammer drill, dremel tool, router
A good stable work bench with a vise
A pair of saw horses
A tool box or boxes to protect and organize your tools
C-clamps- 4” and 6”
Extension cords (heavy gage in 25 and 50 ft lengths)
Surge protector/ power strip
Extras- Bench grinder, air compressor, shop vac for dust collection/ clean up
A note on shop set up:
I come from an aerospace and medical device manufacturing background. After working in those environments, I believe that a good workshop is clean, well lit and organized. An unorganized shop is a time vampire as you have to hunt to find where you left a particular tool or part and an unclean or dark workshop is a safety hazard. I find it is not conducive to quality work when you cannot see your measuring equipment or markings. One can get more done in a small basement, garage or outbuilding that is clean, well lit and organized vs a large, dark working area that has tools scattered about. If you are setting up your first shop or wanting to reorganize your current one, take the time to plan. I recommend measuring your working area and use graph paper to plan out how your shop will be set up. You will be surprised of how you can maximize space by planning ahead and minimize time spent looking for stuff by planning where tools, material and equipment will be stored. If you have a large shop with lots of bins, tool chests and racks, a label maker will make your life easier as you can label what is in each drawer, rack and bin. This also helps when you are under the sink keeping the water in the pipes and you’ve sent the youngling to get a 1” wrench; it assists in them coming back with the right item and not a Sawzall.
Nail sets (for driving nails flush without leaving a hammer mark on the wood’s surface)
Now that we’ve outlined a basic list, some of you may be wondering how to acquire these without dropping an absolute ton of money. As we mentioned before, second hand sources definitely help alleviate the cost. I’ve personally acquired much of what I have on a task by task basis. For example, I purchased a compound miter saw when installing crown molding in my house and then used it for wood flooring and back deck projects. I recommend factoring the cost of tools needed into a project’s estimate. Some tools should almost always be rented though- Unless you plan on starting a tile business, it is more cost effective to rent a tile saw rather than buy one. I do recommend buying certain things as sets, such as wrenches, because without a doubt, once you’ve individually bought 1/4″, 1/2″, 3/4” and 1” wrenches, you will need a 7/16″ wrench to repair something critical at 11 o’clock at night.
A parting thought- How many trips to Home Depot does the average project require? Just one more…