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- The Essential Toolbox
The Essential Toolbox
Here are fifteen basic tools that are essential for the small jobs around the house.
Whether you’re a rookie handyman or a seasoned do-it-yourselfer, a range of basic tools is essential to doing the small jobs around the house. Pick a place for your cache of tools — a kitchen drawer, maybe, a carton in the hall closet, or even a real toolbox — and make a point of always returning the ones you use to their designated home.
What tools will you need? Your skills and the kinds of jobs you do must be your guide, but a good basic selection would include a tape measure, square, and torpedo level for measuring and setting. A handsaw or handheld circular saw; a utility knife; a cordless drill; and maybe a glass cutter will take care of your cutting and drilling tasks. For fastening, how about a small set of screwdrivers; a staple gun; pairs of electrician’s, waterpump, and locking pliers; and a hammer?
You can take it from there. Add what you need, like chisels, a sander, and some clamps, and supplies, too, like sandpaper, nails, glue, screws, and so on. Don’t necessarily tool up all at once — that could feel expensive — but do buy tools of good quality rather than the cheap and flimsy ones on sale. Better tools last and last, and get you through many jobs, those you do both for recreation and in an emergency.
Few tools translate to so many trades, from dressmaking to dressing stone — the convenient and compact tape measure makes all kinds of jobs possible.
Also called a push-pull tape, the basic tape measure is spring loaded so that the tape retracts into its metal or plastic case when not in use. It comes in all sorts of sizes, from 3-foot key-chain sized rules to bulky 25-foot flexible rules.
Tape measures have blades (as the tapes themselves are officially known) that come in 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch, and 1-inch widths. Wider tapes are bulkier, but also have the advantage of extending farther without the supporting hand of an assistant at the other end. A good size for most around-the-house jobs is a 3/4-inch-wide, 16-foot-long tape measure.
As with any square, the principle job of a combination square is to advise its user when the relationship of two sides of an object is a true 90-degree angle.
The combination square is adjustable, consisting of a rigid steel rule, typically 12 inches long, with a headpiece that slides along its length. The headpiece has both a 90-degree edge and one that forms a 45-degree angle with respect to the rule. It’s ideal for marking (and checking) both 90-degree crosscuts and miter cuts.
The combination square can be used to determine the squareness of a piece or joint or as a saw guide when using a handheld circular saw. When the head is set at the end of the rule, the combination square can measure heights; and it can be adjusted to measure depths. It’s very handy for marking, and there’s even a bubble level in its handle, enabling the tool to be used for leveling.
Usually 9 inches long and tapered at both ends, this handy tool is also known as a canoe or boat-shaped level. Inside the plastic, wood, or metal body of the torpedo level are two or three spirit tubes.
These sealed vials contain water, alcohol, or another clear liquid. Each tube or vial is slightly curved with two parallel lines drawn at its center. The vial is not quite full, leaving space for an all-important air bubble. The bubble vial has been precisely mounted so that when the bubble is aligned between the hairlines, it indicates that the body of the level, and thus the object being trued, is at true vertical or horizontal, depending upon how the vial in mounted in the level.
Even in this age of power tools, the traditional handsaw has many uses. It’s quiet, portable, easy to use, requires no electrical power, and can finish more than a few jobs the basic hand-held circular saw cannot. It’s also inexpensive and poses little risk to little hands.
The basic handsaw has a blade roughly two feel long that tapers from the heel (at the handle) to its toe. The most common use is simple cut-off work when it’s quicker to grab a handsaw than it is to run an extension cord to do the job with a power saw.
Approach a handsaw as if to shake hands, grabbing its closed wood or plastic handle. The flat blade, typically of steel, will flex from side to side. The teeth may be designed for cutting across the grain (crosscut saws) or for cutting with it (ripsaws). A 10- or 12-tooth crosscut saw of 22 inches is a good basic saw that can also rip a board if necessary.
This is one versatile tool — it will drill holes, sand and grind, stir paint, and drive screws and good basic electric drills start at a very modest price.
The basic electric drill consists of a motor built into a pistol-shaped body. Instead of a gun barrel, though, there’s a gripping device called a chuck into which one of a wide variety of bits or drill are inserted. Older models lock the bits in place using a key that tightens the chuck, but most new drills use a keyless chuck that requires only the grip of your hand to tighten it. It’s a good innovation, that makes changing bits much quicker and easier.
Another recent shift is to cordless drills. The initial cost is significantly is higher, but for the extra money there’s a big jump in convenience. It’s a judgment call, but if the price doesn’t seem prohibitive, the gain in flexibility is probably worth the extra investment.
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